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A belated happy new year to all our readers. Hope you will have a ball in 2014!
Never stop moulding your dreams! Even more, try to make some of them come true!

Inspired by Dave’s post and with my head plunged in my pics for upcoming talks this weekend, I decided to bring up some memories from last year in chronological review. I cheated on April (2 pics) and September (pic from 2012 because lack of pics for 2013).
[edit 26012014] I noticed David also made a similar calender post! Go have a look![edit]

January. Packrafting Rio Limay. Patagonia. Argentina.

January. Packrafting Rio Limay. Patagonia. Argentina.

February. Packrafing Rio Yelcho. Patagonia. Region de los Lagos. Chile.

February. Packrafing Rio Yelcho. Patagonia. Region de los Lagos. Chile.

March. Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeini. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen. Chile.

March. Valle Hermosa. RN Jeinimeini. Future Patagonia National Park. Aysen. Chile.

April. Glaciar O'Higgins. Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. Aysen. Chile.

April. Glaciar O’Higgins. Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. Aysen. Chile.

April. Autumn glow in lenga forrest. On the border between Chile and Argentina. Lago del Desierto. Patagonia.

April. Autumn glow in lenga forrest. On the border between Chile and Argentina. Lago del Desierto. Patagonia.

May. Tayrona National Park. Carribean. Colombia.

May. Tayrona National Park. Carribean. Colombia.

June. Cordillera Blanca. Ancash. Peru.

June. Cordillera Blanca. Ancash. Peru.

July. Nevado Ishinca (5500m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

July. Nevado Ishinca (5500m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

August. Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. Colombia.

August. Sierra Nevada del Cocuy. Colombia.

September. Self portrait. Suorvajaure. Stora Sjöfallet. Laponia. Sweden.

September. Self portrait. Suorvajaure. Stora Sjöfallet. Laponia. Sweden.

October. Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. French Alps.

October. Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. French Alps.

November. Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. French Alps.

November. Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. French Alps.

December. Adventures in your own backyard. Kalkse Meersen. Belgium.

December. Adventures in your own backyard. Kalkse Meersen. Belgium.

We need to step out once in a while…

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.M. Corleone

Back from the gap year. We have to adapt to our new but well-known environment. We observe. Everybody rushes. Ok, not everybody. Most of us. Ha! I’ll never ever be my former self again! I ain’t no fool! Not even 3 months later and it’s all down the gutter. We live a rat’s race. Face it. We’re sucked in again. Damn!

Mont Blanc massif as seen from Col d'Anterne (2257m). Haute-Savoie. France.

Mont Blanc massif as seen from Col d’Anterne (2257m). Haute-Savoie. France.

I knew we ran that race, but didn’t realize. I didn’t understand. Now I do. By taking distance it all became clear. I reckon. How important it is to step out once in a while. To breathe again. To take distance. To observ.

Following fresh Chamois footsteps into Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Following fresh Chamois footsteps into Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Last week of October. A last minute trip with little or no preperation. Time to let the beast set free. We bite a piece out of our oven fresh Pain au Chocolat while we gaze in the sun. The air crackles in the valley floor of Le Grand Massif. Kids on bikes in shirts and shorts race by. Autumn or even Winter is the last thing on our mind. We buckle up our backpack. Up it is. Into Réserve naturelle Sixt-Passy. It feels like summer has just began.

.

We had the vague idea of backpacking the tour des aiguilles rouges, with an aproach from Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval instead of the posh Chamonix. But as always we’re flexible.

 Shoulder season footwear. What works for us in snow when it's not extreme cold? Trailrunners, gore-tex socks, minimalistic gaiters and lightweight rain pants.

Shoulder season footwear. What works for us in snow when it’s not extreme cold? Trailrunners, gore-tex socks, minimalistic gaiters and lightweight rain pants.

A predicted cold front ruins indian summer on our first night. Change of route became inevitable. Costume switch. All white and foggy. It’s magic. We traverse in the snow towards the Anterne lake and it’s namesake col. Mountain extravaganza. The Mont Blanc massif plays hide and seek. We’re sucked in. This is my home. No rats here…

Alpine ibex. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Alpine ibex. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Snug in summer outfit. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Snug in summer outfit. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Sh*t with a view. Summit of Mont Blanc (4810m) visible from the pit toilet at Cabane de Willy. Réserve naturelle des Aguilles Rouges. Haute-Savoie. France.

