May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

January 5, 1998

The school kids were so excited
to have a group picture taken
The mountainous valleys of Huaraz in the surrounding Callejondehuaylas are Peru's Himalaya. Thousands of tourists trek the glacier-scoured valley and snow-dusted passes. The area is home to Alpamayo, whose perfect triangular symmetry has been dubbed the world's most beautiful mountain.

Traditional Andean culture, easy mountain access, and stable weather make the valley a mecca for mountain-lovers. Stable weather, that is, between May and August. In September rain begins to move in, and by November, forget it.

In Lima newspapers were calling Huaraz a disaster area and warning tourists away. But figuring even one snow-capped vista was worth the effort, we made the 4,000-meter climb from the coast. Well, at least it was clear one morning, and we climbed to the roof of our hostel to admire the massive bulk of 21,000-foot Huarazcaran, Peru's highest mountain, which dominates the view down-valley.

But the daily rains were no exaggeration, and by midday skies had blackened to rumbling thunder. With trekking out of the question, we opted to visit Chavin, the famous area ruins. The 140-kilometer drive turned into a 16-hour odyssey. The rough dirt track descends an alarming series of hairpin turns with ever-present views into the face of death in the valley floor below. Even seasoned Peruvian locals shielded their eyes to escape the reality of the driver's terrifying descent. Nancy momentarily stopped the bus with tearful pleading, but not even chastisements from our tour guide could curb this madman's speed.

Our visit to the ruins was haunted by the thought of our return, and the most memorable moment was when a group of 30 Peruvian school kids wanted their picture taken with us, one at a time, separately, then together.

But even the worst weather and horrifying bus journeys couldn't overcome our persistent hope for a clear day, and so, days later we boarded another mountain-scaling microbus. Clouds and mist consumed the views by the time we disembarked at the 4,300-meter pass of Portuchuell. The weather promised to worsen, and no one on board could understand our desire to get out in the middle of nowhere and walk back to where we'd just come from.

Three rain-soaked hours later we're sliding down the loose rocks of the mountain side. We've forgone the winding road in hopes of eventually getting back. We admit in shouted curses what a stupid idea this is. The clouds part their curtains and below the twin lagoons of Llanguncho shine.

Above the mist, the summit of Huandoy erupts toward the heavens. A moment later it is gone, and we resume our downward plunge.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

Filed To: Snow Sports

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