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Monday, July 15

Dispatches From Peru: Santa Cruz Trek

As a preface to this next post I would just like to say that I apologize for the mockery to the English language that was my last blog post. A medley of grammatical errors and clumsy sentences was brought to my attention by a certain member of the team, which I must confess was my own fault. A little proof reading can go a long way.

However, I digress. What I really should be writing about is not the lambasting I took from a certain someone (who, I might add, claimed that it sounded as if I wrote that post using English as a second language :) but rather the success of our trek through the Santa Cruz and Hauripampa valleys.

This leg of our journey begins with yet another nauseating encounter with Peruvian public transportation. Our minibus left Huaraz at 7am and didn't roll into Vaqueria (the start of the trek) until a stomach wrenching 4 and a half hours later. I personally enjoyed the ride up insanely switchbacked and steep mountain roads, the decsent, however, certainly tested your stomachs mettle.

A quick baƱo break and some organizing of gear and we were off. We left Vaqueria behind leaving only our foot prints in the dust. It wouldn't be for another 4 days and 55 kilometers later that we would emerge on the other side.

The first day of the trek was unique compared to the others in the way that we got to see first hand the native peoples that lived deep within the valleys. Their way of life is nothing short of amazing - based almost entirely off the land they tilled and the wares they crafted. It wasn't long, however, until even these settlements were a thing of the past and the only thing on all sides of us was a raw wilderness consisting of rocky, snowy peaks and lush green valleys. And the occasional cow pie. Well, there was kind of a ton poop. Everywhere.

The first night was spent at 3850 meters. One of the main purposes of this trek was to continue the acclimitization process, and that was certainly happening. Almost all of us were suffering to a varying degree from altitude induced headaches, though this wasn't enough to stop Nick from going out for a 40 minute run, even after a full day of bus riding and hiking. Camp was set, dinner was made, and card games were played. This night must be a restful night, for tomorrow is potentially the hardest day of the trek.

They're the cutest 

Day two starts off with some moderate climbing before we take to the switchbacks. Those headaches that we managed to get rid of during the night came back. Justin had a great idea the day before to come up with a scale to rank our headaches, a 1 being barely there and a 10 being a full blown, debilitating migraine. At the point of the steep climbing most of us were sitting around a 1 or 2, some worse, some better. The climb to the high point of the trek brought us to Punta Union. At a whopping 4750 meters (~15,000 feet) it was officially the highest the four of us had ever been on foot. The views at this pass were mind boggling. On either side we could see from whence we came and to where we were headed (the Hauripampa and Santa Cruz valley's respectively). It was at this point that my head felt the worst (duh), but a break for lunch did wonders. Justin whipped up some of the most delicious freeze dried burritos I've ever had, while Nick hauled Moms very nice camera to the top of the pass to capture some stunning photos. The combination of full stomachs and knowing that we were at the top of the trek acted to raise spirits and propel us onward.

Relaxing at Punta Union

We somewhat regrettably left this beautiful place to find the location of our next campsite. A knee-busting descent through a fairly arid region meant we ran short on water supplies for a few miles before our camp.

Camp was erected before the sun disappeared behind the neighboring peaks and thus plunging the valley into darkness. It's amazing how cold it gets once the shadow falls across the valley floor. It goes from comfortable shorts and tee shirt hiking weather to frigid, below freezing temperatures. Dinner is prepped with a surprisingly delicious dessert of cheesecake with Graham cracker crust (though, to be fair, an old boot would taste delicious in the backcountry) and a friendly game of rummy ensues. Nick's come-from-behind win was impressive.

The next morning we are up at 6am, shovelling breakfast into our mouths, breaking down camp, and hitting the trail by 8. The initial objective of the day is to traverse over to a trail that leads up to the Alpamayo base camp. A quick Google search of Alpamayo will shed light on the allure of spending extra time to travel to it. The mountain itself did not fail to please, but the glacially fed lake nearby was also a sight to behold. After some time spent in the area we once again hit the trail, leaving the alpine atmosphere for one that more closely resembled the Gobi desert. The floor of the valley was covered with sand and when combined with the hot sun overhead it made for a unique experience.

The Gobi desert portion of the trek 

A full day of trekking brought us to our last camp site. This one came complete with a concession stand that was run by one of the natives. Jenna, Justin, and I may or may not have splurged some of our soles on junk food... :) After Nick got back from a run (crazy bastard) Justin and I served up dinner and dessert. Another game of Rummy (Justin mopped up) preceded sleepy time.

