Travel Stories

Ridge Walking

One of the greatest joys in the life of a backpacker is to walk along a ridge line.

One of the greatest joys in the life of a backpacker is to walk along a ridge line. That line that marks the very top of the mountains where you can climb no more and you get to enjoy the thousands of feet of space below. It is to experience the world from the top, to see the accomplishment of the last several days of climbing, to know that you are walking where very few have before you, to truly bask in the adventure of your life, this is what it is all about, and for me perhaps the greatest part of what we do. Throughout the last section, we have been blessed to walk along some of the world´s highest, most unseen, and certainly most rugged ridge lines.

Returning to Leimeibamba we had many questions about how well our now rested bodies would hold up over the next section, how two weeks off is a lot, a whole lot, especially when you have to climb 5000 or more feet right away. We knew that we would have to cover some decent ground to make up for time away from the hike. We have been and continue to be aware of the fact that our 60-day visas will need to be renewed very shortly and that Huaráz, the nearest town where we can gain permission to stay in the country longer, is far away.

Still without maps, and at this point still with our compass, we pointed south and began the next portion of this long journey. It was but a day later and a lot of feet higher when we would reach our first major obstacle of the section. As we rounded a corner, a devastating sight. There in front of us after climbing almost 4000 ft, a valley 1500 ft below with a very large, very steep, and very impassable wall of mountain on the other side. Since turning back was clearly not an option, we decided to take a leap of faith and blindly head west hoping that we would again encounter some sort of traverseable terrain we could take south. After camping near one of thousands of pre-Incan ruins in the area, we lucked out and were soon climbing over a pass where we would walk along one of the most beautiful ridges that I think anyone has ever seen. I am used to walking on ridges. I am used to them being high above the valleys below and rugged. This was a whole new experience! As we looked off into the distance, it was easy to trace the route we would be following over an endless span of peaks rising like fingers at times six to seven thousand feet above the rivers below. All of it, all of the jagged rock, the incredible cliff bands, the outrageous climbs and drops, extended to the single most awesome mountain that we have laid our eyes on; we were excited to get there. High above it all we walked along covering ground to the south quickly, stopping only to climb what I will say is one of the more awesome mountains I have ever summited. Although the actual summit was only 500 ft or so (if you don´t count the 5000 ft it took to get to the climb), it was steep, scary, and of course fun as all hell. Standing on the top, definitely one of the more inspiring moments of my life. After an incredibly long and tough day, especially for our over-rested bodies, we would descend off the ridge to spend the night in a valley anxious about the next day. As we had approached the end of our day, it had become clear that our trek south would again take a major detour. That incredible mountain that I had previously mentioned was more difficult to get around than we had originally thought. To the west, 6000 ft of down, to the east, a ridge that can only be described as looking like the back of a Stegosaurus with fins extending upwards 750 ft at 90 degree angles and then right back down again. As we drifted off to sleep, we both agreed that it sure would be nice if they made maps of this section of the Andes.

After several extremely frustrating climbs and drops to the north and northeast, we would eventually find ourselves on an Incan road again heading towards the promise of Tierra Del Fuego. Crossing lakes whose edges drop off into nothing, and experiencing the effects of a lot of rain that we have been getting lately in the form of mud and waterfalls galore, we began to descend to the town of Chuquibamba. Three hours of knee-pounding downhill hiking later, we arrive in Chochabamba, not Chuquibamba, not where we wanted to be and not any closer than we had been so far above the town. My frustration only subsided as we were given trout and corn from a local family who was only looking to help the weary hikers that passed by their home. It is repeatedly amazing how such simple exchanges with the locals can brighten the mood. Mutual curiosity and desire to learn often begins with a conversation and ends with the continuous hospitality that both Deia and I have written about over the last four months. In this case, it was just what I needed to keep my senses after we had hiked to a town that would leave us the same distance from our destination that we had been over three hours ago. Tired and utterly disgusted at our misfortune of late, we eventually made it to and rested in Chuqibamba for the night with plans to leave early the next morning. Sometime after noon we began the six hour hike to Uchumarca.

For several days, we would continue along Incan Trails that actually did lead to the south. As we enjoyed the short moments in between rain storms, we progressed perhaps further in a two week period than we have yet. Along the way we encountered several ruins, many many more peaks that dreams, well at least my dreams, are made of, and most importantly, several families who would take us in and care for us as if we were part of their own. In the nights we would discuss politics with the families, particularly the many similarities between George Bush and monkeys. We would discuss free trade, which has been promised to the people here, the difference between poverty and being poor, and most of all we would just get to know the people who live deep in the hills of Peru. I must mention the incredible skits that were put on for us by the children of familia Peña Chiguala. The two of us followed along as the big bad wolf blew houses down and ate little girls in red hoods, as Cinderella put on her glass slipper, and as The Ugly Duckling fought the other ducklings (at least in this version that is what happened).

Descending to the enormous Rio Marañón out of town was something that we were trying to avoid in order to save our knees. However, there was no other way to go but down the one trail that looks identical to some of the more challenging Grand Canyon trails. Soon after making our way down and arriving in the small riverside town of Calemar, Señor Lucho would invite us to spend the night at his house. As we sat in front of a crowd of near 50 again discussing Bush´s better qualities, it soon was clear that Lucho was more that just any ordinary guy. As others brought bring drinks, gave up their seats, and addressed him as “El Presidente,” it was obvious that we were the guests of someone to respect. It never was entirely clear whether an election decided Lucho´s title of President, or rather he choose it for himself. In any event, we left Calemar truly feeling as if we would be returning someday and knowing that we will always be welcomed back.

To date, our best guess has us at around 1000 miles down and a lot to go. Deia´s knees and foot both held up relatively well on the last section and we are still struggling to get our stomachs in order. What lies ahead of us is the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash. Since learning about their existence, I have often dreamt of walking through the glaciated peaks that make the Andes famous. I am not sure exactly when we will hit them, but the anticipation is growing at an incredible rate. Not only will it mark a major landmark reached for our hike, but the sheer vastness that is the Blanca makes me want to run to get there.

As always please email us with what is going on in your lives, we miss so many of you. Congrats to my cousins David and Rose who will be married this saturday.

Gregg Treinish