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Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel Network. All rights reserved, all text & photos on this page.

Leader of the 1989 U.S. Expedition to Bolivia's Cordillera Real', John Hessburg gives thanks for perfect weather & ideal snow conditions,
at 16,200' high camp (Camp Susana) beneath the wind-swept summit of Mt. Chachacomani, 19,902 feet. Five Americans on that team
reached both summits of Chachacomani, completing a first ascent of the elusive Northeast Ridge, which dominates the icefalls below.



BOLIVIAN ANDES, May & June 1989:


the quiet soul of alpine adventure

& (oddly enough) the origin of U.S. Dive Travel.


© Copyright / U.S. Dive Travel Network.


By John Hessburg
Founder, U.S. Dive Travel.



"… We are not the fastest & we are not the best,

Most of us are candidates for cardiac arrest,

If we make it to Camp One, we'll all feel mighty blessed,

And the Geezers wheeze along ..."


That was the lyric intro to our fight song, "Geezers on Pumori," a caterwauling parody of "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" that carried the name of our dream peak, right next door to Mount Everest in Nepal. We wrote it to rev up the boys for some shoulder-grinding gear hauls to high camp. But weird things happened. There were amazing quirks of chance intersecting with providence, that changed our lives forever.

Fact is, the Geezers never even made it to Pumori base camp.

Now, two decades later, it's time for the back story on how that fiasco led to the most wondrous alpine adventure of a lifetime, an expedition so joyful & fulfilling that a few months after we returned to the USA, it jump-started the founding of U.S. Dive Travel.

Yes, you heard it right. A mountaineering expedition to landlocked Bolivia actually sowed the soul seeds that started an agency dedicated to planning tropical island vacations. Go figure ... Shortly after that Bolivian Andes expedition, I was so driven to recoup the taste of sunlit freedom, so compelled to see more of the world's mountains & oceans, I left the harried worried world of metro daily journalism for keeps & never once looked back.

Not one person who knew us ever guessed our New Horizon would be over luminous South Pacific atolls instead of crevasse-lined Andean glaciers. I can thank Bolivia's magical mountains & my lovely wife Susan's even more magical persuasions for this happenstance, as soon you'll see.

All because seven ordinary working men from Seattle were blessed for two months to climb in "Real Time" in one of the Western Hemisphere's few remaining unexplored corners. Many valleys on the eastern flanks of Bolivia's Andes are so remote, so difficult to reach that few expeditions ever took the time to try. And that was our inestimably good fortune, to stumble on twin plums of Andean exploration -- the towering sister peaks of Chachacomani & Chearoco -- right when we needed them.

The memories still linger, strong & happy as a kid's when school's out for summer …

All the mania started in the drizzly Pacific Northwest winter of 1988, when Seattle climber Eddie Boulton & I, along with a couple other American friends & three Annapurna veterans from Mexico City, were scheming on a new route up Pumori, neighbor peak of Mount Everest. We had a thrilling new route picked out, just ripe for a first ascent. It was a bracing, aesthetically beautiful ridge line -- steep but clean -- that somehow escaped the clutches of Himalayan climbers for nearly a quarter century in the Khumbu Glacier sector of Everest. Virgin rock & ice like that, oh yeah, routes that untrampled & wild are more rare, more coveted than peach-sized rubies.

And we were ready to rock. We had the Nepalese government permit & were locked into an $11,000 gear order with a fine Seattle outfitter. Then boom … Only a few weeks away from stuffing duffel bags, the truth avalanche smacked us. Our Mexican partners hadn't lifted one finger to raise their share of the team budget. They wanted the Seattle Yanquis to pay for it all. No gracias, muchachos !

We were stuck with a truckload of gear that littered Eddie's basement like battlefield debris, not to mention 400 T-shirts pathetically trumpeting the Pumori mountain climb that never was. My cheeky kid brother, now in his 50s, still sings out "how's it goin' Pumori Man?" at family reunions, milking that baby for all its worth.

But life goes on. Dreams die hard. So we seven alpine bro's paid our debt to the outfitters, gathered our gear & re-energized our resolve. As expedition leader I hit the alpine libraries like a mole on NoDoz. Big time research.

After a couple weeks of spirited digging, the upshot was a jolt. Pumori wasn't looking so seductive anymore. We were flying in the face of conventional climbing community wisdom in those days. Nuts to the noise of the Everest region. We decided the place to be was not the garbage-flecked & trekker-ridden Khumbu sector of Nepal. Instead, it was the Cordillera Real, the Royal Range of Bolivia's seldom visited central Andes sector. This is one of the least accessible regions of the Andes & therefore it held promise for high adventures & low tourism. But what a daft paradigm shift: from Pumori to Bolivia! What were we thinking -- Bolivia ?? Oh yes indeed!

