The Andes

I was a couple of years along in university. The shine of new adulthood was fading. I went through a hard breakup. My band kicked me out. I was struggling at school. I felt alone, sad, and tired.

I found solace in the mountains. The insignificance I felt among them was liberating. They had stood for millennia. I was frail and temporary, and so were my troubles. I escaped into my impermanence.

It was a reset. It was medicine. So began my climbing career.

Joy crept back into my life. Vertical pursuits dominated the next years. With every new wall and summit my confidence grew. My dreams expanded. I longed to climb in Alaska, the Himalayas, and the Andes.

That dream would become reality when I graduated, or so I thought. Reality had other ideas.

I moved to Oregon and met Valerie. She was beautiful, smart, and whole lot cooler than I was. She worked at a cocktail bar and introduced me to champagne lunches and evening Manhattans. I was head over heels, figuratively and sometimes literally. My wallet, however, was emptying as fast as I could fill it. My debts weren’t going anywhere and neither was I…

The ten years that followed took me around the world. I saw the Himalayas but lacked the permits and equipment to scale them. It wasn’t until this moment staring up at the Andes that the time had finally arrived.

Huayna Potosi was our first objective. The Andean giant lies just a few kilometers from bustling La Paz, Bolivia. It was Val’s first mountain climb, and it was a doozy. Over three days we climbed to the 6,088m / 19,976ft summit. Valerie is very(!) afraid of heights. She braved near-vertical ice steps and spent 30 minutes, each way, climbing a knife-edge ridge to the summit (see video). The drop on either side was mind-numbing but victory was sweet. I was immensely proud.

A month later Jan, a friend from Alaska, flew in. Together with two more new friends, Lenny and Joe, we climbed Pisco 5,752m / 17,871ft in Peru. It was their first summit ever and all of us felt accomplished.

After leading beginners to the summit of two Andean giants I was feeling confident and craving something more technical. My heart was set on Alpamayo, one of the world’s most beautiful mountains. The route requires thousands of feet of difficult climbing and I needed an experienced partner. In flew Ryan. Sadly, he landed in Lima with some rough news. A week earlier he had hurt his shoulder badly enough to require surgery. Alpamayo was out. Luckily, Ryan is superhuman and with the use of only one arm we successfully summited Yanapaccha 5,460m / 17,913ft and Tocllaraju 6,032m / 19,797ft.

My Andean climbing season was a resounding success. Four attempts led to four summits, and more importantly everyone walked away safely.

I had achieved a goal that had itched at me for over a decade. I felt small again walking among these behemoths. Long after I’m forgotten they will be here, as stubborn and indifferent as ever.

Now for Alaska and the Himalayas…

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Scott Dusek is a writer and photography from Seattle, Washingon. He has spent over five years on the road traveling to over 60 countries. When Scott is not writing you can find him trekking, climbing, and scuba diving in far flung corners of the world.