Life-changing experiences don’t happen frequently. When they do, they’re often all but impossible to explain to others. The 19 days I spent in Peru with my father changed my life forever.

Asperous peaks, an unfamiliar culture, and days spent in the seemingly endless Cordillera Blanca characterized our trip. While walking among these giants of the Earth, it seemed as though they were the very peaks that held up the sky. The collection of moments below are just a few that made this trip so transformative.

Laguna Wilcacocha

Our first hike in Peru was to Laguna Wilcacocha, a small lake tucked into the hills above Huaraz. We embarked on a colectivo, the local transportation system, in a direction that we vaguely felt was correct. After about 20 minutes of swerving through the valley floor, the driver yelled at us, and we fumbled our way through the overcrowded van.

We found ourselves at the bottom of an endlessly steep dirt road. A young girl dressed in school clothes ran down the hill, while a man dressed in a full suit climbed faster than I could fathom. We began our ascent.

We made our way through numerous villages, where women in traditional dress pulled potatoes from the steep, rocky soil. Finally, we arrived at our destination to be greeted by stray dogs and an expansive vista of the valley beneath us. Although clouds obstructed our view of the mountains, this hike offered a gentle push into the culture of Huaraz and gave us a taste of the hardships and wonders that laid ahead.

Laguna Churup

Laguna Churup is known locally as one of the acclimation hikes visitors must take before venturing further into La Cordillera Blanca. We visited this lake on our second day in Huaraz, following the steps of many travelers before us. What we predicted to be an easy and quick assent turned into a two-hour climb, which forced us to stop multiple times — not only to take in the views, but to catch the breath we could not seem to find. When we finally reached our destination, fog engulfed the lake. We clambered to a viewpoint and waited patiently for the air to clear. Before long, the fog diminished, leaving us with a rain-tickled reflection of Navado Churup.

Refugio Peru

Situated nearly 16,000 feet above sea level, Refugio Peru serves as a base camp for climbers attempting to summit Nevado Pisco (18,871 feet). On our trip, this refugio acted as our gateway to the mountains. Enchanted by the unbelievable views this humble abode offered, we spent two nights there, on different occasions. Both times, the area left us breathless, sipping our mate de cocas while staring quietly out fogged windows at some of the highest peaks in the world. In the mornings we woke, groggy from sleeping at high altitude, and continued our trek through glacial moraines and unforgettable alpine environments.

Santa Cruz Trek

Santa Cruz Trek was our longest and most memorable stretch within La Cordillera Blanca. We visited this area weeks before peak tourist season and were rewarded with clear trails and a silence that only the mountains can provide. From our multiple encounters with stray mountain pups to our treks over 16,000-foot passes, this stretch left us wishing our time in the mountains could go on forever.

Looking Back

Personally, this trip meant more than I could ever explain with words or photographs. Having the privilege to travel across a foreign country with the man that taught me so much about the world was beyond incredible. There are certain experiences in life that simply change you, and for me, this was one of them.

Honestly, we spent most of our trip in discomfort. Between dealing with extreme altitudes and navigating a culture we had very little knowledge of, there wasn’t a lot of down time. Mentally and physically, this trip was challenging. But that is also what made it beautiful.

To travel is to experience the unknown. From this uncertainty, one can often find a piece of themself. From seeing some of the tallest mountains in the world to engaging in small conversations that broke linguistic barriers, this trip taught me a lot about myself and the world we live in.

After being surrounded by the mountains and culture I found in Peru, it was hard to leave without a certain humbleness and appreciation for the incredible world we share.