That was unfortunately the last time we saw our stoves. We left the pots and stoves out right near our tent door every night, unfortunately this time an opportunistic soul absconded with them. The bright side? It was the last day of the trek and we really didn't need them (a very courteous couple we had been leap frogging the entire trek lent us a stove for tea). The down side? They were both expensive stoves that are imperitive to the success of our future endeavors. And stealing really sucks. Don't do it, it's not cool.

That was fast and away the only negative of the entire trek. That day we spent hiking out and traveling back to Huaraz, which was considerably less scary than the ride to the start. All in all the trek was a great success, I personally felt stronger each and every day.

Today was spent as a rest day in Huaraz. A very productive rest day, however! Bus tickets back to Lima were bought, a stove was rented (and one bought), we bought a ton of groceries, and packed our bags for the coming expedition.

Our last dinner before departure

The plan is to leave tomorrow morning around 8. After much deliberation and a flurry of changing plans, we have settled on heading to the Ishinca Valley. The conditions on one of our initial peaks, Chopicalqui, have not been very conducive to climbing, therefore we have decided to axe both it and Pisco (the other mountain initially planned). The Ishinca Valley has a great range of peaks that vary in difficulty. The plan is to pack for 9 days and make attempts at three mountains: Ishinca, Tocllaraju, and Ranrapalca. Each offer a greater challenge than the last. We are praying for good weather-as of right now it isn't looking the greatest, but mountain weather is as predictable as....something that isn't very predictable.

This will be the last update for a while, hopefully the next will be of good news!

Love Always,

The Team

Wednesday, July 10



Huaraz. The "Chamonix of South America". After a jostling 7 hour bus ride from Lima the four of us roll into town, hurrying off to secure our luggage -which has transformed from large,cumbersome, inanimate, objects into what feels like our children. We are constantly lugging, always worrying about their welfare, incessently checking on their status. It's all for good reason, for the well being of that gear is imperitive if we want to accomplish what we've set out to do in Peru.

The gear is secured.....now what? We decided in Lima that we would stay at a hostel called Jo's Place. It appeared to be reputable, and hey, its name was so easy to pronounce! As we walk up to the curb we are immediately assailed by locals trying to vie for our money in exchange for their taxi services. After beating back several we settle on one that can for our luggage and bodies (barely) and head off to Jo's. The driver is paid his 5 soles (the currency in Peru is the Nuevo sol - the exchange rate is roughly 3 to 1) and we walk into a quaint courtyard filled with exotic looking flora.

We crash and burn for the night, the excitement of being in a different country in a different part of the world finally burning off for the time being.

We plan on staying at least  three  nights in Huaraz which is at 10,000 feet to begin the acclimitization process. Our fist day is spent getting to know the city. The bustling nature of Huaraz makes New York seem like a buddhists Zen garden. It turns out that Peruvians are quite fond of their horns, the air is filled with incessant beeping. Add to this the smells of freshly cooked meats from street vendors and the pungent odor of diesel exhaust and you have a unique atmosphere that is called Huaraz.


Day two in Huaraz finds us heading north to Chancos. As it turns out, the aforementioned diesel exhaust can prove to be quite overwhelming so we elect to ditch the city and head for rural Peru. A 3 sole ride in a "combi" (think passanger van crammed to the max with humans and luggage) followed by a quick taxi puts us near a small cliff that is home to a few rock climbs. This little crag proved to be entertaining, we didn't leave until we had more or less climbed everything it had to offer.

Following our rock climbing adventures we embark on another voyage in search of the chsncos hot springs. We were under the impression that there were natural pools, but it turned out to be more of a spa deal. So instead we found a river framed in by pastures, with the white behemoths of the cordillera Blanca in the background.

The walk back to the village through the Peruvian countryside was a refreshing change to the hectic energy of Huaraz. It was a land of farmers and buildings made of mud bricks.

Rock Climbing at 14,000 feet:

Finally, our last day of acclimitization in the greater Huaraz area was spent at Hatun Machay (pronounced huh-toon muh-chay), or "the rock forest". This rock climbing area is an hour and a half drive from town and has almost 300 routes. The drive to this destination tested ones gastrointestinal integrity almost more than the highly featured rock that we climbed - with the mach speed approach to turns and bumps.

After surviving the drive we were immediately stunned by the beauty of the the rock forest and the surrounding highlands. The greens and yellows of the grasses and the browns of the rock coupled with the brilliant snow covered peaks of the cordillera Negra made for a truly enchanting experience...and we were going to be rock climbing i

n this stunning scene! The rock was amazing, and truly unique. All of us climbed about 5 routes - hey, lunch carried on a little longer than anticipated - most of them amazing. Climbing and hiking around at 14,000 feet (think rock climbing at the summit of Mt. Rainier), provided a great opportunity at furthering the acclimitization process.

