Sometimes it is hard to sort out what to write after taking part in a monumental challenge. That is what the 5-day Ausangate trek was – a truly inspiring, challenging adventure that tested the physical and emotional limits of the 17 trekkers who took part in the journey.
The Ausangate region is cold in the Peruvian winter. We stayed at beautiful lodges where the temperatures plummeted when the sun went down. One lodge was at 4300m, the other three were above 4750m. We lived above 4700m for four days – that is higher than the summit camp for Mt. Kilimanjaro. We reached an altitude of 5150m – 200m short of Everest Base Camp.
So, there is lots to write about, a huge amount to absorb.
What comes to mind first is the people. Seventeen Canadians made the choice to trek for five days in this remote part of the Andes. Apart from our guides, cooks and shepherds, we seldom saw anyone else on the route. The high altitude, cold and tricky trekking conditions took a toll on everyone. Living continually at extreme high altitude was a new challenge for all of us.
Then there were our guides, Holgar, Mathias and Eric. These three guided us every day and in one case, into the night. They taught us about the mountains and told us stories about the apu, the mountain gods.
The cooks and cleaners travelled with us. The shepherds guided 20 llamas and horses with all our gear over the same steep mountain passes that we trekked. They reached our campsites well before us and set up the lodges for meals and restorative nights.
It is all about the people and this is where the true story lies. There were countless acts of generosity and kindness over the 5 days. You can’t trek through these mountains unless everyone works together and supports one another.
One incident, captured on video. One the longest day – 10 hours of trekking all above 4800m, we climbed the last hill to get a view of the Rainbow Mountain. It was later in the day and we had already summited one pass at 5000m. People were cold and tired.
The last hill was very steep and it fell off dramatically on all sides. Eric, one of our guides took the climbing poles of one of the trekkers and pulled her up the last hill. Several others were cold, tired out and gasping for air in the thin atmosphere.
We put one trekker ahead of the others and instructed the others to follow the same slow step pattern. The climbers ascended the hill in unison.
Take a look at the opening video for this piece. If you look closely, you can see the climbers following each other. You can see our guide Eric leading us up the hill. You can hear the laboured breathing and the wind whipping by.
This is people assuming a challenge and succeeding. This is what it looks like to trek in the Ausangate.