South America

Monday, July 09, 2007



Vast wilderness in northern Argentina: La Puna de Atacama. Incahuasi seen in photo (6612m)
Well I must say that as I sit here in my home in Vancouver, British Columbia I am very happy to have made it home in one piece. When I left on my plane to Lima Peru with no return ticket home and no real plans I wasn't sure exactly sure where I was going. I had a vague plan for the first two months that entailed making my way with my friend Sam Harrison down to Mendoza, Argentina to climb Cerro Aconcagua the highest mountain on the continent. We were very anxious to climb some high mountains as neither of us had ever climbed a 6000m mountain before and had little experience with high altitude.

In Bolivia we tried to climb the monstrous Nevado Jakouma 6427m as our first climb. We only made it to about 6000 meters due to a combination of iffy weather and inexperience, technical mountain experience and high altitude experience. I got horribly dehydrated at high camp and suffered the most menacing head ache and feeling of discomfort in my life. It was a good trek but rather painful.

Standing at the highest point in the Americas: Aconcagua 6962m elv. 
We made it to Mendoza and sure enough we made it right up the that high point in the sky, the top of Aconcagua 6962m (22830 ft.). We barely made though and surely wouldn't have without our previous experince in Bolivia. We moved slowly acclimatizing over the course of a week up the mountains. making sure that neither of us drank less than 4 litres of water a day, a figure that seems ridiculous to most people who usually dont drink more than a litre in a day. That was the key to our success but nonetheless we didnt make it easy. The final 200m stretch to the top was indescribably slow and laborous. Each step a task at a time and by the last 100m a strong voice was urging me to go down. It seemed very illogical to continue, if I went down I would feel better if I went up much worse. Standing on the summit I thought I never want to do this again. The view was utterly spectacular but I had no mind to enjoy it. The climb was horribly frigid and all of our nights at 5000 and 5500m high camps were shiveringly cold no matter how we utilised our clothing and gear.


After Sam Left to return to Canada I chilled out a while. I bussed back up to Bolivia chasing a dream job with Lonlely Planet that I never got. A spent over a month doing very little climbing and no mountains. A feeling built up inside of me, a powerful urge to go back up. I had no power to resist it. I decided to go back into Argentina to visit one of most remote areas in all South America, a stretch of desert on the northern border with Chile called La Puna de Atacama. Here lied almsot all of the 15 highest peaks on the continent but all in the form of giant piles of sand and scree, ancient volcanoes rarely ever climbed. I ended up spending over two weeks here in the far remote high lands where hitchhiking a desolate road got me between mountains. I climbed some nice ones but was blown off Incahuasi 6650m when raging winds blew sand and rocks into my eyes making incredible discomfort for myself. The whole time I spent there I never saw another soul in the mounatins and it was a very lonsesome time. It was also a very beautiful and inspiring time it stands out as one the most vivid and intersting experiences in my life. Still it was harsh; cold, lonesome and those horrific sand stoms that locked me down in my tent were just something else.

When I hitchhiked out from there I arrived for the first time in 4 months to the Pacific Coast but I quickly grew bored and searched for my next mountain. I ventured offf into the desert hoping to be able to hitchhike to a very remote and high Volcano on the edge of the true Atacama desert. Carrying 15 litres of water I was lucky and caught rides to my destination which proved more remote than I had ever imagined. I spent 4 nights in pure solitude at 5000m camped on a spectacular ledge of Volcan San Pedro 6154m. I summited succesfully in time for sunrise. To my amazement from the top of this stupendous peak not a single sign of civilization could be seen. It was a sensational outing but all this time alone was starting to bother me. After this I spent 3 weeks on the coast learning to fly in a town called Iquique. Paragliding that is of course, I sailed from the beaches to the sky up into the mounatains carving elegant turns high over the desert dunes.