Unsung jewel of the Andes Mountains, Bolivia is a fresh & curiously innocent country, poised to become a new Mecca for adventure travelers with a yen for serious wilderness. The eastern slopes of the Cordillera Real, pristine, remote & graced by perfect climbing weather -- cold, clear & normally calm from May through July -- offer countless possibilities for new routes on peaks 18,000 to 20,000 feet high, in one of the wildest sectors of alpine terrain anywhere on our stressed-out planet.

Now we had an objective.

I hit the phones in February 1989 & lined up a seven-man team from across the U.S., & arranged a three-month leave from my reporting job at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, then the Northwest flagship of the Hearst newspaper empire. Early May was spent in La Paz -- world's highest city at 12,000 feet -- building red cells, lining up llamas, trucks, food & fuel, & training on nearby Huayna Potosi, a splendid 19,996-foot pyramid of ice & wind-packed snow. We narrowly missed the summit of Huayna Potosi by a few hundred feet, a one-hour ice-ridge stroll, driven back to base camp by a blinding snowstorm that blanketed the upper peak with deadly avalanche potential. But that freakish storm, rare bad luck that time of year, was only another Pumori-like enzyme, catalyzing the team's esprit even more keenly.

We were so fit, so stoked after two weeks of high altitude training on the more accessible western flanks of the Cordillera, we felt ready to gargle barbed wire. By the third week of May 1989 we headed for fresh terrain in the heart of Bolivia's winter, full of imaginary youth, high hopes & hearts hankering for wilderness.

After the stinging disappointment of Pumori, it was clear the only way to enjoy this expedition game was to cut loose, stop taking our previously lofty Himalayan objectives -- & ourselves -- too seriously. The North American & European mountaineering scene of the 1980s was so self-conscious & hubris-soaked as to be narcissistic. The Puget Sound region was rife with stuffy young climbers, putting on airs, boasting about their weekly brushes with death, trying to out-cool one another with head games & flamboyant media manipulations. It was like some Monty Python skit depicting the Ministry of Silly Walks.

So we sought a different soul vector for this Cordillera Real Expedition. Something leaner, cleaner, lighter in spirit. Here's where we got our team's official name, the one we put on the new T shirts: 1989 Real Time Expedition …


I remembered a really fun interview about four years earlier with Howard Roberts of Edmonds, WA, one of America's top session guitarists from the 1960's through the 1980's. Howard, who became one of my dearest friends in the Emerald City of Seattle, had played on more than 50,000 singles, jingles & TV commercials. He backed up Elvis, the Stones, the Beach Boys, plus he laid down monster guitar tracks for dozens of hit rock tunes & pop-culture classics like "Shadow of Your Smile." Howard Roberts, whom we nicknamed "The Phant" (for Phantom) is the man who played that rollicking "needle-needle neet-not" intro to the 1960's classic Beverly Hillbillies TV theme. He also played the eerily unforgettable "dee-dee dah-dah" licks that started Rod Serling's original Twilight Zone show.

Howard was one amazing gent, & I deeply admired his casual outlook on urban life, the way he relaxed 120% in his art form, avoiding social pressures & status symbols like they were leprosy lesions. Good ol' Howard Roberts, he praised the crazy energies of playing guitar, actually doing anything you love to do -- in "Real Time." That was his label for an almost sacred state of mind that comes when you shuck the workaday world of worry, competition & striving to achieve. Instead you reach for humor, creative exploration & free-floating improv. Kind of like kids playing on a tropical beach while their parents look the other way.

Intrigued, inspired by Howard's artistic freedom, I therefore resolved that this expedition's goal would be to have no rigid goals at all -- we'd go "Climbin' in Real Time" -- & nuts to the noise of Madison Avenue. The idea was for seven guys to jump headfirst into an alpine jam session, & see where it led. "Climbin' in Real Time" would be spontaneous, impish, childlike yet bold & colorful like Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, which as we all know are "what rainbows do when the teacher leaves the room," to quote my best adventure buddy Bob Shaw.


The Real Timers would embrace our mountain rather than "conquer" her.

What a singularly lame idea -- "to conquer a mountain" -- as if it were some malevolent adversary who must be whacked into submission, so the world can be safe for democracy again.

I checked with the guys & they were all on board. Howard's "Real Time" ideas resonated well with the team. Thus the Real Timers chose, instead, to place team safety ahead of personal acclaim, spontaneity ahead of summit fever. We would climb with a calculated rebellion against some selfish & suicidal thinking that has sullied the art-sport of alpine mountaineering today.

If you scan the major climbing magazines, for much of these last two decades one noisy Bolshevik faction has lifted "extreme alpinism" to the pinnacle of respect. They worship its Nuevo-Wavo-kamikaze-death-commando style & confer pop deity on its handful of cocky practitioners. Year after year, these self-anointed "hard men" gouge out faster, steeper death routes, after which they regale the masses with tales of Cheating The Reaper, oh so adroitly.

