Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Road To La Esfinge 8-4 to 8-8-2012

The Road To La Esfinge
August 4th to August 8th 2012

I had dreamed of climbing La Esfinge from the day I heard about its existance four years ago. I had traveled to Hauraz to climb but I had very little time or experience.  I ended up getting altitude sickness and decided to spend my time trekking instead of climbing. While I was in Huaraz, I heard rumors of a "Big Wall" nestled deep in the Andes called La Esfinge.  I knew nothing of the difficulty of the climb, I only saw a photo.  I was instantly intriguied and I dreamed of climbing it.

This was the photo
Four years later brought me to Huaraz again.  I had built up my experience and I had much more time.  I had climbed several "Big Walls" with partners and solo and I had seven weeks to acclimitize and train. I wanted to climb La Esfinge and I had everything necessary, I just needed a partner.   I searched for four weeks for partners.  They were difficult to find.  I put my information in every coffe shop and guide service but I had no response.  I was about to give up hope when I met Roger and Augusto.  They were both staying the same hostel and wanted to climb the route at the same time.

Roger is Catalonian and is student in Engeneering.  Augusto is from Argentenia but worked as an orthopedic surgeon in Spain before quitting his job to travel and climb.  They were both super strong climbers, spoke good English and were fun to be around.

Hatun Machay:
We decided to go to Hatun Machay to train for the climb and get comfortable with each others skills.  Hatun Machay is touted as the highest sport climbing crag on the planent at 14,000 feet.  Augusto took his car (he had driven from Argentina) and the three of us and Tony all jumped in the van and took off.  Winding up the rocky hills up to Hatun Machay was fun and it was only 1.5 hours form Huaraz.  Riding in Augusto's van was an experience in itself as we had to push it up a hill when it broken down to jump start it.
The Beater Car with Roger and Tony
Sport Climbing Strong at 14,000 feet
I was happy to get off the snow and back on some rock.  We spent two days at Hatun Machay.  We did several fun routes mostly 5.10c-5.11a.  I onsighted all the routes except one where I broke a hold and fell 10 feet.  I felt strong and was happy to send two routes at 11a onsight at such a high elevation.  After the fun climbing, we would go back to the hut, play chess, eat and then head to the field to camp.

After Hatun Machay, we had half a day to prepair for the climb.  We went to the local market and got our food together.  Just as we were picking our dinner, the power went out and we continued to shop by candle light. 

Our plan was to do the route in two days.  It is 18 pitches and is very runnout at the top, so this would give us plenty of time and would allow us to top out in the sunlight.  We would travel with two half ropes as a party of three.  We brought a double rack with micro cams, a set of stoppers and 11 draws.  The two followers would each carry a backpack.  Inside would be food.  We packed two sandwiches and three candybars for lunch and pasta with chicken for dinner.  We would bring 1.5 liters of water per person per day.  I had a zero degree bag, Augusto and Roger shared one with a bivy sack.  We each brought a baselayer, fleece, down jacket and rain jacket.  This was as light was we could get the bags but they easily weighed 20 pounds each. It was an extreme hassle to climb 5.10 at elevation with a 20 pound pack, but we made due.

The Route:
Imagine the summit of Mount Whitney.  Now add 1,000 feet and put half dome on top of it.  This is La Esfinge.  The Mountain is 17,470 feet and tucked away in the Paron Valley high in the Andes.  We chose to climb the original route. It is rated 5.10R C1.  The "R" rating is for the first 5 pitches after the bivy that go at 5.9 and have little to no protection options (unless you have hybrid aliens).  It consists of fun but heady grooved granite climbing.  The cracks are flaired and bottomed out making great foot placements but horrible protection options.  I had little worry with the first half of the climb and was excited about the "off width chimney" but a had a little concern about the runouts in the upper pitches.  
Me posing with La Esfinge in the Background
The Approach:
We took a taxi to the Paron Valley and hired a porter to shuttle our technical gear and food to the base of the climb.  The bag we gave him was 70 pounds and he had a lot of trouble hiking it up and had to stop to catch his breath every few minutes.  So we took away twenty pounds and put it in our packs and continued up to the base of the climb.  I am not sure what to think of the common practice of hiring donkeys and porters but it was a great help and gave us more energy for the next day.

On the way to the climb, we met two young Peruvians from Lima who were going to climb the same route the next day.  They were sponsered by North Face and had brought a film crew for the climb.  They seemed like strong climbers but lacked experience.  They wanted to climb it in one day but had not thought of bringing a a bivy sack just in case they couldn't climb it - so Augusto lent them one.  They ended up starting after us and bailing on the 6th pitch.

