Previously in Four months in Peru: Off the beaten track, rain in the desert and getting high.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Earlier on ...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 (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 ChachaniNext 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?
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.
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 preparingNow, 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.