Jun 11, 2014

Alpamayo - The chicas, chicos and gringos you meet along the way

Trawling through an online library of photography of Alpamayo I can’t help but feel excited about the weeks ahead. I made a conscious decision not to go back to the Himalaya this spring but rather to focus on exploring a new part of the world that would combine two passions which have fuelled my travels and numerous stamps in my passport over the past five years - mountains and people. When my friend Adrian Ballinger, understanding the lure of mountains of aesthetic beauty (Makalu, Cholatse, Ama Dablam to name a few) sent a well timed email, it didn’t take too long before Part 1 of my summer plans came together.

At (19,512 feet/5,947 meters), Alpamayo is the gem of the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. Ever since it was first climbed in 1951, alpinists have been flocking to attempt its fluted Southwest Face. In July 1966, on the German magazine ‘Alpinismus’, a photo made by American photographer Leigh Ortenburger, was supported by an article resulting from an international survey among climbers, photographers, etc., voting for Alpamayo as "The Most Beautiful Mountain in the World”. As soon as I saw the jaw-dropingly breathtaking photo, I couldn’t help but whole-heartedly agree.

G√ľnter Hauser, who made the first ascent, wrote: "As we pitched our tents the sun went down and Alpamayo became a kaleidoscope of swiftly-changing colour altogether becoming suffused with the pale lunar radiance of the evening before against the background of the dark blue sky with its diadem of stars." 

Alpamayo deserves these accolades. Although smaller than many of its neighbouring peaks, it is distinguished by its unusual formation and overwhelming beauty. It actually has two sharp summits, North and South, separated by a narrow corniced ridge. 

We'll be climbing the Southwest face. Although there are several climbing routes on the Southwest Face the most common is known as the Ferrari or Italian Route. It was opened in 1975 by a group of Italian alpinists led by Casimiro Ferrari. It begins at the top of the highest point of the snow slope where the bergshrund separates the upper face on the left and then ascends a steep runnel to the summit ridge. Summit day consists of  450m  (1,500 feet) of perfect ice and neve (styrofoam-like snow) climbing on a flawless fluted face.

I’ve been told that you’ll know you’re nearing the top of the climb when you begin to see light ‘through’ the face from the other side. And on a good year, you can actually top out on the summit ridge, with one foot dangling down each of its almost vertical faces… Nothing like a knife-edge summit ridge to get the heart racing.

The journey...

I’ll be flying directly into Lima, Peru where the journey will begin. I’ll spend a few days on my own in Lima before meeting up with my climbing team - faces familiar and new as we head from Lima to Huaraz - a winter sports and adventure mecca,  attracting visitors from around the world to enjoy climbing, hiking, snowboarding, skiing and to visit the glaciers and mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.  From there we’ll make our way to the trail-head where the real climbing will commence…

As I’ll be traveling to a part of the world that I’ve never visited before, I thought I’d do a bit of research on the food, people, culture and traditions that I can expect to find there… From the looks of things, I’ll be eating and drinking well (if I acquire a taste for guinea pig!), get a real appreciation for the immense scale of the rain forest, learn some new Spanish words and… likely acquire a new pair of yellow underwear…

A few random but interesting facts about Peru…
  • Peru grows more than 55 varieties of corn, and you can just about find it in any colour  including yellow, purple, white and black;
  • The potato is originally from Peru, and there are over 3,000 different varieties. Proud Peruvians use the phrase “Soy mas Peruano que la papa” (I am more Peruvian than the potato);
  • Cuy or Guinea Pig is a traditional dish eaten in Peru;
  • Peru is the 8th largest producer of coffee in the world, and is the 5th largest producer of the Arabica bean;
  • Peru is a surfer’s paradise. Chicama has the world’s longest left-handed wave at 4km’s long, and Mancora (close by) has the world’s largest left-handed point-break.
  • Two-thirds of Peru is covered in prime Amazon rainforest;
  • There are 3 official languages in Peru: Spanish, Quechua and Aymara, but east of the Andes in Amazon Jungle regions it is thought that natives speak a further 13 different languages; and,
  • In Peru, it's traditional to give friends and family yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve as it brings good luck...!