Sh*t with a view. Summit of Mont Blanc (4810m) visible from the pit toilet at Cabane de Willy. Réserve naturelle des Aguilles Rouges. Haute-Savoie. France.

Melting in the sun. Off to Col du Brévent. Haute-Savoie. France.

Melting in the sun. Off to Col du Brévent. Haute-Savoie. France.

Aguille Verte (4122m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Aguille Verte (4122m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Ready for the freezer. Aguille du Tour (3529m), Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Ready for the freezer. Aguille du Tour (3529m), Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Alpenglow on Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Alpenglow on Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Le Lac Blanc. Aguille Verte (4122m),  Les Drus (3754m) and Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Le Lac Blanc. Aguille Verte (4122m), Les Drus (3754m) and Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Indian summer in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges. Glacier du Tour fills the horizon. Haute-Savoie. France.

Indian summer in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges. Glacier du Tour fills the horizon. Haute-Savoie. France.

 European larch turns the Alps into painter's dreams. Vallée de Chamonix. Haute-Savoie. France.

European larch turns the Alps into painter’s dreams. Vallée de Chamonix. Haute-Savoie. France.

Autumn glow. Icy Mont Blanc (4810m). Haute-Savoie. France.

Autumn glow. Icy Mont Blanc (4810m). Haute-Savoie. France.

Rochers des Fiz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Rochers des Fiz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Rock faces rock!

Rock faces rock!

Cascade de Sauffaz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Cascade de Sauffaz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Peru – Cordillera Blanca – “Porque está ahí”.

“Because it’s there.” – George Mallory

6AM. Sun rises. We strawl trough an awakening Huaraz. It’s extremely busy as usual. By the time we reach Jaime’s shoe repair shop, our senses have run overtime. Colourful locals splurge on empenadas, mariscos, pollo a la brasa, chifa, papas rellenas, jugos naturales. Quechua Indians surely have heavy stomachs, even in these wee hours. Huaraz is not the most attractive city (it has been completely rebuilt after the massive landslides in the wake of the 1970 earthquake), but its bustling, Andean athmosphere with the mezmerizing backdrop of the Cordillera Blanca, will keep you hypnotized for well a while.

Gearing up at Jaime's shoe repair shop in Central Huaraz. Ancash, Peru.

Gearing up at Jaime’s shoe repair shop in Central Huaraz. Ancash, Peru.

We just came down from the Yurac Yacu community where we teached kids and adults basic computer skills, so we gasp for some adventure. We sort out all gear for a 10-day assault on some carefully, selected Peruvian peaks. The plan is plain and simple: freshen up some mountaineering skills, acclimitise on some 5000m peaks and do an attempt on 6032m Toclaraju. As reported before, the season is not as it is supposed to be (and isn’t so for a couple of years now), so we cancelled the initial plan to climb Chopicalqui, after the unfortunate dead of 2 Peruvian guides on Alpamayo early in the season and reports of avalanche danger and waist-deep snow near Chopi’s summit.

Hambre amigo? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Huaraz. Peru.

Hambre amigo? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Huaraz. Peru.

The Cordillera Blanca is a compact range of only 180km stretching north to south, forming a barrier for the Amazon moisture, causing a desert-like effect stretching towards the west (Cordillera Negra), forming the highest, glaciated, tropical range in the world (9° south of the Equator!). It has 25 peaks over 6000m (20000feet) of which Huascaran (6768m) is the highest. The range is known for its excellent climbing conditions and ease of access.

Flores de senecio on the way towards Yanapaccha basecamp. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Flores de senecio on the way towards Yanapaccha basecamp. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Jaime cooks the most delicious food in our makeshift 4900m high base camp (under our MSR Twing tarp), while Roger's hunger builds up.

Jaime cooks the most delicious food in our makeshift 4900m high base camp (under our MSR Twing tarp), while Roger’s hunger builds up.

Once again we team up with our friend and guide Roger Reyes and his brother Jaime for a perfect outing. We met Roger in our first trip in Northern Peru in 2008 and since then have climbed together and became close friends to the family. I have set up a website to connect hikers and climbers directly to the guide, as it is well known that guides are underpaid by agencies in Huaraz. So grab yourself a sustainable bargain, if you’re looking for any form of climbing or expedition support in the Blanca or Huayhuash.

