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Go Big or Go Home…or in this case, Go to Peru

Posted on: March 16th, 2012 by Luke Bauer

Clinton Lewis sent us this (excellent) piece about his summer experiences with the Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition(CBEE2011). The CBEE2011 is part of the Club’s Climber Scientist program. We as climbers can frequently visit locations on the earth that no one else can—and many of those locations desperately need our study and attention. Stay tuned to the Club’s website  for updates on this project and others.

When I was growing up skateboarding in the late 80s/early 90s, my friends and I had a saying: “Go big or go home.” So it was no surprise when my first experience in the mountains would be in the Cordillera Blanca range in central Peru. I was a glorified tagalong for the Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition last summer, but I had a whole new world open up for me. I am the staff photographer for Western Kentucky University (elev. 550 ft.) and was asked to document the research of Assoc. Professor Dr. John All, who is also the AAC Chair for the Climber Science Program. Our university’s new focus of research and international reach seemed to fit perfectly with the CBEE. The university backed it and four weeks later I was landing in Lima to rendezvous with the rest of the group.

Click the image to see more photos in the gallery.

After a nauseating bus ride from Lima to Huaraz, we met the rest of the group, a mix of scientists and climbers from Canada, Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California, New York, New Mexico, Georgia, Utah, Oregon and, of course, Kentucky. We spent a couple days in town adjusting to the altitude by hiking and finalizing details with the guides. We traveled to the Llaca Valley the first weekend to further acclimatize and get a crash course in glacier travel and refresh (in my case, learn) basic mountaineering techniques. Numerous hikes along the Llaca glacier, a nice introduction to ice climbing (I’m hooked), and writing the science plan kept us occupied. Our last night was great, despite waking at 2 a.m. to use the privy, I was able to see and photograph the Milky Way for the first time. Early morning pee breaks here (and later at Quit) have never been so beneficial! 

Returning to Huaraz, the group divided up into our research/climbing teams and scoped out our assigned mountains. The group I was with was dealt Quitaraju, which at 6036m, was a big first undertaking for the first week. As the large group set out to the Pastoruri Glacier for a day of further training, my team members and I split off to climb Ishinca (5530m) which would give us the benefit of higher altitude. Arriving at base camp, we bivvied in a cave and watched the sun set on adjacent Tocllaraju in a fantastic orange glow. Heading out at 1 a.m., I was moving incredibly slow, but I managed to get within a few hundred feet of the summit before we needed to head back to town. Let’s just say I have unfinished business at 5470m, but I was definitely bitten by the alpine bug. Yet again, I’m hooked. There has been no shortage of amazing images to photograph thus far. Did I mention blisters? My borrowed double plastic boots are about 2 sizes too big and left me with around 16 blisters. They all have names at this point.

Back in Huaraz, the group moved the launch day for the big research climbing week up, so we were now leaving the next morning at 7 a.m., giving us a grand total of 10 hours to sleep and repack for the 7-day excursion to the Santa Cruz Valley and Quitaraju. Departing early, we started the 25km trek around noon and reached the midway camp at Llamacorral by 6. John and Brett Overcash of Atlanta were taking GPS and environmental data every 250m, and me being the slowest in the group quickly landed in the rear of the pack. The next day we reached the base camp for Quitaraju and Alpamayo, but there was little time to rest since we were scheduled to climb 1500 vertical meters to the Alp-Quit col camp for the next 2 days. Kevin Grove, of Bend, Oregon and Brett set up a Kestral weather data station to record for 24 hours and we played hackey-sack at 4300 m with our guide Quique and the porters. The Quechuan family that ran the base camp was cracking up at us.  

Heading uphill by 8, I managed to make it to the top of the moraine before exhaustion got the better of me and I collapsed on a boulder. Turning around, I spent the rest of the time in base camp with our cook and porter, which ended up being ok. I watched one of the most brilliant sunsets that evening and shot a ton of images and the light traced over Artesonraju. A storm moved in and the team on the col wasn’t able to get out of their tents for 2 days and it rained at camp as well. Misery was shared by everyone. One neat moment was when I met a pair of climbers from Boulder who had ties to WKU… it really is a small world.  

After one rest day, we packed out of camp, taking the entire 25km trek out in one day. By this point I’m practically limping, but glad to be finished. We played futbol with several of the local children in Cashapampa while we waited for the caravan to arrive.

I had to head back to the states after my 18 days, but the expedition continued for another week as Artesonraju and Huascarán Sur (among others) were summited, snow collected for black carbon sampling, and ice samples taken for metallic analysis. Despite periods of total misery, my first experience in the mountains was unforgettable, and one I hope to return to often. I am now a proud member of the AAC and hope to join the 2013 CBEE.

Thanks for opening an entire new world for me!

Clinton took some fantastic photos on his trip. View the entire gallery here

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