We were alone this time - no porter, cook or burros - since the approach was supposed to be short without much elevation gain. Soon after we started hiking, dark skies descended and began peppering us with rain. Two hours later, we reached moraine camp - an ugly, cold, viewless and seemingly-spiritless set of flat spots on rocks. The rain was coming down hard, the wind had picked up, and it was freezing. We decided life is just too short for that much unpleasantness and turned around. We walked all the way back to the road and hitch-hiked a ride to Huaraz.
|Dark clouds and rays of light|
After careful thought, we picked Shaqsha, a picturesque two-summit mountain reaching about 18,800 feet. We were the first team to attempt Shaqsha this year. We hired burros to carry our packs for the 5-hour, 4,200-ft-elevation-gain approach to base camp on the moraine below the glacier, a beautiful and sheltered camp on soft sand, surrounded by rocks. Unfortunately, we arrived in driving snow and cold temperatures… but we took note from our Yannapacha mistake and stuck it out. Soon, the weather cleared considerably.
|Afterglow on Shaqsha, from near our camp|
|Our route on Shaqsha, directly up the West Face|
The clouds hung around all morning – always shifting - but the wind and snow stayed away. We felt like we were in some other-worldly, magical place. Fortunately, the clouds blocked any view down the incredibly steep and exposed face we were climbing up, which helped me stay focused instead of freaking out. The few times I did look down through a break in the clouds, I had to audibly tell myself "OK, keep climbing. Stay focused. Don't think about it."
|Taylor, high on the West Face|
|The knife-edge summit of Shaqsha|
Overall, Michael and I had a really amazing time, kept in good spirits the entire day, and enjoyed the technical challenges Shaqsha presented to us. Just as we got down to the crevasse field, the sun came out and we could look back and gawk at our route. We happily made our way back to camp to relax for the remainder of the day.
|Walking back to camp - beautiful!|
When we met our mule driver the next day, he could clearly see that I was having difficulty walking at any acceptable pace and offered to let me ride the mule. Damn my pride, I rode that mule with my eyes closed and my feet hanging barely off the ground the entire three hour descent to the road. From there, we took a collectivo to Huaraz where I spent the rest of the day lying in the dark and listening to 3-month-old episodes of "Wait, Wait, Don´t Tell Me" and feeling like an complete idiot for inflicting such preventable suffering on myself. Amazingly, by the next morning, my eyes were almost back to normal. We promptly went out and purchased the darkest sunglasses we could find blue wrap-arounds with an electric orange reflection off the lenses that make me feel like a 12-year-old boy. Michael thinks they are awesome. I don´t, but I'll wear anything that prevents agony like that from happening again.
|Michael leading through deep snow at the base of the West Face|
|Sunset on Shaqsha|