I honestly can't believe I returned from this trip alive.
I was 20 years old and I headed to the Cordillera Blanca--a range of steep, snowy mountains--soon after becoming obsessed with the thought of climbing mountains.
I hadn't yet learned that walking down them is way less fun than skiing them. This trip is where I came upon the idea of combining mountaineering with skiing.
For a big range, it has "easy" mountains, with peaks less than 20,000 feet tall. I intended to climb them by myself, with virtually no previous glacier travel or mountain climbing experience.
So, during the course of a month, I climbed and skied--oh wait, I didn't even take my skis--walked down as many mountains as I could. Then I returned to Argentina and Chile to begin my summer of skiing.
Vallunaraju (18,650 ft.)
Yanapaccha (17,913 ft.)
Pisco (18,871 ft.)
Urus Este (17,782 ft.)
Ishinca (18,143 ft.)
failure: Tocllaraju (19,790 ft.) (high point: 16,750 ft.)
At various times during the month, I hired a donkey, a porter, arriero, and even a Peruvian climbing guide. He didn't speak any English, wasn't a real guide, and hadn't climbed the mountains, but he at least knew the names of the surrounding peaks and was someone with whom I could tie into a rope.
Later, alone, after I ran out of money for a guide (read: after 2 mountains), I fell into a crevasse, at 18,000 feet, by myself.
I went to Peru with almost no spending money and a wish for alpine summits. Not a death wish. Because I was usually carrying all my own food in a backpack en route to base camps--since after using a donkey once I decided I couldn't afford to do that any more--I never had enough food for my week-long climbing sessions. Returning to town by hitching rides or finding mountain taxis (small cars that definitely incurred more costs in damage from the drive than I was paying for it), I would go straight to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, eat a huge plate of Arroz a la Cubana, pay, walk to the hole-in-the-wall restaurant next door, and order another. Then I'd head to main street, get an ice cream cone while walking toward the hostel, finish it, get another ice cream cone to last me until I reached my hostel, get in my bunk, and pass out.
Once, between mountain climbing stints, I went sport climbing at Hatun Machay.
I'd wake up a couple of days later, bored of town and ready to head back into the mountains. I'd load up an insufficient amount of food, equipment, and know-how, and leave town.
A couple of days before leaving Peru, I decided that I wanted to see Machu Picchu. Thirty-six hours of bus rides later, I made it.