In short, too many alpine climbers, too many rock climbers, have been taking themselves far too seriously. For far too long.

While the magazines keep trotting out new solo ascents of incredibly desperate rock & ice routes, they overlook the fact that novice climbers in high school & college -- of whom there are hundreds in the Puget Sound region, also in Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming & Utah -- yes novices devour these articles as if they were scripture. Many alpine newbies assume this is the standard of the sport, the level to which all mountain men & women with certifiable red cells must aspire. And this lunatic assumption is killing climbers, year after year. Several old friends from Seattle, men & women alike, died chasing these delusions in the 1980s & the 1990s. Their smiles sometimes revisit me on quiet evenings when I am sitting alone in my office.

Like my Dad used to tell me: "Death is nature's way of suggesting you slow down."

The typical American mountaineers are weekend warriors with regular jobs, family ties, moderate incomes & limited free time to train. Thus, the so-called "standards" of extreme rock & ice routes that are waved in our faces by the full-time gear-hawking pros are so far removed from reality as to be extra-terrestrial.

There are no standards that matter -- except fun & safety. Period.

That's why I made a decision: it was high time to celebrate -- & encourage -- the modest exploits of the ordinary mountaineer again. In short, it is a healthy thing to look up to -- not measure up to -- the alpine mountaineering superstars. Let them zoom about in their own eccentric orbits. We will keep our boots firmly on good ol' Mama Earth as we ascend to our chosen summits, maybe a bit more carefully with our feet of occasional clay.


So … here is the gist of this Revolution of the Regular Guys & Regular Gals:

·        Climbin' in Real Time means a return to the pioneering spirit that propelled Fred Beckey to first ascents of countless Cascade peaks with little more than a rope, a ragged rucksack & a fistful of rusty pitons.

·        Climbin' in Real Time means mountaineering as exploration of new ground -- both underfoot & deep in the heart.

·        Climbin' in Real Time means a celebration of the amateur ethic & rejection of merchandising pressures that have swallowed many expeditions wholesale.

·        Climbin' in Real Time means minimal interference with fragile alpine ecosystems. In fact, it means an assiduous TLC approach to campsite impacts, with attention focused on burying organic garbage plus human waste far from any leaching field that could intersect a stream. Plus you NEVER leave anything from the city behind,except footprints. To litter is to be a slobbering Barbarian at the Gates of Heaven.

·        Climbin' in Real Time means alpine-style ascents: light, fast, no mob of high-altitude porters, no fixed ropes, no bottles of supplemental oxygen, no exotic drugs to soften the sting of altitude.

·        Above all, Climbin' in Real Time means rejecting a decade of alpine strutting & chest-thumping. Good-bye to The Weighty '80s!

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel Network.

Members of the Real' Time Expedition, the successful 1989 U.S. Expedition to Bolivia's Cordillera Real (left to right) are:
William Wolf, Peter Delmissier, Billy Bays, Steve Norris, Eddie Boulton, Kevin Spooner & team leader John Hessburg.

And here's how we cranked out the prelim logistics for this Andean mountaineering adventure.

We first spent a couple days researching aerial photos in the archives of the Bolivian Military Forces HQ in La Paz, who graciously donated bird's-eye above-summit views impossible to secure anywhere else in the world. We now had our window on the wildest unexplored sector of the Andes Range! We were excited beyond measure. Then it took nearly a week to filter the white kerosene, purchase mountains of sausages, rice, lentils, beans, hard rolls, noodles, quinoa grain, powdered milk, dried fruits, & pack all the provisions into more than 80 ten-liter reinforced plastic water bottles -- the narrow rectangular kind with rugged handles on top -- just perfect for sliding into a llama's saddlebags.

Approaching from a swing to the eastern slopes -- the hard way -- The Real Time Expedition explored two remote high alpine basins in the Cordillera Real. After our successful expedition returned to La Paz, securing permission from both Bolivian climbing officials & local Aymara Indian leaders, we named both of our newly-explored high alpine basins & all their prime geologic features. We registered all these new topographic names -- for the massive glaciers, the ridges, the ice faces & the high alpine plateaus -- first with Bolivian officials then with the American Alpine Club (USA's top mountaineering archives) to whom we donated detailed route maps we had drawn.

Records of previous European & Argentine expeditions to Mount Chachacomani, both of which climbed from far easier western approaches, are sketchy. There were no official topographic maps of this sector & existing sketch maps are of questionable accuracy. Other lesser expeditions on the more accessible western approaches never reported their routes.


We did our mountain archive research with good faith & due diligence.

To the best of our knowledge, therefore, we earned three first-ascent routes to summits on the eastern flanks of the Chearoco-Chachacomani massif.

