I plant my axe into the snow and feel it sink in deep. Too deep. I hesitate a moment and assess my surroundings. From the looks of it I’m traversing straight into a complex crevasse system where the upper glacier tips and fractures over the edge. I hack through the snow and try to look inside to estimate whether or not I could walk over it. It’s a no-go, the snow bridge is thin and what I thought to be three successive cracks turns out to be the gaping mouth of a single massive crevasse.
I hear Denis, annoyed by my hesitation, shouting to go up and left, but I’d rather not climb back through the steep snow field below me. The sun had been hitting the face full force for more than 4 hours now. If I slip, I know the two feeble snow stakes between me and Denis will have very little holding power in the loose, by now slushy, snow. I contemplate my options; an almost certain fall into a crevasse or chase my chances through the snow, traverse and go up to the lip of the glacier…
Reminiscing a fall into a covered up crevasse in the Bugaboos I decide I don’t fancy getting stuck in an icy prison and start making an upward traverse to the left after some delicate downclimbing. It turns out to be the right decision. A few scary metres of steep snow ploughing takes me to a little ice-cave. ICE! I quickly put two screws in and a couple moves further another three to make the first actual, trustworthy, belay of the day. Relieved I shout at Denis that he is safe to climb up.
Somewhat clumsily Denis crawls across the frail snow lip to reach a point where he can climb onto the upper glacial plateau. Some calculated moves later I see his feet disappear above me and left alone I wonder what the glacier looks like. It only takes a minute to realize it doesn’t look too good. I hear three muffled words flow down the lip to where I stand: “What. The. Fuck”… Looks like we’re stranded on an island surrounded by monstrous crevasses, some of them over 20 meters wide.
After gingerly working his way back to the belay Denis shows me the little video he took atop the glacier. I can see he is right about there being no point in me giving it a go as well. Besides, the Middle Buttress of Rasac, the route we had in mind, looks like a shooting gallery with big seracs hanging at awkward spots on the wide ridge. Even the face to the right of it, of which our guidebook promised it would be good terrain for new routes, looks like it has some pretty high objective danger with a massive cornice threatening the whole wall below it.
After some consideration – and some pouting – we decide yet again that it’d be better to bail. Thinking back of our retreat from Jirishance, where we both had a weird sudden loss of motivation and stoke even before reaching the glacier, we realize our Huayhuash trip isn’t nearly half the epic journey we’d hoped it to be. “Well, at least we have a good bivy spot”. We decided to wait until well after dark before embarking on our journey down. The idea of rapping from DIY aluminum sticks in cooked snow doesn’t really install that much confidence…
We try to make ourselves comfortable and chat and cook away the time and before too long we deem the temperatures low enough to start rapping into the night. It’s around midnight when we leave our little ice haven and three hours and five raps later we’re back on the lower glacier walking back to our tent. Too tired to bother about defeat we pronounce our expedition to be over and crawl inside the tiny tent.
Back in Huaraz it doesn’t take long before we start talking about coming back and being more prepared. More prepared for long approaches. More prepared for heavy backpacks. More prepared to truly suffer towards our goals. With a night of pisco sour at our favorite club (Kaziqe) we quickly forgive ourselves, but don’t forget.
Denis goes of to visit some friends in Santiago, Chili and as I’m on my way to a long lost friend in Lima I think back of our time here and am glad to not find feelings of remorse or defeat, but rather a melancholy leaving the mighty Cordilleras and the buzzing Huaraz behind, and a yearning to climb more, train more and come back stronger than ever.