Siula Grande rises 20,814 feet in the Cordillera Huayhuash range in the Peruvian Andes. Skier and filmmaker Nick Waggoner spent a month exploring the backside of the mountain—including the treacherous North Ridge made famous by the harrowing descent of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in 1985 (Simpson’s book, Touching the Void, was made into a film of the same title in 2003).
Waggoner says daily life beneath the 20,000-foot spires was like a dream, a massive amphitheater in the middle of nowhere that was constantly shedding ice and rock, with whole sections of the glacier calving off. “On down days we would sit around on green grass, wearing sandals, eating trout caught out of the lake a hundred feet away, reading books, and watching the mountain perform this dance of raw power,” he says. “The sound alone was incredible.”
On work days, they’d travel by moonlight, pushing up toward the glacier—where only two or three other people have ever ventured—carrying massive loads of camera equipment and ski gear, all in pursuit of capturing sunrise descents. Waggoner says he felt fear, excitement, exhaustion, terror, elation, and an overwhelming sense of visual beauty. That all boiled down to one very basic conclusion: the feeling of being alive. “I remember smiling so wide,” he says, “and almost crying from the profoundness of that kind of beauty.”
Skier and filmmaker Nick Waggoner’s award-winning South American ski odyssey Solitaire premiered in Denver in 2011 to a sold-out theater. Shot in grueling conditions over the course of two years, Solitaire takes viewers from deep in the Amazon jungle to windswept Patagonia—and defines the art of skiing in the process. Read his Adventurers of the Year profile.
Nick Waggoner's Gear Pick: Patagonia Hoody
“Depends adult diapers—it’s a scary world out there. Or maybe my Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody.”