Colorado to Huaraz  June 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 restaurant 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 hotel.  

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 To Huaraz

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 the trip.

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.

Sandy Cliffs

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.

Random Town

After about 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.  

Precarious Rocks

Irrigated Fields

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.

First Views Of The Cordillera Blanca

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