Distinguished by two 20,000-foot sentinel peaks, towering pink-granite walls & hazardous icefalls riddled with 30-to-50-foot towers of teetering ice blocks called seracs, this 8.7-mile-long massif is one of the principal geologic thrusts of the Central Andes. Its southernmost crags are located about 44 crow-flight miles north of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.

After a Land Rover caravan of 75 miles across the Altiplano, a strenuous three-day approach march took us over three passes that averaged 15,000 feet in altitude. Again, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only modern-era explorers ever to traverse these high passes in succession, en route to a valley of cathedral beauty the natives call "Chekap Kuchu," or "Valley's End."

Since 1962, a few expeditions visited Chekap Kuchu before us. But they completely missed the most beautiful of the neighboring valleys, hidden far above their lines of sight at Island Camp. Alpine journal records show we apparently were the first non-indigenous people ever to penetrate & fully explore, from a base camp below Chearoco's Northeast Face, the two magnificent high alpine basins to the northwest & south of Chekap Kuchu.

Each day we hiked, hauled gear, refined our camps, cooked, chowed down, washed our faces in 45-degree glacial water & rested in those magnificent virgin basins, we thanked the Good Lord above for this ineffable delight, for this privilege of living for a moment in an untouched part of Planet Earth so remote that, most likely, no other human beings ever had trodden there. It is a feeling so electric with happiness & awe I still, after 20 years, never have been able to explain it fully to my family & friends. It felt like kissing the outstretched hand of God. And it changed my life forever, just being there & breathing the thin clean air & soaking up the perfect weather, the looming vistas, the high alpine sunshine. Even half-cooked lentils with stale rolls tasted like manna in Chekap Kuchu.

And this is where the seminal idea was conceived, the spirit of confidence & seeking a healthier life that sparked the beginning of U.S. Dive Travel. Imagine that.


U.S. Dive Travel Network actually started not in the Pacific islands but in the Andes mountains of Bolivia!


Now back to the gnarly business of the approach march to base camp, always a gringo grind. If your approach goes sour, it can wreck an entire expedition before you even hit base camp, so we planned ours with impeccable caution. We were helped by five Aymara tribal herdsmen whom we had hired in Jankho Khota village back about 48 miles below "Base Camp Numero Uno." They were humble slightly-built young men with deep earnest eagle eyes & dark bronze skin, whom we treated like gold, because their advice & route-finding wisdom were pure platinum. I also hired a 19-year-old kid back in the village named Froilan Guarachi, to serve as our camp cook & to watch the tents while we were away on summit days. Froilan was loyal, cheerful & patient, never once griping or sulking, as some of us "Soggy Seven" did after daylong gear hauls to high camps. His meals were great, day after day, & our team morale remained as high as the imposing summits above our camps.

Actually higher than three of those summits, as soon we'll see …


Now, back to the approach hike, which is to a successful alpine exploration as concrete foundations are to tall buildings.

Starting at that lower elevation village, about 11,000 feet, for three windy 12-hour days, hiking about 48 miles, we herded a caravan of 49 llamas laden with 2,200 pounds of food & gear, over three 15,000-foot passes to reach advance base camp. We built our operations base, called "Island Camp," at 14,100 feet (nearly the same altitude as the highest peaks in the Lower 48). Island Camp was ideally lodged at the confluence of two rushing mountain streams that swept around a wide lump of flat grassy ground & created an oval-shaped "island." We camped for 5 weeks smack dab under the forbidding Northeast Face of Chearoco (20,072 feet), just outside the reach of any avalanche chutes. We pitched 6 roomy North Face VE-24 dome tents: 4 for sleeping, 2 for gear stowage. It was a base camp paradise in every way. Best campsite I'll ever find anywhere on earth.

Once more, back to that pesky thang called reality. Yes, there were some epic moments on that approach hike, such as the afternoon when the second pass we reached, just into the 16,000-foot altitude zone, was too high for half the llamas. These fuzzy beasts got so bushed they simply laid down & panted like sick dogs in a summer heat wave, refusing to budge another inch.

I could feel my heart sink that day. "Aw blast it all, not another Pumori!"

Mind you, we already had been pampering those llamas to a faretheewell. We cautiously kept the weight loads under 48 lbs for each llama, on the advice of our local herdsmen, so we would never stress-out their cardio-vascular capacity & exhaust them. And we used llamas, not mules, because the latter specie is not only stubborn, but rarely can lug any helpful weight above 14,500 feet. Llamas in the Andes, like yaks in the Himalaya, are the strongest high-altitude porters in the world.

