The White Range

// August 9th, 2013 // Climbing, Hiking

Sunrise on Huascaran

Sunrise on Huascaran

The snow here in Colorado covers our peaks for a few months, but eventually melts away allowing flowers, grass and goats to flourish and make this harsh environment seem almost hospitable.
It may seem odd to call the Rockies gentle, but that is exactly how they seem after a trip to some of the world’s other great ranges.

This summer’s expedition took eight other climbers and me to the White Range – the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, with the goal of climbing Pisco, Chopicalqui and Artesonraju.  The team would be as diverse as the mountains we would climb. Ranging in age from fifteen to sixty plus and coming from California, Colorado and Chicago the biggest challenge was making sure we were all on the same page, and just as importantly the same plane.

The McCormick family is adventurous.  They have traveled the world like home-schooling gypsies and while doing so have managed to participate in about every adventure sport imaginable.  When Gil McCormick and his two sons signed on for this trip I wasn’t the least bit concerned that Grant, at only 15 years of age, would be climbing to 20,000′ nor was I worried that he would be relying on his old man who can only see out of one eye to lead the rope team over snow-bridges and deep, dark, crevasses.  No worries because they took it seriously, were fitter than I, they were properly equipped and trained, and when it came to positive team attitude…they had that too.

Traveling with my long time climbing buddy J Whorton, we met the rest of the team in Houston: Bob Balshizer of Granite Arch climbing gym fame, along with guitar virtuoso and new father Gabe Becker and finally former gymnast Jeremy Wall.

Since the team had spent a lot of time acclimating pre-trip we expedited our itinerary and were soon at the base of Pisco – our first peak.  The team opted to forego the slog to moraine camp with heavy packs and instead make one long summit day from base-camp.  Finding an unfamiliar path through a boulder field at night is a challenge with two eyes.  Gil magically managed to do this with one eye and emerge with the sunrise on the other side unscathed.

16,000′ and we were now facing the glacier.  The morning was cold and breezy, but at least the visibility was poor.  The low clouds and high winds made visibility next to nil, and what was supposed to be an easy warm-up climb – a dangerous challenge.  For brief moments I could make out tracks in the snow from previous climbers, then in an instant they would be blown over and covered up.  Even a person familiar with this peak would have had trouble finding his way in this cold soup, but we felt good and we pressed on, snow to our knees at times, exposed ice at others.

Leading the group through this mess was the biggest challenge for me in that it was so mentally draining and such a strain on the eyes as I would continually see things that weren’t really there.  Pressing on the team made the summit feeling great.  Jeremy felt so good in fact that he attempted a backflip, crampons and all… he landed, but not on his feet.

The ridge was narrow and all was white, but at least the fall would be long.  Going down is usually easier, but in this case the weather did not clear and the challenge was more mental than physical.  Progress was slow but we finally made it down below the cloud and storm – what a relief it was.  Success at 18,700′ in the White Range.

Tune in tomorrow for more on the next peak, our sponsors, and some gear reviews.

McCormicks

 

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