The Cave Bivy:
We were told that we could bivy inside a cave five minutes from the base of the climb.  This must have been the coolest bivy that I have ever had.  A huge cave all to ourselves.
Outside of the Cave Bivy
Inside of the Cave Bivy
At night in our Cave Bivy

Day 1:
We woke up and approached the climb as the sun was rising.  As I put on my climbing shoes, my toes went numb.  My fingers were numb as well.  I shoved them in my pockets; took a deep breath and set off.

Pitch 1-3:
Augusto began to lead the first three pitches and their description is as follows.

Pitch 1: 30m 5.8 Climb up broken and somewhat vegetated rock to a nice belay.
Pitch 2: 30m 5.8 Continue up crack system and out right underneath a rotten black lichen encrusted roof.
Pitch 3: 30m 5.9 Move up and left arching up under a bulge clipping a few old bolts. Belay at a ledge.
Augusto started on the fourth pitch (an offwidth chimney) but backed down and asked if Roger or I could lead it.  I took the sharp end.

Pitch 4: 40m 5.9+ Climb a crack back left to a ledge and an offwidth chimney with wedged blocks inside. 

Pitch 5: 50m 5.9 Move up a chimney with face holds inside. At top of the short chimney move out left on face holds and climb on face features between two cracks. At the top of this pitch pull the 'Blob Mantle' of grass and dirt onto a ledge and belay.

Pitch 6: 50m 5.10d  This pitch was sick and was the crux pitch.  Continue up 5.9 cracks to under a large roof. Move right out the handcrack in the roof, turn the lip and continue up a well protected fingercrack. Belay at a good ledge. After this pitch, I handed the sharp end to Roger.

Pitch 7: 30m 5.10+ Move up a corner to a massive roof. Again move right underclinging a widening crack. Turn the corner of the crack and continue up a slab to a bolted anchor.

Pitch 8: 45m 5.10+ Climb up to a wide ear type feature with bolts. Move right around the ear on slick rock (several old bolts). Continue up and traverse back left to bolts on a good ledge. 
Pitch 9: 25m Easy 5th class
Move the belay horizontally left and slightly up to a the base of a 5.9+ corner.  We pitched this section out and set up our bivy at Faj De La Flores.

Night 1 Bivy:
We arived a Faja De Flores.  We were dressed in all of our layers and our hands and toes were still numb.  We immediatly got out our sleeping bags and set up our bivy.  It was crammed but tolerable. We ate our pasta and then went to bed.  The wind howled all night and even though I was in a 0 degree bag, I was still cold.  I was crunched up between a rock and a ledge but managed to have a decent night sleep.
Setting up Camp
Stuffed in Our Bags at theBivy
The Sunset from my sleeping bag
Day 2:
We woke up at 6:30am after a night of cramped and windy sleep.  It was very difficult to get out of the slepeing bag and put on the harness.  The wind was howling at 25mph and it was escpecially cold because of the high elevation.  Roger shined on the second day as he lead all off the 5.9 "R" rated pitches.  He was on a roll and I told him to keep going until he got tired. 

Pitch 10: 20m 5.9+ Climb a vegetated but nice crack to a bolted anchor on a ledge.

Pitch 11-14: 5.9R and Pitch 14-17 5.7R From the belay traverse left and access a lower angle groove. Continue up this groove system for about 500ft to where the wall becomes steeper. Much of the climbing through these pitches is run-out!

Pitch 17-19: 5.9  There are several options here with the easiest being to generally traverse up and rightward.  After Roger relinquished the lead, Augusto took over for one pitch and then I lead the final pitch to the summit.
A Belay off of a single old piton
Arriving two pitches before the summit
After the final pitch of the route, Roger and I went to tag the summit.  We reached it at 3pm.  We unroped and climbed up to the fourth class for some stunning views.  Augusto was not interested in the summit, he just wanted to climb the route, so he rested in the sun and took some geat photos.
Great Summit Shot
A Dream
Perfect panorama

Lunch In Caraz:
We slept in the next day and hiked down to the Paron Valley base.  We then took a collectivo out to Caraz.  It was an hour and a half ride down the rocky gravel road crammed in the back seat.  We all just wante to get to town and wash our hands and eat some good food.  We made it to Caraz and celebrated with a huge two dollar meal consisting of rice, curry chicken, soop, drink and happiness.
An edited video from Augusto of the climb

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