"Pare! pare!... Lucho can we stop".
Out of breath, my heart thumping through my ears, I begged the guide to take a break. The clouds surrounded me, ice crystals in the air freezing my beard, my gloves soaked and frozen over, I was in trouble.
Lucho, attached by a rope some 4 metres ahead of me turned.
"Si" I replied "I need to go for a pee..."
With Laura sunning herself on the beach in Mancora I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to do some mountaineering in the cordilla Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world. It was a very personal challenge for me as my brother Simon, who died earlier his year from an unexpected heart attack, was a keen climber and had summited many mountains in South America. This was the adventure holiday we never got to do together.
I checked into a hotel in Huaraz an unforgettable town but a gateway to the stunning mountains surrounding. Apart from a day trip to do some rock climbing, I spent three days carb loading, drinking 3 litres of water a day and preparing my bag.
The bag weighed 16 kilos. It was my travelling ruck sack kindly given to me as a leaving present by Eximius. So thank you Kirsty my boss who I'm sure was instrumental in the purchase. In the rucksack I had my cold weather jacket and trousers, crampons, plastic snow boots, gaiters, ice axe, helmet, harness and three days food. It was heavy, a lot heavier than I was expecting!
After a nervous nights sleep I got to the agency at 7am met Lucho my guide, double checked my gear then set off in a taxi for a 2 hour drive to base camp. Huaraz is 3000m above sea level and we ascended passed turquoise glacial lakes into the national park at 3800m. Then with "Vamos!" From Lucho we were off.
The day before we set off I was sat in California cafe tucking into to a healthy brunch when a chatty middle aged Boltonite next to me asked me to help him with his malfunctioning Samsung Galaxy tablet. Being an Apple lover, I was unable to help. After chatting at length about the prowess of Phil Collins and Genesis I mentioned to him I was climbing Nevada Pisco tomorrow. His eyes widened and he exhaled with a puff of his cheeks.
"Wow" he said "be careful, three people have died climbing Pisco this season"....
Day one was a climb from 3800m to the refugio at 4675m. Lucho wasn't much for company on the first day, he set off and didn't stop for the three hours. The climb was up a gravel mountain single track path. I passed waterfalls and strange looking cactus plants. At the top of the ridge I got my first sight of my target, Nevada Pisco. It was a clear day and all around me were snow capped mountains and glaciers. After a nap and dinner at 5:30 in the refugio, I watched the sunset lighting up Huascaran (6768m), the highest mountain in Peru. The mountain was red and orange like fire and it felt like I was in mordor itself.
We woke at midnight and had a small breakfast. Then, with all my gear (and no idea), we set off on the 6 hour climb for the summit. The first three hours consisted of walking under the shadow of the full moon across the moraine, hopping from small rocks to large boulders trying not to twist your ankle. We reached the foot of the glacier at 4am and met a group of 15 other adventurers. I put on my boots and crampons and roped up to Lucho. It was only then that I realised that my water bottle had leaked soaking though my gloves and the bottom of my bag onto my bum. Both my gloves and bum had frozen solid and I was without a litre and a half for the 3 hour ascent. We jumped ahead of the 15 climbers by heading directly up the compact snow 60 degree slope. Once on the ice we climbed by torch light following the tracks of keener climbers some 100m ahead of us. The Mountains surrounding us were lit up a grey blue by the moon and the distant thunder storm beneath us rumbled ominously.
We were at over 5000m and breathing was hard. Just before sunrise I had a mini freak out. I saw the snow capped mountain to my left from bottom to top whilst high on a steep slope. I realised how high I was and that if I was to slip here, there would be nothing to stop me until I reached the bottom. As the sun rose just after six I was able to get some decent pictures of the mountains around me with my weary face showing my fatigue. It was at that moment that the clouds came over reducing visibility to about 20 metres. The slopes we were climbing were steep and relentless. All Lucho would say was "a little bit more up!" The last 250 meters only got exponentially steeper, as did the thinning of the air. My frozen gloves were making my fingers numb and it was at this moment with the moist freezing -15 degrees air that I needed to go for a pee. Barely able to speak, I asked my guide to wait as I fumbled taking off my two layers of gloves then attempted with bare hands to unzip the two layers of trousers then move aside my two pairs of pants. After honestly 15 minutes, I was relieved and able to continue. As we reached the false summit we had to jump across a half metre crevasse that disappeared 50 metres below us (squeaky bum time).
Now I'm not a spiritual or a religious man so the closest thing I can compare to what happened on the last 50 metres is from Star Wars return of the Jedi when Obi Wan appears to Luke on the ice planet of Hoth. Ok I didn't see a green visage of Simon but in my head I knew what he would have been saying to me if he was still alive and there with me "come on bro, you can do it!" He was with me and was spurring me on. After 6 hours 25 minutes and at 5760m we reached the top. I sank to my knees and thinking of my bro let out a few tears. The view was a wall of grey cloud but that didn't matter. The accomplishment of getting to the top was enough.
After a few minutes we began the descent only resting to refuel and to take some pictures. We got back to the refugio in a surprisingly fast 2 hours 45 minutes. Going down is much easier! After a celebratory beer with Lucho I got my head down ready for the 5am trek back to base camp.
Sod's law would have it, the third day was beautifully clear, not a cloud in the sky. We trekked a different route back to take in some spectacular panoramic views of the previous days summit and the even more spectacular Lagoa 69. I will let the pictures tell the story of the third day.
I got back to Huaraz at 3:00pm and waited for my bus at 10pm. 24 hours, 2 more buses and a tuk tuk later I was on the beach with Laura.
Now for my Jerry Springer "final thought",
Life is worth living. I wish Simon was still with us so I could tell him about my trip. If he was with us I know what he would say... "Well done! But I climbed Cotopaxi in Ecuador which is 137 metres higher!!! Haha"
Tell your friends and family how much they mean to you. Take that trip with them, go for that beer, send that message. Regrets are the most expensive thing in the world, don't let opportunities pass you by.