Nice to meet you, altitude

When I first decided to climb a mountain in Peru in July of 2014, I found myself distracted from the climb itself by the long solo journey I would have to take just to get to the mountain. After a couple of layovers and 11 hours in the air, I made it to Lima by about midnight. My ride to the bus station wasn’t due to arrive until 8 a.m., so I found a quiet place and spent the night there in the terminal. After a sorry excuse for a night’s sleep, I took a wild, one-hour cab ride, followed by a 10-hour bus ride north up the coast then west up into the Cordillera Blanca, a range in the Andes. Nestled in the shadows of Peru’s highest peaks is the beautiful town of Huaraz. I spent a few days acclimating there and a couple of days at base camp before my group made its way toward the summit of Chopicalqui. At 20,846 feet, the summit of Chopicalqui is over 6,000 feet higher than anything I have ever climbed. Below is the journey in words and pictures.

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At Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where the journey began.

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The hustle and bustle near Lima’s airport.

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The colorful city center in Huaraz, Peru.

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View of Huaraz from the rooftop of my hotel.

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A few shots of the beautiful people and culture of Huaraz.

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Following a guide up to Churup Lake for an acclimation hike.

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At Churup Lake, we stood at 14,700 feet. This is roughly 200 feet higher than anyplace in the lower 48 states.

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A quinoa field near my guide’s family farm, where I had been invited for dinner.

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His brother’s wife and her daughter wait for our arrival.

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It was an honor to join them for Guinea Pig, a traditional Peruvian dish.

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My new friend, Helinda, waving goodbye.

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After a few more days acclimating in Huaraz, my team and I headed into the heart of the Peruvian Andes.

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Making the trek to Chopicalqui’s base camp.

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A porter unloading my gear at base camp.

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Our team’s chef preparing something great at base camp.

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A porter socializing in the cook tent.

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Reviewing crevasse rescue at base camp.

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Some fresh snow that kept us at base camp an extra day.

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Some of the team eating a big dinner the night before we traveled to our next camp.

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The next morning was perfect, so we headed higher up the mountain to the Moraine Camp.


Moraine Camp.

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Our team leader taking a short break before moving up to glaciated terrain.

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Making our way up to high camp.

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Somewhere between 17,000 and 18,000 feet, my head started to tighten from the lack of oxygen.

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Our high camp. At 18,000 feet, this was just about 4,000 feet higher than I had ever been.

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The porters made me this coca tea to help with my headache. At high camp, my altitude sickness was not getting any better. When my team left for its summit push at 1 a.m., my head was pounding so bad I could literally see my pulse. I opted out of going for the summit, heeding the words of Ed Viesturs: “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” 

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Unfortunately, the rest of my team was unable to summit due to high winds and subzero temperatures. On the bright side, my body had acclimated overnight and I felt pretty good by the time the sun came out the next morning.

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We packed up and headed back to base camp. Although I didn’t reach the summit, I did reach a new altitude.

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Enjoyed the warm, thick air at base camp before starting my long journey back to the United States.

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Even without reaching the summit, this was one of the greatest adventures of my life. The colorful culture, friendly people and unbelievable landscapes will definitely bring me back to Peru’s high peaks. Special thanks to Dan Nash and Rodolfo Reyes of Satori Adventures and Expeditions and Peruvian Mountains Adventures and Expeditions for making it all possible.

-Mark Malkowicz

3 thoughts on “Nice to meet you, altitude

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