Knot and rope technique rehearsels. Yanapaccha basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Knot and rope technique rehearsels. Yanapaccha basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Practice makes perfect. Yanapaccha (5460m) plays hide and seek in the fickle weather. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Practice makes perfect. Yanapaccha (5460m) plays hide and seek in the fickle weather. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Our first objective is Yanapaccha, at the head of the LLanganuco Valley, well-known for its twin lake and a popular day excursion from Huaraz. We leave in the lousy taxi of Señor Zorro de la Montaña (the mountain fox). It would soon become clear why. The road up to the popular lakes and Portachuelo Llanganuco Pass (our drop-off towards basecamp) is a complete disaster. In Huaraz there is a strong call for government investment in the Huascaran National Park, making it more accessible for tourism, but all money flows to the southern gringo trail, which attracts 90% of tourists in Peru.

Yanapaccha base camp makes for excellent training grounds. Ice walls on the glaciers nearby. Manageble crevasses. Boulders and rockwalls. And a technical climb to its summit for desert. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Yanapaccha base camp makes for excellent training grounds. Ice walls on the glaciers nearby. Manageble crevasses. Boulders and rockwalls. And a technical climb to its summit for desert. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Up you go. Climb that ice, baby! Yanapaccha glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Up you go. Climb that ice, baby! Yanapaccha glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Your turn, amigo! Yanapaccha glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Your turn, amigo! Yanapaccha glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Preparing crevasse rescue. Yanapaccha summit (5460m) top left.  Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Preparing crevasse rescue. Yanapaccha summit (5460m) top left. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Although the weather stays cold and lousy for the time of the year, we enjoy ourself to the fullest. We cover an array of essential skills. Mountain hazards on snowpeaks, rope team travel, climbing knot techniques, belay systems, self arrest, top rope management, vertical ice climbing, full crevasse rescue techniques. What a luxury to have Jaime cooking excellent, fresh food at this altitude. Time flies by and before we know it, we’re on Yanapaccha’s summit mushroom enjoying the Blanca’s highest peaks around us.

Hang me out to dry! Having fun in a crevasse of  Yanapaccha's glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Hang me out to dry! Having fun in a crevasse of Yanapaccha’s glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Uuuuuuuunnnnnggg. No honey you are not too heavy, but if you ask me to pull you out of the ice... Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Uuuuuuuunnnnnggg. No honey you are not too heavy, but if you ask me to pull you out of the ice… Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Well, there are less hostile places on earth to enjoy a holiday. Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Well, there are less hostile places on earth to enjoy a holiday. Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Finally out of the abyss! Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Finally out of the abyss! Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

 Thank you, good night! Yanapaccha basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Thank you, good night! Yanapaccha basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Around 6AM, at around 5200m,  the first rays of light makes the first 65° wall towards the summit more visible. On all fours. Up it is. Nevado Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Around 6AM, at around 5200m, the first rays of light makes the first 65° wall towards the summit more visible. On all fours. Up it is. Nevado Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

The quadruple summit of Nevados Huandoy (center pyramid is 6395m) and right the popular Nevado Pisco Oeste (5752m), which we climbed in 2008. Shot from the upper slopes on Yanapaccha. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

The quadruple summit of Nevados Huandoy (center pyramid is 6395m) and right the popular Nevado Pisco Oeste (5752m), which we climbed in 2008. Shot from the upper slopes on Yanapaccha. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Reaching the summit ridge of Nevado Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Reaching the summit ridge of Nevado Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

After a technical, nightly climb, we made the summit of Yanapaccha (5460m) on the morning of the 4th of July. From left to right: Chopicalqui (6354m), Huascaran Sur (6768m) and Huascaran Norte (6555m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

After a technical, nightly climb, we made the summit of Yanapaccha (5460m) on the morning of the 4th of July. From left to right: Chopicalqui (6354m), Huascaran Sur (6768m) and Huascaran Norte (6555m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

The Nevados Huandoy group (left), Nevado Pisco (center right) and Nevado Piramide (5885m) to the right. Shot from under the summit ice mushroom of Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

The Nevados Huandoy group (left), Nevado Pisco (center right) and Nevado Chacraraju Oeste (6112m) to the right. Shot from under the summit ice mushroom of Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Back in basecamp after  a fluent climb. Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Back in basecamp after a fluent climb. Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

All we need! Crunchy, guacamole sticks with tea and coffee. Life is good. Thanks Jaime! Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

