It’s 6am, 18,000ft in the skies above Southern Peru, I am slumped backwards, freezing against some arched rock that momentarily holds the winds at bay. All eyes are fixed east to an almost blank horizon, the black of night had long since bled violet, a Halloween orange sun began to appear behind the point and plume of an erupting volcano some 20 miles away, the only blip on the curve of the earth, like the last gasp for life on a heartbeat monitor. Amongst the men to my side dressed in thick base layers, insulated outer shells and heavy winter coats, my bones shook in an old Regatta fleece and a pair of fake $6 North Face shorts I had bought in Vietnam. With deep, purposeful breaths and a siege mentality i was able to momentarily stem the trauma in my skin and bask at the greatest sunrise i have ever seen.
Then it was right back to the suffering…
Regarded as one of the easiest ‘Ultra’ mountains in the world, Chachani, just outside Arequipa was the perfect chance for me to finally bag a 6,000m (6,075m to be precise) peak. With our year long trip nearing an end we shopped around the night before for a cheap deal, trying five or six of the tour companies around the north of the city. Settling on one costing 200 soles each, consisting of all equipment hire (I really should have taken advantage of that), transport to the trail head, dinner and breakfast at camp and two guides. Sweet deal. We headed back to bed and the next morning we left, bright and early of course.
As our jeep left the highway just outside town, this strange landscape began to reveal itself. Almost martian in its barrenness, at times starved of life and flat all the way round, apart from the looming cluster of peaks that we were headed for.
The afternoon hike from the trailhead took us around the back of the peak visible from Arequipa and nestled us in at the foot of the path we would ascend the next morning. With many of the party of about 12 feeling the effect of altitude sickness, not surprising as we made camp at 5,100m above sea level, we ate a simple meal of alpaca meat and potatoes and all retired to our tents for the evening.
As we rose at 1am it was apparent that we would not all be attempting summit that day, several unable to move from their tents, and a few leaning out and vomiting their morning song. And so in the dead of night we began to walk, miniature step by miniature step we ascended, lit only by the moon and the slash of meteors across a faded milky way (it really was something to behold). Stopping every 5-10 minutes to catch our breath, we would huddle together to fight off the ambient -15 degree morning, as daylight broke and we rounded to the opening to a neighbouring peak, the gale force winds bit and groped at a balmy -25 (remember the bit where I said I was wearing shorts).
We hit the summit somewhere around 7.30am, as my bones shook I remember flashes of clarity as our group shared in mutual congratulations and views that seemed to float on the horizon forever. With everything below but the moon and stars, I bombed for the bottom, sick with altitude and distraught from cold I slid past the horizontal ice fields and bounded alone down a thick ‘path’ of sand.
What strange ways we find pleasure in life.
For any specific details, please contact me through the website.
And for a brief history on the strange, macabre goings on in these hills, check out my vlog of the trip below. Peace.