Tears in the Cordillera Blanca

Tears in the Cordillera Blanca

I first journeyed to Huaraz and the magnificent Cordillera Blanca range in 1978 as a member of a Canadian expedition to the largely unclimbed Nevado Champera region. I fell in love with Huaraz and the region within days.

Huaraz in 1978 was different from today. Eight years after the earthquake, much of the city was still in ruins with far less shops, markets, restaurants and accommodations than there are today. But even without the creature comforts that Huaraz exhibits now, Huaraz is still situated beneath one of the greatest mountain ranges in the world.

After a two day journey through the Canon del Pato and a hike to base camp, our small party of climbers succeeded on summiting two unclimbed peaks and then moved on to Huascaran.

The next winter and after a long evening with my climbing partners Peter and “Scotch Whiskey” plans were set for the unclimbed North Face of Taulliraju. Huaraz showed changes as it rebuilt itself in the year that had passed and the journey thru Pomabamba to base camp and the ascent of Taulliraju’s North Face was long and hard. A bivouac near the summit, two rock and ice avalanches nearly took our lives and caused us to shake with fear. But that is climbing!

The following winter Peter, “Scotch Whiskey” and I discussed our next trip and agreed that maybe the avalanches weren’t that close and Taulliraju really wasn’t that difficult so we would return to do something really difficult, the unclimbed East Face of Chakraraju Este.

Huaraz had changed again by 1980 there were more shops, restaurants and supply stores as the city has grown. To our surprise, we found a cabin at the lake where we set up basecamp. Many days later we arrived back at the cabin tired, cold and wet having survived two avalanches and a seven day storm only to fail on the peak.

Peter played tourist while I rushed back to Lima where I met my girlfriend Valli who had flown in for some romantic touring in Peru. Peter and I didn’t have enough time to dry out our equipment, rest and attempt the peak again. Our climbing for 1980 was over.
Valli and I spent several weeks exploring Huaraz and Peru. The following year we married and in 1985, our son Adam was born. Adam and I spent many days in the mountains hiking climbing and playing from the time he was born until he began studying at university. I did this with my son not to form him into a mirror image of his father but to share experiences and to be friends. The years passed and as Adam grew up, the memories of the Cordillera Blanca were always close at hand. But marriage, family, work and life got in the way of the dream and desire to return. By 2011, Adam had finished his first university degree and would soon be moving away for further studies. I realized that if I wanted to return to Peru with him, it would have to be now before we both changed and it is too late.

We flew to Lima and after a few days of drinking Pisco Sours we took a bus to Huaraz. As the landscape changed from desert coast to the green higher lands before the vast Alto Plano and the towering Cordillera Blana, I found myself staring out the window flooded with memories. A strange feeling began in my eyes and tears began to flow down my face. I found myself unable to control them and felt somehow ashamed. I hid them from Adam and the others on the bus and then realized that there was nothing to be ashamed of. The years spent in the Cordillera Blanca were the best years of my life. I was young, adventurous and all I wanted to do was climb and live life. But then life got in the way.

Huaraz had changed a lot over 31 years now much larger with traffic lights, hotels with hot showers, restaurants with food and drink of any wish. After acclimatizing to the altitude, taking in the sights, scenery and making new friends, we began our journey to my old 1980 basecamp. At Llanganuco the Arriero (donkey driver) said there is no cabin but I and a Google Satellite photo knew otherwise.

The trek was not easy for this unfit old man of 55 years and Adam kicked my butt easily. I congratulated him on this knowing what it is like to be young and strong with a full life to live. The Arrierro again said “see there is no cabin” the donkeys were into a rocky area where they could not continue. After paying him off and shouldering the packs we continued upwards. The first lake came into view with no cabin, the next lake had no cabin and finally in late afternoon the third lake and cabin appeared. It was a bit run down but usable. Our heads pounded from the altitude during a heart to heart, father and son talk. My eyes swelled but this time I don’t hide the tears as these are tears of joy of being back here with my son! All the years of life and raising a child to a man, came to this moment when life is complete.

A difficult night was spent from the altitude and cold as we had not brought enough cold weather equipment. The following morning having breakfast together on the steps of the cabin were worth the pain.

Back in Huaraz with hot showers, soft beds, cold beer and beautiful sunsets. Adam talks about returning one day with his girlfriend while I nodded in agreement.

The next day we silently sat in a restaurant sipping our cappuccinos watching the girls go by. A wife or mother or girlfriend would not understand but the two friends understand that tears will be shed again in the Cordillera Blanca.

By: Joe Bajan