What is required for an epic adventure?
- A hand drawn map (yes because it was better than all the topographical ones for sale!)
- Employ a local horse + horseman to carry all your food and tent, leaving you with just your clothes
- A perfect weather forecast for the first time in over a month
- The excitement of not having to carry the food you buy, and so taking TINS tramping
So with that in mind, having hired a BRAND new tent, organised food for 3 people for a week, charged up the camera, the voodoo stick (aka water purifier) and been in touch with a local horse man, we caught an early morning bus from Cusco to TInke, 2.5hours away to start our adventure.
Cafetono (our local guia) met us off the bus and took us to his hostel, where we made a plan of vaguely where we would camp each night, and that yes we could do it in 7 days. Sounded great.
Then the hiccup happened, when we got down to costing. We had negotiated the day before (through the local tramping club), that we would pay X amount per day for him and his horse, and we would provide the food and the gas. Fine. But in the costing he was charging himself out, AND his wife for an extra 0.5X, AND wanting us to pay for him to bring his own tent along (another 0.3X), which the day before we were told was always included.
When we asked why he wanted his wife to come, it became apparent that in the middle of the tramp, there was some big (?) tourism meeting happening in a small town where we would be camping, and he wanted to go, but felt he couldn't leave us by ourselves - god forbid if we got lost! We got pretty upset with him, as we didn't bring the money to pay for his wife, or the tent, or have enough food and gas for a whole extra person for a week, nor could we buy it in Tinke (population about 100-200)! Especially as we thought it had all been sorted yesterday. Eventually we negotiated that we would do the tramp in 6 days, and but pay for 7, and he would provide extra food for his wife.
Problem mostly over!
So we packed up poor old Machu, our horse, with the food, the tents and headed off on our way, Cafetono, his wife Lori in tow. It was a pretty nice day, only a bit of high cloud blowing around the top of Ausangate. Starting altitude 3800m.
First afternoon (by the time we got going it was lunchtime), was all about gradual uphill, mostly on rural roads, that might see a car once a week.
We arrived in Upis late afternoon, and set up camp in the backyard of their small house. Altitude 4300m. A bit later a Japanese couple turned up, with a cook, horseman, guide and THREE horses in tow! Soon enough they had table and chairs, a cooking tent and all kinds of other stuff up for them. We were shocked, but turned out that we were the abnormal ones. Didn't see them again.
the voodoo stick in use again
There was a nearby hot pool, and so we went to take advantage of this - japanese onsen wins by miles! But it was still pretty nice to have a soak.
As it gets dark and below 0 by 6pm, we were cooking dinner for the 4 of us by 5:30 - 3 course tramping meals are always exciting when there are vegetables and tins involved! Richard had even found tinned chicken this time!
In bed, "sleeping" before 7pm. Needed full thermals and the beanie to keep warm. Daylight next seen at 5:45am - seriously daylight saving would be great here!
Day 2 shaped up to be another stunner - not a cloud in the sky. Shook all the ice off the tent, made porridge for breakfast, loaded up Machu and headed off for our first 5000m pass.
Wandering up was actually surprisingly easy, breathing not feeling too bad - nothing like walking to the pass of Salkantay (4600m) with a full pack on. Reached Arapa Pass by early morning, and had some fruit (yes you can bring this when you have a horse!)
Machu and Lori on top of the pass
Headed down the valley, to the lakes below, where we spotted a variety of birds - some HUGE white and black ones (look like lost albatross), some trout in the lakes, and a bunch of long tailed rabbits. Apparently this is normally where they would camp for the night, but we got there before midday, and so decided to hit another 5000m pass to make the following day shorter.
Token couple photo
Looking up at Ausangate
Stopped for a spot of lunch part way up the next pass - hello 2 minute noodles. Sadly the voodoo stick seemed to die at this point, for no apparent reason, and we were pretty worried that we had flat out broken it in 2 months! As we had no other means of treating water now, except for boiling, we were a little worried we might run out of gas / get sick as we'd get lazy about it. Luckily as we were walking around a mountain covered in glaciers, there was actually plenty of pretty clean water running around.
Getting over the second 5000m pass was a little more hard work - it was much more straight up, than a sidle. But at the top we had a pretty sweet view of red/green mountains for miles.
After going over this pass, was the first and only time I was really grateful to have someone else who knew where they were going - up until then the trail had been ridiculously easy to follow. But at this point, instead of going down the valley like I thought we would, we turned a sharp right, and cut a hard right across the valley and dropped into another one. Our hand drawn map wouldn't have helped us there!
Made camp for the night beside a small stream, cooked another early dinner. Richard showed off his coordination, by managing to trip over his own feet and send Lori's dinner half flying. Luckily they had a heap of food that they weren't sharing with us, so we didn't feel so guilty about this, as they were eating more than us (we were dividing all our food by 4)
Another freezing night, yay for thermals!
Day 3, again was a stunner, not a cloud around. Set off around 7:30 for our 3rd 5000m pass (apparently 5150m). But before we went over the pass, we went past a hotel. Yes a hotel. Apparently you can pay $2000USD and stay in luxury and do a similar loop to see the rainbow mountains.
Up on top of the pass, we got our first glimpse of the rainbow mountains in the distance.
On top of the pass
Climbing down the otherside was reasonably steep, 1000m drop, and we weren't looking forward to having to do it again on the way out. Made camp at a nearby tarn after only 2 hours of walking!
Clouds had started to turn up by that point, but were generally light and fluffy and non threatening.
