At 2:57 AM on Sunday June 29, we woke up and crawled out our warm sleeping bags and tent at Camp 1 and into the cold and dark of night. By 4:30 AM we had our climbing harnesses, helmets, and headlamps on and we roped together and followed Nacho into the infamous and feared "Canaletta." It was particularly daunting given the fact that the storms of the past few days left no trace of a logical path through this labyrinth of building-sized seracs and deep crevasses, but Nacho navigated our way through the dark like trailblazing pro. The waist-deep snow also presented a challenge but the three of us were strong and persevered despite a disconcerting reality: so far there has only been one successful summit of Huascaran this year. It was in May, and Nacho has estimated that 10 other expeditions have tried but failed for various reasons.
Phil Crampton from US-based Altitude Junkies was among this group and we spoke with him when we arrived at Base Camp last Wednesday (we first met Phil on Everest in 2010). Phil told us about another team that just left the mountain as well without reaching the top, it was a Czech team on their way to Pakistan to climb K2, so he felt pretty confident of their skills and abilities, plus he said they were just tough Czechs!
Nonetheless we tried not to think of these long odds as we continued to trudge through the deep snow that was also very light and of a non-compacting, sugary consistency (i.e. avalanche-prone). Meanwhile the weather once again began to turn from good to bad and the wind picked up blowing cold snow onto our faces. All three of us independently began contemplating the decision whether we should turn around. About that time, now 6:30 AM at an altitude of approximately 18,000 feet Nacho turned to us and asked, "What do you guys think?" It was pretty obvious to all three of us that the only smart decision was to turn around, so we did.
Nacho leading us up through Canaletta near our turnaround point
Only once before in the past 12 years of climbing big mountains, have we not been able to reach the summit on an expedition. Given the conditions, it may seem to an observer that it was an easy decision to make, but from our perspective it would have been far easier to minimize the risks in our mind or hope the conditions would improve, and just keep climbing. However, it was a valuable lesson for us and reinforced the fact that we love life, and our friends and family back home far more than to take undue risk for the sake of reaching a summit. There are many more S.U.M.M.I.T.s to reach in life! ...couldn't resist the reference to the acronym in chapter 10 of StepsToTheSummit.com :-) Plus we have two more peaks to attempt in Bolivia and Ecuador as our Ambitious Adventure to the Andes continues!
Late afternoon at C1 while weather was still nice, Canaletta in background
Nacho and Denise plowing through snow in Canaletta with crevasses in background
Storm clouds engulfing Huascaran several hours after turning back, confirming the right decision was made