Even as easy as we were on our 49 long-necked cud-spitting llama buddies, we apparently brought them to the very envelope of llam-anian endurance. So I was forced to relent, & we let those dang llamas take so many breathers, day after day, that they stretched the hikes from dawn to dusk & had me fretting like a ferret. Man, we kept on burnin' daylight. But the beat goes on …


The second llama epic occurred on day two of the approach hike, when the alpha male llama rounded a blind corner on an extremely steep trail, then he turned & bolted back down that trail with a wide-eyed panicky look. Several other llamas began to go AWOL, too. Pretty soon the whole herd of 49 was balking, groaning with anxiety, skittering about like water beads on a hot-oiled griddle. We had a mammal mutiny on our hands.

"What now?" I thought with a tar pit in my stomach. Turns out that only hours earlier, a massive rockslide had thundered down that pass on the right-hand side where we were hiking, completely obliterating the trail with truck-sized blocks of cold gray granite & random piles of ankle-bending rubble. The only way up was 70-degree ledge-infested Class 4 rock climbing -- which 2-legged humans with 50-lb packs can do a lot better than 4-legged llamas.

The 49 llamas would have nothing to do with that rockslide-ruined pass. They loathed even looking at it. We were in deep llama-doo & something had to done -- but quick. So I ordered the herdsmen to strip the saddle packs from many of the weaker animals, & we dragged those bags, one by one, to a higher plateau, then returned for the llamas. By then those bloomin' critters were resting blithely below the rockslide, like it was Picnic City, while we gasped & sweated doing their work for Pete's sake. I scouted a slightly easier detour route to the west, & we then were forced into the hilarious indignity of standing squarely beneath hairy dirt-clumped llama rumps, pushing with all our might to get a 240-lb beast up onto the next rocky ledge. One ledge, one llama at a time.

Yep, just as you might guess, when llamas get stressed & pressed from behind their hams, they sometimes choose to whistle the metabolic music of their last grassy lunch -- in a manner most politely described as "the winds of doom."

Oh man. What had we signed up for here?

Finally after 4 hours of shoving wooly llama butts skyward, grunting like ruddy-faced farm blokes, zero humor left, we skirted the worst of the avalanche debris & crested that windy snow-swept pass -- some 16,200 feet in elevation. Then elated as schoolboys at recess we cavorted 3,000 feet down the other slope to our second approach camp just in the nick of time before sunset -- spent but triumphant -- all 49 llamas in tow. Not a single beast was ever hurt; not even a scratch.

Late on the third day we arrived at Chekap Kuchu, base camp was set without further ado & we rested like half-dead coal miners after escaping a cave-in.

A few days after we set Island Camp, we also hauled heavy packs up for 2-3 days each, establishing three additional high camps at 16,200 feet in separate valleys. From there several summit bids were launched.

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel Network. All rights reserved, all text & photos on this page.
John Hessburg waves from the cloud-kissed summit of Mount Chachacomani (19,902 feet) in Bolivia's Cordillera Real'.

These were the inspiring summits we reached with the Good Lord's gift of perfect weather for two months, sunny & cold, plus solid snow conditions & low avalanche risk on most slopes:


First ascent of Mount Chachacomani (19,902 feet) via the full Northeast Ridge, as approached from the northeastern icefalls. We were turned back once but tried again two days later. I refused to give up that route-finding nightmare, not as tough as Everest's Khumbu Icefall, but close enough to keep us on red alert for a couple nerve-flaying days. We kept at it, planting marker stakes & finally found a convoluted way through the glacial labyrinth, that required no ladders or fixed ropes, just shin bones & elbow grease. On June 6, 1989 we wove through a 2-mile maze of crevasses & ice pillars, then traversed up the base of the Northeast Ridge, over a couple tricky ice pitches to the North Face, & on to the skinny ice blade of a summit.

Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Steve Norris & Kevin Spooner joined me on the summit, each of us taking turns to stand for a few minutes on the absolute crest of Chachacomani. It was a perilous place, no room for a barn dance. Maybe 10 or 12 square feet of knife-edged ice cornice bounded on the west by a sheer 4,000-foot ice wall, on the south by a steep slope of hard-packed neve (old sun-baked snow) & the runouts were all terminal falls in 3 directions. So we took our time, took the photos gingerly then cramponed step-by-deliberate-step off that peak before any storm could roll in & trap us.

Another thing I'll never forget: the American pride we felt when we planted a small USA flag at each of the summits of Chachacomani, buried tightly under the snow so they would never litter the mountain.

What a day of limitless joy & satisfaction. We had reached the key summit we were seeking for months! Thank you Lord! I led the rope team up & down without a single injury, though Steve-a-reeno on the descent, just below the summit blade, slipped into a crevasse up to his waist. The rope team wisely had left very little slack between men so his fall was Mickey Mouse. We were able to yank him out in less than a minute. Thanks again!

