Sometimes life puts an obstacle in your path. Sometimes small, little things that can be easily overcome. Sometimes bigger and sometimes unexpected. Sometimes you can see them coming from miles away and sometimes you inexplicably fall into them.
Travelling condenses this down to a barrage of nuisances. Mountaineering then reduces it to an almost binary outcome. Can I overcome this obstacle? Yes or no. On the face of it, it’s that simple. But when you’re actually on the face of it, things can be much more complicated.
First of all you need to get to the face of it. Getting to the mountains from Huaraz is a comparative breeze. The town itself is at just over 3,000m. If it were in Europe you’d walk down to the summit of some mountains. It feels as though this is the furthest that humanity was meant to spread, as though this is where the wave has broken against the shores of the wild. Roads cross passes around 5,000m high and sometimes it feels like nature is just teasing you – tempting you to go further.
It’s a scruffy town balanced on a fault line that is waiting to either swallow it up or propel it into space. The atmosphere is light and warm, the people the same but with a twist of crazy that I think can only be explained by the sustained lack of oxygen. Backpackers to-and-fro on their mad dash around Peru and locals sit back and watch them come and go, having ticked something else off their list. In short, it is the perfect basecamp from which to spend a season exploring one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world.
It was in this hypoxic bliss that I missed the obstacle coming from a mile off and made the last mistake of the trip. The little old lady had wanted to steal my passport. She wanted my passport and my camera and everything else that I had so kindly put into one single bag full of everything valuable that I owned. Sometimes they just sucker punch you when you least expect it and sometimes you deserve it. Now that I am back home, emergency passport in hand, I no longer want to tear the old dear limb from limb. Looking back through all the bumps and pitfalls it seems almost funny. Not actually funny, but sort of lucky that it wasn’t worse.
“Look out for the crevasse!” He shouted back at me. I could see the thing snaking towards us from the left and narrowing so that across our path there was only a subtle kink in the snowfield. We were on our way to the face of it and I was ho-humming along thinking of the pint and the steak waiting for me back in Huaraz. I remember thinking that he made the jump across the metre or so gap look easy. I didn’t think much else until I looked up and saw that the kink in the snow wasn’t in front of me anymore. I turned around and realised it wasn’t behind me either. That’s funny, I thought, for about a second. Luckily it wasn’t deep.
Remember. Beautiful things can bite you in the ass. They can lull you into a sense of serenity and peace that disguises the actual chasm of death hiding beneath the surface. I think it’s time to practice my crevasse rescue.
By Sam Gibbons-Frendo, 9th May 2014