Life as a Mountain Guide in Peru

by on 15th August, 2014

A mountain guide’s tale

Rodolfo Oropeza shares his life story, from shepherd to top Peru mountain climbing guide, in this week’s fascinating, true life blog:


Rodolfo writes:

“When I was a school student, I always wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and I was not interested in the mountains because they were part of my life. Every school holiday (From late December to late March) I used to go to help my uncle Victor who lived near the gate in the Quilcayhuanca Valley, they had a little sheep farm and every day I used to take the sheep along the Quilcayhuanca Valley to graze and the mountains were right up there and they were just like big trees.

When I was 12 years old, my father Manuel took me on a trek, this was in July during the school breaks. It was so super cold that I could not sleep the whole night, and I did think that this was too hard, but then I understood that I did not have the right gear on that trek.

After that year every school breaks I went on a trek or two and could make some dollars and got to know all the trekking circuits and most of the base camps. My job was to help the cook and the donkey drivers to set up camps, which was not easy, especially in the mornings when everything was frozen.


First climb  

When I was 15, my brother David, my father and I went on a trek with a group of Spaniards, the program was to do the 4 day Santa Cruz Trek and then climb Pisco. I think there were 8 people in the group and their tour guide from Spain.

Hernan came up to the Base Camp of Pisco as they needed another mountain guide for Pisco. When we reached the base camp, one of the clients did not want to climb Pisco and he offered me his climbing gear to climb Pisco with the group and that is where all the climbing adventure started. I did not know how to use the equipment and I was wearing big plastic boots, I think the size of the boots were like 45 so they were too big for me but I did not care about it as I was very excited and everyone was very encouraging.

I did like the climb and thought that it was very easy to climb mountains. Back in the base camp the client told me to keep all his climbing kit even the big boots and hoped that I could become a mountain guide in the future but I was not sure about this.

Once in Huaraz, I sold the climbing boots and bought smaller size boots and I was geared up for more climbing but I never had the chance to do it again until I went to the Mountain Guide School in Huaraz.

Santa Cruz trek lake Jatuncocha Peru

Santa Cruz trek, Lake Jatuncocha. Peru


Forget learning English

After finishing high school I took a year off, this was because I needed to save some money to go to the university. That year I worked as a trekking guide during the tourism season and at that time there were very few mountain guides and no park regulations as today. My father was well known by the mountain guides so they did not say anything when they saw me guiding a group.

I had made enough money to attend the pre-university academy and my father paid to attend some English lessons in the afternoon but I was not interested in learning this language, it seemed to be too difficult.


More courses

I had just finished the pre-university academy and I was waiting for the final entrance exam to enter the local university when I went to Llaca Valley to maintain the poor road that goes up to the lake.

Here I met some of the instructors of the Mountain Guide School and the Director and they told me that there was a course for aspirant guides in a week. The instructors were encouraging me to attend this course every day.

At the end I decided to participate in the course even I knew that I did not have any experience in rock or ice climbing but I knew that I was very fit and strong.

My brother Hernando and David lent me some of their climbing kit and on a Tuesday morning we went to Llaca Valley for 4 days. There were 54 participants in the course and most of them with a lot of climbing experience, some of them had done Alpamayo many times or other technical mountains and 3 friends of mine and me had not done anything so we were like novice climbers trying to learn something here.

After the 4 days we came back to Huaraz and the next day I had the exam in the university. I went to the university and attended the exam which lasted for 3 hours. Then I went to the House of Guides to see how I had done in the 4 day course and fortunately I had passed the 4 day course so I was very excited but the real course would start in two days time.


Asking for help

In the afternoon, I went back to the university to check if I had passed the university exam and luckily I had passed it so now what I was going to do; it was very difficult to make a decision.

Nobody in my family had money to pay the 45 day aspirant course so that was another problem but now I was sure that I wanted to become a mountain guide.

So I started knocking on doors in my village hoping that someone would lend me money to attend this course and what I did worked very well. Now I had the money and the desire and I was ready to rock and roll.

During the 45-day course we did a lot of rock climbing and climbed mountains and learned everything needed to be a professional Aspirant Mountain Guide.

I did climb the big mountains with my brother Hernando, sometimes as a porter or as an assistant guide and I just loved it.


Favourite peaks

My favourite mountain to climb was always Alpamayo because of its lovely ice-fluting corridor that goes straight up to the summit. At that time money was not very important for me, it was all about getting to the top and see what is above and below me. I did this for 3 years and then I attended the final 45 day course to become a fully UIAGM Certified Mountain Guide.

When I am climbing or trekking, I just hope that everything goes well, that my clients have lots of fun, enjoy what they are doing at their own pace and come back from up there safely.

I have done some technical routes as an Aspirant Mountain Guide like the South Face of Pisco, The Face of Tocllaraju and Ranrapalpa and they are not that hard when you are in a good shape.


Seeing the world

I think I made the right decision not going to the university as I love what I do now as a mountain guide and having had the opportunity to visit some developed countries and learned English as a second language and meeting people from other countries is the best thing in life.

I always will be very grateful to Kathy Jarvis and her family for opening my eyes to the real world and for paying for my accommodation, food and English lessons while I was in Scotland and the friends that I met along the way such as Tom Shearman for their hospitality.

¡Muchos Saludos Amigos!

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