December 13 we said… family, friends, and colleagues couldn’t believe it, or wouldn’t recommend it. You’re crazy, they said.
The rainy season begins in November in the Andes, and 2019 was no exception. When the weather is ‘perfect’ the snowy top can be seen at the height of the city; and it is the welcome to Cusco of every passenger who arrives by plane, because either from the north or the south, through some windows of the cabin you can see the Apu. In December there was only dark gray in the sky.
The route to Ausangate is on the South Interoceanic Highway, in the direction of Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Peruvian southern jungle, and with that we joked on the way, because for a good part of the three hours on the road, the rain was intermittent but enough to have a plan B on hand.
But we arrived at Tinke and that was the time to leave the road to find the house of Marcial, our local guide, who with his horses would help us complete the circuit to the snowy mountain in 3 days. But it was already getting late.
The first night we toured everything we could with our flashlights, to Upis, the first camp, because we knew that if the weather was on our side we had to cover as much land as we could.
And we were not mistaken, because the next morning was simply splendid, and we walked incredibly and without any company other than the eventual crossing with two trekkers and their guide who were going in the direction of Vinicunca.
The “risk” of bordering the snowy massif in the rainy season was giving its benefits, nothing more than ours in an area as vast as 66,500 hectares (665Km2), which only the day before (12/12/2019) had been named Regional Conservation Area by the Peruvian State. We were somehow, celebrating privately the fact that now, the area’s conservation measures will be supported by the official title given.
Meanwhile, the sun was still with us, but we knew that sooner or later the cold would arrive, be it in the form of rain or because it was night time.
It is said that there is no bad weather, but bad clothing. But I always think that mountain clothing and all accessories to make the experience at heights more bearable, implies non-sustainable processes: use of synthetic fibers, non-biodegradable, or recyclable elements, water-repellent chemicals, and a long etcetera. This is something that should improve soon, because these articles are made to enjoy the outdoors, but their production just contributes to the degradation of these spaces through climate change and other associated phenomena.
So I wanted to leave some questions: Where do you buy your clothes, who produces them and under what environmental commitment, how do you finally dispose of them when they are no longer useful?
Day 1 is more benevolent but long. Greater difficulties await in the next two days but also more landscape rewards.
The camp for this second night offers a position close to the Ausangate lagoon, which during the night of 13/12 saw the melting of the glacier fall in its waters during all hours of rainy darkness and also during the warm morning, favored by the clear dawn (we were still lucky!). On the other side you can see the mountains of colors that finally lead to Vinicunca, but our path was in the other direction, towards the Palomani pass at 5,200 m.
Up to this point, wildlife had been [lets say] pretty elusive, or maybe we hadn’t paid enough attention. An occasional Andean goose (especially in pairs) are the most conspicuous birds, and some farmer’s alpacas that are seen grazing at certain points of the way, are the species that we had registered so far.
We then continue our progress to Q’ampa (or Jampa), requiring greater effort and noticing the practicality of carrying bottles with built-in filters, so as to hydrate whenever necessary, because although water is everywhere, it is not a safe drinking fountain.
Evidently, carrying plastic water bottles isn’t practical anywhere. A regular, reusable water bottle isn’t either, we shouldn’t risk getting sick from water that is not to be trusted. So, options like the ones that offer LifeStraw or Grayl are undoubtedly the safer bet.
The most beautiful camp on this tour comes after having marveled at the widest views of the valley, which has been shaped by one of the meandering and capricious rivers of the area.
Here we are already in the territory of foxes and vizcachas. The former, surely adapted to the regular human presence, that wanting or not, leaves behind residues with which the scavenging abilities of these canids come to light. The latter are rodents that are almost invariably seen in rocky outcrops, which serve the purpose of giving them heat in sunny hours and shelter in case of danger.
Here we recommend optical equipment, since these very discreet animals that camouflage well in their surroundings, are not easy to see, so a camera with good magnification, light binoculars or a very practical monocular can provide good entertainment by facilitating the less conspicuous wildlife observation.
It is already December 16 and although it has rained, snowed and hailed at different times, the sunrise is once again great and the third day’s walk is the most beautiful of all, offering the greenest fields and the most snowy peaks of the tour.
The circuit around the Ausangate closes when we arrive in Pacchanta from where we will resume the displacements by car to return to Cusco (that awaited us with as much rain as we did not have during the four days of expedition).
So, in this way I say goodbye with stills from day 4 , as an image is worth a thousand words.
Queremos agradecer especialmente a Shawn Wroughton por la organización de este viaje y por el entusiasmo contagiante de iniciar la ruta en una temporada tan inusual.
Shawn is the owner of one of our favorite hotels in Cusco and an unconditional friend, which is why we don’t hesitate to recommend Antigua Casona de San Blas for your stay in the capital of ancient Perú.
By Daniel Muñoz
Translation: Claire Ritter