Where: Arequipa - Peru
As we are leaving the Salsatheka we have three a clock on a early Sunday morning. So far nothing special. Perus night life is great and it is easy to get lost on a Saturday night. However now it is some 26 hours later to the time somebody woke me with a mate and pan dulce. I haven’t slept since then. Arequipa is a great place when you want to climb a 6000 meter mountain in the morning and dance salsa in the night.
We are a four guests that booked at Lalo. “Naturalezmo actividades” or so is his agency called. He denied to give me a business card, so I can not better promote his highly recommendable company. The expedition is internationally mixed: Garry - our local driver - always laughing, Joost - the young dutch student - no glue of mountain climbing, Jesus - Catalan - badly acclimatized, Rene - German - heading to complete his personal 10th 6000-meter peak and finally me. Now we sit altogether in a Jeep, the shaky sand piste winds up the slopes of the mountains outside of Arequipa. It took us three hours from the Plaza de Armas to this pass. The motor of our vehicle did not have much power left when we stopped to drive. As soon as we leave the car we know why: the air is thin at 5000m, we are moving slowly when walking around.
The car will be parked here until tomorrow. We unload the gear from the Jeep and start hiking. Our guide, Garry, leads the way. It's not going to be a hard day, just a bit more than an hour away from the pass the base camp is set up. Also it is rather a traverse then a climb to the location. Good to acclimatize. Most of the way is easy, a rocky passage requires a little climbing.
We arrive at two in the afternoon. After setting up the tents we have some time to stroll around the base camp. Our cook, Garry, has prepared some lomo saltado for us. Not quite as good as in the noble restaurants of the city, but still enjoyable. Again I take the camera to go for a little walk. A family of foxes obviously lives close to the camp, taking their chance on the left overs from the kitchens. I can count three animals, one walks around in the rocks I explore. So if you do not want to share your food with these fellows you better do not leave it outside your tent.
Later the entertainment program becomes even better: Somebody painted the skies in a perfect red, with some further 6000m peaks on the canvas. How beautiful. But then the fun is over. With the disappearing of the sun icy temperatures of the night gain overhand. Shortly I seek for my warm sleeping bag in the tent. A zero degree sleeping bag with a fleece inlay plus my gore tex jacket at my feet will keep me warm over the night. Or at least for the next few hours....
The night is being far from over as a shaking at the outside of our tent confirms the alarm of my clock. Just past one, time to get up and ready to go for the summit. Our room service, Garry, brings some mate (tea) and pan dulce (sweet bread) to our tent. Quickly we close the zip of the tent again, the temperatures outside are anything but inviting. At two in the morning we are finally ready to leave the camp. Our guide leaves his headlight back. Jesus feels bad and he is not sure if he will make it to the top. With the help of the light he might find his way back to the camp even in the night if he has to return.
It is good book this tour at a company. The transport to the pass requires a capable jeep and driver. There is no public transportation to this spot. The next point is that the normal route on the mountain was relocated in the recent years. The old one had the danger of rock fall after sunrise, with the new route is not a problem any more. So making sure to take the right track is not trivial, at least without a capable guide. This has to kept in mind also for the tracks on this mountain. There are no signs, no marked rocks. The only thing that guides the way are footprints and some hills of stone, unless you have a local guide with you.
The first hours we walk through the night. The path is easy, a good hiking trek. Hiking boots do the job on the mountain unless there is much new snow. Nevertheless we fight hard with the cold of the night and the thin air, also some strong winds worsens our discomfort. One needs a good motivation to stand this challenging conditions. I envy Jesus for his strong will, obviously he feels very bad, however still fights hard to come closer to the summit.
For a while we can watch the sun rising, bringing a first illumination to the world, banning the darkness. Spectacular in the high mountains. Now her first rays finally hit us, reliving us from the bitter cold. Nature can be so powerful. The breath goes harder as we come close to the summit. Every few steps I have to pause. With each pause it is harder to start again. Terrible. We are slow. But then, finally, at 6:30am we arrive at some snow slopes that turn into a flat plain...on the summit. Wow, finally we made it. Jesus also! How great. Eight and a half hours of finding willpower to stand cold, wind and thin air. Then this view on top: El Misti, perfect shaped vulcano close bye, Coropuna, Ampato, all the high mountains of the Arequipa Area close bye. Wow! Wow!
Finally it is time to descent again. In case of the Chachani this is actually good news. All the way down to the base camp there are slopes with loose gravel and sand. A great way to run down a mountain. If only the air wasn't so thin. At 11:00 we have a quick snack in the base camp and put together our tents again. Easily we return to the pass and enter the jeep again. While checking the car our driver, guess who, Garry of course, turns into a mechanics: We have a flat tire and the wheel needs to be exchanged. No Problem, at four in the afternoon we are back in the city. Time enough to take a shower and see Rene and some friends for dinner. Finally I go out with my peruvian friend. It is her birthday today and I promised we would celebrate....
FRIDAY - Arequipa to Base Camp:
SATURDAY: Base Camp - Summit - Base Camp Arequipa