All we need! Crunchy, guacamole sticks with tea and coffee. Life is good. Thanks Jaime! Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Huge stands of Thamnolia Vermicularis lichen, on the way down from base camp. Sampling for the Adventure & Science project. LLanganuco lakes far below. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Huge stands of Thamnolia Vermicularis lichen, on the way down from base camp. Sampling for the Adventure & Science project. LLanganuco lakes far below. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

After 4 days on Yanapaccha, we move towards Ishinca valley. We climb up Urus Este (5420m) in good weather and hope that weather will hold for an attack on 6032m Toclaraju. It’s strange, it’s mountaineering high season, and Ishinca base camp is almost empty. Not even 5 groups around us. A Slovakian team just returned from the summit of Toclaraju. They are exchausted and unhappy. Conditions were bad above 5800m, lots of snow and only clouds and wind. They achieved summit but didn’t have any views. They long for a shower and hot bed in Huaraz. As more clouds roll in, we weigh our chances and the next morning the weather is shitty. Or we climb to high camp or we cancel our bid and put our bets on another 5000m peak. Ishinca (5530) wins. Mind games. The day after. We climb Ishinca in perfect conditions while bad weather swallows Toclaraju. Back in Huaraz, we hear more bad news. Our 2 Argentine neighbours in basecamp, which I spoke to the day before on the go or no go for Tocla, choose to climb to high camp of Toclaraju. An avalanche ended their dreams on their next day bid on our intended route. Mind games. Respect them mountains. May they rest in peace.

If you’re on facebook, we have a page now where I update pictures on a regular basis.

Regrouping for part 2. Ishinca Valley. Fickleness in the weather continues. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Regrouping for part 2. Ishinca Valley. Fickleness in the weather continues. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Unusual, few teams in Ishinca basecamp (4400m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Unusual, few teams in Ishinca basecamp (4400m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Over boulder fields towards the glaciar of Urus Este(5420m). From left to right: Ishinca (5530m), Ranrapalca (6162m), Ocshapalca (5881m) and Vallunaraju (5686m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Over boulder fields towards the glaciar of Urus Este(5420m). From left to right: Ishinca (5530m), Ranrapalca (6162m), Ocshapalca (5881m) and Vallunaraju (5686m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Climbing up Urus Este (5420m), while clouds swallow our next objective Tocllaraju (6032m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Climbing up Urus Este (5420m), while clouds swallow our next objective Tocllaraju (6032m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Amigo Roger and Katrijn on the summit of Urus Este(5420m). Azure Laguna Akilpo below. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Amigo Roger and Katrijn on the summit of Urus Este(5420m). Azure Laguna Akilpo below. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Alpenglow on the cloudy, fluted west wall of Tocllaraju (left, 6032m). The aim was to climb to high camp the next day. Once again bad weather would set in and ruin our plans. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Alpenglow on the cloudy, fluted west wall of Tocllaraju (left, 6032m). The aim was to climb to high camp the next day. Once again bad weather would set in and ruin our plans. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Dark falls over Tocllaraju (6032m) and Ishinca (5530m) basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Dark falls over Tocllaraju (6032m) and Ishinca (5530m) basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Alpine splendisism around Ishinca high camp (5000m). Ranrapalca (6162m) north face. A 1km high mixed line of ice and granite. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Alpine splendisism around Ishinca high camp (5000m). Ranrapalca (6162m) north face. A 1km high mixed line of ice and granite. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Last patches of flora at 5000m altitude. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Last patches of flora at 5000m altitude. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Urus Este (5420m) as seen from Ishinca high camp.  Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Urus Este (5420m) as seen from Ishinca high camp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

“The mountains are calling and I must go” (John Muir) – Ranrapalca (6162m) and Ocshapalca (5881m) northeast faces from the upper slopes of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Avalanche gazing on the upper slopes of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Avalanche gazing on the upper slopes of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Happy descent from the summit of  Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Happy descent from the summit of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Sun on Ishinca's summit, but not on our first aim Tocclaraju (6032m). The Cordillera Blanca is a barrier between the Amazon bassin (from where all moisture comes) and the Pacific, causing big climate differences between eastern and western summits in the chain. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Sun on Ishinca’s summit, but not on our first aim Tocclaraju (6032m). The Cordillera Blanca is a barrier between the Amazon bassin (from where all moisture comes) and the Pacific, causing big climate differences between eastern and western summits in the chain. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Solid grounds after a full east to west traverse of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Solid grounds after a full east to west traverse of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Azure reflection. Rocky grounds after succesfull climb of Ishinca (5500m). Urus Este(5420m) and Urus Central(5495m) rise up behind. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Azure reflection. Rocky grounds after succesfull climb of Ishinca (5500m). Urus Este(5420m) and Urus Central(5495m) rise up behind. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Walk out via the beautiful Cojup valley. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Walk out via the beautiful Cojup valley. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.

Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish based on the baking, with the aid of hot stones of lamb, mutton, pork, chicken or guinea pig, marinated in spices. Other Andean produce, such as potato, green lima beans or “habas”, sweet potato, occasionally cassava or yuca, and humitas (sweet treat) as well as ears of corn, tamale and chili, is included in the baking. The word is made of two Quechua roots: “pacha” earth and “manca”, meaning “earthen pot” (cooking vessel). Huaraz. Ancash. Peru.

Central market. Huaraz. Peru.

Central market. Huaraz. Peru.

Pioneer Brad Johnson wrote Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, the holy bible for climbing the nevados.

Full photoset of our mountaineering adventure in the Cordillera Blanca.

Greenland – a look back

Summertime. Everybody’s out and we’re back from 13 months -euhm- wanderings! It’s the time of the year you’re overwhelmed with fantastic and truly inspiring trip reports. So when I opened my mailbox this morning, I was stunned by the video of Willem’s wild trip in Southern Greenland. In a snapshot I was reliving our trip to the wild and remote East coast of Greenland in 2011. Already looking forward to his trip report, I dug into my own collection of images of that trip and decided to share my report I wrote for the ever fantastic Sidetracked. Sad we didn’t have our packraft yet back then.

Flight aproach toward Kulusuk. Ice-strewn coast of East-Greenland.

Flight aproach toward Kulusuk. Ice-strewn coast of East-Greenland.

Kulusuk awakes on a cloudy July morning after a storm has blown all the coastal ice into the bay. It takes us 2 hours to cut the speedboat free out of the port.

Kulusuk awakes on a cloudy July morning after a storm has blown all the coastal ice into the bay. It takes us 2 hours to cut the speedboat free out of the port.

“Do not worry, it is very easy. You aim in direction of polar bear and just shoot in head or chest, and bear will go away or be dead”, laughs the Inuit hunter, while pushing a gun into our hands. He just dropped us at the head of the remote Tasiilaq Fjord. “See you in three weeks,” we cry, but the engine of his boat drowns the farewell. We’re 160 nautical miles from the nearest form of civilization.

Aproaching our drop-off at the head of Tasilap Kua fjord. East-Greenland.

Aproaching our drop-off at the head of Tasilap Kua fjord. East-Greenland.

The euphoria is great: pep talk and victory songs are chased by the wind into the fjord. The 4 of us are about to embark on a self-supporting wilderness cross-country thru-hike along the wild east coast of Greenland. The fjord transends into the huge glacial Tasilap Kua valley, which will lead us north in 3 days to the outer reaches of the iceberg-filled Sermilik fjord. The fjord is the last liquid boundary with the massive Greenland ice sheet, and marks the Arctic Circle. From the Sermilik Fjord we will hike southbound over 14 days back to where a warm shower awaits… hopefully.

The deserted U-shaped Tasilap Kua valley. Clouds hide all the tumbling glaciers feeding the milky river.

The deserted U-shaped Tasilap Kua valley. Clouds hide all the tumbling glaciers feeding the milky river.

Global warming is massively affecting the Inuit. Not only do the glaciers of the Greenlandic ice sheet melt at a hurlting speed, the annually increasing melting pack ice of the Arctic drifts southwards, bringing more polar bears into the region. Where these corners, during summer, used to be ”polar bear free”, in the last few years more and more polar bears are spotted in full summer along the fjords and around the Inuit villages. In Kulusuk, the village where we start our trek, we hear stories of polar bear incidents with expedition groups in recent weeks.

Crossing another glacial outlet. Tasilap Kua. East-Greenland.

Crossing another glacial outlet. Tasilap Kua. East-Greenland.

After 3 days in the clouds, it finally clears. Our target at the end of the Tasilap Kua apears. The mighty Sermilik fjord, marking the arctic circle.

After 3 days in the clouds, it finally clears. Our target at the end of the Tasilap Kua apears. The mighty Sermilik fjord, marking the arctic circle.

Sermilik fjord! East-Greenland.

Sermilik fjord! East-Greenland.

