countin' the days

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Back in the Harness Again

Once I was safely back down from the mountains, the agenda was clear: time to go climbing. Though I climbed briefly in Quito (Ecuador) on a fake rock wall, I hadn´t been on real rock since November, and hadn´t done any outdoor climbing thus far in South America... Ridiculous! I had about a week left in Huaraz to see what I could pull together.

I had been searching hard for other climbers for a few days, but nothing was turning up. Finally, when I had just about given up hope, I found not one but two awesome partners. I overhead Jo, from Britain, talking about cilmbing over breakfast, and though she had other plans to go trekking, she changed them rapidly as soon as I pitched the climbing plan. She couldn´t have been a nicer or more pleasant person to spend a few days with, not to mention a great and supportive climber. Tom is a climbing guide from Colorado, who I´d heard about and had been searching for for days. I finally found him when I wandered into a dorm room and saw an enormous Black Diamond backpack and climbing gear spilled all over the room. He only had a couple days left in Peru but was up for a last minute change of plan to head for the rock. Like Jo, he was an easygoing, super fun person, and needless to say an excellent climber. Go team.

I had heard about the climbing area, called Jatun Machay ("big cave" in Quechua... what caves??), from a helpful German tour guide in Huaraz. I saw pictures of the place and was immediately sold. It has a very space-age, surreal quality to it: it´s located at an altitude of about 4100m, and the funky-looking rocks themselves seem to sprout out of nowhere. There´s a great refuge there, built and run by an incredibly friendly Argentinian man named Andrés, with a huge communal kitchen and a cozy fireplace around which I spent every evening.

The rock itself is a unique mix of granite and something else (no one could quite tell me what), that is found only in the Cordillera Blanca here in Peru. It wasn´t the friendliest of rocks -- my hands are recovering from a mix of cuts, scrapes, shreds, and general abuse: a sure sign of a few great days of climbing. But it was great fun to climb on. I had to build up my confidence a bit since it had been a while, but by the third day I was leading some really fun routes. (yup, that´s me on the rock in that photo, looking a lot more hardcore than I really am)

Despite my aching arms, bruised legs, and cut-up hands, it was a fantastic climbing adventure. Even getting there via cramped minibuses and shared taxis was fun. Most importantly, I finally got on some rock in South America, in an area that is mostly unknown and absolutely spectacular. And after pumping out on crazy cracks and thin faces, we were rewarded with technicolor sunsets and sparkling starry nights. What more could I possibly ask for?!

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