Adventures in Peru - Nevado Solimana Summit Attempt
By Vic Hanson
When we finished climbing Nevado Coropuna about 1½ years ago, we drove from our base camp at the foot of Coropuna to Cotahuasi. As we drove away from Coropuna, we couldn't stop looking back at where we had just been, on the top of Coropuna. We kept taking pictures and talking about our climb, until we came into sight of Nevado Solimana in front of us. Now our thoughts and conversation turned to climbing Solimana in the future. Solimana isn't as high as Coropuna, but it is much harder as it is a technical climb, where Coropuna is non-technical and didn't require any special skill. Therefore I was not really sure that I would be able to climb it, as I had never done any technical climbing in snow or ice.
After a few changes in the schedule, we finally had firm plans to make the climb in November. I was coming from Cotahuasi, and Carlos and Hugo would be coming from Lima. They were to be going to Coropuna on the Reyna bus, and I was to meet them at Visca Grande, the closest place on the road to the base of Solimana, at about 2:30 am. I wasn't sure exactly where Visca Grande was, so I left Cotahuasi early to give me time to find it, as well as to find a way to drive as close as possible to the start of our climb. We had basic directions from a trip report we had read, as well as a copy of a topo map of the area. I tried numerous routes to the mountain from the main road, but was not able to get very close. There was another road going to a village on the high plain, and it looked like that would get us closer, but I didn't have time to check that out before dark. I did find where Visca Grande was, so parked along the road there, and waited for the bus. I had about six hours to wait, so set my alarm and tried to get some sleep. I set my alarm plenty early, to make sure I was awake before the bus arrived. I finally saw lights coming on the road towards me, but it turned out to be the Alex bus.
A little while later there were more lights and that was Reyna. I flashed my headlights at the bus, and they stopped and my friends got off. I told them what I had found out, and we agreed to wait there until morning; so Carlos and Hugo set up their tent and I slept in the back of my station wagon. In the morning, we drove towards Cotahuasi to the intersection of the other road, and then started driving back towards Solimana. The road curves a lot, so for awhile it looked like we were as close as we could get, but we went a little farther, and after going around a curve, we started getting closer to the mountain again. We soon saw the small river that the report had said was the landmark to follow as the approach route. We parked the car and started to prepare our gear for the hike. It is very remote area, off the main road, so it seemed like a safe place to leave the car for two days.
At 11:05 we were ready to start the hike up the streamed to our base camp. We were able to see our goal in the distance, and it didn't seem that far away. It is a very easy hike at first, not very steep and there were many cattle and llama paths to follow. However, we did start the hike at close to 14,000 feet, so we were all feeling the affects of the altitude. Both Carlos and Hugo live in Lima at near sea level, and I had only been back in Cotahuasi for less than a week, after returning from the U.S. I had spent a few days at high altitude in Huaraz just before that, so was a little better off than they were. My lighter pack and relatively good shape more than made up for my age though, and I was able to lead the hike up to where the terrain got steeper. We were making slow but steady progress, and stopped for lunch at a large boulder where we surveyed the climb ahead of us. After a nice break, I again led the way up the broad ridge, hoping to get as close as possible to the glacier to set up our base camp. I was getting quite a bit ahead of the other two, but we had two-way radios and they were in communication with me, so I continued on to scout out the best route. About 4:00 pm Carlos radioed that they were too tired to go any farther, and were going to go down to the stream, to camp near the water. I was right at the base of a cliff, so decided to leave my pack there and climb up to get a better view, and explore a little farther. It was a fairly easy trail, still on a broad ridge, but was getting steeper, and by now I was above 16,000 feet, so had slowed down quite a bit as well. I went a ways to where I got a good view of the rest of the approach, and then turned around at about 4:45 to go back and meet my partners at the base camp, at 15,865 feet. I arrived there with enough time to get my tent set up, get water, and have dinner before dark. Hugo and Carlos were feeling better after having stopped early to rest, so we went to bed early, planning on a 4:00 am start.
