Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Working Hardly

Things have finally settled down since the climbs, the traveling, and the visit from my friend.  Well, actually, things have finally picked up!  Yes, I've been VERY busy these past couple of weeks with a variety of projects...quite the variety, indeed.

Towards the end of August, I had the idiosyncratic pleasure of helping the local hospital with a breast feeding promotion campaign.  Indeed, this was something far beyond my conventional realm of knowledge...and a little outside my comfort zone, as well.  Seeing a crowd of young children marching through the hospital with signs exclaiming the importance of their mother's breast milk was most definitely a unique experience.  A personal highlight of the exploit was when I noticed a crowd of women giddily congested near the sitting area.  One of my counterparts in the hospital also seemed very enthused as she waved me over so that I could partake in the commotion.  Being that I stand at least a foot taller than most people in my community, I had an eagle eye view at the pother.  Upon approaching the mob, I immediately saw what all the fuss was about.  A young woman was breast feeding her twins...at the same time.  Yes, I suppose that that is an impressive feat.  Nonetheless, my retreat was swift; as it suddenly became all the more obvious just how out of my element I had become.

I also agreed to assist in doing some tourism development with the local tourism union in a very small community (of about 30 families) about an hour out of my site.  This small community rests high up on the mountainside, and is the start-off point for a nine day trek that winds around the mountain of Alpamayo (declared the most beautiful mountain in the world).  The community had decided that they wanted to construct a building for tourists to use as lodging.  Not only could this make life a little easier for passing trekkers, it could also bring some money into the community.  So, I spent some time up in the community with a few other people doing land surveys and preparing for the construction.  Of course, because I am a rather large gringo, the townspeople thought that I was the engineer.  They couldn't have been more mistaken.  In fact, it was my first time using this type of equipment.  Nonetheless, I did end up impressing them with my Quechua speaking abilities...or, maybe I just confused them further.

I had also been very excited to finish a garden project I have been working on in a local school.  However, when I showed up, I encountered a rather large problem.  It turns out that the adobe wall separating the school grounds from the neighbors had collapsed, which resulted in two fairly large trees being cast upon the area we had prepared to plant our vegetable garden.  Luckily, the parents had expressed great interest in the project, and a fairly large number of them showed up to assist in the planting that day.  Since our agenda had abruptly changed, the parents quickly ran home and returned with machetes to cut up the trees.  So, rather than finish the project, we spent the day hacking at trees with machetes.  How's that for unexpected events?

Working with the obstetrician and the local psychologist, I also have formed a youth group which is compiled of local students who have social disorders.  Unlike the aforementioned breastfeeding campaign, this is a little more in my realm of experience.  This type of support group is very new to this area, and I am very much looking forward to our meetings in the next few months.  

I also assisted with the planning, preparations, and execution of a fundraising activity for the local school for children with special needs.  The school will soon be celebrating it's anniversary; and, like any such even in Peru, a party is absolutely mandatory.  Therefore, we made fried deserts (picarones) and sold them around town.  Perhaps it was due to intimidation, but I sold the most.  The event was such a success that we did it again a few days later.

In addition, I've been working a great deal on a "Healthy Schools" campaign.  You see, September is the month  for children here in Peru.  I found out while doing some work in the hospital that the two big schools in the area were going to be receiving special treatment from a few hospital workers throughout the month.  Mildly outraged, I decided to organize a series of events for students in a school about 45 minutes outside of town.  These students are far more disadvantaged, and have a much greater need for such activities.  Therefore, I have been orchestrating a variety of events with numerous counterparts in that school.  We've covered themes such as self-esteem, nutrition, recycling, and sexual responsibility.  Thus far, things have been going great; and I'm happy to report that this program is far superior to that being conducted in the other schools.

