Touching the Void: Almost

Touching the Void: Almost

Ishinca Base Camp Midnight: After a few hours of sleep, breakfast and equipment revision, we left to climb Tocllaraju. It was dark with a foreboding sense of something bad to come.We ascended slowly towards the moraine, arriving at the glacier at 3 am. Crista-Lee, my climbing partner, was in front. We crossed many deep crevasses in the dark and in the distance we could make out other climbers close to the south face.9:30 am and we finally passed the crevasses leaving only the last uphill. The view was spectacular, with clouds covering the Cordillera Blanca and only the peaks of Huascaran, Chopi, Contrahierbas and Copa emerged in the sea of cloud.

We were 70 meters from the summit and had only a narrow ice bridge and deep crevasse to cross. Two Canadian’s, then my partner, crossed without a problem. My turn, I stepped on the bridge, ice axes ready then the bridge collapsed beneath me! I fell and hung in the empty space of air I saw my life pass before me as if in show motion. A hard tug of the rope returned me to reality. Losing height, I swung as if a pendulum, hitting the ice walls, trying to keep a balance and the axes. The rope lengthened with my weight as it cut into the surface above me.

12 meters above, Crista-Lee was finally able to stop my decent. Below me was nothing but darkness, emptiness and as the ice fell I could hear the echoes telling me the crevasse was at least 80 meters deep.I didn’t feel afraid then, nor did I panic. All of my senses joined to find a way out of this precarious situation. I wasn’t hurt and I had my axes.The Canadians were trying to help, I yelled at them in many languages to release the rope so I could climb out on my own, find a balance, but they couldn’t hear me. The minutes passed slowly, a calm voice was heard, a guide, Claudio Lliuyac, asked how I was and after explanation he slowly released the rope, allowing me to better my position to a securer area.

Before escaping the worst crevasse I have seen in my life, I thought about the other climbers who would have to jump over the broken bridge, it could be dangerous. On solid ground I passed moments with Crista-Lee, hugging, as she cried, moments of silence with the others, later the jokes; don’t eat too much Pachamanca and send a repairman.

My eternal gratitude to Crista-Lee, an extraordinary climber and photographer, for, at no moment, letting go of the rope as she held me even as she was slowly sliding towards the crevasse. To Claudio, who, after securing his 63 year old client, came to my rescue.Back at base camp, I went to his tent thanking him again and he replied,» You owe me nothing», in the mountains we are friends without race or religion. Thank You
Later that night I went to church, will I continue with this crazy activity of climbing?

By: Beto Santillan.