Book Travel

The ruins and mountains of Huaraz

Steph and I moved up North to Huaraz, which is the gateway city for the Cordillera Huayhuash mountain range in the Peruvian Andes. It is widely believed to be one of the best trekking locations in the world. The twenty mountains bound together by blue glacier ice are renowned for being exquisite and it has been made safe by the eviction of Sendero Luminoso guerrillas. This is also the location of the famed Siula Grande which is 6,344m high and has a subpeak named Siula Chico, which stands at 6,260m, so not really all that small after all.

Siula Grande was made famous by Touching the Void, the book written by Joe Simpson about his incredible survival in one of the harshest environments on earth. His story is one of the many impressive feats of human strength that have taken place in Latin America. The book was also made into a film by Kevin Macdonald which recounted the events on the mountain via re-enactments and interviews with the climbers. 

Both Joe and his partner Simon Yates successfully summited the mountain, it was during the descent that Joe shattered his knee joint. He then had to be lowered down the mountain on a rope and Yates couldn’t hear his voice over the wind nor see him, at which point he had to cut him off for his own survival. Simpson was then alone in a forbidding icy cavern. After he had regained consciousness he made the decision to travel downwards.

It took him three days of endlessly stumbling and falling as he travelled across the glacier with his broken leg wrapped in a sleeping bag and causing him agonising pain. He managed to drink once he was past the snow point which he likened to breathing life back into his body.

He was delirious from pain and hunger and only realised that he was near the camp when he fell into the latrine and could smell the urine. It was incredibly lucky that Yates was still there, along with Richard Hawking who was the traveller that they left at base camp. The pair were planning on leaving that day. 

He struggled with Peruvian doctors who told him he would never walk again, although he did climb again and had several unsuccessful attempts at the North face of Eiger in Switzerland. He forged a career as a motivational speaker as well as sustaining a further injury to his leg by breaking his ankles after a fall whilst climbing Pachermo in Nepal.

Simon Yates received criticism for his decision to cut the rope, a decision which Simpson supported. As so few people have survived from those circumstances I struggle to believe that anyone is qualified to comment on whether it was right or wrong.

As it is survival instinct that has got us this far in the history of human existence I don’t believe that decisions should be criticised by people who have so little understanding of situations of life or death. 

Recently, an audience that is younger than the book itself has started to give Joe their opinion on exactly what they think of the book via Twitter. As the book won the 1988 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the NCR Book Award in 1989 it has been included in the English syllabus for GCSE school children. 

They conveyed their exam frustration to him by saying ‘Hi Joe. I had an exam about your book. I failed because of you. You owe to me!’. This was closely followed by ‘I am a student who learned English. You are a stupid man who fell down on the mountain.’

It doesn’t really bear thinking about what has become of schoolchildren today that it is acceptable to call an author of a book about his mountain survival a ‘crevasse wanker’. Joe’s response to his followers as ‘a lovely day of children writhing in their hellish hormonal middens…good night vile innocents may you all seethe in bilious acid pus.’ 

This cowardly way of abusing people on Twitter is something that I find very disturbing. I also feel that the faceless tweeters will get even more stupid and puerile before a system is put in place to regulate the constant bile of angry humans.  

We stayed in a lovely hostel in Huaraz and when we arrived off the Lima bus they let us sleep until 8am and then knocked on the door to tell us they’d made breakfast for us. We had two omelettes and we were happy bunnies as this was perfect fuel for the walk we were going to go on. 

I was pretty happy to go on this walk to see some ruins but Steph spent the whole time shitting herself as she’d read that someone got robbed on a walk around Huaraz one time. This was annoying to me and I said that it probably wasn’t this walk and she argued that it was this walk even though she had no idea. Some people shouldn’t be allowed near the ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ section of the Lonely Planet especially Steph who could quote it verbatim and did at every opportunity. 

Needless to say that we got to the Wilcahuain ruins alive and a small boy offered to be our guide so we accepted his help. It was in Spanish but at this point, we’d learned a fair bit of the language through osmosis if not by any real effort.

The ruins were relics from the Wari empire and the stone building was used to house the mummies of their ancestors. The boy said that the site is essentially earthquake proof which would explain why it is still standing when the main burial chamber is three storeys. Impressive. It is also an imitation of Chavin which we were to visit the next day.

The journey to Chavin de Huantar was highly reminiscent of the early, long, cold and bumpy journey through the mountains that we took to Colca Canyon. We passed a mountain lake on the way which was apparently sacred. 

UNESCO love the temple of Chavin as well they might and describe it thus: ‘decorated with lush anthropomorphic and zoomorphic symbolic iconography of extraordinary aesthetic synthesis’. They also called it a ‘ceremonial and pilgrimage centre for the Andean religious world’.

Apart from its thrilling iconography, Chavin is one of the best known and preserved pre-Columbian sites and therefore a vital link in the chain of history. It certainly had two chavs in when Steph and I were there. A Peruvian family got their photo taken with us as they were excited to meet British people.

We faced the rickety bus trip back and after all this mountain air we’d spontaneously added Mancora to our list as a short beach stop before Ecuador. We’d heard that it was a great place for partying so we were game.

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