In my free time, of which there is little these days, I have been preparing for the next Peer Support Network meeting in our Lima office.  As you may recall, I have been a coordinator for this group since its establishment in late 2007.  Our goal is to act as a pilar of support for fellow volunteers who may be undergoing difficulties in their sites.  In fact, I have even made a manual which is to act as a resource for volunteers and other Peer Support Network representatives.  It has taken quite a bit of work, but is basically a compilation of information regarding how to deal with the typical problems that Peace Corps Volunteers encounter; such as depression, loneliness, and even sexual harrasment and assault.  I am very enthusiastic about this group, as I believe that looking out for the well-being of fellow volunteers is a vital component in providing a positive experience for both the volunteer and their community.  

So, yeah, as you can see, things have been pretty busy.  For that, I am grateful.  I'm also really grateful for the delicious homegrown coffee that some fellow volunteers living nearby bring me.  Although, falling asleep on the job wouldn't really pose a big problem in this line of work.  Afterall, my neighbors' roosters seem to be inclined to cock-a-doodle-do all day long...so I might as well join them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Good Days

I woke up in a bit of a funk today.  I guess that just happens when you live by yourself so far away from loved ones.  There was nothing particular to blame, nor nothing specific to chastise.  Rather, it was one of those rainy days you have even when the sun is shining.  A desolate day in the doldrums.  

As i-tunes shuffled through the songs, I took my time completing the morning routine; trying to find the melody that would carry me out of the trough.  To my benefit, I had nothing scheduled early today, and didn't wake to the blaring beeps of the alarm clock.  No, today I slept until the roosters crowed (which definitely doesn't count as "sleeping in".  

Without resolution, I finally hit-the-streets; entering the commotion that is the conglomeration of rurality kissing modernity.  Rick-shaw moto-taxis honking as they pass a women leading her burro through town.  The yells of the street vendors fused to the passing blurbs of electronic cumbia music.  Gurgles, crows, and doodle-dos from the poultry heard through the cloud of exhaust from the dump truck's diesel engine.  Just like any other morning.

First on my agenda was to make my way down to one of the larger public schools to meet with the director in regards to starting a vegetable garden.  We spent a few hours last week together in meetings; discussing the details.  Today was to be the day that we finalized our  plans.  Without a great deal of shock, I discovered that she was out of the office today.  Thus, postponing the project and also perpetuating my current state of mind. 

I then zigged and zagged through the labyrinth and arrived at another school where I am scheduled to wrap up a decent sized vegetable garden in two days.  I was greeted with embraces and screams of all the students out at recess.  More so, a handful of young boys were stretching their heads through the gates' entrance to watch the working men in the street repair to water tube which was destroyed a few weeks prior, and crippling the completion of this particular project.  

To smooth things over, I was surprised to find that we are still on schedule to complete the project this week.  To add to the excitement, there was a very strong interest by many of the parents to volunteer their time to finish the garden.  Already in smiles, I cheerfully wandered on down to the hospital to meet with a few other community partners to chat about yet another project.

I've been planning a series of participatory health-related lectures in a rural school about a 45 minute hike out of town.  Coordinating so many dates with a variety of people has proven to be extremely difficult, and today was the day to finalize all the dates and hope for confirmations.  

As I entered the hospital, I encountered the usual display of people in the waiting room.  There's the crying baby, the agog elderly woman, and incongruous eyes of perplexed persons staring at the gringo in bewilderment.  I entered the office of Social Services to discover all five women there and in elation with my arrival.  Our meeting was brisk, and all available dates were quickly confirmed.  Then, I made my way to the nutritionist to discover that she was just as unchallenging.

Then, I made my way to the psychologist to find that she too was available at the solicited times and dates.  Things were going smoothly, and all these positive encounters had long ago changed the tone of my day.  In fact, I had already begun to reflect on just how rapidly my day had switched gears.

Finally, I was on my way to meet with the fourth person who had previously agreed to participate in giving lectures to the high school students this month.  On the walk, I received a phone call from an old friend I met while volunteering in Costa Rica a few years back.  He currently resides in Singapore and was in Columbia visiting is in-laws.  His only business was to call and say hi as we once again found ourselves on the same continent...and it was spectacularly unexpected.  

