I visited the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca in 2006 mostly with the intentions of climbing ice. Probably I stayed too long, and by the end I was too tired of ice climbing and I was crabbing some rock climbing for a change. One of the first rock climbs we did there was The Sphinx. The Sphinx is a 2000 feet, 23 pitches long rock climb that takes you through the clouds into the 18,000’ quota.
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Matt and I took the micro-bus from Huaraz to Caraz, which is 30mi north. These two towns span the latitude of the Cordillera Blanca. During the trip you are treated to a display of the Peruvian highest summits, most notably Huascaran and the Huandoy group. Huascaran's twin summits stand at 22,000 feet, and below them there is a laberynth of glaciers and routes. We passed by the town of Yungay, which during a 1970 earthquake got buried by a mega-land slide that fell from Huascaran’s west side. Now the entire town is a burial site. Once in Caraz, we took a taxi to the trail head at the Laguna Paron, about 15 mi up towards the Sierra. The road snakes up uncountable switchbacks as you gain altitude fast. At one point on the road to Paron, we passed under the Paron tower, which is a 4000 feet wall into the stratosphere. Some friends gave it a second try while we were in Peru, but they got a flu and had to abort. The laguna Peron is already as high a Mt. Whitney. From there, there is a trail that ascends a couple thousand feet to the cave at the base of the route. The cave is a space big enough for 5 people underneath a large boulder. It is clean , and it is atmospheric enough that it beats a tent.
We climbed the 85 route, or the normal route. This route was open by Sevi, a great guy that happened to be in Huaraz those days, and we hanged out with him. As we planned to do this route in one day, traveling light, we decided against taking the approach shoes for the descent. This would make the descent less comfortable. After all, here is only so much that you can carry while climbing 5.11 at 5000m. This turned to work out fine for us, although the descent took its toll on our toes.
The next morning we woke up with the sun light and Matt started leading the first pitch. The rock was of very good quality and the views were fantastic. The Sphinx is located across the canyon from the Huandoy group. As you gain altitude, you get a better line of view over the Paron tower into Huandoy north. The secon pitch was also alright, probably at 5.9. It climbs a right facing dihedral into a right traverse under a headwall.
Matt took an uneventful third pitch and I lead the fourth which consisted on a 5.9 face climb. The fifth pitch included some wider cracks that Matt laid back with moderate sweat. I lost track of the pitch order at this point, but soon after it was my turn to lead the first crux. We had no photographic support for this crux. The crux was a 11b hand crack traverse under a roof to a 11a finger crack that led you to a groove. Getting out of the groove was dicy-balancy but I am glad I did the pitch onsight. Now it was Matt's time to lead the next crux. That was another 11b move, this time a bouldery move over a block. Soon enough we were on the ledge a top pitch 11. We were feeling confident that we were going to finish the route on time as our time in the first and harder half of the route was under 5 hours. We were now high enough that the view of the North Huandoy was great. We could hear the constant roar of falling seracs in the distant north face of Huandoy. We were glad not to be there at the time. The moraine coming down from the Huandoy resembled a man made construction. It was unclear as to what the purpose would have been; a immense dam to contain the Laguna Paron, or an oversize road that descended from the Huandoy group. However these type of predictions have a funny way to go south.
Javier of the fourth pitch.
The weather continued to steadily deteriorate and a light snow started falling on us. We could see how the bottom of the valley had been longer under the effects of the storm and it started to get a white snow cover. The technically easier upper half of the route became considerably harder. Snow started covering crimpers, slopers and edges. Friction still work fine, but we had to be more delicate, particularly in the runouts.
Javier monopolyzing the camera once again
It was snowing abundantly now, but the temperatures were warm. As a consequence, the accumulation of snow on the route has mostly slash, which kept our hands constantly wet and cold. In one occasion I had to jam a hand crack that served as a water conduit. I placed a cam, and the water covered the entire cam, so that only the stem was visible. I proceeded to jam that soggy crack just to see how the water run down my arms into my body. Matt, offered me some chalk to make my hands dryer, and we both laugh at the situation. The route looked like it was going right now, traversing under a steep headwall. I suppose the upper part of the route is one of these situations where everywhere goes, with variable ratings.
Eventually we made it to the top, and the timing was according to plan. That must had been pitch 23, I suppose. I think the bad conditions had put the pressure on us, and made us focus on making a fast progress. The weather at the top was suddenly better, but we didn't hang out for too long there.
Javier at the top.
We took some pictures, and proceeded to follow the ridge that goes north to the col where we were to rappel. Four full length rappels and some slab down climbing takes you to a climbers trail. It started to get dark when we finish with the slabs, so the timing could not had been better. The snow fall had resumed by now and we were going down on a snowy talus slope on climbing shoes. Eventually we got to the boulder area, and after some minor difficulties, we managed to find the cave in the dark, aided by our optimized small headlamps. Unluckily, Only Matt took a camera, so most of the pictures are of me. Sorry Matt.