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Climbing volcanoes, exploring the unknown and a whole lot of snow - Four months in Peru, part II
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Climbing volcanoes, exploring the unknown and a whole lot of snow - Four months in Peru, part II

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Climbing volcanoes, exploring the unknown and a whole lot of snow <small>- Four months in Peru, part II</small>

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Arequipa, Peru, South America

Lat/Lon: 16.399°S / 71.537°W

Object Title: Climbing volcanoes, exploring the unknown and a whole lot of snow - Four months in Peru, part II

Date Climbed/Hiked: May 15, 2011

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering

Season: Fall


Page By: rgg

Created/Edited: Nov 30, 2012 / Apr 3, 2014

Object ID: 827789

Hits: 3366 

Page Score: 91.45%  - 35 Votes 

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Previously in Four months in Peru: Off the beaten track, rain in the desert and getting high.

El Misti

Misti from near the trailhead
El Misti from the trailhead. According to a sign, we were at 3415m. Only 2407 more to go!
Thirteen tourists and three guides are driven to the trailhead.

Twelve tourists and three guides reach the camp site at 4500m.

About half way up, a Brazilian got a real bad case of altitude sickness, and made the only possible choice. One of the guides escorted him down to the trailhead and called for transportation. Of course, the Brazilian had to pay extra for that. The guide didn't take long to get back up; he arrived at our camp shortly after us. The three of them cooked us dinner, but it was a bit Spartan.

Sunset from our camp on Misti
Sunset from high camp
Early next morning, all of us were in good enough shape to go up the mountain. For myself, having camped at 4900m just a few nights before, I had expected that, but the others were not all acclimatized all that well. Some had spent time at lake Titicaca, at 4000m or so, others in Cuzco, around 3300m. I suppose the Brazilian had done neither.

It was going to be a long day, so we started in the dark of the night. Uncharacteristically, at first I walked near the front. Then, after no more than an hour, the leading guide surprised me by stopping for a break. Nobody had even asked for it!

As it turned out, the plan was to keep the whole group more or less together for as long as feasible. Now, I must admit that I see the logic in that. It means that if someone gets in trouble and has to descend, one guide can go down too, and the rest of the group still has two guides. That's the advantage of being a bigger group with several guides. Obviously, if all of us were spread out widely, people needing to be escorted down could pose a big logistical problem.
Heading for the summit of Misti
We can see the summit!

However, I really don't like to pause often, so, after that, I stuck with the rear of the bunch. At the next stop, shortly after we caught up with the rest, the first ones started moving again, and I didn't have to take a break at all. Just the way I like it.

Around 5400m, we reached the snow. Time to put on crampons – a new experience for many people that try to climb El Misti.

Heading for the summit of Misti - see that summit cross in the distance?
The final meters - mind you, the summit is the one on the right!
By the way, crampons and ice axes were provided as part of the tour package, but the only instruction given was how to put on crampons, up at the snow line. As for the axes, I believe it would have been safer without them. For climbing, they weren't necessary, and without knowing what to do with one, it's better not to have an axe if you fall. Most likely you'll just lose the axe, hopefully without injuring yourself in the process.
Within reach of the summit and on spikes now, we could go up at our own speed. There was no need to herd us together anymore. A few didn't want to go any higher and one of the guides stayed with them. When I was moving, I picked up the pace, but I stopped a lot to take pictures. I was having visions from scenes from the Alps, with all that snow. It was beautiful up there!

Eventually, eight tourists made it to the summit. All in all, a pretty good percentage on such a high mountain, considering the lack of experience and acclimatization for most.

Two craters The two craters of Misti. I'm standing on the outer rim, not far from the summit, looking over the inner crater. Further away in the distance is Pichu Pichu.

Earlier on ...

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa
The snow covered summit of Misti from Plaza de Armas in Arequipa
To climb a 5822m mountain, I knew I had to get acclimatized. Before Misti, I had been hiking and sleeping ever higher for the better part of two weeks. After my cooking lesson at almost 5000m, I had arrived back in Arequipa, well acclimatized and ready to go. The rainy season had ended not all that long ago, and had apparently dumped a lot more precipitation than usual, leaving the higher parts still covered with snow. That's not always the case in May, let alone later in the dry season, but I rather like snow on the mountains. It makes for better views.

El Misti is just a walk up, and many agencies offer guided tours. It wasn't expensive, so I booked one through Zárate Adventures ($85). Now, many agencies in Arequipa will take bookings, but don't organize the trip themselves, and that's how I learned about Quechua Exploring, a thriving company that does the actual work for most of the others.

Chachani from Misti
Chachani from Misti
After climbing Misti, I wanted to climb Chachani (6057m), the second most popular volcano in the area. I tried to get a hold of Carlos Zárate again. No luck. So, I went directly to Quechua Exploring instead and booked a trip.

Avoiding the dishes on Chachani

Next morning at 8:30 sharp I turned up at the small offices of Quechua Exploring again. Unlike for Misti, where I had borrowed some gear, I brought almost everything myself this time, except for the tent and the dishes – why not use theirs and avoid having to wash up, right?

Sunset on Chachani high camp
Our camp at sunset
It was a longer drive to the trailhead, which, at around 5000m, was much higher. From there it was a short and leisurely walk to our camp site at 5200m or so. We had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sunset – which, as on Misti, happened to be right when our guides announced that dinner was ready. How's that for timing! After the sun disappeared, temperatures dropped rapidly, so even if we would not have had to get up early, our warm sleeping bags were very inviting.
Distant mountains
Ampato, Sabancaya and Hualca Hualca from the slopes of Chachani

Somehow I overslept, and I thought I would miss breakfast, but everybody else was late too. I still didn't eat much of what was provided: bread with cheese or marmalade. A bit sparse, just as on Misti. Wise from that experience I had brought a lot of snacks, to eat on the way up and to supplement breakfast. However, my bowels were a bit upset too, which was another reason I didn't eat much. I took a loperamide to calm things down and that worked well. There wasn't much said, but I concluded that the general lateness was caused by two other climbers in our camp who were worse off.