As far as project planning goes, things had been going much more smoothly than expected.  And, at this point, a speed bump was expected.  As I coasted into the municipality, I was well received, and continue to the office of my destination.  Once again, things went according to plan!  With a sense of accomplishment, I began to make my way home.

As I meandered home, feeling like the jewel in the crown, I was stopped by a man pushing his three-wheeled rickshaw cart up hill.  He introduced himself to me, and we spoke briefly.  As I began my departure, he expressed his wishes that I have fortune with my projects.  More so, he said that I have one more friend (a rough translation).  They were very kind words and really gave me something to think about.

Now, as I sit around slowly typing a ramble, and as the sun fades and darkens the glass on my windows, I contemplate on how I will get out of bed tomorrow.  I suppose that it is completely acceptable to start off a morning with woes and lacking ambition.  However, you never know how the day will change its course.  Things may evolve, and you may find shelter under unexpected successes.  Or, perhaps things will go down hill.  The point I'm trying to get at is that it is unfair to make predictions the first time your feet hit the floor in the morning.  Take a breath, and wait.  That smile from a stranger may make all the difference.  Don't be afraid to be the person that donates that day-modifying salutation  and surrender to happiness.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Seeing My Friends

August was a very eventful month.  After an extremely short recovery from the climbs at the end of July, I headed down to Lima for my one-year med-checks.  You see, at about the one-year marker in Peace Corps, volunteers are required to have a physical checkup as well as a visit to the dentist.  And, well, that's what I did.  One year in service!  One more to go!

So, along with the rest of the volunteers from my training group, we all met in Lima for a week of medical appointments, meetings, trainings, and presentations.  It had been nearly nine months since I've seen most of these folks, and it was a great pleasure to play catchup.  

Thinking back, one year ago, we were all still in training, we had so many questions, and were filled with curiosities.  Now, at the one-year marker, we were approaching veteran status...and some of us were looking awfully grizzled.

So, together again, we celebrated.  We sat through the meetings, the presentations, and we all had our check-ups.  It was really nice to see so many familiar faces again.  More so, it was a pleasure to hear about how everybody else is doing in their own respective parts of the country.

Even though we are all serving in Peace Corps in the same country, our experiences differ immensely.  Our living arrangements and environments vary greatly, we steer different projects, and we cope with distinct successes and failures.  Nonetheless, we've all made it to the one-year marker in our service.  And, unfortunately, the next time (and most likely the last time) we will all be together again sharing experiences won't be until the end of May of 2009 when we have our Close of Service Conferences.  

I stuck around Lima a day later than the rest of my group so that I could meet up with a friend who had come to visit all the way from Germany.  Will is a good friend of mine who I met in college.  We've shared some great adventures in the past; and this was another to add to the list.  About a month before I left for the Peace Corps, I flew to Germany to visit with him for a couple weeks and travel around a bit.  Now, it was my turn to play the ex-patriot host for an old friend.

I was thrilled not only to hangout and catchup with a good friend, but also to share my life down here with somebody from back home.  Often times, home feels farther away than the map conveys.  It's like I have a past life floating around somewhere out there, lingering.  However, the visit from Will kind of brought the two lives together.  His vist brought my past to present; as well as a sense of being home.

His only objective while in Peru was to see what I'm up to down here.  So, that's what we did.  I quickly showed him around Lima a bit before we caught the overnight bus to my department's capital.  Since the city rests at just under two miles above sea level, we reserved a couple of days to let him acclimate.  Then, we were up and moving.  We went out to the pre-Incan ruins of Chavin, crawling through caverns and watching the llamas.  We spent a few days in my site where he got a taste of my life, my projects, and what it's like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru's sierra.  It was quite amusing to see my friend so engaged in the oddities to which I have become so accustom.  Of course, one of his ambitions was to eat some cuy (guinea pig), which, fortunately for him, is a traditional dish in these parts.  

