close encounters
After seeking shelter in the tent, we woke up to clearing skies and sunshine. That was when everything changed for the worse.
Fifteen minutes into our newfound excitement, the house of cards came tumbling down. Joey sent it over the bars in a freak accident that could have happened to any of us. I ran from the camera yelling his name at the top of my lungs. He was on his back off the side of the trail, head downhill, eyes rolled back and fully unconscious. I screamed for Sam as I raced to stabilize his head. Blood gushed down his face, and his muscles were rigid.
Sam jumped over him and we worked together to adjust his position, both of us cradling his neck while trying to bring him back to consciousness. His tongue retracted as a big gasp for air exited his lungs. “Joey, Joey!” we continued to yell while opening his eyelids to check his pupils. He slowly moved around as we got a few moans out of him. I’d never been this scared in my entire life.
Settled and warming in the tent, Joey began to feel much better. We continued to question him and keep him awake with music, video interviews and card games. Tomorrow’s options: To retreat and go around the mountains looming to our east or to continue with the plan to climb the dangerous Siula Pass.
We opted for a 5am wake-up—a little extra sleep for Joey. The clouds opened up to give us one last glimpse before our push to 16,000 feet. We strapped all the bike bags to our backpacks and started the frustrating march through streams and boulders, getting to our climb shortly. We then went straight up into the steepest and most rugged terrain of the trip. This no-fall zone continued for an hour as we traversed cliff bands, at eye level with massive glaciers thundering ice down into the valley.
We started the final pitch as it began to lightly sleet and snow. The trail was a narrow creek of loose gravel—white, pink and gold in color. One push, two steps, one push, two steps. How could it get any steeper? Every day continued to be the hardest day of my life.
We couldn’t believe it. Yesterday Joey was unconscious and bleeding, and today we climbed to the highest and most remote point of our trip. The stoke was rising as we began the first descent of Siula Pass.
Though the season’s storms had removed most traces of the trail, we figured out the way down into the village of Huayhuash. We set up camp as wild horses ran along the hills. And for once it did not rain.
The next day we pushed up and over our final pass before our escape to Cajatambo. Visibility was low and our gear was saturated from the moisture in the air.
It was a man-made lake. A dam—a sign of civilization after a week on the trail. The excitement built as we traversed around the lake and descended into the next valley.
But after encountering two drunk locals with a gun, we no longer felt safe here. Now fully committed to the idea of bailing, we raced for the dirt road that would lead us to Cajatambo.
The clouds parted one last time and we rejoiced in the warm sun as we discovered the road out of here. We sat drying our gear as Joey unveiled the three hidden beers he’d carried here from Colorado. We gave a toast to the adventure of a lifetime.
The following day we took a five-hour bus ride from Cajatambo back to Huaraz. This road took us from 13,000 feet to sea level on crumbling single-lane switchbacks.
In the end, we didn't make it quite as far as we’d hoped. Between rainstorms, concussions and waving guns, the Huayhuash had ripped at our eager ambitions. Adventure of this kind can’t be scripted nor planned, and for that we are grateful. A sense of wonder was fulfilled, an understanding of distance and height learned, and the friendship of three adventure-loving friends reinforced. We can’t wait for what’s next.