My Best Forward Somersault – Hatun Machay

Following one of Stevie’s beautiful, brilliantly written, super popular blog posts is never easy.

It’s like you just saw the highwire acrobatic grand finale at a Cirque du Soleil show, then I come on stage, tuck my chin, and do my best forward somersault.

“Yeahhhh…!!!  Did you see that?”
<Tree takes a bow>

Anyway, someone has to do it. And besides, I’m largely responsible for Stevie’s amazing blog post, that is to say, I voluntarily left last week when she asked me for some “space” so she could concentrate. By not being around to pester, nag, and distract her while she was writing Heroin(e): A Love Story, I essentially became the fertilizer of her brilliance.  <Tree takes another bow>

Since I was given a 3 day hall pass, I decided to go on a rock climbing adventure.

Sprinter Life FUN FACT – In the last 12 months Stevie and I have been apart for a grand total of 2 nights. The remaining 363 days were spent together, almost 24 hours a day. This would be a huge step for both of us. Would she remember to take her vitamins if I wasn’t there? And would I survive trying to cook my own meals? These questions haunted my departure.

The destination, Hatun Machay, Peru’s #1 climbing area. To get to Hatun I’d have to cab it across Lima to the bus station, take an overnight 8 hour bus ride to the town of Huaraz, then catch a smaller bus 2 hours to the the refuge just outside the climbing area. Did I mention all this travel would be for only 3 days of climbing?

Time to test the motivation level. Off to catch the bus.
(Yes Beckett, that’s a down pillow. My ability to dirt-bag only goes so far) 

After a long night of travel I arrived super stoked, but was greeted with wicked altitude sickness. Hatun Machay is a stone forest located in the Cordillera Negro high in the Andes Mountains. It sits at about 13,000 feet. I usually do well at altitude, but going straight up from sea level without acclimatizing and then trying to climb took it’s toll. I don’t suggest it.

After climbing a couple routes and feeling like shit, I decided to spend the first day just hiking around and exploring.

Hatun Machay, which in Quechua language means Big Cave, is home to some really cool archeological remains. Below you can see the caves.

It’s clear that the magic of the stunning rock formations have attracted people’s attention for a long time.

These stone carvings and paintings date back 10,000+ years.

FUN FACT – when I asked Stevie what she saw in the cave painting below she said… “A snake!”

Yep. That’s what I see too.

Over the last couple years I’ve been to a lot of ruins in Central and South America. Palenque, TikalKuelap, Copan, El Brujo.

But seeing this cave art was more profound for me. It wasn’t the most “spectacular” per say, but the fact that this place is basically the same as it was thousands of years ago… that’s really unique.

Indigenous people still live around the stone forest, much as they always have.

They shepherd small flocks of sheep and cows and continue to live a simple life in the mountains.

I couldn’t help but to picture our little girl in a few weeks, strapped to Stevie’s back, hiking in to rad locations yet to be known! Good times are coming. I’m so stoked to be a Dad.

By the second day I had the altitude sickness under control and went looking for some climbing routes. I hooked up with a really cool couple who generously let me climb with them. Ines is from Spain, and I can’t remember if David is from Germany or Austria? Both were great people!

There are a few hundred established sport climbs in the area ranging from easy 5.9 to hard 5.13, and the climbing is spectacular.

Nothing says “welcome to the area” like a slab! A slab is a slightly off vertical wall with very few if any features, requiring the climber to use balance and technique over power. Most climbers hate them.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that climbing rocks at over 13,000 feet is harder than at sea level. Throw in some technical slab climbing and you have a recipe for puking.

Below, finding a couple good footholds to rest before a blank section of perfect slab-licious-ness.

Almost to the top and remembering why we always use to say, “friends don’t let friends climb slabs.” In all seriousness though, these are some insanely high quality routes. Wow factor = 9.5

On to the steeper routes. This destination most reminds me of Smith Rocks in Oregon. Both are volcanic rock and rise up out of the ground in sharp jagged shapes.

Smith is known to be super unique in it’s climbing style, and the same can be said of Hatun Machay.

Locking off on a thin crux of a really sweet line!