We successfully accomplished this undertaking in a way that few visitors to Peru could.  After a couple days of hiking and camping in the high altitudes just bellow the glaciers, we hiked to the house of a fellow volunteer in the area where his Quechua speaking host-mother cooked up a cuy she had raised herself over a eucalyptus wood fire.  Honestly, it doesn't get much more traditional...or delicious than that.

In the end, I have no doubt that my buddy enjoyed himself.  However, I'm quite sure that I rhapsodize about his visit more than he does.  That visit meant a great deal to me.  It was very refreshing to get be in contact with somebody from my past.  In fact, I'm quite certain that anybody would appreciate a cordial visit from an old friend; no matter their current whereabouts, happenings, or living conditions.  That said, I strongly urge you to send that email, or make that phone call you've been procrastinating on.  Whoever may be on the receiving end will surely appreciate it.  It's only too late when you no longer have the chance to do it.  

Friday, August 1, 2008

Ups and Downs...part two "Chopicalqui"

As aurora brought us to wake, we quickly ate breakfast and packed up camp.  Although the last two days were fairly difficult, they would surely seem feeble in comparison to what was lying ahead of us.  

On our feet, we moved on down to the next valley and began our accent.  The day was clear and we were all in good spirits as we manuvered through the dwarf forests and into the pampa.  With an exceptionally high hunger for our next objective, we quickly found ourselves at the moraine.  

Climbing up and around the boulders of landslides past, I was marveled at the view of our next "port of call".  To add to the excitement, we spent the day witnessing numerous avalanches (most definitely in the double digits) on neighboring mountains, as well as on the one we were soon to ascend.  Nonetheless, we pressed on.  We skipped base camp, deciding it best to just push on,  and arrived at the moraine camp with dusk in the early evening.  

There we spent our evening, wedged between enormous boulders and tremendous rock wall.  It was a rather relaxed evening for the following day we would only have to ascend about 600 meters to camp on the glacier.  We watched the sunset reflect off the opposing glaciers and continuously admired the peak we were hoping to meet in two days time.  

As we dined in the brisk air under the shadows of our headlamps, we were blessed with the most remarkable exhibition of stars that I have ever laid eyes upon.  On a clear night, at about 16,500 ft, there was a bowl of stars which seemed so close that they were just out of arms reach.  Words cannot describe the countless glints of light on the blackest pallete.  However, soon enough we were forced into our tents under the iniquity of the first snowfall I've encountered in PerĂº.  

Morning's light brought us promise and a slow pace through the moraine and onto the glacier.  As soon as the sun broke through the tops of the eastern mountains, we were once again blessed with the fervor of the tropical sun.  Seemingly well rehearsed, we once again drew our ice axes and strapped into our crampons when we arrived at the base of the glacier. 

Thus, we ascended in a fairly uneventful manner.  The novelty of jumping over crevices, passing couloirs, and staring into infinite ravines had somewhat worn off.  Now, more than ever, I was focussed on the end result.  I yearned for that feeling of standing on top of a mountain.  Although the views were nothing short of spectacular (to describe them as marvelous would be a goss understatement), I necessitated that sense of accomplishment of which I had been robbed on the previous mountain.  

And just like that, we pushed on until we climbed the final wall which brought us to a the flat area where we would set up camp...on the glacier at about 18,700 feet above sea level.  And there I sat, sitting on the rain cover of my backpack, using my bag itself as a backrest, until my butt was well beyond frozen.  Under the screaming silence of our thoughts, the following day's summit attempt lingered heavy in the thin mountain air. 

That evening, two of our five team members were bold enough to admit that the would not be carrying on in the summit attempt the following day; that brought us down to three.  However, that also meant that we would be going up in one solo team as opposed to the two we had been moving in prior.  Therefore, if one of the remaining three couldn't continue, we would all have to return.  

