By Tammy Leland, Crooked Trails Co-founder & International Program Director
“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it!
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” –Goethe
It sat next to my bed and I must have read it a thousand times.
I was born and raised in Montana. My family spent a lot of time in the nearby mountains camping, but a few times a year we would make a special trip to Glacier National Park. Arriving at the glaciers, which reached down to the road at that time, my siblings and I would jump out of the car, run for the streams and immediately cup our hands to drink the freezing (but incredible tasting) glacial waters. Above us lay the giants of the Rocky Mountains, draped in thick glaciers and bright green meadows, and crisscrossed by all kinds of animals including grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose. The sight of the mountains always took my breath away, captured my attention in a way I could not explain and ultimately ignited in me a love for climbing the mountains of the world.
I spent most of my college years climbing technical glaciers: all of the volcanoes from Canada to Mexico. In 1997, I made my first trip to Kenya and Tanzania to climb Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro. It wasn’t until 1998 when I went to Peru that climbing became more than a love for the physical environment.
Backpacking through Peru’s Central Andes to climb some high peaks, my climbing partner and I would set up camp near a stream in the high Andean puna. Young children would just appear out of nowhere. Sitting 10 feet away, legs tucked under their grey ponchos, cracked and weathered little feet sticking out of rubber sandals and eyes shaded by felt dome hats, they would watch every move we made. Testing out my rudimentary Spanish, I would greet them with an overly gregarious, “HOLA! COMO ESTAN?” They would tuck their heads down further into their ponchos and a shy smile would take over their face. Within hours we were swinging them in the air, laughing and sharing food as the sunset and the temperature would drop below freezing. The next morning, they would be back again, but with their parents who would greet us with full smiles and small baskets of potatoes. I fell in love. I wanted to be them. I wanted to live there. I wanted to sit by their smoky fires in their mud houses and just be.
In 1998, Chris and I founded Crooked Trails and began offering immersive responsible travel programs in Thailand, then in India. But then someone asked me, “Why don’t you take people to Peru, Tammy? You are in love with the mountains and the people.” It was then I realized I had kept all these amazing experiences to myself. It was time to share.
I can return to that late afternoon in 2005, a crisp but sunny day high in the Andes Mountains, my feet solidly placed on polished stones, worked by Quechua hands over 500 years ago. I walk slowly looking across the expansive valley and see a pair of condors flying above me and then the faint sounds of an Andean flute whisper through the air and I am transported not for a moment but a lifetime to a world where worshiping mountains was a daily practice.
Serious mountain climbing requires diligent training, planning, teamwork, and a step-by-step discipline. But Crooked Trails’ mountain programs reveal that moments of connection, clarity, and wonder can be found around any bend.
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