We'd left Camp Susana a couple hours before dawn to be safe & sound, just like we'd trained on stateside Mount Rainier earlier that spring. The climbing schedule flowed like cool buttermilk. Five of us reached the higher Northeast Summit of Chachacomani in nine hours from high camp, then we hiked southward about 400 yards across a high saddle, wading through drifts to the second Chacha summit for good measure, & were back down to Camp Susana by dark.

Our view from atop "Big Chacha" was impossible to forget: a 360-degree vista of Lake Titicaca & the Peruvian Andes to the west & north, & the fog-shrouded tropics of Brazil's far-western Amazon headwaters. To the south we could see hundreds of square miles of the Bolivian Altiplano. We were right there, up in the scudding clouds, tasting the weather in our front teeth, gripping the rooftop of the Central Andes with our trembling fingers. If ever I've felt more alive, I don't remember when. But there was still more for the Andean alpine archives …


Solo first ski descent of Chachacomani's northeastern slopes - from the Northeast Ridge to high camp -- by Mercer Island WA's Peter Delmissier. He plied an astonishing crevasse-filled two-mile icefall we named "Ome Daiber Glacier" in honor of the late Cascade Mountain Range legend who pioneered Mount Rainier's classic Liberty Ridge line. Peter needed maybe five minutes of his Unreal Time to "shred the descent" -- grabbing a little air time en route -- while we gaped, slack-jawed & prayerful. After resting a few days following the successful ascent of Mount Chachacomani, we were blessed to make this next summit in less than three days:

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright John Hessburg, U.S. Dive Travel Network. All rights reserved.
Kevin Spooner takes five, a water break at 18,000 feet while descending Mount Chachacomani after the Real Time Expedition
placed 5 climbers on the summit. Looking NE across Chekap Kuchu Valley at the virgin Southwest Face of Dome 2 (18,721 feet),
which a week later was pioneered by 3 Real Timers. Camp Susana (16,200 feet), high camp for Chachacomani, was 1000 feet
below Kev, below his right shoulder in darkly crevassed sector of Ome Daiber Glacier. Camp Barbara (16,200 feet), high camp
for Nevado Domine, was just over the dark "V notch" in distant ridge. The 400-foot Bonz Headwall just above teardrop buttress.

The first ascent of the Southwest Face of a new peak we named Nevado Domine (18,721 feet) -- via a steep 3,400-foot ice & snow route. Peter, West Seattle's Steve Norris & I completed the second ascent of the peak a British expedition labeled "Dome 2" in 1962. We named our high camp "Camp Barbara" after my mom, & the huge steep neve headwall after my best buddy Bob "Bonz" Shaw. Steve got to name a prominent ridge next to the headwall after his daughter Stephanie. And Pete got Nevado Domine's toughest crux named after him -- the Delmissier Step -- a tricky 25-foot stretch of nearly vertical ice framed below by a yawning crevasse that was, well, a bit deeper than we'd hoped for when scanning it from high camp with "binocks." When I kicked an ice clump down, it was a good five seconds before we heard a clunk. OK, take a deep breath, suck it up. Everything's gonna be OK. And it was because we went carefully, step by deliberate step. Over & over all day long & well into the night. Step by deliberate step ...


This climb of Nevado Domine dealt us some cruxes that were cause for a pause:

·        At 16,300 feet, a skinny ice bridge, 100 feet long & guarded on both sides by gaping crevasses, which called for balance-beam precision. Respectfully spent, we named it "The Blade" while descending it with headlamps, rubber-legged, en route to our high camp in pitch darkness.

·        At 17,200 feet, a 400-foot wall of steep ice & snow, which we called "The Bonz Headwall," to honor my best friend Robert "Bonz" Shaw of St. Paul. A crevasse-riddled runout added some spice to the ice.

·        At 18,300 feet, a 25-foot section of 70-degree ice, reached by a half-imaginary ice bridge over another troubling crevasse.

·        A few feet from touching the absolute summit nubbin with my ice axe -- perched tip-toed on a cornice of windblown snow -- I felt a sickening sensation & suddenly sank six inches. A deep crack from an incipient slab avalanche snaked out from underfoot & girdled the entire face beneath the summit dome. In seconds the climb of Nevado Domine went from exhiliration to adrenal overload. I thought, "this is it, this is how my story ends. He'p me Lord!" But the slab held. We gingerly back-stepped off that nasty slope, never knowing if it was going to slough, & we made it back to high camp a few hours after dark -- utterly drained but happy.

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel Network. All rights reserved.
Climbing leader about 50 feet below corniced crest of Bonz Headwall, a 65-degree 400-foot wall of ice & neve snow
that guarded the final approach to the summit dome of Nevado Domine (Dome 2). Three Real Timers made summit.