Headed off to rainbow mountain after a spot of lunch, leaving Lori to look after camp.
Final accent to the view point. Richard ran up this, just because he could
Man did we get a surprise at rainbow mountain. After only seeing the Japanese group in 3 days, along with the odd local, suddenly there were 30 people standing on the view point! You can do day trips / 2D/1N trips from Cusco to specifically see the mountain, and so thats where they had all come from.
But the rainbow mountains were as good as google had promised, and we spent some time just chilling and staring, until the freezing wind that had picked up drove us off the tops.
Cafetono borrowed our 'map' to show other guides that he met up there, and he was pretty stoked that he knew more than any of them.
(Rainbow mountain has apparently only just been discovered by tourists in the last 6 months, and so unless you are a local, navigating off the Ausangate loop to the mountains is an unknown, as was proved by a german group we saw, who's guide came and asked Cafetono where they were meant to be going. This group had 5 horses for 5 people!)
By the time we got back to the tent, we were a little worried that it might rain/snow/both, and it was pretty breezy.
Richard built me a multipurpose cooking facility, and good thing too, else I don't think we would have managed to cook anything the way the wind was going!
Again in bed by 6:30 - no hot drink tonight as it was just too cold in the wind to manage heating the water. Braced for snow overnight, but it never arrived.
Awoke in the morning to perfectly clear skies again! Wohoo!! Cafetono headed off to his meeting thing, and Lori took us back over the pass, and a sidle around the valley to Ausangate Cocha - a glacial lake. Only took us 4hours, and so meant we spent the afternoon lying in the sun at the lake on a rock reading our books. Until the wind picked up again and drove us into our tents as it was so cold!
That evening we had to wait for Cafetono to come back before we could cook - not ideal as its waay to cold to cook after dark. Luckily he arrived about 15min before sundown, just as we had decided to stuff it and get on with it anyways. On this night we had 2 other fully guided groups, with about a million horses between them, and one lone Israeli, who was doing it himself. Somehow, we got all the horses tied up beside our tent for the night. Man those guys have some gas!
Day 4 we were up early, as the weather was looking less than perfect - there was a bit of cloud blowing about. First on the agenda was our highest climb to 5200m (from 4200m where we had slept). Was a bit of a slog, but felt surprisingly ok at the time.
On the top had a pretty sweet view of the glacier (which has spent the whole night crashing down large lumps of ice!), and on the other side a funny red coloured lake.
Headed down into the valley below - goodbye 1000m just climbed, and passed stone houses (not dissimilar to those at M.P. but people actually live in these!), and turned up the next valley.
Here Richard found a waterfall which he went to a lot of effort to photograph for you.
Though we were walking progressively uphill, it got progressively colder and colder with the wind. By the top of the final 5000m pass we were in full thermals, beanie, windfleece, overtrousers and raincoat and only warm when walking. Saw some mountains that looked like they had been sketched, and a massive avalanche come down off a distant mountain.
Coming down the pass, we got hailed on, and generally we just wanted to keep moving, as we could see sunshine in the distance. Once we had been walking for 7.5hours since breakfast with only a museli bar, we knew we had to stop for lunch, or we wouldn't make the final 2hours to camp, hail or no hail.
Richard again created a sweet cooking shelter, while I wrestled Machu to get lunch off his back. By this point we had given up on Cafetono and Lori to do anything to help us except load the horse each morning. It felt a little like we were taking them tramping, as we did pretty much everything for them.
Lunch downed, and back on the road again. Eventually out walked the hail, and set up camp beside some more hot springs. Sadly, these ones did not have proper flow into the pool, and so we had to settle with dipping our feet in. But sooooo good.
Fed and watered and in bed before 7 yet again, but had a nice clear night and a hard frost (even though we were only 4300m again).
Final morning started off with small disaster. The stove fell over while cooking porridge and we lost the lot. No breakfast for anyone except some left over crackers - thats what happens when you try and spread food for 3 to food for 4. Lori was pretty grumpy about it, but what could we do? She wasn't even meant to have been there!
Fortunately it was only 3 hours walk back to town. Here we had been told the buses came for Cusco every half hour. After waiting for an hour we wondered if it was a joke. But then a bus did turn up, so we hoped on. And it stopped and waited there for another 20min. Then we drove for 10min to the next town, and waited for another 30min. Great.
All in all, what took us 2.5hours to get to Tinke, took us 5hours to get back to Cusco. And I had needed to pee since waiting for the bus, but not wanted to go looking in case we missed it. Not fun!
On getting back to Cusco, we got to our hostel (a day early, and had no way to contact Ludwig the owner to warn him). There were signs all over the doors saying no vacancy, and noone answered the bell when we rang. Not ideal, as he had all of our stuff in storage. After 30min we gave up and found another nearby hostel (almost double the price for an 18 bedded dorm). But at least they had a bathroom! Then headed back to our original hostel, and managed to get in, but Ludwig was not around with his keys. Learnt that he'd had a family emergency and was closing the hostel as he needed to return to Germany. After another hour of waiting we gave up in search of food - at this point it was 4:30, and all we had eaten all day was a few crackers and some lollies - no lunch as on the bus.
Finally got hold of our stuff a bit later on, and returned to our new hostel. Surprisingly, an 18 bedded dorm is pretty quiet, though we were ready for bed before 7 and awake at 5am this morning. Dulp!
Fortunately, the voodoo stick just seemed to not enjoy the cold, and so after a bit of charging its good to go again!
Now looking forward to a few days of coffee and rest, before heading off on our next adventure!