That night we did our best to relax our overwrought minds and bodies as we dined and enjoyed the sunset from on top of the glacier at 18,700 ft.  As the sun left, it took with it what little warmth was left in the air, and we quickly filed into our tents to get whatever little sleep possible.  

Throughout the night, I regularly woke up short of breath, cold, and anxious.  Nonetheless, the 12:30 AM wake up time arrived rather quickly.  Under the light of the stars, moon, and our headlamps, the three of us geared up and forced food into our uneasy stomachs.  Already out of breath from what little work it took to strap into our crampons, we bid farewell to our two friends and started toward the summit.

Immediately after leaving camp, we found ourselves trudging up a very steep and lengthy incline.  It was a prompt reminder of just how hard this summit attempt would be.  We pushed on silently, focusing on our steps, our breathing, and doing our best to be aware of our present condition.  

As we hit the first ridge, our climb turned into more of a hike up a gradual slope.  However, at that altitude, every step takes a great deal of energy.  We had been moving for a couple of hours, and we were still under the night sky.  Off in the distance, the lights of our department capital came into site and served as a reminder that most of the world was softly in bed, warm, relaxed, and comfortable.  

We tramped on through the dark, noticing only the shadows of crevices and gaping holes in the glacier.  When climbing in The Tropics, the sun softens the snow severely.  Although we were unable to enjoy the views through the darkness, it was the safer option.  More so, I was growing too exhausted to pay heed to the panarama.  

Hours passed and the sky finally began to shake the encumbering darkness.  We were able to switch off our headlamps just as we approached the famed 120 meter (nearly 400 ft) wall that contemptibly rests at an outstanding 19,685 ft above sea level.  The misery I was dealing with a few hundred feet lower was now gone.  This last gigantic barrier became the focal point.  Filled with dynamism, we conquered the wall in two 60 meter sections.

I was first to arrive at the top of the wall, and rolled over with exhaustion.  A few seconds passed before I finally raised my head and saw it.  In the not-too-far distance stood the summit.  It's cone shape was majestically soaring above the background.  The end was in site.

After a couple minutes of catching our breath, we ardently maneuvered towards the obstacle.  Upon reaching the base, we cut around the right side.  Hugging the wall firmly, standing on a mere six inch ledge, I did my best to ignore the plummeting drop bellow.  Finally, with one more step, and a large stretched, my axe connected with the ice in the final narrow shoot.  After a mere 30 more feet, I found myself there, on top of it all.  In great elation, we admired our view from on top of the world at 20,850 ft above sea level (6,354 meters).

So, what do you do when you reach a summit of that magnitude?  Well, first you have a group hug.  Then, you take a few pictures.  After that, if you're anything like me, you take a seat, enjoy the view, and eat the cheese sandwich you've been toting to the top.  

Sitting up there, we were all in great spirits as we seemed to have already forgotten the burden we bared to arrive.  With an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, I admittedly felt very emotional.  Nonetheless, our stay on the summit was short-lived as we had to make our way down before we found ourselves in foul weather or before the snow became dangerously soft.

Of course, navigating back down the mountain was a lot easier than the ascent.  Not having to battle gravity, we kept a good pace and rapidly repelled down walls which were once so painful to go up.  In spite of all that, we managed to find ourselves in a whiteout at about 18,000 ft for a little over an hour.  It became so severe that I couldn't see my partner in front of me, nor the one behind.  Again, we were robbed of the view on that stretch of the mountain.  In addition, we had an episode while repelling down one of the walls which certainly caused a bit of a stir.  In spite of all that, we safely converged with our other two friends waiting back at the glacier camp under blue skies.

As we descended together, we were attacked by a rockslide off a nearby mountain.  Myself and a friend both had to literally dive out of the way, and one fairly large rock came very close to taking my head off.  Regretfully, I had already removed my helmet...that was a very poor decision, kids.  Other than that, the descent was fairly uneventful.  

