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.
So Climb for Kids is going to happen!
After months of planning, talking and promoting we have the 16 people we need to allow this project to take off.
Last week four more people signed on to the expedition and the entire group met for the first time at our house. This is a great group of positive people who are excited to take part in a great adventure and raise money for an organization that is actively working to change the lives of children living in poverty here in Ottawa.
All of our participants have their Canada Helps pages up and running and all have pledged to raise at least $1000.00 for Christie Lake Kids. I think they will all surpass this goal and some members have already done so.
We have group fundraisers coming up, the first one will take place on March 23 at Fatboys in the Ottawa Market. The second one will be in May.
We begin to train as a group this week and this is something that we will continue to work on together right up until the summer. This will be a tough trek at high altitude. All participants will need to be in excellent physical shape.
We are now looking into corporate sponsorship. There is a really important story to tell here and we need to have the means to do this. This will not just be the story of climbing to Ausangate, it will be the story about how Christie Lake Kids is actively engaged in changing the lives of children every day.
There will be lots to write about here. It is wonderful to be working with such a positive organization that is truly committed to bringing about change in the lives of young people.
We really hope that Climb for Kids attracts donors, supporters and sponsors. Now we totally expect that this will be the first year in a project that will continue to support social transformation in the years to come.
During our first gathering, several people talked about places they would like to trek to in the years to come.
We are going to Peru this year. Where do you want to go after that?
I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.
Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.
His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy. This is something he knows a great deal about.
There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special. The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.
It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.
Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:
If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy
We are getting closer!
Today, we signed up our eighth climber, we are now halfway to getting our group of 16 climbers for our first Christie lake Climb for Kids!
This is something we have been working for. A team of 16 climbers, an eleven-day excursion to The Rainbow Mountains of Ausangate. An opportunity to raise funds for Christie Lake Kids and their transformative recreation programs.
This what Christie Lake Kids is all about and this is why our group will be climbing in Peru:
All kids deserve a safe, healthy childhood.
All kids deserve the opportunity to learn, to achieve, and to succeed.
Teaching skills of all kinds not only builds those particular skills; it also builds self-esteem, social skills, and other positive qualities.
Children from low-income families deserve the same recreational and skill-development opportunities as other children.
Caring for children and youth is not just a private issue; it is a collective responsibility.
from CLK Basic Principles
Now we are assembling the elements of our first expedition. Our fundraising page will be ready soon. Each climber will have their own individual page so they can solicit donations from friends and followers, the proceeds will go directly to Christie Lake programming.
We will be climbing as high as 5200 meters – this is a really challenging physical and mental endeavour. To make sure we are successful, we will be training as a group. We are planning to work with Canadian Strength Institute here in Ottawa to develop a group fitness plan. This is essential, for a climb as high as this, people will need to be in excellent shape.
We will plan a series of fundraising events this spring to bring people together who want to help support the climb. These events will be great ways to learn more about the climb and celebrate with this year’s group.
We are also working with Great Escape Outfitters to help us with our gear selection. To complete our team, Merit Travel is planning the trip to Peru and booking our flights. You can’t do a trip like this without great partners and we are certainly in good hands.
What’s next? We would like to fill up the group as soon as this Christmas. As soon as this is done we will be able to launch our group fundraising page. By the new year, we should be able to start training as a group.
This is a really exciting venture. We have great partners and we as a group will be starting something brand new here in Ottawa. I am very excited about the group we have now and its just going to get better! The idea of taking part in a group adventure to raise funds for a very worthwhile organization is exciting and something worth training hard for.
In the months ahead there will be more updates as the group grows and trains together. You will all be invited to our fundraising events and all the members of our team will be introduced here on this blog.
So, if you are interested in taking part in this great adventure, you need to sign up soon. The way things are going the last eight spots will be going soon!
This year has been a little different. For the first time in 31 years, I am not in a school. I retired last December, so being away from school is not new to me. But, the first day of school is special.
So today, I needed to do something to mark this occasion. I was up almost at the same time – my wife is still teaching – and I drove her to school. I then got my trekking gear on and headed to the Gatineau, the beautiful hills just north of Ottawa.
I hike a good deal these days, especially the Wolf Trail in the Gatineau. Almost always I trek with friends or family, today I went by myself.
I wanted to have a day of quiet reflection, a day to note a new turn in my education career. I say a new turn because I am still an educator. I still work hard at connecting with other educators through Twitter, blogging and most recently, VoiceEd Radio.
