An Attempt of Mariposa, a.k.a. Nevado Santa Catalina
June 19, 2011
Given the much larger task of a climb of Mariposa as compared to Campa I, we were up and breakfasting at an early hour and on the trail by 4 a.m. We had scoped out the possible approaches to the climb the day before and we now made our crossing of the lower moraine in the dark, knowing that we would intercept the climber's trail at the far side of the valley.
The day was very different from the day we climbed Campa, we had heavy cloud cover very much like we had been experiencing in the afternoons when the clouds seemed to build around the surrounding peaks until the cold of night pushes them back so that the stars can brighten the night sky. However, the clouds cover did make for a warm and still morning approach.
We crossed the lower moraine and turned up valley on the climber's trail that came and went as we caught strong segments and dropped off the route here and there in the darkness. The skies began to lighten after we had made it about 1/3 of the way up the valley and we had full daylight by the time we had to start thinking about starting to cut upward to the start point of the climb up the flank of Mariposa. The course of prior climbers was obvious at this point but that did not make the route any easier. Prior travels had not cut a permanent track in the fine material that formed the very compact side of the moraine. We traversed this "dirt" slope with care as we tried to climb without a slide back to a point below our starting point.
We kicked with care and after a few minutes or so reached the crest of the moraine, which would lead us to the base of a rock rib would be the start of the climb proper. From a distance, the course from the top of the moraine to the rib seemed insignificant, but as is always true in the Andes, these are big mountains. We likely walked across talus and a substantial snowfield for 30 minutes before arriving at the base of the rib, which by now revealed itself to be a substantial outcrop.
The scar we thought we saw from a distance was likely the combination of natural scree movement and foot traffic. We joined the route and slowly ascended the flank, aiming to gain the snowfield that we planned to crampon up to the ridge of Mariposa. However, the weather had other plans and it seemed, as we crossed the 17,000 foot mark, that we left the sedate valley below and climbed into a cold, windy, and cloud veiled layer that would obscure the route ahead and the route below. The wind, now gusting above 30 mph, bit into us and snow began to swirl about. We climbed on, hugging the edge of the rib that formed the side of this wide couloir, slogging our way up through the constantly sliding scree. The only path that promised any progress was this rib/couloir interface and its rock step after rock step nature didn't offer all that much promise when combined with the deteriorating weather.
We realized pretty quickly that the weather would not get any better as we went higher up, that the snowfield that offered a crampon cruise was very hard neve that might require time consuming protection, and that the glaciated Mariposa ridge would be a long, very long, slog. We also had to take into account the stomach and bowel issues that most of us were fighting at this point . . . we stopped, talked and turned the climb. The gig was up for Mariposa and more likely than not, the "big" mountain portion of this trip was concluding as well. But that was OK, we long ago learned that a two week trip to the Andes that includes a good trek and an 18k+ summit is a total success. Every other summit is just icing on the cake.
We descended the scree scar and on back down the steep side of the moraine to the base of its trough. Rather than drop down valley, we elected to retreat via the route that Bob and I hiked through the day before, a traverse of the upper portion of the moraine with a stop at the lake at the toe of the Campa Glacier. From there we descended the moraine to camp, arriving at about 11 in the morning. The clouds came and went throughout the day but it was clear that the upper reaches of the Ausangate Massif was having an off weather day and that our call as to the conditions up high we certainly accurate. We lounged about for the rest of the day and planned our next move, a relocation of our camp to a spot just above the small settlement of Jampa in the valley located on the other side of Campa in the adjoining valley.