Mission Lunatica in the Mad Cow District7 min read
My consciousness is sliding down the blurry edge between awake and dreamy state. An eerie breathing interrupts my passage to the land of dreams. It also gives me the chills. What is it? Surely not Sasho, having troubles breathing at 4474 meters. We are, by now, well acclimatised. Maybe a monster from a dream? Nope. It’s a cow—running around, hunting at night, sniffing for its prey and breathing in my neck on the other side of the tent. They say the cows in the valley have gone mad.
Tup-tu-tup… my heart goes out of rythm.
Welcome to the Mad Cow District!
Each summer, backpackers, trekkers and climbers from all over the world fly to Peru. It is cheap. The food is fresh. The views—stunning. Many 6000-meter peaks await just a stone throw away from the city of Huaraz.
We too, are tempted by the colourful opportunities offered by the land of the Incas. And so, on June 4th, a vivid early morning welcomes us in town. My eyes jump all over the place with the fascination of a curious explorer. They rest upon the snowy peaks that lure over town.
“Which one is that peak over there?”–I ask a local.
“Senorita, this is Vallunaraju (5686m). The peak is perfect for acclimatisation. It is a two-day trip with an easy approach from Llaca Valley.”
Many climbers make their first stop there. It is also a great one-day alternative for trekkers to acclimatise by visiting the lake. Laguna Llaca is closer and not as crowded as the more popular Laguna 69. Plus, the scenery it offers is just as rewarding.
We start our adventure with sports climbing at the not so popular Inka Waqanqa crag. After leaving enough DNA on the rock formations, we head up to pay our respect to the ice cathedrals, like knights sworn to the ice tools.
Our trip has almost come to its end. Left with little money and a few days, we are hanging around Huaraz. While refilling our bodies with fresh fruits, we are also in search of one last adventure that fits the following profile:
- Something close, so we don’t have to pay a lot for transport.
- With easy or almost no approach, since we have been hauling 15-20 kg backpacks up and down for a month now.
- We’d fancy sports or multi-pitch climbing.
- Preferably on granite, so we can turn the “dangerous” alert off.
He who seeks, finds!
Llaca Valley is about 23 km away from Huaraz. It takes 1.5 hours to get there by car. Because it is a bumpy ride, there is no public transport available. Depending on your agreement, the car would drop you off either at the gates of the valley, or higher at the Guides’ School. The easy access to the glacier, the rock climbing and it’s close location to the city, have turned the valley into the perfect training spot for the Peruvian Mountain Guides Association.
We arrive at the school and along with two guys from Venezuela, seem to be the only ones around. We pitch tents behind the building and hide the food from animal invasion. Sasho stashes a small bottle of rum in between boulders. It is a bottle we have been carrying around for a while. We spend the afternoon sports climbing close by.
The routes here are either super polished by the melting glacier, or dirty. We find a few nice lines, but we are far from stoked. As the afternoon sun melts behind the mountains, frost creeps up the fingertips. Time to call it a day. We check the approach for the following day’s mission and go back to camp for a good long rest.
The night creeps under the pale moon and what seemed a calm and picturesque valley during the day, turns into a horror scene. As vampires come alive at night, the local cows turn mad under the moonlight.
Tup-tu-tup… my heart goes out of rythm.
The cow is pushing the tent and licking the duffle bag. I look outside and scream. A moist snout is breathing in front of me with its wide-open mad eyes. None of us sleeps well that night. The guys leave the horror scene in the early hours, heading to Vallanaraju. As the sun crawls up the valley, I crawl out of the tent. The cows are gone and seem as if from a nightmare.
After a 40-minute approach, we are at the bottom of what is probably the highest registered multi-pitch. Topping out at 4720 meters, the line craws in between half-moonlike overhanging rock. The name of the route, which could mean both Moonlight Mission (from Spanish) and Lunatic Mission, originates from the story behind its creation.
Gari Wilson and Daniel Darrigrandi jummared up the line placing 63 bolts guided and inspired by the full moon’s light. They created their own Moonlight Sonata on the rock formations in just under 12 hours.
The first pitch starts on the right of a water gully, with a 6a crux where the rock gets vertical, leading to a big ledge with two options for a belay. Better move a few meters to the right and belay from the stance at the bottom of the second pitch. Thus, you avoid rope drag.
From the bolts at the stance I go straight up and then move right into the obvious corner. It is a well-protected 6a, with a roof crux that leads to the second belay station on a smaller ledge.
The third pitch (6a+, A0/6c) starts to the right of the belay and continues trending leftwards on to and up the face. The guidebook promises a ladder at the crux, but there is no such. Sasho leads this one and pays no attention to that fact. After negotiating a stretchy balance move traversing leftwards atop a baby roof, a small corner leads to the third stance.
The fourth pitch is the most beautiful one. Graded 6b, it goes straight up with a sharp arête for good hands on the left and continues rightwards up the ledges to a vertical wall where a series of crimps and small footholds lead to the belay station. The wall becomes a stage where each of us creates a choreography of his own.
The final fifth pitch (5+) starts on the right of the stance up to a grassy ledge. It continues on a slabby face negotiated to the left of the bolts. At the top, it is the view that shortens our breath and not the altitude. The turquoise lake and the snow-capped Ranrapalca and Occhapalca look like wallpaper. Before we rappel a selfie is in order.
With 13 quickdraws, a few slings and screwgates, and a double 50 or 60 m rope, Mission Lunatica offers a great line in a marvellous setting. The third pitch has a variation (7a) to the left called Vaca Loca (Mad Cow). Need I say the origins of the name?
The Mysterious Case of the Lost Rum
Happy with a climb that did not go wrong, we are back in camp ready to celebrate the end of our five-week adventure in the Cordillera Blanca.
“Where is the rum?”
“Where did you leave it?”
“Well, it’s gone!”
“What do you mean it’s gone?”
“I mean the bottle vanished. See for yourself!”
The night gives rise to the mad cows’ party. They seem to celebrate. Maybe our ascent. Could it be with our rum?
P.S. The rum may have vanished but the most precious of all was well-hidden and protected—the Nutella!