My friend Brian recently posted a video about our 2004 trip to Peru. It was on this trip that the fortuitous conversation, a perfect storm of linguistic synthesis, cultural icons (Bon Jovi, in this case), and bravado, spawned the concept of Roconismo as a unified way of life. Man, that sounds grandiose.
In retrospect, there’s a lot about that trip that seems grandiose now. Brian and I were young climbers; we thought what we were doing was big and important. In our universe, it was
Brian and I met at Colorado College; we both grew up in Appalachia and shared a vague element of being wide-eyed country boys in the face of the Rockies. We also got out hearts broken at around the same time, so we turned to adventures in the South Platte to sooth our souls. Even though we knew that nearly every featured face or crack we found on the pink granite domes amid rolling ponderosa forests had been climbed by someone before, we fortified our friendship through sharing the thrill of the unknown. We threw out the guidebook (well, the one we had wasn’t very up-to-date anyway, so even with the guidebook, we still felt like each pitch was a first ascent) and just climbed what looked good. We found gems; we got scared; we bailed in lightning storms; we forged through the unknown to some minor victories. In short, we grew up as climbers.
Brian left for South America in January. As a token of my commitment to meet him as soon as I graduated, I bought my ticket before he left. I boarded a plane in Denver on May 28th, less than a week after finishing classes. The six months Brian spent down there before I arrived are other volumes of stories entirely.
Roconismo 2004, as we call it, seemed like such a big deal. Hell, I’d never ever left North America and certainly not to rock climb. Who were we to fly halfway around the world to climb giant walls in one of the great mountain ranges of the world? Sure, we’d climbed a few routes in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Black Canyon, but those were just the local trade routes. Brian had been to Yosemite once. Looking back, we really had no business trying to free climb routes on features like La Esfinge, a 600-meter wall deep in the Cordillera Blanca. The beauty of it was that we were too naïve to know that. Even better was that we had no concept of how likely it was that we’d fail to actually climb anything remotely cool.
That’s what I think the video captures: two dudes too dumb not to try to climb. It wasn’t that we were dangerous, just naïve, but it paid off. We did climb some cool stuff: two ground-up first ascents on Huamasharaju, a repeat of the Original Route on La Esfinge, and almost a first free ascent of an aid line on La Esfinge (which, to our chagrin, was later freed in its entirety by none other than Josh Wharton). These days, probably due in equal parts to the big bang in climbing information and to my own more fragile ego, I don’t know if I would have the same calm, confident smile that I wear for most of the video in the face of such an enormous leap in ambition.
What the video doesn’t show is the rest of our time in Peru. Harrowing bus rides, hikes through remote valleys, awkward encounters with llamas, and the communion with new friends in a foreign world wove the fabric of our experience in Peru with our climbing tales. Those are stories for other volumes, too.