On the Cover:
The Peru Expedition
Cover Date: August 2nd, 2015
When Josh Miller, one of the best alpinists in the United States, spoke about his expedition to Peru in the Ishinca Valley, we were really excited and wanted to get him to do an interview! Josh was kind enough to spend a few minutes and tell us about his amazing expedition to one of the most beautiful spots on this planet.
Talented, strong and a born explorer, we hope to interview him for every expedition he plans in the future because we know it will be stellar!
Okay, we must find out more about this superb adventure!
Editor: Josh, when and why did you pick this particular area of the world to plan your expedition?
Josh Miller: Ever since my first expedition in 2013 to this beautiful country I knew I would be coming back again and again. The food is amazing, the culture is incredible, the scenery is breathtaking, but most important the people are ever so generous.
And of course the mountains here hold a special place in my heart. They offer technical alpine style ascents at high altitudes, 33 major peaks above 5500m including 16 over 6000m. I like the pure style of climbing here, no oxygen, no fixed ropes, just you and your own abilities. I felt it was the perfect place to hone my abilities as an alpinist.
Editor: How long had you been planning it?
Josh Miller: I began training for this trip in April of this year. I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it, but I kept training as if I were going.
About three weeks before I was planning to leave two past clients of mine from the Ouray Ice Park, Doug Wolf and Donna Steelman, graciously guaranteed I could with a financial sponsorship. It felt so good knowing other people saw potential in me and my abilities and wanted to contribute to making my dreams my reality.
Editor: What was it like reaching base camp; the first view must have been beautiful!
Josh Miller: It’s always rewarding reaching base camp, after the long hours of flying and traveling. You get to actually see for yourself what the conditions look like, and I knew that the next week or so would be spent in the mountains doing what I love most.
Editor: Which area did you want to focus on?
Which peak did you focus on?
Josh Miller: I went back into the Ishinca valley because after last year I felt I had some unfinished business. I had climbed Ranrapalca, 6162m, a big objective in the valley and wanted the other one, Tocllaraju, 6034m.
I was alone without a partner, waiting for friends to arrive in country, and began acclimatizing on Ishinca, 5530m and Urus 5420m. I then focused my mind on Tocllaraju.
Ever since I first saw the west face I knew it was something I had to experience. The wall was in great condition this year. In previous years it had more seracs, and a lot more exposed rock making an ascent questionable. I was so grateful that the conditions were as good as they were as it was the only goal I wrote down for this trip. To solo the west face of Tocllaraju!
Editor: Talk to us the technical aspect of the climb and the degree of difficulty.
The altitude and location?
Josh Miller: The west face of Tocllaraju, 6034m located in the Ishinca valley, Cordillera Blanca, Ancash Peru.
The wall consisted of 450 meters of pure ice. Most pitches are 60 degrees but the final two are up to 80 degrees. The most difficult part was a small rock band to negotiate halfway up. The ice wasn’t really bonded to the rock so I had to smash a lot of it off with my tool and delicately hook on rock for a few moves to get to better ice. Definitely exciting, with nearly a 1000 feet of air between me and the burgschrund.
Once I was off the face and onto the ridge I was sort of surprised by the snow conditions. I had heard of sugar snow and wallowing above your knees, but that wasn’t the case, I only stepped through just above my boots.
The next objective was attacking the summit pyramid. I walked around to the back side and found classic Andean near vertical snow. My tools were going in all the way to my elbows, and my feet, well you can imagine.
As for any rating I would have to decline. It will most likely never be the same conditions again and that is what I love most, enjoying the mountain for what it has to offer in that exact moment.
Editor: How long did it take and did the weather cooperate?
Josh Miller: From camp to camp right around 9 hours. I was blessed with excellent weather and a bright full moon ascent, no need for a headlamp until crossing the bergschrund.
I hiked up to the high camp right at 5000m the day before. The camp is on the moraine, the rock right at the edge of the glacier. I was only planning one night so I went light, you know no tent right? It was a beautiful night with more stars than anyone could count. I went to sleep around seven up against a smooth rock and woke at midnight to start the stove.
As I stepped onto the glacier I knew it was going to happen. I knew that this was the moment I had been training for, all those hours carrying water up the trails in Ouray, and all those hours developing my craft on the local ice routes in the San Juan Mountains. I’m not going to say it was easy, but I knew I had what it took. I kept thinking about the opportunity versus the obligation. It was a special experience being alone on that face, one that will live with me forever.
Editor: How old were you when you first started climbing and where?
Josh Miller: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Not a great place for outdoor recreation but I still found climbing around 19 or 20. In gyms of course, specifically Vertical Adventures. I was always attracted to the physical aspect of climbing, having to be so strong in ways no other sport demanded.
I was a swimmer from the age of 8 through high school. I feel the endurance gained from training at such a young age, only taking a month off here and there, has helped tremendously in my climbing career.
Editor: Who are the climbers/alpinists that you draw inspiration from?
Josh Miller: I draw inspiration from the local guides and climbers in Ouray, Colorado. To see the guys and gals day after day working at something they love, not really wanting anything back from it. Just for the pure love of climbing.
It’s really awesome to be with people who are so experienced, who still remember what it was like to be the new guy on the block.
Someone who comes to mind is Gary Falk. He has helped show me who I want to be, someone who is able to give back to future generations and to continue to help inspire others.
Editor: What draws you to climbing? What attracts you to adventure?
Emotionally, what does it gift to you?
Josh Miller: Climbing is my meditation, simply put. The feeling of being to focus so intensely on that exact moment in time and space, it’s like nothing else. You forget everything, or you’re not climbing hard enough.
The mountains are my cathedral, especially these mountains. Their energy is everything I could ever hope to experience. They are the ones who dictate my future while in them, and to me that’s powerful.
As for adventure, I knew at a young age that life was meant to be an adventure. I’m only given this small amount of time here, why waste it? Even the “bad” moments are still an experience for me.
Editor: What are your views about climate change?
Are we doing enough to protect our planet?
Josh Miller: I’m no scientist but I do know that the climate is changing. I see it when I go to the mountains. I had the pleasure of being with one of my mentors in Peru this season, he was a guide here for 10 years and according to him, most glaciers here at have receded at least 20% especially at lower altitudes.
As for our intent, I feel there are a lot of opinions and not enough rapid action.
Editor: Where are you headed next?
Where would you love to plan an expedition to next?
Josh Miller: Next I am headed back to beautiful Ouray, Colorado where I am grateful to call home for now. I will start training in the fall for my first mixed climbing competition in our local ice festival this January. But first, sunny rock climbing with friends and late summer summits on our local fourteeners.
Expedition wise I would love to take my abilities to the Himalayas. Maybe find a spot on a team for an 8000’er this spring, we all need to have dreams right? Or I would love to climb in the Alps, technical climbs at lower altitudes sounds appealing.
Editor: You bet. Dreams are everything! The Himalayas would be a perfect location for an alpinist like you, and you can be sure we'll cover it! Thanks for talking to us, Josh.
Josh Miller: Absolutely, thank you for the opportunity. I hope to follow up with you on my future trips and experiences.
Editor: The honor is entirely ours.
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Administrator of the Facebook Page 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
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