This was an amazing experience but once again I found I missed the mountains. I tried to ignore it but couldnt so I left north bound. At this time I was starting to get a little home sick having been on the road for a good 10 months including my time in Canada. I made a plan to do some rapid travelling up through Peru to Iquitos in the Amazon Jungle then through Ecuador to Columbia from where I would probably fly home. I made good progress until I found Huaraz in northern Peru. I knew I would like it there so I had planned on spending a week perhaps.

On my first day there during a walk in the hills above town and while enjoying great views of the cordillera blanca I decided it was the nicest place that I had ever been. I just wanted to trek though, I didnt want to have anything to do with the icy peaks and the technical and dangerous routes that led up them. But can you guess? Before I knew it I was making ambitious plans to climb high 6000m peaks. Days turned into weeks and then months. I was settled in nicely at Jos Place hostal and the climbing was superb. I climbed the most spectacular climbs of my life. I indeed suffered some cold night and some minor frostbite. But with my experience I was on top of things. Not once did I get dehydrated nor sunburnt. As it would turn out I spent the rest of my trip right there in wonderful Huaraz before flying home from Lima on the 18 of June.

So all in all I was in South America for 8 months and all in all I hardly left the mountains for a moment. It was the heart and soul of my trip to South America. I didnt visit the Amazon once and the ocean only a few times. Sort of a shame but I have no regrets. My time in those in mountains is so special to me. It was high point of my life and perhaps something I will never beat. I learned how to survive in some awful places and although at times it was indeed painful or atleast very uncomfortable I could not regret things for a second. And yes I very much understand if one does not understand me but perhaps if one day you stand where I stood at 6325 m on the peak of Chopicalqui high up in the cordillera Blanca and on one side layers of clouds simulate that you are in heaven and on the other past more terrifyingly beautiful 6000m peaks the pacific ocean glistens 20000 ft below you may have an idea. If not surely than when you climb alone the full moon lit scree slopes of Volcan San Pedro and you realize that the world in which you walk is wholey and purely yours due to the absence of any other person in a vast area then and only then you may realize that a great deal off suffering is fully acceptable to have a chance to experience such a sensational feeling and fulfillment that no money nor magic can buy. It is you and only you that can get get what you trully want out of life, somethings are only attainable by hard work and determination. Suffering and exhaustion is indeed a big past of teh game if teh high mounatins are what you chase. But take time to learn it, to many people die from altitude sickness, for god sakes dont push to hard, know your limtis and if you dont yet then start off conservatively. Enjoy those views and enjoy the reward, its often big effort big reward kindof experience. It may sound rather horrid but it doesnt have to be.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I think that its about time that I change the pre flight to South America write up. As I re-read my thoughts predictions and desires that I quickly typed a few hours before boarding my plane. My first though is holy shit, that was a really long time ago. My second thought is my ambitions and aspirrations were grand, my expectations were very high. Well four months later, I can honestly say that all expectations have been well sufficed and far exceded. The adventure has been a thrill. The mountains are my dream come true. The entirety of my four months has been exclussively within the towering walls and soaring high plains of the Andes Mountain Range, the longest and second tallest on the entire planet.

My number one goal has been realized on December 7th when me and my travelling companion reached the top of the continent, 6962m teh peak of Aconcagua. That was the most that I have ever suffered in my entire life as we finished the last 100 vertical meters. Later after safely descending it was the greatest feeling ( or atleast equal to my other greatest feelings) of accomplishment and satisfaction that I have ever known. Every part of the Andes mountains seems to me very unique. I simply can´t imagine getting bored here.

