Luke Blezard

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It’s the dawn of Christmas morning 2017. Father Christmas may as well be stuck in the chimney or passed out under the tree with a bottle of something, for all I care. I was mountain bound and on a mission…

At 5.15 am my alarm buzzes. In an instant I bounce out of bed and whirr into a frenzy of action like I used to on Christmas morning. But this time I wasn’t haring downstairs to unwrap presents under the tree. Instead, my boisterous energy had been roused by a festive micro-adventure that would take me on a journey some 1300m up into the swirling clouds of the Cordillera.

I had meticulously laid out my kit the previous night. So there was little to think about other than the adventure that was about to unfold. Still full from the stomach-splitting quantities of turkey and veg I had consumed the night before, I managed to squeeze in a small Bizcocho banana, took some water on-board, and made the final adjustments to my Santa hat before heading out into a fresh morning mist.

01-churupita-cordillera

GPS recording, house music pumping, and stopwatch ticking, I was off. Floating across the front lawn and hopping the water canal, my feet hit the open gravel road sending a powerful jolt of self-satisfaction up my spine, a confirmation that this morning was going to be one to remember. It’s now a familiar feeling, one I always experience when an adventure gets underway. This was no longer a half-arsed plan, it was happening and I was living it. I felt free as a bird and light as a feather. “What a great way to start Christmas Day,” I thought to myself.

Finding my rhythm, I trotted uphill, forced to draw fresh, crisp morning air deep into my lungs due to the altitude. As my breathing settled, I allowed my concentration to shift to my surroundings and senses. The damp dew glistened on the blades of grass in the morning light, and the dense mist gave off a potent earthy smell. Ahead I could see a swirling dense fog rolling its way over the tops of the hills and trees. It was as if the summit, high above, was teasing me with a game of hide and seek--one moment it was there, the next it was gone. Curiosity lured me on.

After 20 minutes, stage one was complete. From the corner of the road, I veered off and headed up a seemingly never-ending hill. Taking a brief moment to check my altimeter and size up the next challenge, I picked my line and continued purposefully on. After a small scramble up a densely vegetated outcrop, the scale of the slope became apparent, confirming that my view would be much the same for the next 45 minutes or so.

As I find is good practice when running or walking, I changed my mind-set and started focusing on getting to small targets. By walking to that bush or that jagged stone, I broke the monotony of the climb into pieces and masked the burning sensation in my calves. In this familiar trance like state, I quickened my progress and only flicked my eyes up to check the ground covered when I couldn’t resist it.

02-churupita-cordilleraI was jarred from my trance for a moment by a piercing ray of sunlight that shot across from my right hand side. The sun was announcing that it had also been climbing a mountain, and had brought to life what before was a dormant and bland sloping shape. As the sun’s rays penetrated the thick Ichu grass, the tones and colours of the mountainside intensified, and the undulations cast dark shadows. This release of character gave me a feeling of satisfaction, spurring on my march upwards, as the rising sun painted its picture.

Several hundred kilometres away I could now see the Cordillera Negra and I estimated that I was some 50 to 100m higher. I felt like I was king of the mountain and knowing that I was the only soul there that morning, made me feel privileged.

The sun also began to burn off the mist and the brow of the hill came into sight. I got the sense that something special was waiting for me over there. I wasn’t mistaken. A whole new world burst into view, from which I was separated by a sheer vertical drop straight into the Cojup Valley floor. As I looked over a sea of dagger like snow-capped peaks, offset by the deep blue sky, I couldn’t help but feel spoilt. I had put in the effort to get to this spot and this was my reward. My first Christmas present for 2017.

With the gradient flattening out for a short stretch, I transitioned from a brisk walk to a light jog. As I skirted the plunging rock face, the landscape noticeably changed, and I left behind green vegetation, setting foot on mountain rock. With the change in terrain, my level of concentration and respect for the mountain became more acute. I became wary of the transparent ice that had yet to melt and started to think about my foot placement. With each step my senses heightened, as a simple momentary lack of concentration or miscalculation can have serious consequences in these environments. This I was reminded of several moments later, as I misjudged a loose rock and cracked my shin bone squarely on a jutting rock.

Feeling my way up the increasingly steep rocks, I constantly paused, not through fatigue, but through sheer bewilderment at the unfolding scene as rising clouds swept up announced from the belly of the cliff faces. It was a truly magical and surreal place to be. I began to imagine that all those years ago an Inca warrior could once have been stood here, adorned with brightly coloured feather’s, battle axe in hand, surveying for any possible sign of danger. Today, I was fortunate enough to be a mere visitor, and spend a few moments with the Apus.

03-churupita-summitThe summit was now within my grasp and a growing sense of assurance swept over me. This new-found confidence threw me off guard and misted my reasoning and assessment. The distant Churup Mountain (5493m) that lay ahead, seduced me and made me consider carrying on further to tackle the snow-capped peak. I quickly checked myself. My past experiences on mountains have taught me to be wary of this. The natural beauty of the mountains is powerful but deadly, and these types of temptations mixed with egotistic endeavours can have grave consequences. I concentrated on what I had set out to do.

04-churupita-headstand

After one last push, I had officially made it. The emotion initially came out with a laugh of disbelief, followed by a scream of joy and finally a sigh of relief. I sat down to take a moment, and the gravity of where I was hit home. Perched on a rock in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca at 5005m on Christmas Day, with no one else but the mountain Gods to keep me company, the madness of embarking on this mission some 2 hours 46 minutes ago, completely disappeared. Life’s for living.

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