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel Network. All rights reserved.
Climbing leader reaches summit of Nevado Domine (Dome 2) with two buddies, having completed 1st ascent of the
Southeast Face, & 2nd ascent of the peak, which rules the hidden high alpine valley 7 miles east of Chachacomani.
Photo by Peter Delmissier was shot just seconds before a sharp avalanche fracture cracked across the summit dome.

There was one more noteworthy archival highlight of the expedition:


Solo first ascent by Billy Bays, Casper, WY, of the Northwest Ridge of "Diablito's Tower" (17,500 feet) -- an enjoyably moderate rock climb up a granite crest that dominated the northern terminus of Ome Daiber Glacier. We also named this prominence because it was smaller & "cuter" than the original upthrust stateside, just west of Sundance Wyoming. Billy worked so hard to get on this expedition & he almost had to bag it mid-way when I sent him down to below 12,000 feet, to an Aymara Indian village aided by one herdsman & one climber, to recover his health after he started developing pulmonary edema a couple weeks into the expedition. Pulmonary edema has been known to kill unwary climbers in their sleep at this altitude. So we were worried as can be. But Billy got some Aymara TLC, & he felt better. He hiked back to Chekap Kuchu with a big wide grin & some lame jokes & we hugged him fiercely. We all were delighted later by his successful solo ascent of the beautiful pillar we named Diablito's Tower, about 450 feet of gain from the ridgeline.

Now it was time for the team to celebrate!

Back in base camp, we threw an apres'-summit bash for the team, & sent a herdsman as courier to invite our Aymara tribal neighbors, 12 miles down river, for the feast. We divvied up a case of La Paz beer the llamas had lugged in, & used it to wash down a whole sheep, barbecued on a spit that Peter Delmissier, my right-hand man, had improvised from battered aluminum snow pickets.

It doesn't take much of the old suds to crack a smile at 14,000 feet after almost a week at high camp. By 8 p.m., Island Camp was hopping with music from a mini-guitar & a banjo we'd hauled in. Aided by annoying reserves of Everclear, smuggled into base camp by Seattle's Eddie Boulton (who ignored my expressed instructions), several of the guys had to grab hold of tall grass to keep from falling off the planet.

Not stodgy Dutch Uncle John, of course. The climbing leader always has to remain Dull-Boy Stick-in-the-Mud + Rule-Enforcer + Anchor-of-Propriety. But I hate hard liquor anyway; always have. So I relished the chance to be designated driver with no wheels, at Island Camp beneath Chearoco Peak, that glorious evening.

Several days later, after trying another steep ice route that did not work out, due to unstable boilerplate ice over a softer snow pack, we were sore & skinny as whippets. The avalanche hazard was high, we waited below the crux for an agonizing hour, studying the face, pondering, guessing then second-guessing. We turned back at 17,300 feet from what could have been a slam-dunk first ascent of the Southeast Face of Chearoco. Too hazardous. Not worth the risk, coveted prize that it was. We all had wives, girlfriends, families back in the USA who mattered way more than another notch on our ice axes. Then we called it a trip, left Chekap Kuchu & began the grinding 3-day march back to Jankho Khota village. We herded those rowdy llamas back to their home corrals, paid the herdsmen & gave them gifts, returned to La Paz, hurled ourselves at showers & real food, greasy spicy food oh yeah, & rested for a blissful 3 days of 12-hour sleeps & easy city strolls to get even more food.

Each of us had lost more than 15 lbs during the two-month expedition. I looked like the poster boy for Kwashiorkor Ribs.


Then that pesky reality intruded once more; we had to prep for the long trip home. Pretty soon freeway overpasses & skyscrapers would supplant Chearoco's magnificent ice wall as our morning wake-me-up vista. A little dread began to gather, mixed with butterflies-in-the-gut delight we'd soon be seeing our special gals.

First things first. Time to pay homage to our worthy host country. We threw a formal victory dinner for our Bolivian outfitters plus the local mountaineering honchos in La Paz. What a night of unabashed glee & banter! Then the next morning, reluctantly, we flew back to the workaday world in Seattle, a bit more than two months after landing in La Paz. It was so great to hug my beloved fiancιe Susie again, I immediately forgot how deeply bummed we felt to leave that alpine paradise. She seemed to glow with an almost unearthly beauty & her enchanting smile gave me hope that, yes, there still is sentient life back at our big city jobs. The newsroom seemed not as ridiculous a place to return to, once I was able to hug Susie again. Re-entry had begun.

The reunion with my loved ones was marred only by a little hollowness somewhere in the back of my heart. It nagged at me every day for weeks, beyond definition or understanding. I would get on the phone, call the Real Timers & commiserate. And they would say, "yeah I know, I'm feeling that too."

