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Our Trip to The Cordillera Blanca
santacruzexpeditions.com �  

In July of 2001, Jim Donnelly, Dale Cottam and Nathan Cottam departed for the Cordillera Blanca to climb three or four high peaks.� The list of possible peaks was long, but there was one that we all agreed should definitely be on the list: Artsonraju.� The pictures were breathtaking, the route seemed challenging but within our limits, and recommendations were high from other climbers we had met.� When we arrived in Peru our guide, Hernando Oropeza Lliuya , said conditions on �Arteson� were good.� In fact, he had scaled it a few weeks prior.� We immediately placed Artesonraju on our itinerary.


The next day we departed Huaraz for Pisco.� On the way up we had a friendly brush with the Chilean party that would unfortunately meet with disaster on Huandoy in a few days time.�

Over the next three days we approached and summited Pisco.� We topped out just as the sun came up, revealing Bohemian crystal skies.� We enjoyed a perfect view of some of the grandest peaks in the Andes.� Just over the Laguna Paron was Artesonraju.� Near the top we could barely make out two climbers through our telephoto camera lens, nearly to the summit ridge just where we hoped to be in a few days.� Although we were tired from our long climb on Pisco, we already had a severe case of summit fever for Artesonraju.� We knew we would get our chance after a bit more acclimatization.� We next departed for the Ishinca valley to attempt Ishinca and Tocllaraju.� On the day we arrived we heard of the tragedy on Huandoy.� The Chilean summit team of three climbers was struck by an avalanche in a steep coulouir between Huandoy Norte and Huandoy Este.� The avalanche carried them all the way down to the glacier below killing all three climbers.�


Ishinca was in perfect condition last year.� The climb was a real treat�not too difficult but beautiful and interesting.� The highlight of the climb was the ice cave with wild, twisted icicles and endless blue caverns.�

Our climb of Tocllaraju was a bit more challenging.� On our way to the 17,200� high camp, we learned that two teams of 12 French and Slovenian climbers were turned back just short of the summit by 100 mph plus winds that morning as the sun was coming up. �We then realized we would have to leave at midnight that night to avoid the fate of the French and Slovenians.� As darkness arrived, the winds died down and when we awoke at midnight the stars were bright, the Milky Way clear and the air was calm.� We were getting our chance to make a summit bid. ��

The clear but very cold weather held until just a few hundred feet from the top.� We stood looking up at the most technical part of the climb as the winds picked up and the sky began to cloud over.� Hernando, determined to get to the top before it became too dangerous, set off up the 60 degree wall.� With the grace of a dancer he seemed to pirouette up the face using only his

frontpoints.� With the anchor set and time being crowded out by wind and clouds it was Nathan�s turn up the wall:� �I carefully swung my ice-tools and stuck my crampons.� A few steps up and my right ice-tool pulled free.� At once the reality of the plunge below me, by now 6000 meters of altitude and the possibility of another slip met head on with; �how secure are those anchors?� and �can this rope and 150 lb Hernando really stop me should I fall?�� No time to wonder now, I was committed and glad for it.� I climbed out of myself and back onto the mountain.�

Reaching the top of the wall paid off.� Our heads were light with adrenaline as we looked out over the ridge to the other side of the mountain.� Tufts and trails of snow and cloud rode bold winds up the cliffs and raced over the ridge and we watched cornices grow to be the size of houses. From here we made the summit quickly but the weather was worsening and Hernando fairly pushed us back down after two quick pictures.� It seemed to take forever to get back down the same wall and as visibility dissipated fast we wondered if we hadn't climbed ourselves into an epic.� Once at the bottom of the wall the descent picked up pace and before long we were celebrating with high energy in the safety of high camp.


After leaving the Ishinca Valley and after big meals at La Brasa Roja we traveled to Laguna Paron and up to the high camp on Artesonraju. �Daily snows, low visibility and words of extreme caution from climbers who had been on the mountain in the days before convinced us to hold off for another day or two before attempting the final push.� The weather did not break, however.� Night after night snow dusted our tent and loaded up the 50-degree slope we were intending to climb.� Each morning we watched the summit take a few minutes of sunshine before wrapping a mote of cold clouds and wind about its towers.� Two avalanches swept upper portions of the mountain while we waited for our chance.� Unfortunately, the route did not come into good condition before we had to leave.� Atesonraju would have to wait.

Our trip to the Cordillera Blanca was magical.� We saw the most beautiful mountains in the world, climbed to over 6,000 meters, looked into wondrous ice caves and met some of the most genuine people on earth.�

Nathan Cottam
Boston, MA
Dale Cottam
Cheyenne, WY
Englewood, CO

Santa Cruz Expeditions organises guided mountaineering expeditions, treks, and support staff plus a quality mountaineering equipment hire service in the heart of the Peruvian Andes.

Andean Trails, a Scottish based adventure tour company, operates trekking, climbing, trekking peaks, jungle expeditions and mountain biking in Peru, Bolivia and Patagonia.

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