soroche in ishinca

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Since Huaraz IS a mountaineering town, I decided to attempt a mountain summit.

We chose Ishinca, considered an easy mountain in the Cordillera Blanca. And I’m sure any mountaineer who reads this will laugh at my newbie account of the experience!

First, you have to get your stuff up to base camp. We took a taxi a few hours out of town, where we met up with our arriero (donkey-driver). He loaded up our gear on the burros and we were off on a several hour hike, happily free of our heavy packs.

Some campo-style traffic on the drive to meet up with our arriero

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Enjoying a pack-free hike in!

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The mountains come into view

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Then, you set up camp.

Our camp was in a spectacular valley

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But then the real fun: you try to go to sleep early. Because you’re getting up in the middle of the night (in our case, 1:30 am), in the freezing cold, and you’re going to hike, in the dark, in clunky boots, to get to the snow line.

For this mountain, this hike was several hours long and pretty damn tiring. I’m happy it was dark, because I couldn’t see all the torture ahead of us!

On the positive, the sensation of hiking shrouded in darkness, with shadowy mountains all around you, is sensational. Headlamp lights from higher-up mountaineers glimmered around us like stars.

The sky shifted from black to grey and finally to the pale glow of near-dawn

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We took a steep switchback uphill, which turned out to give us a fantastic view–but was a bit off course. As we retraced some steps, I realized that I was more-than-usual zonked from the hike. I was exhausted, dizzy, despondent–and suddenly nauseous.

Yep, I had soroche–altitude sickness.

We were about to bring out the crampons and ice axes and begin the actual mountaineering.

I had to make a quick call. Either I turned back now, letting the rest of the group summit. Or I needed to continue on and actually make it to the top, because once we were on the snow, I couldn’t turn back alone.

The point of no return: where the snow-line begins

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I decided to turn back to avoid making the entire group miss out on their summit moment. I struggled on the easy walk back to base camp, and I realized I had made the tough, but right, call. When I reached my tent, I curled up in my sleeping bag and slowly came back to life over the next few hours.

Snapping photos during my slow-but-steady decent to the comforts of my sleeping bag

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And so concludes my first mountaineering experience*–which was sadly sin summit. Will I try it again? I’ve got to be honest, I’m going with no. Even without the soroche, mountaineering just has too high of a suffering-to-pleasure ratio for my tastes! But to each his own, right?

(*To clarify, mountaineering is climbing mountains…whereas rock climbing is climbing rock faces. As I learned, they are two very different pursuits!)

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3 Responses to soroche in ishinca

  1. Marsha Tucker says:

    Angie! I just had the same experience … on a smaller level. Longish hike to a higher elevation base of a Mt . Langley. I have never had any hint of altitude sickness before. We were going to camp and summit the peak in the morning. Felt funky , then queasy, then puked several times all in a short period of time. Left disappointed with some others that were day hiking. Felt better and better as i descended. Was the right decision.

  2. Donna Hammond says:

    Dear Angie, You get major praise from me for trying. Saying no is often the right answer. Plus think of the all the beautiful landscape you were able to see while trying! What an experience!
    Love, Aunt Donna

  3. Alan says:

    Thanks for the memory. I climbed Gokyo Re 14 years ago and your post brought back a mixture of joy and pain.

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