We arrived for one more night in moraine camp, and hiked out of the valley the next morning; holding our heads high as we passed a group just leaving base camp and on their way to their own summit attempt and wishing them well.  Afterall, we knew exactly what they were getting into.  And that's the funny thing about climbing mountains..."To the sober person adventurous conduct often seems insanity"(~Georg Simmel)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ups and Downs...part one

So, I'm back and I'm safe from the endeavor that was climbing two mountains in a weeks time.  And, of course, I have a lot to say about the experience.  It was tough...really tough.  The sites were absolutely breathtaking...or, perhaps that was the altitude.

Our trip started off with an early departure from our departments capital.  Several hours later, we arrived at the entrance to the park.  From there, we went about another hour in car until we were at a point where our feet finally had to do the work.

That first day, we hiked to the other end of the valley and up onto base camp for mountain number one.  We arrived at base camp late that afternoon with the elation of going for our first summit that next morning.  It was a brilliantly sunny day and we took careful notes of the snow covered peaks surrounding us.  However, there was one peak in particular that we had our eyes on.

Unfortunately, I fell a bit ill and began to question whether or not I would be able to push on.  That night was long.  Not only did we have three men crammed into a two person tent, but my stomach prevented me from getting more than an hour of sleep.  More so, the notion of not being able to soldier on through the following days climb weighed heavy on my mind.

Near one-o-clock AM, one of my tent mates left the tent to alleviate himself.  About a half hour after his return, I began to hear a rustling outside of our tent.  Most definitely, the thought of a robbery in such a remote area seemed very improbable.  That led to only one other possibility.  Many Peruvian campesinos allow their cattle to graze the lower sections of the mountainsides.  However, as we discovered, some of these cows can be quite menacing.

As I prodded my recently returned tentmate, I gave shouts of "waaka!  waaka!" (the word for cow in Quechua).  My good friend and I climbed out of our sleeping bags and into the frosty starry night, wearing nothing but our long johns and our headlamps.  In so doing, we discovered that a cow had managed to get his cuddy lips on a plastic bag which contained items I had set aside that I would not be needing on our summit attempt; which was now only a couple hours away.  

Quickly, we gathered my disbanded items, which consisted of my one change of underwear, an extra pair of pants, some food rations, and an extra t-shirt.  We gathered it all under the moonlit night (or so we thought), and climbed back into our tent for about another hour or so of rest until we departed for our first summit.

At three in the morning we all rolled out of bed, had a quick Quaker breakfast and began our hike up through the moraine and towards the glacier.  I was still very concerned about my physical well-being, and had informed my comrades that I would make a decision as to whether or not I would go for the summit when we reached the glacier.  However, for the time being, I was going to push myself until quitting was the only option.  Afterall, I had put a great deal of effort into making sure that I would be ready for these mountains, and I wasn't going to give up so easily.  

The sun slowly began to shed it's light as we hit the first ridge line.  As we shut off our headlamps, the panoramic views of being at about 15,000 ft besieged us.  Along with the welcomed warmth of the sun, we too saw the breadth of what was yet to come. 

Climbing around and over the scattered boulders of landslides past, we eventually arrived at the base of the glacier.  Mounting this glacier appeared to be no easy task.  As we geared up, took out our ice axes, and stepped into our crampons, we prepared to climb the ice wall which would put us onto the snow.  

Our guide went first.  He set the route and placed an anchor at the top.  He was a quiet man, a few years younger than myself.  He had already told us of tales of past experiences, including encountering an avalanche one exceptional climb.  Whether his aim was to instill fear or a greater sense of caution, he succeeded.  

Anyway, once he secured the anchor, I followed.  At this moment, I suddenly realized exactly what I had gotten myself into, and felt the hastening of adrenaline that accompanies it.  As I buried my axe into the ice, and kicked my crampons into its resistant surface, I krept up the wall; making sure that I always had three points of contact secure.  Finally, the rope tightened and my friend began his first encounter with the glacier.  

A few minutes past when the third man mounted the wall, and it became obvious that the number two was struggling.  Now, evermore aware of the difficulties, I was sure to dig deeper into the ice with every movement.  Eventually his distrusting steps failed him, and he fell off the wall.  