Our Inuit hunter gets us to haul a 4kg old Russian riffle. Luckily we can split it into 3 parts. There’s going to be straw drawing for the lucky rifle-free backpacker. Polar bears are easily sighted in this timberfree arctic tundra so we can give it a wide bend if necessary. No need for the rifle there. The danger lurks in at night. Mr. Fluffy could walk in camp and surprise us by night. A loaded gun lying next to you is your only chance of survival, according to Mr. Inuit.

Setting up camp after a tyring day to reach the head of Sermilik fjord. East-Greenland.

Setting up camp after a tyring day to reach the head of Sermilik fjord. East-Greenland.

Nighty night.

Nighty night.

Goooood moooooorning Greenland!

Goooood moooooorning Greenland!

Lightweight backpacking requires much preperation to keep the load as light as possible. Weeks of considering on necessary gear. Food rations are split into neat, small airless bags. During a logisitcs preparation meeting a couple of weeks before leaving, we we’re in heavy discussion on the the usefulness of a rifle in wild bear country. Hey, we have no experience in shooting or whatsoever. A gun would probably kill us earlier then a 1500 lbs bear would die from one of our bullets. I can see it happen. My wife going for a nightly pee, while me fighting through a polar bear encounter dream. Midnight. A sudden noise. Gun. Panic. Not paying attention that I am the only one left under the tarp. Bear. Load. Bang…

Another sunny day along Sermilik...

Another sunny day along Sermilik…

We arrive at the head of Tasilap Kua. Low clouds. A light drizzle. A small breeze. A wide open valley. A big grey river. Big azure blue glaciers touch the valley floor. They puke out flows of almost-freezing water. Did you bring neoprene socks for the wades? We have 7 days of food to reach the foodcache at the head of the Qinqertivaq Fjord. Feasible if the weather cooperates.

Tired from the view? Well...

Tired from the view? Well…

A couple of hours upstream our fear of meeting a polar bear is completely forgotten. We have millions of new friends. Crittering, zooming friends that must never have seen a human before. They attack. They sting. They suck our precious blood, leaving us with a burden skin. Headnets. Quick. An extra layer. Scratching our arms and neck. The mosquitos are ravenous. It must be their first blood for the summer. Arctic bugs. Huge mosquitos. No chance of spreading diseases here. Luckily.

It never gets dark in the arctic summer. A pink glow scatters the horizon all night long...

It never gets dark in the arctic summer. A pink glow scatters the horizon all night long…

It’s incredible how quickly we merge with our Arctic environment. Gone are all everyday worries, our rhythm is only determined by the essence: walking, eating, drinking, set up camp, sleep and, oh yes, glacial river wading.

Dusk in an icy fjord. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Dusk in an icy fjord. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Will you take that route? I think it’s better, easier walking over here. Look at the map, this will lead you onto the glaciar. Common, this is ridiculous, how can you make that up from such a large scale map. I walk over here. I go over there. We’ll see who’s right. Yeah, we’ll see about that, … Wiseacre.

Low tide. Let's walk along the coast of Sermilik.

Low tide. Let’s walk along the coast of Sermilik.

We laugh a lot. We howl simple songs and classic hits with new interpreted lyrics, about glaciers, mountains, ice, mosquitos, guns, alcohol and accumulated odors. A high pressure sets in, dissolving the ever low clouds. We reach a pass and look back, our first contact with the arctic sun. Hairs arising. Is that the valley we went through? Heavy clouds had lingered for days, obscuring any view of the glacier-laden peaks. The physical challenge offers spiritual liberation. Is this heaven? Is this religion? It’s passion, I tell you. Passion for the unexpected. A new emotion. Into the wild.

Climb up some slabs to bypass a rock band on the coast. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Climb up some slabs to bypass a rock band on the coast. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

We look over the pass. Ice chunks in the distance. One final push for reaching Ningerti, the upper reaches of the monstrous Sermilik fjord. The sun sets, but doesn’t want to. This is the Arctic. It never gets dark in summer. Your body wants to go on forever, but somehow you feel it’s time to rest. It get’s colder. Good night. Zip. The warm goose down doesn’t dissappoint.

