Practice Run No.2: Chopicalqui Summit

In Practice Run No.2by Steve

Back in Huaraz for Half Time

After a good couple of days training and acclimatising on Yanapaccha (5460m), on 6th July we moved across to Chopicalqui Base Camp (~4300m). In the afternoon I walked up to Moraine Camp (~4900m) and then went back down for the night. 7th July we went to Moraine camp and slept the night, then on 8th July moved up to High Camp (~5400m). My head was throbbing on arrival and persisted all afternoon, indicating I still wasn’t properly acclimatised. Celebrated my birthday with a surprise cake after dinner, then went straight to bed at 19:00 in preparation for a 00:30 start the next morning (or should I say the next midnight). The weather had been ordinary the past few days with frequent snow squalls blowing through, but was forecaste to be clearing.

00:30 rolled around, it was easy to wake up as I hadn’t even managed to get to sleep in the first place. Got dressed and had a hot drink, then at 01:30 set out into the night together with Marco, my mountain guide for the trip. The night was overcast and cold with the odd snow equal still blowing through. We made good progress on the lower slopes but it got increasingly more difficult as we went higher. Soft snow had settled on the mountain from the previous day’s storms, making it a tough slog on the flatter sections, and technically more difficult on the steeper sections where it was a challenge to get good purchase on the hill through the soft powder.

Sometime around 04:00, after a long time of being stationary on a belay while Marco tried to negotiate a technical section, and while getting battered by more snow squalls, I got increasingly more cold and lost all feeling in my fingers. While I was moving I was fine, but being stationary was the killer. On the plus side, my new boots were working a treat in keeping my toes warm. Once Marco had run out a length of rope and set an anchor, I climbed up to join him and we got going again.

I spent the next few hours shaking and rubbing my hands vigorously whenever I could (in between climbing and trying to cling to the side of the mountain) in an attempt to restore feeling to my fingers, which by this stage felt like solid ice cubes on the ends of my hands. When leaving for this trip, I promised myself I would return with 21 complete digits. I was getting increasingly more worried that I had compromised that promise.

Sometime after 06:00, we crossed a steep gully then climbed a short steep section to gain the ridgeline. Poking my head over the ridge, I got the first glimpse of the sun which was starting to rise on the horizon, and the final line to the summit. I cannot describe the elation I felt at that moment. It reminded me of a quote I read in a book, “the sun always rises after the darkest part of the night”….

It still took what seemed like eternity to reach the summit as I was reduced to snails pace, but we finally got there shortly after 08:00. We had climbed above the clouds, and were greeted with clear blue skies above (and blanket of cloud below). I will admit, I was a touch emotional on reaching the summit and gave Marco a giant man-hug. My fingers by this stage had developed a painful stinging / burning sensation, which despite the pain, felt so good as it meant circulation was being restored.

After a few quick photos, and feeling my body temperature dropping again by the minute, we started on the descent. We finally got back to High Camp at 11:50 where hot soup was waiting for us, after which I collapsed in my tent, knackered but elated. I lay there for about an hour then shortly after 13:00, got up, packed up camp and continued down to Moraine Camp collecting some gear I had stashed on the ascent, then continued down to Base Camp, a total descent of some 2000m. That night I ate like a horse and slept like a baby.

I know Chopicalqui is a relatively easy climb by true mountaineering standards, but for me, being my first +6000m peak, it felt like a massive achievement. A big thank you to Marco of High Summit Peru. A true professional and an incredibly strong man in the mountains. Without him I know I would not have got there.

Anyway, I am now back in Huaraz enjoying a steak, chips and beer. The tips of my fingers still have a slight tingling sensation but overall feeling pretty good. Tomorrow’s a rest day in Huaraz before we head out for Alpamayo on 12th July. Time to order another drink, and enjoy the rest of tonight before refocusing tomorrow.