Gil Weiss free-soloing Blitzen Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park.
"Ugh, not 2 more," wrote one commenter on SuperTopo yesterday in response to news that two climbers from Boulder had gone missing during an ascent of a peak in northern Peru. Gil Weiss, 29, and Ben Horne, 32, were attempting the west summit of Palcaraju (20,046 feet), a rarely-climbed mountain in the Cordillera Blanca. When they still hadn't turned up five days after their prearranged return date, two teams, including one from Peru's alpine rescue group, set out to search for them. On Thursday, searchers discovered the partners' tent, along with tracks descending from the summit, and, most disconcertingly, signs of an avalanche.
For climbers in Colorado, the search will likely evoke unpleasant memories of another incident. In 2009, Boulder-based alpinists Jonny Copp and Micah Dash were killed in an avalanche on China's Mt. Edgar, along with Sender Films producer Wade Johnson. Much like Edgar, climbers on Palcaraju face a high degree of objective hazard from terrain and frequent storms. As Marco Carrera, the head of the Peruvian team searching for Horne and Weiss, told the Associated Press, alpinists rarely tackle the peak "because the weather is difficult year-round, a combination of strong winds, avalanches, and enormous crevasses."
Weiss and Horne certainly understood those dangers. This was just the latest of several trips by Weiss to climb in the Cordillera Blanca, and both he and Horne are experienced climbers, with hard rock and alpine ascents to their credit. In a blog post earlier this month about the death of Michael Ybarra, Weiss reflected on the "awareness of self which inevitably flowers from the absurd and often dangerous situations we put ourselves in."
"I sit here in a coffee shop in Huaraz, Peru, planning another foray into the Cordillera Blanca, where the sense that one’s life is in the hands of the mountains can be as blinding as the endless white glaciers, and a thirst for glory can darken our better judgment more than the blackness of night," he wrote.
As of Friday afternoon, the search for Weiss and Horne continues.