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
Enjoying a pack-free hike in!
The mountains come into view
Then, you set up camp.
Our camp was in a spectacular valley
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
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
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
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!)