After breakfast in the morning, we were debating which route to take to the glacier. I felt the ridge route would be the easiest, but Carlos and Hugo wanted to stay in the gully and follow the creek. I had seen where the routes would join again, so we separated and took our preferred routes. I could look down and see their headlamps, and it still looked like my route was easier, so I was happy with my choice. A couple of hours later, we were approaching a saddle, where they had to climb up and I had to go down, meeting there at about the same time. From that point we didn't see an obvious trail as it was a rocky slope, and we began a slow tiring climb up to the glacier. It was getting steeper as well, and soon Hugo was in the lead, enjoying the advantage of being under 40 years old. When I caught up to Hugo, taking a break about half way up along the edge of the glacier, he gave me some bad news. He had somehow forgotten his food and water back at our base camp. After Carlos joined us and was informed of our situation, we discussed the alternatives.
The options were to try to share food and water and keep going, go back to base camp and make another attempt the following day, or to call it a training hike for our attempt on Ampato, which we were going to do a few days later. Another factor was that the normal route to the summit is a snow climb up a steep ravine, and we could see that there was no snow on the route. We thought about crossing the glacier to the base of the summit wall, just to look at it closer up. I walked out on the glacier a ways to see what it was like; it was really slow going due to all the penitentes, (spikes of ice). Along the edge of the glacier was a very steep slope, and it was very difficult to traverse along that in the loose gravel. We agreed it would be foolish to try to continue to the summit, and there didn't seem to be much point in expending the effort just to get to the other side of the glacier, so we headed back to camp.
After arriving there, we packed up and headed back to the car, arriving there about 4:00 pm. The final decision was to wait for better conditions on Solimana and move on to Ampato. We decided to go to Cotahuasi, relax in the hot springs there, and then after a good night's sleep, head to Ampato. We put our stuff in the car and started towards Cotahuasi. I was parked on the far side of the small stream and started across it slowly, as it was rough and rocky. When I was right in the middle of the stream, I bumped up against a submerged rock and stalled the engine, or so I thought anyway. I tried to start it again but it wouldn't start. At this point we were about 30 minutes drive from the main road, and about an hour and 20 minutes from Cotahuasi. The main road has very little traffic, and this road only has twice weekly combi service to the village of Huachuy, about four hours away, so I knew there wasn't any use in waiting for someone to come by to rescue us. We decided that Carlos and Hugo would wait at the car, and I would walk to Cotahuasi to get a mechanic.
I took everything out of my pack except my warm clothes, sleeping bag, a little food and my headlight, and headed cross-country towards the main road. I was hoping that someone might be heading to Cotahuasi and I could get a ride part way. Otherwise, I had the choice of walking all the way to Cotahuasi, or waiting for the Alex or Reyna bus to pick me up about 3:00 am. After about 1½ hours of walking, I got to the main road and started towards Cotahuasi. Another 1½ hours later, I arrived at the rim of the canyon, where there was a small concrete block building. At this point, I was really tired, after about 15 hours of hiking. I also had only been on the steep trail down to Cotahuasi once, which was a couple of years before, so didn't really want to try going down that in the dark, as tired as I was. Walking down the road was an option of course, but I knew that was at least 13 miles, if not more, and didn't want to do that either. I set my alarm for 30 minutes before my earliest estimate for the bus to go by, and lay down on a bench in front of the building, and tried to get some sleep. The Alex bus came by first, at about 3:00 am, so I flagged them down. There were no seats available, so I sat on my pack in the aisle, along with a number of other people. It was about 4:30 before I finally got home, and got to bed. I slept for about three hours, and then got up to go see the mechanic. Of course he was busy, but said he would be able to take me back to my car in a few hours.
About four hours later, he was finally ready and we took off in his Ford pickup. He insisted on taking a couple of planks along, saying if he couldn't get the car running up there that he would put it in the back of his truck. I made sure he had a tow strap, knowing that the car wouldn't fit in his truck. We got to the car at about 3:30, and of course my buddies were very relieved to have us finally show up. They had made friends with a couple of young shepherd kids, not knowing why it was taking me so long to return. After about an hour's checking, the mechanic finally gave up, not being able to figure out what was wrong with the car. He still had to measure it to admit that the car wouldn't fit in his pickup, and then started towing us back to Cotahuasi. It took almost three hours to tow the car back, so it was dark by the time we got to Cotahuasi. It turned out that the fuel injectors were dirty and that caused the computer to shut down the engine, everything was fine after they were cleaned. I plan on doing some exploratory hikes around Solimana to check the conditions, now that the rainy season is over, and we hope to make another summit attempt in May or June.
Vic Hanson is the founder of Adventure Cotahuasi Tours, which offers pre-planned and custom adventure travel tours in Cotahuasi Canyon and other areas of Peru.
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