Tidal wave from ice berg collapse. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Tidal wave from ice berg collapse. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

A heavenly beautiful sunday afternoon with the arctic sun high above. There are less mosquitos – probably because they don’t like the ice in the fjord. A seal pops up. He likes the ice – a tiny animal, free in this immense fjord, filled with ice bergs and ice sheets the size of Camp Nou. It’s low tide so we walk on the beach as if in a fairytale. We zigzag through house-high icebergs. Sun rays. Azure blue drops on the rocks. We stand and breathe, sunken in our thoughts. What thoughts? I have no thoughts. We smile. We stop. Jaws dropped. How can this be so beautiful?

Glacial milk depth testing...

Glacial milk depth testing…

How are the beaches in the Arctic? Rocky? Yep. Sandy? Yep. Don’t ever talk to me about about sandy again. We had enough of that. I hate quicksand!

Afternoon outing for picking up our foodcache.

Afternoon outing for picking up our foodcache.

The ice is silent. No wind and clear blue skies overhead. We climb higher, to bypass a rock band. Silence? A huge roar. What’s that? Look at Camp Nou! It’s breaking away! Backpacks go off. We run forward. Astoneshed must be the adjective for this. I have never used the F-word more in a 5 minute frame then on that Sunday afternoon in East-Greenland*. The rupture was one thing, but the overturn was massive. A 5m high tidal wave rammed into the coast that we were walking along half and hour previously. A gun would not have helped here. Our hearts were pounding, and it didn’t stop for over an hour. It took hours for the 10km wide fjord to calm down and forget about the Sunday afternoon ice horror.

Should I talk about the vast beauty of the landscape? I can’t. It’s indescribable. We must go back. At least to somewhere into the wide open. Where only the silence roars.

Our video is living its own life now on YouTube.

Another milky crossing.

Another milky crossing.

I'm sick of glacial river crossings!

I’m sick of glacial river crossings!

Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes? Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.  - The Call of the Wild by Robert W. Service

Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes? Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.
- The Call of the Wild by Robert W. Service

Tiniteqilaaq. The only settlement we pass by in 3 weeks. Inuit live here year in and out. Summer the sun doesn't set. In winter auroras dance the sky.

Tiniteqilaaq. The only settlement we pass by in 3 weeks. Inuit live here year in and out. Summer the sun doesn’t set. In winter auroras dance the sky.

Glad to have you back. Tasiilaq. East-Greenland.

Glad to have you back. Tasiilaq. East-Greenland.

Well... to finish, we have another crossing.

Well… to finish, we have another crossing.

Time to cross them Atlantic again...

Time to cross them Atlantic again…

Colombia – que chévere es el cocuy

(how cool is el cocuy)

After 2 weeks of voluntary teaching computer skills in the Yurac Yacu community at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, we went out for a couple of its summits. As reported before, the Cordillera isn’t enjoying its best climbing season, but nevertheless we managed to climb three 5000+ peaks. A report on that 10 day onslaught will apear after summer.

Starting the descent from the the summit of Nevado Ishinca (5530m) while Nevado Ranrapalca (6162m) touches cloud in the background. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. North-Peru. A more detailed report from those escapades will follow in a future blog post.

Starting the descent from the the summit of Nevado Ishinca (5530m) while Nevado Ranrapalca (6162m) touches cloud in the background. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. North-Peru. A more detailed report from those escapades will follow in a future blog post.

Flash forward to end of July. Time is ticking. Our gap year is closing in. Back in Colombia. The colonial town of el Cocuy, a former FARC guerrillas bastion, becomes our penultimate hideout on our south american rambles. Suposed to host Colombian’s finest Andean scenery in its nearby, namesake national park, we endure the arduous, tyring busride from Villa de Leyva to El Cocuy, just a stone throw away from the the Venezuelan border. 280km. 11 hours drive. You got the bumpy picture!

Café Bellavista. Locals in their traditional ruana, a poncho-style outer garment made of sheep wool. El Cocuy. Boyaca. Colombia.

Café Bellavista. Locals in their traditional ruana, a poncho-style outer garment made of sheep wool. El Cocuy. Boyaca. Colombia.

If Parque Nacional Natural el Cocuy would be part of the gringo trails in southern Peru or Ecuador, its sattelite town would host an incredible set of hostels, restaurants and the like to cater the hords of tourists. In el Cocuy, authenticity survives. It’s so tranquil we can’t believe this place was a no-go for foreigners up to a couple of years ago. Slowly some gringos arrive, but only in the supposed dry season from december to mid-february. Even now, amid European and American summer holidays, tourists are needles in a haystack.

