Peak Experience

Getting through the length of this post may take as much effort as it took me to climb the mountain I’m about to tell you about. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and the most physically challenging thing, so I cannot help but write in detail about it. I summited a 5530m mountain; that’s 18,140ft. I say physically challenging, but I’d have to say it was equal parts emotionally, mentally, spiritually and culturally challenging and fulfilling as well.

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As luck would have it, I did find a hiking partner this time around and we met up in Huaraz, Peru, the trekking hub of the Cordillera Blanca. It is a common training ground for the Himalayas due to the number of 6000+m peaks and technical climbs in the area. Relief! I have someone to go out adventuring with me again!

The town of Huaraz itself is just barely over 10,000ft, which helps with acclimatizing. We also did a 5 day trip, the popular Santa Cruz trek, as a warm-up. It took us up and over a monster pass and down a valley, green all around us and then the white peaks towering over us.

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Apparently Paramount Pictures was as impressed as we were; they picked this peak out of the garden of stunners to be featured at the beginning of their films. (photo below)

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So conquering Mount Ishinca started with a conversation that my friend had with a German mountaineer who blessed our mountaineering experience levels as suitable for this adventure. I felt like such a bad ass before we even left town, such was the flavor of prep conversations. We were actually using the words ‘crevasse’ and ‘col’ in sentences referring to our trek, words I’d previously read or heard in the likes of Everest documentaries. Not to mention that every time you sign into a national park is a chance to be who you want to be, and we signed in as “aventurero” and “escritora” respectively. (or adventurer and writer)

So mentally, the challenge started here with the preparation…equipment, supplies, routes, timing, weather…and it continued on the mountain with decision-making, but more so with keeping my ego under wraps as it tried its damnedest to tell me all the reasons I couldn’t do this.

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I suppose that is where the emotional challenges were too, starting with believing in myself, remembering to take in all the beauty around me despite most of my focus being dominated by sucking in oxygen. I started incorporating smile breaks for an extra breath and a bonus view. Challenges continued with trying not to get too discouraged when losing the way while scrambling through a scree field.

I’ve looked at mountains like that for a while now…I know I’ll reach the top, now it’s just a matter of navigating what comes up along the way. Fears and challenges become much more manageable when I zoom out and look at myself from a broader perspective and just believe in what I’m trying to do.

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I can’t mention emotions without mentioning the summit. I was a blubbering mess! In the best way possible. I reached my arms over the ice wall and dangled above the small crevasse I had just crossed and cried. It felt out of my control to do anything but cry. This was soon followed by grinning for pictures and summit celebrations.

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Then there was just awe. I really did feel on top of the world. I wished I could see as far as Colorado and Chicago and pretended I could. We heard avalanches on neighboring peaks, the cordillera’s thunderous applause for our success.

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Spiritually speaking, well, I feel the most grounded and connected when I’m in nature and also when I’m really following my heart and honoring my “me-ness”, my aliveness. I read on a bumper sticker in Brazil once, “Be alive your whole life.” and well, it stuck. Simple, but true and profound.

Physically, well, damn that was hard! I fell several times. We did need to use our crampons and ice axes at times. I was sick before we started and that just compounded the exhaustion of waking up at 2am to start. We collapsed into fourteen hours of sleep when back at base camp. The last hour of the trek I was taking about ten seconds per step. If my friend had any desire to work on patience I certainly gifted him a mountain of opportunity <cheesy pun laughter, she’s earned it>.

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Culturally speaking, we had many observations and experiences. Unfortunately one of them is that they haven’t figured out how to take care of their nature yet. It also appears that hikers are abusing the fact that all the rangers seem to be gathered in the office, doing what, I’m not exactly sure other than collecting the whopping $20 fee to enter the national park. I’m tempted to give you the details, but I’ll spare you that. If anyone is looking for a way to help Pachamama (Mother Earth) and volunteer in another country, there is a lot of opportunity for clean up and education in Peru. It would be great to even have some sort of incentive program to start, to get hikers to be responsible and also help clean up the trails. Other than my direct efforts while there, I am still planning on contributing in the future as well. (base camp photo below)

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Back to the good stuff…another cultural component of our trek was the interaction with the other mountaineers. It did feel a lot like being initiated into a club. We spoke about routes and start times with a few guys the night before the trek. In the early hours of the morning it was exciting and comforting to see a few other headlamps bobbing around in the distance like stars among us. A Spanish pair caught up with us in the scree field and we watched them summit, capturing gorgeous snapshots of the tracks we soon followed. Conversations were very collaborative and well-wishing and congratulatory.

While climbing up I swore this would be a one time thing. Mountaineering…check! While climbing down, elated with success, my thoughts started to wander to what summit I can train for next. I am living in Mendoza now, which just so happens to be neighbor to Aconcagua (almost 27,000 ft!), the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. Who’s with me??

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