South American Odyssey

As the lucky recipient of the Tony Balthasar Achievement Award in 2010, I proposed that I would like to travel to Peru and attempt to climb Nevado Alpamayo (5,947m). My adventure followed…

I flew out of Sydney in July 2011 and spent my first few days in the capital of Peru, Lima. I met up with the national PR officer at the Scout headquarters, and we had a chat about Rovers in our countries. I discovered there are only around 200 Rovers in all of Peru!

I then travelled up to Huaraz, nine hours drive north of Lima, at the foothills of the central Andes mountain range (Cordillera Blanca) to meet up with the climbing team. I spent the next week doing day hikes up to lagoons in the hills around town for acclimatisation, to help prevent altitude sickness. We would climb a little higher each day, going from the town’s height of around 3,000 metres above sea level, eventually up to 4,600m.

We then did a successful three day ascent of Nevado Vallenaraju (5,686m), a phenomenal experience in its own right! Summit day consisted of a 1am wake up, then six hours of struggling uphill through crevasse fields and ice cliffs to reach summit at sunrise on a pleasant minus 15 degree morning… all the while feeling like you’re breathing through a straw (and I do this for fun!)

Back down into town and then straight away off on the three day walk in to Alpamayo. The first few days consisted of a spectacular hike up the Santa Cruz Valley, then eventually a climb up the super steep moraine wall to the glacier edge. We had donkeys to carry gear until this point. Another day’s snow/ice climbing up and over a high col then down into high camp at around 5,500m on the glacier below the main face of Alpamayo, an unbelieveable place to camp!

We had one false start this night when we were all ready to go at 1am and the weather came in just as we were heading off. A day of nervous waiting around in high camp then we made our summit push at 2am the next night. We attempted the French direct route, the longest, hardest and steepest on the wall, as all other routes were closed due to dangerous seracs at the summit. Two pitches of around 60 degree hard snow climbing, then another three pitches of 75 degree hard ice as the crux of the climb. With 100 metres to go, only two short easy pitches to the summit, my luck finally ran out! As I was hanging on a belay, a climber above dislodged a sizeable piece of ice which with the help of gravity decided to temporarily relieve me of the use of my left knee.

After calming down I gave one-legged ice climbing a go, but pretty quickly realised that wasn’t the best idea. My partner and I retreated from the face in six terrifying abseils, and I slowly made it back to my tent for a really well-earned sleep! I woke later to find a nastily swollen and bruised knee but nothing a few painkillers couldn’t fix. Could have been worse so I’m not complaining!

Over the next four days we headed back out over the col and back down the valley to Huaraz. A long bus ride back to Lima followed, then an epic 36hour return flight/waiting lounge journey home.

To the Balthasar Award committee, I’d like to say thanks again for the incredible opportunity, I had some amazing experiences on my amazing adventure!

Dominic Warland
Turramurra Rover Crew