The next chapter:

As far as the acclimitization process goes, the next step is the 4 day Santa Cruz trek. This will see us through some of the most beautiful scenery Peru has to offer, not to mentioned we'll be sanwhiched in between the massive peaks of the Blancas - the very mountains we hope to be climbing in the coming weeks.

So stay tuned for fuurther updates!

The Team

Monday, July 8

We Are In Peru... Finally!

Hey everyone, Just dropping a quick note to let you all know that the four of us made it safely (although not exactly smoothly) to Peru! After a slight hiccup in our itinerary (read:missed our flight), we managed to get a flight last night.

 We made the best of the situation and spent some time in the Big Apple with Missy (happy birthday!) and Tyler. After going our separate ways the four of us made sure to get to the airport EXTRA early, which was still a struggle considering we are hauling  300 pounds of  gear  along for the ride.

 As of right now we are waiting in Lima for our bus to Huaraz - slated to depart in about 45 minutes - which will put us merrily on our way to the mountains! Stay tuned for more updates to come!

 With love from Peru,
 The Team

 (Note: sent 16 hours after originally written)    

Friday, July 5

Part 3 - The Journey Makes the Destination Possible

It's the eleventh hour.  We will board our plane in less than a day.  The excitement ensues...

As I reflect on the past year and a half it amazes me how quickly it has passed and yet how much ground we have covered from the inchoate skills of prior memories.

In order to incisively execute a honeymoon of this stature, we began by having a team meeting.

First official team meeting (April 21st, 2012):

-begin learning, or in most of our cases relearning, Spanish
-begin physical conditioning no less than 6 months prior
-schedule a team training once a month or every other month in an effort to learn each other's styles and practice rope skills as a team
-determine and acquire the appropriate vaccinations
-create a mountaineering gear list
-as far as the trek(s) goes, we will be taking two tents (Jenna was very grateful for this decision for many reasons).

Now it was time to make it happen...The year and 2 months that followed proved to be very valuable...

Roping up for the climb (July 1st, 2012):

"Climbing is as close as we can come to flying." - Margaret Young, aviator and alpinist

Rock climbing is one of the preferred activities among the group.  As serious as climbing a sheer cliff can be it is more often a session of making fun of the other in a playful way.

Shanty Cliff, Southern Adirondacks
Practicing the proper technique for relaxing
Out for a hike (November 23rd, 2013)

"It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe." - Robert W. Service

Some of the best training ground (minus the altitude) resides in NY's back yard, the Adirondacks.  We chose to take a Thanksgiving retreat to Big Slide Mountain and surround each other with laughter and talk of what the next 6 months will bring.
Be prepared for anything
Practicing our trail singing Ms. American Pie style
The Trap Dyke, minus 18F (January 25th, 2013)

"When your feet are cold, cover your head." - Inuit saying

Part of what we tried to focus on was enduring the cold while climbing as a team and coordinating our efforts to safely overcome the quandaries of the challenge (in this case Mt. Colden)

We also learned that a harness is a valuable item to include on the ever expanding gear list :)

The approach
Come on fingers!
Our fearless leader
Traveling safely
3500' view
I'll let this picture speak for itself
Frozen smiles
Training that's worth a thousand pictures (March 23rd, 2013)

"Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory." - Ed Viesturs

We wouldn't be where we are today, or at least as well trained, if it weren't for a weekend excursion to the white mountains of NH to spend time with a good friend Jim Gagne.  

In mountaineering it is often the case that the little things will perturb the success of many climbing teams; understanding the effects of altitude on the body; properly communicating to your team when you can't see or hear them; the quickest way to melt snow for drinking and cooking thus saving fuel; avoiding sickness and knowing when to take a break.

Understanding the complete picture is what we set out to do...

Mt. Gear
...and here we have...a properly rigged glacial travel system
Look Ma! No hands! :)
Snow anchors stronger than us all!
The sum is greater than its parts...
The love bird test
Crevasse self rescue training
Smile if you learned something!
Fred Becky (left) and our coach (right, Jim Gagne)
Team meeting at headquarters (June 28th-30th, 2013)

"There are big ships and small ships. But the best ship of all is friendship." - Author Unknown

This is it.  Our last time together before we board the bus out of Troy.  Our objective for the weekend is to thoroughly waste as much time as we can while preparing for the honeymoon of a lifetime.
Thanks for the hats Mark!
We love them...no seriously :)
On belay!

A little route guidance from below
Leading away
Thirsty pup
What next?
Grassy yard travel, revisited one last time...
Route marking wands...check.
Marking gear and drinking beer
Through periods of rather intense indecision we have managed to accomplish all but one of the items on our list: Spanish...Nuestro Espanol es pobre...

To Peru we go!