2017 Andes Climbing Season

During the 2017 winter in South America we climbed four mountains in the high Andes.

Huayna Potosi was our first objective. This giant towers over the bustling La Paz, Bolivia. This was Val’s first ever mountain climb. Being me, I thought we should go by ourselves. Val thought we should take a guide. It didn’t take long for her superior logic to win out.

Valerie is very afraid of heights. She’s not fond of the cold either. Over three days she braved near-vertical ice steps. The final 30 minutes to the summit follows a knife-edge ridge with shear, certain-death drops on both sides. It was mind-numbing, even for me. She walked it in style, twice! Victory was sweet. I was so proud of Val. She had, once again, faced her fears and conquered them.

A month later we traveled to another Andean climbing hotspot Juaraz, Peru. We wanted to climb a mountain independently this time but we needed partners. In flew Jan, a friend Val had not seen for a decade, all the way from Alaska. We ran into Lenny, who we had met on an earlier high-altitude trek, and he was immediately interested. He wrangled up Joe, a brit sharing the same room with Lenny at a hostel, and we formed a party of five to climb Pisco 5,752m / 17,871ft.

It took an entire day to get gear rented for everyone. The climb went off without a hitch. For Jan and Joe this was their first ever mountain climb. For Lenny this was his first significant summit. It seemed like my stoke for climbing was becoming.

After two Andean summits Val was happy with her achievements. I was feeling confident and wanted to do something more technical. My heart was set on Alpamayo, one of the world’s most beautiful mountains with no easy way to the top. I needed an experienced partner. In flew Ryan, one of the strongest climbers I knew. Sadly, he delivered some rough news on arrival. A week earlier he had badly hurt his shoulder. He needed surgery. Alpamayo was off the table. Luckily, Ryan is basically superhuman and still had three good limbs. We climbed a semi-technical route on Yanapaccha 5,460m / 17,913ft and he felt strong. We turned our sights to Tocllaraju 6,032m / 19,797ft for something bigger objective.

Our climb on Yanapaccha had shown that Ryan was stronger and faster than Lenny or me. By the time we reached basecamp for Tocllaraju Ryan had met a swiss man who had already climbed two mountains that day. It made sense to break into two rope teams. Both our parties successfully summited, Lenny and I just did it much, much slower.

My first Andean climbing season had been a resounding success. Four attempts ending in four summits. Most importantly everyone walked away safely. I had a great time with friends and, for a few moments, got to stand on the roof of the world.

I achieved goals that had been itching at me for decades. Walking among these behemoths I felt small again. Long after I’m forgotten these mountain will still be here, as stubborn and indifferent as ever.

Now for Alaska and the Himalayas…

Written by:

Scott Dusek is a writer and photography originally from Seattle, Washingon.

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