“Buenas tardes. Que les vaya bien.” Altough everything looks so tranquil in the far away Andean town, heavy armed forces still patrol the streets, betraying Colombia’s recent troubled past. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Once again Colombian locals unfold as extremely friendly, helpful, talkative and hospitable. We immediatly got the hang of the place and choose to stay for more then backpacking its mountains. We introduce ourself in town as teachers and within half a day we organize a 10-day adult course in computer skills at the local library (equiped with some computers) which we will start after our trek. Within an hour, word spreads town and we have to close at 28 inscriptions. The local high school also invites us to help out in computer classes during our stay, so during daytime we’ll provide guest lectures to all grades.

After 48 hours of patiently waiting out horrendously, bad weather in the Sisuma hut, a clear morning finally gave us the oppurtunity to leave for the heart of the park. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

After 48 hours of patiently waiting out horrendously, bad weather in the Sisuma hut, a clear morning finally gave us the oppurtunity to leave for the heart of the park. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Up and over slabs along the banks of Laguna de la Plaza. Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. Colombia.

Up and over slabs along the banks of Laguna de la Plaza. Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy. Colombia.

Can we still be surprised by nature after a year of backpacking extravaganza in the world’s wildest corners? Little did we know Parque Nacional Natural el Cocuy would strike us with some much awe. Mountain forecast didn’t look promising when we left uphill, so after a first attempt to cross the first pass we had to stay put in a hut for 48 hours until the range’s notorious blizzard conditions cleared for a second attempt. We had to convince a party of 2 German-Austrian medics for not bailing and at least try to continue in these conditions, because their mountain guide wanted to bail after crossing 2 passes in way-too-much snow for his liking. Gird your backpack, lace your shoes and go take a hike with us on our our last trek of the gap year, through a remote mountainous area of glaciers, lakes and high altitude grassland lined with dramatic rock walls.

Frailejónes. An intruiging, endemic plant to this part of the Andes.

Frailejónes. An intruiging, endemic plant to this part of the Andes.

Close-up of our favourite Andean plant. Meet miss Fray Le Jónes! PNN EL Cocuy. Colombia.

Close-up of our favourite Andean plant. Meet miss Fray Le Jónes! PNN EL Cocuy. Colombia.

Fog crawls in from the Amazon. Frailejónes shape the fairytale scenery. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Fog crawls in from the Amazon. Frailejónes shape the fairytale scenery. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Laguna de la Plaza drains towards the Amazon through some nice waterfalls. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Laguna de la Plaza drains towards the Amazon through some nice waterfalls. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Pure, granite walls crawl out of the fog. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Pure, granite walls crawl out of the fog. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Lupines on the valley floor. Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Lupines on the valley floor. Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Bivy near Laguna Panuelo. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Bivy near Laguna Panuelo. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the snowy Paso el Castillo (4700m), until 10 years ago, this pass was glaciated. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the snowy Paso el Castillo (4700m), until 10 years ago, this pass was glaciated. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the marshes of Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Crossing the marshes of Valle de los Cojines. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Flores de senecio near Paso de la Sierra (4650m) with the towering 1000m east-cliffs of Nevado Ritacuba Blanco (5410m). PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Flores de senecio near Paso de la Sierra (4650m) with the towering 1000m east-cliffs of Nevado Ritacuba Blanco (5410m). PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Descending towards Lago de la Isla. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Descending towards Lago de la Isla. PNN El Cocuy. Colombia.

Local farmer on his way towards the Uwa indigenous reservate which overlaps with the national park. Colombia.

Local farmer on his way towards the Uwa indigenous reservate which overlaps with the national park. Colombia.

There’s an ongoing controversy for the moment between the national park authorities and the indigenous Uwa community which have overlap grounds with the park. The Uwa regard the core of the park as sacred ground and want to close it for foreigners. Let’s hope they find an outcome in this, because this would be a shame if this beautiful part of the world becomes inaccesbible.

Locals greeting us every morning on our way to high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Locals greeting us every morning on our way to high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

El Cocuy's students at the local high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

El Cocuy’s students at the local high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Teaching computer skills to local students. Guturiez high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Teaching computer skills to local students. Guturiez high school. El Cocuy. Colombia.

Time to shut the door on our gap year and start dreaming of new adventures...

Time to shut the door on our gap year and start dreaming of new adventures…

More picturefun in our online album.

End of the gap year? Waaaaaaaaaaaah! You must be kidding!

End of the gap year? Waaaaaaaaaaaah! You must be kidding!

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