Ok so I’m not sure how this post is going to go. We have just got back from our second trek and are feeling a bit broken, broken enough to pay for an entire hotel room just so we could take a 3 hour nap! That’s not because it wasn’t incredible but it certainly was hard. I’m going to start each day off with ‘today was tough’ because it really really was, 3 days was plenty of suffering for now!
Ausangate Trail to Rainbow Mountain
Upis – Pucacocha
Starting elevation- 14,430ft (4400m)
Highest elevation- Arapa Pass 16,370ft
Today was tough. After an early start and a 3 hour dawn drive we arrived at our trail head in the village of Upis sitting at 14,430ft (4400m). It’s just me and Willow on this trek (this should have been a warning to what was coming) but we still had a guide, a cook and horseman with us. Today was supposedly the easiest day but still started at an elevation equal to the highest point on our previous trek. We had a breathtaking view of Ausangate Mountain, a 22,000ft giant glacier in front of us, drawing us into the landscape, which was immediately very different to anything we had seen before in Peru.
The terrain was good under foot, rocky but clear pathways, a reasonable gradient but always climbing. We started off at a pace way too fast, our guide stopped and asked us if that was our pace and being beginners in the high altitude business we were like yep, to which he replied slow down chiccas. Altitude is a weird thing, it hits you sometimes but not always. By lunchtime Willow was doing some serious suffering, headache, blurred vision and nausea, our guide had a device to monitor our oxygen levels and heart rate and her oxygen level was down to 79%, anything below 80% is worrying, mine was 82%, we were probably ascending too quickly. Lunch was a welcome break, soup and carbs, lots of water mixed with Diamox (for altitude sickness) and ibuprofen (for everything else). We had our first high pass about an hour’s climb away, but feeling good from our break and taking our pace from our guide we made it to 16,370ft (4990m) no problemo.
We are essentially circling the Ausangate peak, in the morning we were facing the south side and by the afternoon we were sneaking around to the west. The landscape after every turn was just so different, sometimes it was lush and green and full of grazing alpacas, the world’s most hilarious and least majestic animal whom I fear I share an affinity, and then it would look it was like something out of a sci-fi film.
Around the next corner were beautiful glacier fed lakes, it’s absolutely freezing at this altitude, so we couldn’t stop for long, but we could clearly see our path. About now I started to suffer hard, my head felt like it was in a vice and I was very stumbly.
By the time we got to our camp I was ready to collapse, I couldn’t formulate thoughts and was not making much sense, I was trying to explain that I was finding it hard to count my steps but I couldn’t find the words, I was like ‘I can’t remember numbers in the order of the alphabet’ and I was trying to say the word fountain but all that kept coming out was fontoon. Cue mass laughing hysteria, with a hint of worry that I was having a stroke!
Tonight we are camped at the foot of the west glacier, you can hear it cracking and moving, and sudden avalanches are scary and so loud. It’s absolutely freezing, by about 5:30pm the ground and our tents were already covered in frost and it’s still daylight, we estimate the temp going down to about 10 below freezing.
We haven’t met any other hikers today, and we are the only ones camped here tonight, to look up at the stars, a night sky like I have never seen before, the milky way, right there just for us to see seems like a huge privilege only worthy of us pilgrims.
Pucacocha – campsite 2
Starting elevation- 14,760ft (4500m)
Highest elevation- 16,400ft (4998m)
Today was tough.
Slept ok for only being about an inch off the completely frozen ground. I slept in 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of trousers, 3 tops, a fleece, a down coat, hat, scarf and gloves, inside a down sleeping bag with another sleeping bag and blanket on top, it was cold but manageable except for my old lady hips which are always uncomfortable sleeping on the floor.
First up was an hour and a half climb to another 16,370ft pass. Again I was annoyed that I was in struggle town straight away, I could not catch my breath and I had to ask Willow if my eyes were open because I was struggling to see (one eye was closed which was probably why I was stumbling around). Of course we made it, we didn’t have a choice and the view of the mountain from the top was epic.
We were too cold and doddery to stay at the top so we descended to a sheltered spot for a quick snack break. Cue more hysteria for no reason, I think the phrase we have used most is ‘we need to take better vacations’. I feel like a little year 6 on a taster day to big school and have ended up on the big kids playground by accident surrounded by imposing 22,000ft year 11s. We are not quite out of our league but we aren’t quite in it either.
After lunch we had another 16,400ft pass to climb, I was really anxious about it because of the morning struggle but it ended up being ok, reaching the summit in an hour. It was almost enjoyable but not quite. The terrain is very similar to Corsica, rugged, steep and rocky except we are 10,000ft higher than we were in Corsica. It’s hard to talk for being so breathless and it’s hard to smile for fear of your teeth shattering in the cold, but the sense of achievement at every mountain pass surpasses all these feelings.
Tonight we are camping in a beautiful valley, I am now quite literally wearing all the clothes I have with me me, with each layer completely tucked in, going for a wee is quite the ordeal.
Campsite 2 – Rainbow Mountain and Red Valley
Starting elevation- 15,682ft (4780m)
Highest elevation- Rainbow Mountain 16,568ft (5050m)
Today was tough!
3am start, for thoes who know me well, I am not a morning person and I’m even less of a middle of the night kind of person. It was freezing but we had a cooked breakfast of pancakes before starting our trek to rainbow mountain for the sunrise. The walking was actually pretty ok, it helped that we couldn’t see where we were going because we were trekking via headlamps so I couldn’t psych myself up about any impending uphill sections. And within 2 hours we arrived at Rainbow Mountain, 16,568ft in height, just as dawn was breaking, the only people as far as the eye could see.
Now I’m going to start by saying how utterly lucky and blessed we were to be able to capture that moment, to be the only ones high in the sky seeing the dawn break, just for us, it was a really special moment.
Now I’m going to say that it was so fucking cold we were hyperthermic, barely able to stand, it felt like my whole body was convulsing, my face was wind burnt and my lips were cracked and bleeding. It’s so hard to get a good balance of suffering and enjoyment, and now looking back on it, wow, I can honestly say it was a moment in my life I will remember always but in the moment I genuinely thought I was preparing my body for death.
We lingered way to long at the top, Willow was uncontrollably shaking and I unceremoniously puked my pancake breakfast up right off the top of the mountain. We needed to get moving and down! The rest of the days hiking was truly beautiful, down through the red valley, wildlife becoming more abundant the lower we got.
It was a spectacular end to this trek, I feel awe and wonder at the things I have seen and experienced and conquered, I also feel broken and worn out, nothing left in my energy supply, it’s been a long time since I depleted my store to quite this level, but we did it four 16,400ft+ peaks in 3 days, mother fucking trekking champions.