Conquering my fear of heights one rock face at a time

Conquering my fear of heights one rock face at a time

My friend Shelley summed it up the best - she said that even though
she was looking at a photo of my shadow on a rock face, she still found
it surreal that I could be up so high. How did I manage to face my fear of heights and embrace rock climbing in just three short years? If you had met me before 2016, you too would be in disbelief.

It hasn’t been easy, but facing my fear of heights has become a mission. Not only because it’s allowed me to see the world from a different perspective, but it’s also taught me that that fear was a manifestation
of my self-imposed limitations. I don’t have to be an exceptional climber to have incredible adventures, I just have to try.

I’m pretty lucky to have friends who are mountain guides, because whenever I go climbing with them, I know that I’m in safe hands. I get to learn and climb from people whose job it is to safely push you beyond your comfort zone time and time again. Add to that, I wanted to do more adventure photography, so I figured the best way to do it is be out on a rock ledge somewhere - to practise my craft and climbing all at once.



Trekking to Laguna Rajucolta from Macashca

Trekking to Laguna Rajucolta from Macashca

If you Google the distance of Laguna Rajucolta from the small township of Macashca, it will tell you that it’s 20km one way. Luckily for Travis and I, the colectivo dropped us off about 5km from the National Park gates, so
it only added another 2 hours to our walk. The trek from the National Park gates to the lake is less than 3 hour one way and a relatively flat one at that.

From our experience, I would recommend going to the lake by taxi and getting dropped off right up to the gates. The 100 – 200 soles fee may seem a lot, but the peace of mind of knowing that you have a ride back to Huaraz will be worth it. If you’re wanting to do it on the cheap like we did, make sure to go early because the colectivos stop running back to Huaraz by around 6pm.

The colectivo from Huaraz to Marcara was in an obscure driveway and costs 2 soles one way, but unfortunately didn’t leave until 8.30am. That’s why we started our walk so late. Macashca itself is a friendly little township and its main square is quite pretty. We managed to stay on in the colectivo until its last stop, which does go far into the countryside.



The stunning blue waters of Laguna Paron

The stunning blue waters of Laguna Paron

If I’m being honest, the beauty of Parón is comparable, if not more striking than the more famous Laguna 69. Only have a few days in Huaraz and want to know which one to do? Here’s what I think: The hike to Laguna 69 is better, especially as you walk through the valleys and see the lush flatlands and rivers. It will also be better for acclimatization. However if you’re not planning on multi-day hikes, Lake Parón is a much easier hike (a lot lower too). You can walk around the lake’s edge and up to the mirador for some epic shots.

Laguna Parón is about 3 hours by van from Huaraz and lies in the north of the Huascaran National Park. The lake itself is about 4,200m a.s.l. so it should be ok even those who have come from the cast. We also made a stop in Carhuaz, where you should also try some artisanal ice cream. It cost me S.60 for the tour, which included the S.30 national park fee. Also there’s a S.5 lake ticket fee.



The alternative hike to Laguna Churup

The alternative hike to Laguna Churup

Laguna Churup is in the Huascaran National Park and starts in the village of Pitec. It costs S.10 each way, and normally the last collectivo leaves around 4.30pm. You can also get a private taxi from Huaraz, and arrange pick up at a certain time. If you miss the last taxi, it’s an hour’s walk to Llupa where you may be able to catch a collectivo.

I was joined on this adventure by Guido, a mountain guide from Casa de Guias. He was tracking a trail that would have been mostly used by locals, possibly collecting plants used for medicinal purposes. The trail isn’t well used anymore, in fact we saw more animal prints than signs that people had been there recently. Guido taught me that if animals used a path, especially larger animals, it meant that the earth is stable.

Another reason that we went out on this hike was that He was testing radio communication with Casa de Guias in Huaraz. It had recently been installed, which they hoped would make rescue communication in the high season more reliable.

Unfortunately my hayfever kicked in early on, and even though I took an antihistamine, it wouldn’t let up. That combined with the altitude made it hard to get my breathing in a natural rhythm. After about 3 hours, we reached a set of tall boulders that would be our lunch spot for the day



Spending the day at Laguna Radian

Spending the day at Laguna Radian

You can say that I’ve been offered and taken on some interesting opportunities during my time here in Peru. I met Cristian, a shaman from Wilcahuian last year through my landlord, Liliana. Since then, I’ve done a Coca Leaf and Wachuma ceremonies with him and he’s taught me to see and appreciate nature and flora with fresh eyes.

Cristian was going to Europe for a couple of weeks and needed promotional photos and videos. We settled on a Wachuma ceremony for my time - although I didn’t really have much  experience in videography, I thought it would be a nice day out and I could learn a new skill.

On the first Saturday of May, I headed to Wilcahuian by collectivo with my friend, Stephanie. She was a volunteer at Seeds of Hope in Huaraz and hadn’t been to Laguna Radian either. It turned out that we picked the perfect weather for the hike because it was mostly blue skies that day. The view of lake as we walked over the hill was incredible - the water was like a mirror. It reflected the rich blue skies and white clouds.



Climbing Nevado Chachani in the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve

Climbing Nevado Chachani in the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve

Chachani Volcano is a snow-capped, dormant volcano in the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, located 22 kilometres from the city of Arequipa. It’s not considered a highly technical climb, but its elevation of 6,057m a.s.l. (19,872 ft) made the hike challenging.

I had originally booked to climb Misti Volcano, but on the morning of my tour (I was literally just finishing breakfast), I was told that the rest of my group had fallen victim to that all too familiar combination of too many Pisco Sours and ceviche. To cut a long story short, they postponed their tour by a day, but unfortunately for me, I had already bought a bus ticket to Cusco. He offered me a tour to Chachani or a refund. Without hesitation, I said yes to Chachani.



What to see in Nazca beyond the famous lines

What to see in Nazca beyond the famous lines

After a couple of hours in Nazca, I went on a tour of the Chauchilla Cemetery. The famous cemetery was used as a set location in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The cemetery is in the Nazca plains and about an hour and a half’s drive out of the city.

The site itself is over 1,500 years old, and like many of these sites in Peru, it was discovered and raided by bandits. They would ransack the graves, take the beautifully intricate fabric the mummies wore and discarded the rest.

The ancient Nazca people wore mostly cotton due to its hot, humid climate. My guide, Julio, told me that if there was an individual tomb, it meant they were the only person who died that day. If multiple mummies were found in one tomb, it was highly likely that they were related. However if there are partitions between the mummies, it meant they died on the same day but no related, more likely warriors fighting over water. Water was limited in the plains and was often the cause of fatal battles.



Beyond the comfort zone: Rock climbing at Los Olivos

Beyond the comfort zone: Rock climbing at Los Olivos

I’ve been rock climbing a total of two times. My rock climbing technique can be described as something between a baby deer and a kid learning to cross the road - it’s often clumsy and hesitant, but getting better each time.

I’m lucky that somehow being a native English speaker affords me a valuable bartering commodity, and by living in Huaraz means I’m around mountain guides and climbers a lot. All have been patient with me, especially knowing my lack of experience, they’ve been eager to share their skills and knowledge. So, here we are, giving rock climbing a go!

My morning started by hiring my climbing shoes and meeting up with Carlos, my climbing teacher for the day. It took us about 15 minutes to walk to Los Olivos where we’d be climbing. He took me to my training rock face, the same one Guido had taken me to a few weeks before.
They all assure me that it’s ‘easy’, and I hope to be able to call it that as my confidence and skills improve. To be honest, I’d just like to tie the knots with confidence!