Sitting back in Lima I would have to say that Hatun Machay is quite possibly one of the coolest climbing destinations on earth. How can I make such a claim? I guess it’s a combination of everything that makes this place special. It’s remote. It’s gorgeous. It’s still inhabited by indigenous people. It’s raw. The rock is phenomenal. The landscape is magical. And best of all, it is completely uncrowded.

Only one question remains. How do I get back to Hatun Machay and soon?




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  1. Tree, you must certainly take a bow with this post. Excellent! Still laughing!!!

  2. Wow !! I am featured in one of the coolest blogs on the web ! I feel hounoured !
    And Tree, it was a pleasure to climb with you !!
    btw, David is from Switzerland.

    un beso !

    • Ines,
      Yes, Switzerland, of course! Now I remember. It was great to climb with you guys as well.
      I don’t think I’m going to make it out this Sunday to climb. I got invited to go on a mountain biking trip so I’m going to do that instead. But I’ll be back out there soon. Plus at Basecamp, so maybe I’ll see you down there.
      Have a great time this weekend!

  3. You could get back there soon. Throw an extra 2 hours of getting ready with the kid.. then think of your altitude sickness times two from lack of sleep. Lol.. you will be just fine. Great post!

  4. Next time take some aspirin and don’t plan on doing much the first day and you’ll be OK.

    • yeah, that’s pretty much what I fell back into. Lots of water helped as well. It wasn’t too bad. It’s not like I was on Everest right? I’m just a baby. 🙂

  5. Took me FOUR DAYS to recover from altitude sickness the last time I was in the Andes. You lucked out. Are you drinking coca tea? Or chewing it? That helps! As to your climbing again . . . sigh . . . what can I say? I’m your mom . . . Please be careful Tree. (That said, I know you are doing what you love best, so, I’ll buck up . . .
    “YAY Tree! Living large!”

    • yes, I drank a bunch of coca tea. That did help. Don’t worry, I’m being really careful. I promise. I’ve got way too much to lose now.
      Love you! xoxox

  6. Ben Casados says:

    Beautiful country! Climbing is life threatening for a potential father. Why???

    • Ben, Everything can be potentially life threatening. I think the most dangerous thing I do is ride the elevator in our apartment building here in Lima. 🙂

      If I pass nothing else on to my daughter, I hope I pass this…

      To truly experience the essence of life, we cannot allow fear of death to dictate the terms of our passion.


      • Well put and so true!!

      • To allow fear of ANYTHING to rule our actions leads us away from our Authentic Self….
        Following our “passion” while being “mindful” at the same time – I think that is the joyous path.
        And to teach this to your child is probably one of the greatest gifts you can give her. Carpe diem, Tree!

  7. You are one funny SOB!

    The last time I was in Chile, I slept on the beach one night, and then drove to 12,000 feet to San Francisco pass in the Andes… I don’t recommend that either.

    Climbing looks epic.

    Wick & T is coming to visit me in Portland, next week for the first time… EVER!



    • yeah bro, I skyped with Wick this morning. Have fun!
      I’m going to be sending you an email soon about the kayak expedition I’m putting together for 2013. I hope you can make it man. It’s a once in a lifetime trip!
      Love you bro,

  8. Curt Wilhoit says:

    sweet pics

  9. Tim Wilson says:

    Looks bueno Dad! Nice somersault!!!

  10. Hey, this is a reply to Ben.. I can vouch for Tree- He is a super safe climber, and know that with climbing you sometimes don’t get second chances.. So go easy.. I climb still and I’m a father of two sparkling kids who love to climb. Remember it is all about priorities, and assessing the risk that goes along. I can’t wait to climb Monkey Face with my kids..

  11. mmmm… slab. but that steeper wall looks like fun!

  12. Tree,
    What a cool place. I love the fact that life still goes on as it has for so long there ….
    I would dig just camping there for a week or two just by myself.
    Seems like it was good all around for you ,except the altitude.
    Carry on papa,

  13. WOW

  14. Mauricio Arredondo says:


  15. Zaina Shuibi says:

    love the last pic almost looks like fire!

  16. Awesome post Tree! The bit about imagining Stevie and your bebe camping out while you climb is adorable. And I’m super psyched you’re back on the rock. When I come to visit, I demand that you take me climbing. Woo hoo!

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