As true as this is however I do feel a slight urge to see some of the other wonderful aspects of South America, afterall there is plenty of coast of which in four months Ive only got a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean from the peak of Aconcagua. And then there is the Amazon which everyone coming to the continent is destined to visit. Still I feel humbly content when IM amongst these peaks and so far my plan is to travel northward towards Columbia virtually not leaving the mountains at all. I want to climb more mountains. After all as my record stands, Ive climbed heaps of hills and small mountains but really only made it to the top of one big one, ironically the biggest. On our first clime of Jakouma 6427m in Bolivia we failed to pass 6000m largely to blame was the weather but also it was a difficult route and we were not sufficiently acclimatized. After Aconcagua Volcan Lanin in Northern Patagonia shut us down directly due to the weather with winds up to 125 KM/hr. Three days ago I made an ambitious solo attempt on Incahuasi 6650m in the Puna de Atacama, northwest Argentina but was shut down as strong winds blew debree in to my right eye incapacitating me to continue. Tomorow I return to that area to climb some smaller mounatins that have perhaps never seen a man on the summit and then if all is well another attempt on Incahuasi.

I do feel that I should leave the mountains. Find a hammock on the beach and rent a surfboard, get a nice even tan rather than a hilarious ankle and t-shirt burn. But I sort of doubt I will after all If Im happy then there is no problem and I should continue as I am. Besides you guys dont really want to read about the beach do you, adventure and excitement is found where you search for it but in the mountains it will always find you.

Happy Canadian Mountaneer in South America
Ira Sutherland

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In 8 hours and 5 minutes I am boarding a plane bound for South America. I am set to land in Lima, Peru at 11:50 Am tomorow night October 16th. Hopefully my buddy Sam should be there waiting for me as his plane is due to arrive 1 hour and 50 minutes before mine. I am certain that this is going to be the wildest and most inspiring long adventure so far in my life. Standing in heavy duty trekking/mountaneering boots and both shouldering heavy backpacks packed to the brim with mountaneering gear including crampons, ice axe, climbing rope, carabiners, belaying devices, ice screws, nylon anchoring straps, head lamps, climbing harnesses, helmuts, sleeping bags, tent and all other general camping equipment, guide books, a fly fishing rod and warm and waterproof clothing. We are absolutely totally prepared to travel to this part of the world(atleast as much as one can be while still maintaning a mobile backpacking lifestyle). Which part of the world should we need all this gear? After leaving Lima we are set to follow the Andes Mountain Range, the longest and second tallest in the world, through Peru and Bolivia into Chile where we enter Patagonia. Patagonia is a large and rugged part of the Andes relatively uninhabited and remote. As you follow Patagonia South you enter the land of glaciers and Southern tundra until arriving at the strait of Magellan which conects the two largest oceans in the world the Atlantic and of course the Pacific. Finally after crossing the strait lies an island called Tierra Del Fuego (The Land of Fire) one of the last true wildernesses in the world aswell as the most Southernly towns in the world. I still don't expect it would be anything like Northern Canada as far as remoteness is concerned due to its tourism. Still this is just my so far impression as I have not already been there and IM sure in many ways my impression will change as I see and experience it first hand.

I always have a crazy feeling when I am waiting for a flight 9 hours away that will take me from my home land to a far and distant corner of the world with different languages, different people, and different standards. I never know exactly what to expect; it could be wonderful, it could be so-so or it could be disastrous but I always know that I can expect adventure. Afterall adventure is all about uncertain situations often with atleast some element of danger but not necesarily. Aslong as my bag is not somehow stolen near the begining of the trip (It is always a possibility when travelling the third world but anywhere really) then it should be all good, aslong as I get good use and experience out of my equipment that I should be more

At this point my two main goals are to reach Tierra del Fuego and my number one goal is to climb Volcan Aconcagua 6900m the tallest on the continent. We plan to climb some high peaks in Bolivia and do some long treks in Patagonia far from civilization. My buddy Sam will accompany me for about ten weeks until he flies home from Buenas Aires and then my plans are up in the open. Ill definetly check out Uruguay and then have two options Brazil or back up the western side. Actually I have almost infinite options hahahaha, I love it! Anyway Ill keep an update going on my blog site and try post some good photos as IM sure Ill have a few. than satisfied.