I see myself now as an educator who is not tied to any school board or any official position. This is allowing me to write with more honesty about what I think about a whole host of education issues and topics. It allows me to take part in great projects like the Dream Mountains Kilimanjaro trek last year and this year a climb in Peru for Christie Lake Kids and hopefully a three-week trip to El Salvador with University of Ottawa students.
I think as educators we need to constantly evolve and grow. When we are fortunate enough to be able to retire, I think it is something to seriously consider. One can continue doing what they are doing, but I think with diminishing returns.
We always remain educators however, we just move to other stages.
Today was a wonderful day of hiking and reflection. I treasure the past and look forward to new vistas as an educator. The challenge remains the same – to seek out the new opportunities to grow and contribute.
our new logo for Climb for Kids by Mairi McGuire
A few weeks ago, I put out a brainstorming post on ways that adventure travel could be used to fundraise for non-profits.
I have learned that to raise money for any project or cause, you need to have an idea that really captures people’s imagination. It is a very competitive market out there and your idea really needs to stand out if you are going to attract funding.
Now, after a few weeks of planning and consultation, we are ready to announce a new venture that will raise money for Christie Lake Kids – a wonderful foundation here in Ottawa that provides recreation experiences for low-income kids throughout the year.
At Christie Lake Kids we believe the experience of growing up in poverty does not define a person or limit their potential. We build physical, social and character skills in children facing barriers associated with poverty through Transformative Recreation experiences.
We will be working with Exodus Travel who have really taken to the idea of adventure travel as a way of fundraising for organizations. Their philosophy, as stated on their web page is a good indication that these are people willing to take adventure travel in a new direction.
It is all about adventure. That is what Exodus was founded upon and what the company is still all about. Discovering countries, cultures, environments, cities, mountain ranges, deserts, coasts and jungles; exploring this amazing planet we all live on.
The plan is to trek through the Rainbow Mountains of Ausangate a truly beautiful part of the world.
So, the adventure begins. We want to make this a great trip for all involved, first, of course, to raise money for Christie Lakes Kids but equally important, we want to make this a wonderful adventure for the people who will be our team of fundraisers. This way we can have an experience that will continue into the future.
Are you interested? Send me a note at email@example.com and we will get in touch.
Set amidst hills in the Andes, the Imperial City of the Incas, Cuzco (3,400) was the geographic, cultural and political centre of a vast empire which, at its peak, stretched from present day Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile. After the Spanish conquistadores invaded the city they started building on top of the Incan structures, resulting in unique architecture, a fusion of the Incan and Spanish colonial styles.
The group flights usually arrive in the mid-afternoon, giving time to wander the cobbled streets admiring the old houses, visiting its interesting museums, churches and pre-Columbian buildings, or to sit in a café and sample a coca-tea.
It is recommended to take it easy upon arrival into Cuzco and to drink plenty of water to allow your body time to acclimatise to the altitude (3,400m).
There will be a welcome briefing in the hotel lobby this evening.
Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)
The hills above Cuzco city are dotted with some of the most interesting Inca ruins. We drive to the highest, Tambomachay, and return on foot to Cuzco via Puca Pucara, Qenco and Sacsayhuaman: an easy acclimatisation walk to get used to the altitude. An open-air picnic lunch is included during the hike near the spectacular ruins. The day walk is about 7km in total.
A packed box lunch is included today.
Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)Meals included:Breakfast,LunchDistance covered: 7 km / 4 miles
Free day in Cuzco to relax and further acclimatise before starting the trek. A range of optional activities and sightseeing excursions can be arranged, including visits to Inca and pre-Inca sites south of Cuzco, or walks in the hills surrounding the city but we recommend taking it relatively easy in order to adjust to the altitude in preparation for the start of the trek tomorrow. Please see the Optional Activities section in the Trip Notes for further details and prices.
Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)Meals included:Breakfast
We drive for approx. 4 hrs by coach beside the Vilcanota River, stopping en route to visit the temple of Checacupe, then the upper valley of Pitumarca. When we reach Japura, we leave the transport behind and trek a short distance to Chillca – our first tambo (mountain lodge). We will be greeted by people from the local communities, usually playing Andean instruments, and there’s the chance to try some coca tea.
Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)Meals included:Breakfast,Lunch,DinnerDistance covered: 3 km / 1 milesActivity (hours): 1.5
Trek past glaciated mountains, waterfalls and llama territory to Machuracay (4814m), at the foot of sacred Mt. Ausangate.
After breakfast, we trek alongside huge herds of alpacas and llamas in the glacial valley of Phinaya. We will ascend past the Pjachaj waterfalls and come to more glaciers at Santa Catalina. We continue walking for roughly five hours amidst huge walls of glacial moraine, and passing glaciers and glacial lagoons to reach Machuracay Tambo. Our bags, carried by a llama caravan, meet us there and the family that runs the lodge will welcome us.
Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)Meals included:Breakfast,Lunch,DinnerDistance covered: 15 km / 9 milesActivity (hours): 5-7
Over the Palomani Pass (5150m) to Anantapata (4750m) via the ‘Nevado del Inca’ sandstone formations.
Today we take in our first mountain pass (5,150m) from the top of which we are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views. Descending alongside the glaciers, we trek to the Ausangate Cocha Lake for lunch. After lunch, we see a stark contrast in the landscape as we enter a region of red sandstone sediment formations. Here, we will usually see vicuñas (a smaller relative of the llama) and sometimes condors can be seen soaring overhead. We stay at Anantapata Tambo tonight.
Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)Meals included:Breakfast,Lunch,DinnerDistance covered: 12 km / 7 milesActivity (hours): 5-7
After breakfast, we set off along a trail towards another mountain pass. Dropping down, we walk past Lake Kayrawiri, surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and the great valley below. Striations of colour are embedded in the hillsides (a geologists dream). Then we go on to Cerro Laya Grande via the extensive Glacier del Inca, and the most striking colours in the sediments of Yauricunca. We take lunch here amidst this unique landscape. On our way to our last lodge, we should see Andean geese nesting in the cliffs of Anta. Just before reaching Huampococha Tambo we pass the flat iron formations of Apu Labrayani.
Comfortable Eco Lodge (Tambo)Meals included:Breakfast,Lunch,DinnerDistance covered: 12 km / 7 milesActivity (hours): 5-7
We wake to fantastic mountain views and set off on our final walk. A steady climb brings us over our final pass, the Anta Pass. We descend from the pass and encounter some peculiar looking shapes of limestone – formations of Cretaceous age. We hike here until the end of the trail in Trapiche, where we have lunch before returning by bus to Cuzco.
Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)Meals included:BreakfastDistance covered: 11 km / 6 milesActivity (hours): 4-6
Visit Pisac market and the fortress of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley; continue by train to Aguas Calientes.
Today we visit the magnificent Sacred Valley of the Incas, including the incredible ruins at Pisac and the fortress of Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo we take the train to Aguas Calilentes (the town below Machu Picchu).
The Sacred Valley, which runs along the Urubamba River near Cuzco, is the true heartland of Incan culture and tradition, which is still strong today. The high-Andean scenery is dotted with old towns and villages dating back to pre-Columbian times. The ruins of the Citadel at Pisac guarded a road from the lowlands and gives way to a picturesque landscape of terraces carved into the solid rock itself. Whilst the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo give you a sense of the scale of what is to come as huge stone terraces scale the valley sides. This was the royal estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti as well as being of religious and defensive significance.
Hotel Casa Andina (or similar)
One of the highlights of the trip is the visit to the greatest ruin in the world, the lost city of Machu Picchu. This is one of the architectural and engineering marvels of the ancient world, in a mountain setting of staggering immensity. The Spaniards never found it; the Incas left no records about it, so Machu Picchu remains a great enigma, a city lost for centuries in the jungle until it was rediscovered in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.
We wake early to make the short bus journey up the winding road to the ruins (approx 30 mins). Your leader will give you a two/three hour guided tour of the ruins and afterwards there will be free time to explore at your leisure. There are some spectacular walks around the site that you may wish to do, including following the path to the Inca Drawbridge or even up to the Sun Gate for that iconic view of the ruins.
In the afternoon we take the train back to Ollantaytambo, from where we continue the remainder of the way to Cuzco by road.
Hotel San Agustin Plaza / Eco Inn (or similar)Meals included:Breakfast
Extend Your Trip
Amazon Rainforest extension (from Cuzco)
Easily accessible via a short flight to Puerto Maldonado from Cuzco, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and home to an astonishing array of wildlife, as well as countless plant species. Spending three nights at a lodge in the incredibly rich Tambopata Reserve, we use motorised canoes to explore its lakes and rivers, and follow jungle trails to discover its dense forests.The detailed itinerary can be found here.
Please ask your sales consultant for more details.
Lake Titicaca extension
Journey across the spectacular high altiplano to Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable fresh water lake (3,800m). Explore its waters by boat and visit the descendants of the Uros Indians who live on floating reed islands, and are also known for producing fine textiles. Back on the mainland we visit the pre‐ Incan site of Sillustani, comprised of burial towers with fantastic views over the region. The Titicaca Extension is only available after your main tour as we do not recommend arriving straight into Puno due to the altitude.