What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Three years earlier, when Jason Schutz first mentioned climbing and riding Arte Sonraju in Peru’s CordilleraBlanca, he was doubled over, puking at the high Andean altitude of an adjacent peak. His friends laughed atthe thought; Arte was a truly imposing proposition.

But, for about six weeks starting in May of ’98 (early fall in South America), what once seemed too steep and too crazy to consider became a descent John Griber, for one, never expects to duplicate. Jason and John, the two snowboarders on the trip, made up a quarter ofthe climbing group, none of whom had spent much time together previously. The eight-person team preparedfor their main objective by acclimating on Tocuaraju, a substantial challenge in itself. Weak and sickenedfrom the elevation, and without summiting, Schutz and Griber rode sections upward of 60 degrees from19,300 feet down to their high camp at around 15,000.

On the steepest pitches, the two would generally trade off, with the first rider basically sideslipping, testing the snow so the other could ride more freely. After a week’s rest at lower elevation (10,000 feet), the team refocused for the attack on Arte Sonraju. Withoutporters to help transport the gear required for such an attempt, it took them two trips-with the biggest packsmost of them had ever carried-to set up a camp at 17,000 feet. From high camp, a single push to over20,000 feet (6,025 meters), through deep, unpacked snow, landed them atop Arte. Intuition lead the ridersto descend a line other than the one they climbed. Weather socked in, and during brief windows, one riderwent at a time, on belay (roped) from above. Jason termed the first 200 feet “some of the hardest snow”he’d ever ridden.

Additionally, that first pitch was completely exposed above a huge serac (ice cliff)-close tothe steepest slope any of the team had ever ridden, all at head-spinning altitudes. Jason called the trip a”dream come true,” and John went on about the descent, “I’m sure I’ll never do anything to top it.” FromJohn Griber, that’s saying something. But the greatest reward for them, for the whole team, was not in anysingle part of the climb or descent, but in following through on a vision, that three years before seemedundoable. And doing it together. -K.H.