30th - July 1st
Brian and I began
discussing the specifics of our trip in March. We both decided
that for our trip we would stick to technically easier peaks and
go back if all worked out well. Our peaks of choice were to be
Pisco Oeste, a 18,886 ft peak with one reported pitch of ice climbing
and Chopicalqui, a 20,800 foot peak with various short pitches of ice.
As it turned out the technical section from Pisco was missing so
the climb became easier and we bailed on the idea of Chopicalqui due to
limited time and sickness on my part.
Over the next few months I picked up plane tickets, a beautiful Western Mountaineering down sleeping bag (The Kodiak), a new Hilleberg tent
(The Staika), plastic boots, and assorted cold weather clothing.
I can not say enough good things about the tent and sleeping
bag and highly recommend them. I also spent a good bit of time
going back and forth with Chris Benway
who was sorting out the logistics of the whole trip for us. Chris
did a great job for us and his services are well worth the cost.
Around 6 weeks before the trip Brian broke his foot rather badly while
playing soccer on a kayaking trip. This made me more than a bit
nervous about our prospects for success. I figured I'd be OK
since I had been climbing steep snow and rock routes once or twice a
week but Brian might not even be able to walk. There was nothing
to be done at this point but hope. The money had been spent and
the plane tickets were non-refundable or transferable.
Fortunately Brian is kind of slow about long term injury and I
had high hopes that he would ignore the pain.
Now I'm not much of an adventurer and don't like leaving home that much
but figured I needed to give this trip a shot, I'd be turning 30 and
what better way to celebrate than trying for a few high peaks in a
foreign country? Being a bit of a homebody I was increasingly
nervous as the time approached. I wasn't so much nervous about
the climbing but was terrified by the plane rides (I have a real fear
of flying) and the thought of being away from my wife and pets.
Ultimately though time just kept marching on and the night before we
were to leave arrived.
I spent Wednesday and Thursday with my wife until Brian and his
girlfriend Rebecca showed up around 8:00. At this time we
started getting all of our gear together and making sure we had
everything we needed. Since we were expecting a 60 meter pitch of
ice on Pisco we ended up bringing a full 60 meter rope and ice screws.
On top of this we brought our ice tools, axes, pickets, plastic
boots, mountaineering axes, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a tent, and
just enough clothing to survive. The limited clothing meant many
days of washing our socks, shirts, and underwear in a sink and drying
them on rooftops but even this was insufficient to prevent the
inevitable stink of two grown men who have not had the opportunity to
bathe or clean their clothes all that frequently.
All Packed Up
I knew that the thought of being on
two successive airplanes would keep me awake if I didn't take drastic
steps so Brian and I set about to smoking and drinking after the
packing was done. This turned out to be a good and bad thing.
Dealing With My Fear Of Flying
I managed to drink enough not to
notice the airplane ride to Miami but also ended up with a splitting
hangover which would last for most of the next day. Rebecca headed
home around 11:00 Thursday night and then Brian crashed on our
couch. We awoke around 4:00 in the morning and headed out to the
airport. Fearing the extra encumbrance I left my medium aperture
camera lens with Jen and only brought the wide angle. Since we
had somewhere near to 120 lbs of equipment I'm not sure, in hindsight,
why I made this choice. I regretted not having the longer lens
the whole time.
Jen saw us through to security, noted a HUGE black man and joked that
he would be our seat partner and then Brian and I were on our way.
As it turns out the guy did end up sitting right next to me.
He went a good 6'6" and 350 lbs. This, along with my
hangover, made for a miserable flight.
When we landed in Miami, Brian and I made our way to a little
where the manager fed me crackers and ginger ale on the house all the
while suggesting what I really needed was a few more beers..
After a good few
more hours of moaning I finally felt fine.
Our flight to Lima went smoothly enough except for the woman who tried
to steal my seat (I had a stewardess eject her) and the fact that
people spent the whole flight leaning against the exit doors, ignoring
requests by attendants that they sit down. According to Brian
this was perfectly normal but it still went along way to freak a plane
phobic like myself.
At The Lima Airport
After about six hours we landed in Lima. The Lima airport
was absolutely immaculate and we breezed through customs, retrieved
our baggage, and were on our way to meet our pickup in about 20
minutes. Chris had arranged for a guy to meet us and take us to a
hotel where we would spend the night before heading to Huaraz the next
day. As soon as we exited the airport I noticed how filthy Lima
was. It reminded me of a poorer, war torn version of North
Philadelphia. The poverty and pollution and garbage was amazing.
There were wild dogs running everywhere and buildings with no
walls sat next to building with no roofs all of which appeared to have
tenants. I guess it demonstrated how sheltered I am as I was
shocked by the surroundings.
Our greeter was a young man who called the hotel driver to come and pick us up.
As I had never experienced a cab ride in a third world country I
was in for a surprise. Apparently the way cabs work is by putting the
gas pedal all of the way down, using the horn to warn or threaten any
impending traffic, and, when all else fails, slam on the brakes and
stop with less than 3 inches between the car and a fatal accident.