Suddenly, I felt the pinch of the added weight in my harness.  I laid my body into the wall and put trust in my prior placements hoping that they would hold.  After a few words of encouragement, my calves began to bounce under the added wait.  I then got rather short.  I regret my use of explicits.  However, he soon regained his positioning and we all successfully made it onto the glacier with nothing more than the small reminder that this is far from the leisurely outdoor activity you see on the cover of an REI catalog.

Eventually, we all made it onto the glacier and began our zigzag hike towards the summit.  This was my first experience on top of a glacier, and I found it to be quite fascinating.  From a distance, the glacier looks like a large mound of snow blanketi

ng the uppermost portions of the mountains.  However, one fails to see the intricate maze of crevices which plummet to infinity, as well as the amazing ice murals which spring up sporadically.  

Proceeding upward, we lept over several crevices and often took a break to catch our breath...only to loose it again while taking in our surroundings.  We wound around enormous bulges of ice protruding from the mountain, mystified by how they are formed.  We also took note of how there were no footprints.  Unbeknown to us, we were the first team to go for the summit on this particular mountain this year.

So, on we trudged; up and through the untouched snow.  As we neared the summit, with only about 150 to 200 meters to go, we came stumbled upon a declivity of soft snow.  On the other side, we could see the route which would lead us to the summit.  This slope extended for about 70 meters, the snow was soft, and it stood between us and our destination.  

As we began to maneuver across the incline, the angle became increasingly apparent; along with the obvious level of danger.  The snow was deep.  Even with crampons, every step was knee level.  Worst of all, my ice axe was rendered ineffective in such a soft surface.  More so, I apprehensively watched the loose snow fall from my feet.  I watched it slide down the slope and into a patiently waiting crevasse about 100 meters bellow.  My heartbeat was rapid, my breaths were deep, and I did my best to stay focused. 

So there we were, inching through the knee-deep snow, roped together, and completely exposed on an open face of the mountain.  I was the first man behind our guide, and have never felt so defenseless as I timorously crept across the slope.   After reaching the halfway point, every man in the team was on the slope.  The unmissable danger was prevalent to all.  The snow was unstable, and it became apparent that if one man fell, we would all go with him.  More so, the conditions were quite prone to avalanche.  

As we stood there, exposed and at the mercy of the mountain, we decided that it simply wasn't worth the risk.  Therefore, we began the difficult backtrack across the impossible escarpment.  The unworkable footing was maddening.  With every step, my feet slid and my heart raced.  At this moment, in all sincerity, I didn't think that I was going to make it off the mountain alive.  However, and quite obvious as you read this, that was not the result.  We all made it safely back to the other side of the dangerous declivity, and began our defeated march back down the mountain.  

The descent was much quicker than the ascent, and we all felt very humbled.  Within a couple of hours, we were repelling down the ice wall and back to the moraine.  A few hours later, we arrived back at base camp.  In our exhaustion, we discovered the remnants of my favorite t-shirt which we failed to find the night before.  Without a doubt, the cow that found it chewed on it excessively before deciding that it wasn't a worthy meal.  As sad as I was to lose such a fine article of clothing (my possessions here in the Peace Corps are quite limited), it was nice to have something to joke about and to lighten the mood.  

Rather than spending another night amongst the delinquent cattle, we decided to hike back down to the valley and towards a camp closer to the start-off point for our next endeavor.  Surely, our next climb would be more difficult (by at least 2000 ft).  However, even with our trounced feelings of failure, we would eat and sleep well; knowing that we did our best.  Sure, we failed; but we were safe.  The time arrived to start thinking about part two of the journey.  That first mountain was the "warm-up".  Tomorrow, we would start off on a climb that could take us 20,846 ft into the air if we could meet the challenge.  Nonetheless, and perhaps to no suprise, I slept quite well.

Stay tuned for the sequel.