My guide started with me and Alex, a Frenchman. We left behind a sick fellow named John, who claimed to be from Wales but sounded totally American. I think that for some reason he didn't want to admit being American and picked Wales as his birth ground, thinking nobody would know a Welsh accent anyway.

Shortly above our camp, the route went up along an easy rocky ridge. Not much later, we saw only three lights following us in the second group. It was a guided group of three friends, minus one now, because he too had stayed in camp, sick. For a while at first, it looked like they would catch up, but eventually they started falling back again. As the first light struck the slopes, I saw them struggling below us. To be fair, I was lagging somewhat behind my guide and Alex myself at that point, feeling weaker than on Misti. Feeling cold too. I kept plodding on at my own pace, and I warmed up as the sun rose higher in the sky.

Moon over Chachani, early in the morning
Moon over Chachani just after sunrise. This isn't the summit yet, it's further left, and we can stay on the easy snow slope.
Passing volcanic formations high on Chachani
Passing volcanic formations high on Chachani
The summit crater wasn't very pronounced. From the rim it turned out to be only a short stretch to the summit, much easier than on Misti. However, once again the beautiful snowscape was triggering visions of the Alps. By the time we reached the summit, the wind had become quite strong, making it uncomfortably cold again, despite the sun. It was no place to sit down and have a rest. We congratulated each other, took a few quick pictures and started back down. As quickly as the wind had picked up, it subsided once we were a bit lower again. Without the wind chill, it felt fine.

On our way down, we met the others. They had sort of collapsed, with less than an hour to go. Our guide stopped briefly to talk with them. I didn't hang around, because the snow was just right to make a quick descent, without sinking too deep. Later I heard that the other group had wanted to quit, but their guide had persuaded them to go on and they finally made it. Good job by that guide! After the snow, the descent continued on scree – a different route than the rocky ridge we had followed on our way up – and it was the ideal sort, lots of stones, nice and small. We went from the summit back to camp, some 900m down, in an hour and a half. Much easier than the hard work on Misti.

Planning and preparing

Now, Misti and Chachani are the only two high volcanoes in the area that are climbed often, as they are basically walk ups and both close to Arequipa. However, I wanted more. I contemplated my options and hatched another plan. Earlier, on one of my acclimatization hikes near Chivay, I had seen this white topped peak. According to my map it was Nevado Huarancante, just over 5400m high. That meant it was too low to have a glacier. So, I studied the map and bought (... eh, sorry, I have to put down my diary for a moment, because my durum kebab just arrived – Arequipa is full of surprises!) ... food for a four day trip. That should be more than enough to explore the area.

With my preparations complete, I went back to Quechua Exploring. I talked to Iván, the owner and a mountain guide himself, and explained that I would be more than interested to climb the likes of Solimana, Corupuna and Ampato. I didn't want to go there alone, finding partners on the spot was virtually impossible and hiring a guide for me alone too expensive. However, if there would be more interest, I would be happy to join a group.

As I had expected, there wasn't anything scheduled in the near future. As a precaution, I also asked Iván what he thought of my plan to explore Huarancante. He said that it was possible, solo, and yes, there should be water up there too. Great! It's on! We said goodbye, and I said I would be back in his office in four days.

Pano Panorama of Nevado Huarancante from west by southwest. It's the first day of exploring Huarancante. I've started at Mirador de los Volcanes and right now I'm almost at 5100m, crossing the north west ridge of Nevado Chucura. I plan to camp somewhere down in that green, grassy valley today. It's called Quebrada Huanta Occo. High in the valley, my map shows a dashed blue line, but at around 4800m the line is solid. Let's hope I don't have to descend too far to find water.

Exploring on my own

Two days later, 
Cerro Jello Jello summit ridge
Late afternoon on the summit ridge of Cerro Jello Jello
I had leisurely made my way to the north side of Nevado Huarancante and enjoyed the sunset from the slopes of Cerro Jello Jello, an easy hill next to my camp site. I had started at the Mirador de los Volcanes, west by south west of Nevado Huarancante. On the hike in, I had enjoyed a good look at the snow covered south side of Huarancante. I carried crampons, but no ice axe. It wasn't too steep, and I figured that it would be possible to go up there. But since I had enough time to investigate a bit more, I decided to go around to have a look at the other side. And while it wasn't quite as scenic, having no snow, it looked like an easier climb from there.

An injured llama
An injured llama near my camp.

At first glance, it appears fine. However, it was strange that it was standing by itself and not making an effort to get away from me. Did it not see me? Then I realized that it was standing on three legs. If you look real close, you can in fact see the fourth, but completely pulled up. It must be broken.

The area seems well suited for pumas, and if there is one in the area, this llama doesn't stand a chance. I haven't seen any, but that doesn't mean anything since they would certainly be avoiding humans. Still, the fact that an injured llama is alive at all suggests that there are no large predators around. Perhaps the few local herdsmen scattered around the area have killed them to protect their livestock.
Shortly after having dinner, I got sick. I think it must have been the water. Two small streams joined just above my camp site, one coming from the north, from nearby Laguna Jello Jello, and the other from the ridge between Cerro Jello Jello and Huarancante. I must not have boiled the water long enough while cooking dinner. And at 5000m, water boils at around 80º C, so it may take a little longer to kill all pathogens.