May 18th-19th, 2016
After finishing the Huayhuash trek Darren and I said our goodbyes to Ben and hit the road for Cusco. There we met up with Derek Field, who I had heard a great deal about from Darren and his brother. Derek has an unparalleled passion for the mountains as is evident through his impressive achievements over the past few years. He is now guiding alpine climbs out of Cusco.
Having spent a fair amount of time in the area Derek was a wealth of information, and suggested that we all climb Nevado Chicón (5530m). We drove to the town of Urubamba to find camping for the camper and arrange transportation to the trailhead. First however we checked off some quality and adventurous sport climbing routes at a craig called Lamay just west of town.
The next day we hired a colectivo to take us as far as possible up a dirt road towards the village of Cancha Cancha. The van got about 4km up the road. From there we walked. We made camp next to an apline lake at 4500m. The following morning we made our summit push from the west side of the mountain. Once it became light it was evident that the glacier had receded by hundreds of meters as compared with the photo we had from a few years ago. What was once glacier ascent was now a steep loose looking scramble. We elected to try the north ridge ridge instead, which involved a short walk on a small glacier followed by an exciting section of class 5 climbing (steep rock usually climbed with a rope) and a spicy ridge walk to the summit. The ridge was exposed on both sides and crumbling, making sure footing hard to come by. At one point we looked back to see a bar fridge sized boulder that we had all presumably just stood on fall off the top and trundle down the valley. Overcoming alarm bells howling in my head, I pressed on after Darren and Derek.
Eventually the loose rock and exposure got the better of me, and I elected to turn back. I shouted out to Darren and Derek to go on without me and had lunch before turning back. Descending the ridge was comparably terrifying to going up it. With supreme focus I took it one step at a time and eventually arrived at the class 5 section. Here Darren was planning on belaying us down, but faced with waiting at least an hour for the others to return and a mounting headache from the altitude I surprised myself with the confidence to down climb the section. It was a nice consolation prize. As I watched Darren and Derek ascending what little was left of the glacier to the summit my ego wrestled a bit with the decision to turn back. Ultimately though I think that in alpinism it is equally important to have the determination and perseverance to push on, as it is to know when to turn back. The frustrating reality is that in making such decisions it is impossible to know if you were right. Unfortunately, just because everyone came home safe today does not mean that all the decisions made were the right ones. It is however possible to be sure that you were wrong, and the consequences could be irreconcilable to most.
Big props to Darren and Derek for making the summit of a tough climb. We met up down in the valley and took a short nap at camp before packing up and walking all the way back to the road, arriving in the dark. Along the way we joked about partying in Cusco that night, a silly idea after a 17-hour day on the mountain. We retrieved the camper from the lot, got some grilled chicken in town, and drove an hour back to Cusco. We made it to a parking garage minutes before closing and grabbed the cheapest hostel beds we could find nearby. Derek took a cab to his place. At the hostel we squeezed in an hour of sleep before meeting Derek again in the main square a little after midnight. We spent the rest of the night getting involved in Cusco’s impressive nightlife. That’s perhaps the thing I like most about Darren and Derek; they know that sometimes silly ideas are the best ones.