But during that aching period of adjustment something good was happening in parallel. That was when confidence started to bloom like a century plant. Big fun ideas, wonderful thoughts of a new career, the hopes of marrying Susan soon then starting a new adventure vector. I suggested we honeymoon in the Rocky Mountains, maybe Colorado right after a March wedding.

"Hey Sooz the ice conditions can be great in March & think how we can ski into base camp! It'll be sooo cool!"

Susie narrowed her eyes to slits, pressed her lips for emphasis, & lobbied inexorably for her native island of Oahu, then the South Pacific. She never gave up. "But Susie," I griped, "the Pacific will be so rainy & hot that time of year. Who needs all that tacky humidity? Yecchhh... let's go some place clean & craggy. C'mon hon' let's visit the Rockies for our honeymoon! You'll love it."

Susan's reluctance was more soul-driven, more persistent than 20 llamas at the rockslide. Day after day the Rockies were pounded, battered, buffeted by the South Pacific. Susie had lived for 20+ years on Oahu & she was adamant. Uninformed, misguided, I resisted for weeks like a rebellious, er, mule. Then in March of 1990 we got married -- most of Real Timers made it to the wedding -- & wouldn't you know it, we ended up honeymooning in Hawaii & the Cook Islands for a splendiferous month of sunshine, surf & sand. Susie had won the pre-nup tug-o-war, hands down.

No, actually, we both did .... a few months later, buoyed by an astonishingly good time on Rarotonga & Aitutaki islands, I was smitten by the SoPac forever & decided to make the Pacific our workplace & the Rockies our playground. Somehow, after the Perfect Trip to Chachacomani in Bolivia, we both knew U.S. Dive Travel would be blessed from its toddlin' days. And it was mates, it really was.


Rewind again ... now while I was chafing on re-entry back into Seattle, after the Cordillera Real, I never knew what it would feel like after an expedition that sublimely smooth. All seven of us climbers were unprepared for "la petite mort;" that gnawing limbic pain was relentless. Now after 20 years I finally understand what it was -- that sad restless feeling all the guys were grappling with for weeks...

No matter how intense of a joy any expedition may be, there's always the post-partum blues when you return to sea level & embrace the city madness anew. You grow wiser in a harsh sort of way. You realize with rude clarity you'll never again savor exactly that same blend of humor, team esprit, adrenaline & cardio-pumping challenge. You'll never again be able to relive that precise confluence of discovery & joy.

But the bittersweet blues are salved by one certainty. You can climb any mountain, anywhere, in Real Time. Any mountain, whether literal or figurative. In fact, you can realize any dream you want in Real Time -- even one that connects folks craving getaways from beleaguered cities around the world to tropical islands like the jewels of Fiji & Papua New Guinea.

That's it, sunseekers. That is where the sense of balance came from. That's how the inkling, the goal, then the reality of U.S. Dive Travel first were conceived. Not in the seas of the South Pacific, but in the Andes mountains of Bolivia.

Imagine that …


Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, John Hessburg, Peter Delmissier, Eddie Boulton, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions
© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel Network. All rights reserved.

In mid-July '89, a couple weeks after the Chachacomani expedition, John & Susan took a relaxing weekend climb up in
the North Cascades, picking the Coleman Glacier Route on Mt. Baker's southern flanks. Just ahead on the glacier, next
to a gaping deep bergschrund (crevasse) John proposed marriage to Susie. She said yes & the wheels of goodwill began
to turn, inexorably, that led to founding U.S. Dive Travel. John still jokes about the location choice for his proposal -- right
next to that big crevasse. "If she said no, that was a convenient spot to tip over & disappear into the icy bowels of Mt. Baker!"

(About 15% of this article first was published Dec. 26, 1989 in a morning metro daily, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Revised & rewritten extensively by the author 20 years later, this is reprinted with permission of our friends at the Seattle P-I, where John worked as a staff writer for nine action-packed years during the 1980s.)


Please feel free to contact:
John Hessburg, General Manager
Susan Hessburg, Operations Manager

PMB 307 / Suite # 116
15050 Cedar Ave. S.
St. Paul, MN, USA 55124-7047

Voice Mail: 952-953-4124

E-mail: divetrip@bitstream.net

Website: www.usdivetravel.com


Click here to view John Hessburg's
professional dossier & Linked-In Profile.



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Please feel completely free, sunseekers, if you want to research further into these topics: Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions -- just pick up your mobile & call us any time!

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Once again a friendly reminder, if you want to dig further into these topics: Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions -- please feel free to call us any time!

Best fishes too!

>////*>   <*\\\\<

John Hessburg & Susan Hessburg, Mgrs.
U.S. Dive Travel Network.

Andes Mountains, Andes mountaineering, Andes alpinism, Andes climbing, Bolivian Andes, Cordillera Real, 1989 Real Time Expedition, Bolivia climbing, Bolivia mountaineering, Bolivia expeditions

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