Sunday, March 4, 2018


This is an account of climbing the North-west face of tocllaraju in July 2017.


The lovely thing about mountaineering in the Cordillera blanca is that all these high summits are crammed together and you can do things very quick.

Tocllaraju is known to be a 4 day climb for acclimatized mountainneers, we decided to do in 3 by linking the first two days together. Some local guides told us it was impossible, which made me want to try this fast ascent even more.

Most leave huaraz to go to basecamp on the first day which is an hour and a half drive plus a 4 hour walk to basecamp. The second day is another 4 hour scramble to moraine camp.

So Julian, my colombian partner, and I left Huaraz at 6am to reach the trail head at 7:30. By 8am we had hired a mule and its driver to carry our big packs to basecamp. We reached basecamp just around 11:30, relaxing for an hour From there we carried our big backpacks, 30 kilos, to moraine camp at around 5000 meters. We arrived at around 4:30 pm just in time for supper. Passing all the comemorative plates and crosses on the way up to moraine camp let's you remember that here, mountains are king. To me this was possibly the most intimidating part of it all. A lot of people have died on tocllaraju and it's not an easy walk like some might think.
Crossing the Bergshrung before the last pitch

Reflecting on this we woke up at 2 am the following day to attempt the summit. It was a super windy night, so windy I took the poles out of my tent and had to lay rocks on the top of it all so it wouldnt fly away. We put our boot, crampons and tied in to our ropes directly from camp. As we walked up through the glacier we could feel the wind pick up, it was so strong at times that we had to throw ourselves to the ground and dig our axes into the snow, then we'd wait a few minutes for it to calm! When the wind would calm down for a few seconds we'd hurry as far up the glaciar as possible to gain the time we'd just lost staying still. It was exhausting. It used up all our energy. Most teams turned around because of this. The only team that followed behind was a team of two mexicain Mountain guides.

As we progressed up the glaciar we started to get severely burnt and tired from fighting the freezing wind. I got so cold I couldnt feel my toes or fingers. My body started shivering a lot and at one point we barely moved for 20 minutes. The wind got really crazy on us. I feared I might be starting to be hypothermic if we didnt get a move on! I told my partner I was tired and frozen and had no energy to keep going. At this point the mexicans caught up. When they saw my face, they tried to cheer me up by saying the sun would be up in less than half an hour and that the summit was close. One of them even gave me one of his coffee flavoured energy gels screaming through the wind; TAKE IT, THIS IS ENERGY! VAMOS!!! They where really trying to get my adrenalin pumping again. So I took the gel and tried to follow behind them as we switched leads.

The time it took before the sun came out was excruciatingly long. But it's first rays were enough to give me some warmth and motivation back. I felt better, like I was actually going to make it! There is a section where you climb up and right of seracs. You need to go quick in this part, apperantly it killed two argentinians the previous year. It scared the shits out of me. As we raced up, Julian, started to throw up from altitude. I screamed to him to keep going a little farther. He pushed on in a warrior atitude and we made it passed the serac. Once you pass this point there are three technical passes. All of them more or less similar. The start with a snow bridge travesing a crevasse to a 45 degree wall. The last pitch is the hardest. I led the steep pitches since Julian had only brought one ice axe. We reached the summit around 9:30 am. The mexicans pulled out their flags and Julian pulled out his colombian flag as well. I almost felt ashamed to not have a canadian flag for the picture! I was still happy, this was our first 6000 meter summit. I couldnt beleive it! We battled hard but it was all worth it. The view from the top was mindblowing.
We took a few pictures but we knew the glaciar was warming up and we needed to get the hell out of there! So we prepared our descent. We joined our ropes together for one big 70m rappel off the summit.

Summit! Credit : Daniel Alba Iniestra
We teamed up again for the other two rappels. Before running down pass the warming serac! We were anxious about getting off that glaciar!
We made it down for 2pm. I had an hour rest at high camp and then, I packed up my things in order to walk down to basecamp. As I packed my gear I gave my fairwells to Julian. This makes for a big day but it feels good to end the summit day in base camp.
Julian wanted to stay in the Ishinca valley to try the other peaks in that area. The next day I walked vback out of the valley and hitched a ride back to the city! What an adventure. I'm Very happy to have accomplished the 3 day mission! Such strong winds, such amazing friendships, such imense beauty!

Julian catches a glimpse of the 2 mexicans and I on the summit
We sumited toqllaraju on July 22nd.
Muchissimas Gracias Julian Bernal!
I hope to climb with you again soon!

Vincent Kneeshaw