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Hasta la Vista Alpamayo

Alpamayo, 5,947m, dubbed by many as the most beautiful mountain in the world, forms an attractive allure to any aspiring alpinist wanting to break into the more technical of ice climbing routes offered in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes. High overhanging seracs these days make the standard Ferrari Route (AD+) on its southwest face objectively more serious than the steeper and hence more technical but, objectively safer, French Direct route (D+) to its right.
For those reasons we’d chosen the French route to be the culmination of our initiation to climbing in the Greater Ranges.  Confident that its less than vertical well tracked line and pre-prepared line of abseil stakes and threads would be a breeze after acclimatizing on the giant Chopicalqui the week before.  For me though, the mountain held some valuable lessons.....

Battling exhaustion from 20kg sacks and insufficient rest after success on Chopi, we approached Alpamayo’s col camp at c.5300m in encroaching darkness.  The last few hundred metres to col camp (which I later hear many say is the hardest bit of the expedition to climb Alpamayo) was a mix of Scottish II and III over which we moved together, fearing that belaying would just mean benightment in the storm.  The snow that had fallen for the last 2 hours increased in the ferocity with which it stung my face.  Another party was turning back, giving us orders to send their porters down with their gear.  Porters???  Why didn’t we have porters?

At the final section to the col my nerves were on edge and so I took a belay, only to become fearful that frostbite would take my fingers.  Once Mike was in sight and over the worst of the difficulties below me, I moved as quickly as I could to the shelter of the lee side of the col and the welcome sight of brightly coloured canvas: Col Camp, 5,300m.  As our breath formed ice on the roof of the tent we were forced to dismantle, clean and reassemble the stove before we were able finally to make a drink and something to eat.  “Rest day tomorrow!” our hoarse voices mumbled in unison.

Tomorrow, tomorrow…… hmmmm, if only I could get out of the tent.  The ‘most beautiful mountain in the world’ is outside, the skies are clear and it is all I can do to muster the energy to turn over and groan!  It´s not meant to be like this!  It´s not bloody fair!  Surely I´m acclimatized - last week we succeeded at climbing nearly 500m higher!