Needless to say I was quite relieved when we arrived at our
The hotel we stayed at was called the Hotel Espana and I'm sure it is a
lovely place for people accustomed to traveling in the third world but it seemed a bit dark and foreboading to me, it
was however, very cheap. At the hotel the young guy who met us at the
airport said he would be back to take us to the Movil Tours bus station
at 7:00 in the morning. This was a bit confusing as I could have
sworn Chris told us to take a cab to the Cruz Del Sur station where
tickets had already been purchased but figured we might need to be
flexible on the trip. Since our cell phones were at home and we
had no way to call Chris I went to a local Internet cafe and emailed
him about the development. I also shot a quick email to Jen to
let her know we were safe.
Once in the hotel room I was in for a few more surprises (boy I was
naive). First, you can't put the toilet paper in the toilets and
have to put them in a trash can, second, you can't drink the water, and
third there was no hot water. I overlooked these things and
tried to turn in. Unfortunately, (especially for Brian) my
insomniac side took over and all I could think about was that I was in
a strange country, thousands of miles from home, and the acoustics let
me hear every single person who used the hallway bathroom in full
stereo sound. If I live never to hear a French girl have a loud
bowel movement at 4:00 in the morning I will count myself blessed.
After trying to sleep and waking up repeatedly I gave up and went
in search of coffee. This was to be my next shock, there was no
coffee and a cursory glance up and down the streets outside of the hotel made me fully
aware that it would be stupid for me to wander out on my own. I
headed back to the room and woke Brian up. After cursing at me
for a little bit for keeping him up all night he got his things
together and we headed out.
As luck would have it Chris had gotten my email and called us right as
we were leaving. Apparently we were to go to Cruz Del Sur, the
guy should not take us to Movil Tours and to be aware that we should
not trust anyone we met. Apparently everyone has an angle and
would try to get our money. On the downside we now were catching
a 9:30 bus rather than an 8:00 one and had time to kill. Brian passed some of it by complaining about being awake.
We were fortunate enough to find a little mom and pop shop where we got
a cup of coffee. From here we hauled around all of our very heavy
stuff until we came to a nice town circle where we hung out and waited
for time to pass. At one point some guy came over and tried to
sell us coca leaves, I hadn't picked up enough Spanish to get this but
Brian declined the offer and explained what was going on to me.
Killing Time Before The Bus Ride
After awhile we decided to find a cab
and headed off to the bus station. Once there we checked our bags
and waited for boarding time. There is a 20 kilo per passenger
limit for baggage and in Lima they charged us for all of our extra
weight (they did not in Huaraz but could have)It was here that I was in
for yet another shock, the bathrooms do not, in general, stock toilet
paper, you need to carry it. I made sure to do so for the rest of
After a time we boarded the bus and set out for Huaraz. It took
about two hours just to get out of Lima due to massive congestion and I
got to get a pretty good idea as to how poor the common people are.
Before I went to Peru I marveled that the citizens had voted back
in a president who was responsible for massive inflation and internal
terrorism. After driving out of Lima I became aware that, for
most people, life probably sucked no matter who was in power, I'm
guessing only the small middle class and rich people in Peru ever
notice a change.
The bus ride took us out of Lima to the coastline where the road
steadily raised up with great cliffs on one side and towering walls of
sand on the other. As he did for most of the trip Brian amused
himself by conjecturing what tragedies would happen if there was an
earthquake. Also, as he usually did, he reminded me that Peru was
immensely seismically active. When you describe all the ways sand
cliffs falling or avalanches, or mud slides, or any other number of
things might kill you, to an obsessive insomniac, you can't expect a
whole lot of sympathy when they go on to keep you awake in shared rooms
and tents for the next couple weeks.
Once past the beaches we
came to a desolate desert-like stretch which continued until it was
punctuated by many small and impoverished towns. Also punctuating
much of the next stretch were several factories and industrial plants.
The bus was quite comfortable and for 12 dollars we were shown a
couple (awful) movies and given a lunch. We made some small
attempt to chat with a group of French Canadian gym climbers who were
aiming for Siula Grande but got our first taste of climber snobbery.
I was amazed at how few climbers talked with each other down there,
there could be 15 people on one balcony and they would all ignore each
other. Seeing that conversation was going nowhere we headed back
to looking at the scenery.
four hours we turned off the main highway and began up a steep road
into the highlands. At first we passed through steep rock
formations which eventually grew into the Cordillera Negra Range. From here
the road continued to rise (as it would from sea level to around 11,000
feet) and we passed irrigated valleys and small communities. The
speed limit stayed at about 20 -25 MPH the whole way which was fine
because of the huge number of blind corners and the potential for
serious falls if an accident occurred.
The Cordillera Negra
After about three hours
on this steep road we finally came to our first views of The Cordillera
Blanca and I was immediately reminded of why we were on the trip. One
hour after seeing the Cordillera Blanca for the first time we arrived
in Huaraz where Chris met us and took us to the Hostel Paris which was
to be our home for the next couple days. As much as Lima had
dissapointed me, Huaraz did not. It looked to be an interesting
town with a good deal of markets and restaurants and in the coming days
I grew to quite like it.
Views Of The Cordillera Blanca