Ishinca Summit, Tocllaraju Attempt
(Cordillera Blanca, Peru)

19-23 Jul 2008 - by Jack Plotkin

We left from Huaraz Peru on the morning of July 19, 2008 in a private taxi to the town of Pashpa, where we were to meet our porteador, arriero, and burros. The ride is about an hour and a half and cost us about 45 soles. The road ends in Pashpa and we threw most of our gear on the horse and burro, and began a gentle, well-marked 4 hour walk to the Quebrada Ishinca base camp at 14,272. Once there, we set up camp. This is a decent size valley with probably about 20 other tents spread across a large area, a large "refugio," two or three outhouse toilets, and a river winding through the middle. Note: if you get water from this river, go high up -- the refugio sends its waste water to the middle. Once you get water higher up, purify or boil as there is livestock very high up on the mountain.

Hoping to have been decently acclimatized having been in Huaraz for two weeks, we set out at 4am for the summit of Ishinca. The trail begins on a bunch of switchbacks from base camp, takes a right into some other narrow valleys and finally arrives at a creek. From here, you can cross the creek and head up to the glacier, or make a hard, steep right up more switchbacks and hit snow later up on the mountain. We opted for the former, which seemed to have been a better choice. We began on somewhat steep ice and continued for a few hours. We roped up, and there were a few short jumps over some crevasses, but nothing that appeared too ominous. We didn't see any threat of ice or rockfall - no helmets. The final pull to the summit was the steepest part, so we rested for a bit and ate some food, then headed up and got to the summit with clear skies and amazing panoramas at about 9am; we were the only ones on top. We passed one group on the way up and could see a few others coming up the other route.

After about 10 minutes and lots of photos, we began the descent down the other side. Right below the summit on that side, there is a sizable crevasse that we slowly manuevered over, then began our walk down towards Ranrapalca and base camp. The view back up showed this may have been a slightly more aesthetic route, but not as much fun. We took off our crampons and began an annoying climb back up some switchbacks, then a long ascent down.

This was definitely a worthwhile climb in itself, and a great one if you're searching for something higher in the range.

The following day, we left around noon for Camp 1 to Tocllaraju and arrived around 4 and what I'm guessing was about 16,300 feet. There was an unusual amount of snow this year, which covered the morraine camp and actually caused us to stay against some rock walls below Camp 1 due to the amount of snow and our lack of shovel. At 1 am, we set out for the summit against blowing snow, and a persistently blowing wind. The beginning of this climb involved some steepish sections, but all one-tool climbing. We hit two sections where we used our technical axes, and in the dark, I wasn't able to see just how frightening some of the crevasses we crossed indeed were.

As it was unexpectedly cold, my water had frozen in my pack - something I had not planned for. A group that came down when we arrived at base camp said they had clear weather and no problem with freezing. With the lack of water and bad weather, we didn't summit here. We got about 100 meters below to a bergschrund and the most technical steep section on the mountain where we decided to turn around in order to safely climb back down.

We used some pickets and protection climbing back down the steep sections and over the crevasses, got back to Camp 1, and headed back down to base camp. Disappointed, but not defeated, we took a rest, were glad to have attempted Toclla (as it is a captivating mountain), rested, and headed back down to Pashpa the following day.

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