This report is a short one, unfortunately. My father and I had been planning for a few months to hike Nevado Chachani while visiting Peru with our family. As this wasn't the primary concern of the visit, we could not take as much time as we'd have liked, so we decided to attempt a day hike instead of the standard two-day guided ascent. On arriving in Arequipa, we hoped to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu first in order to acclimatize before the attempt on Chachani; however, because of some civil unrest at a location between Arequipa and Cusco, we could not secure a bus and opted to start for Chachani the following evening. The next day we walked a few blocks from our hotel Pasado de San Juan over to the adventure outfits lining Calle Jerusalen to arrange for a driver. Only a few places were open on Sunday. We settled on Eco Tours, who offered to transport up to four persons for $135 USD.
Chachani seen from our hotel A closer look
The 4x4 "road" does me in
We were both nervous and excited about this hike. In preparation I had been climbing up to 14,000' every weekend for nine weeks straight; my dad, however, lives just above sea level and lacks the convenience of nearby 14,000-foot peaks. We took Diamox (acetazolamide), which can be obtained in Peru without prescription, 16 hours, 8 hours, and just before the attempt. We got a few hours of fitful rest, and our driver picked us up at the hotel around 10 pm for the three-hour drive. Our transport was a 1980's Toyota Land Cruiser 60 series--not exactly the smoothest ride. And our driver was attempting to break a land speed record. After two hours and 20 minutes of bone-jarring, gut-wrenching roads and trails washed out and ridden with potholes and deep ruts, all the while breathing dust and exhaust fumes, we arrived at the trailhead 5100 meters above sea level; and I was sick to my stomach.
Quest to 6000 meters
I opted to hike, hoping the roller-coaster-induced sickness would subside once my feet were planted on solid ground. So we started off. Plodding upward I watched with a sense of foreboding the truck lights vanish as our driver retreated some miles to a lower and warmer area to sleep in the vehicle. He had communicated his plan to return at 10 am. It was 12:30. We hiked up 200', paused to rest; and I realized this adventure was doomed--I couldn't stomach anything. We sat for awhile, thinking, and breathing in the cold night air. It didn't seem wise to continue ascending in this state. After 30 minutes or so I made the call to retreat and likely achieve the distinction of shortest ever summit attempt on Chachani.
Quest to 4000 meters
Now we needed to find our driver, and we had no clue how far he had gone. So we began our descent of Chachani. The weight of this failure was wearing on me--all my anticipation had come crashing down--but I would have plenty of time to work it out. Because neither of us were reacting badly to the altitude, we took ample rests along the way. Eventually I started to feel better and was able to eat some snacks. As we descended the sun rose in a fiery start just beyond the northern slope of El Misti, revealing a barren landscape of arid foothills littered with rocks and spartan shrubs. And dust--dust that would rise and fill our nostrils if our steps made the slightest disturbance. I felt redeemed in small part by views of the surrounding peaks. El Misti rose starkly to the southeast, wearing a striking lenticular cap, while behind us Chachani was socked in entirely.
Sunrise Looking back towards Chachani El Misti at sunrise
We were elated at the realization each mile we hiked was a mile we would not have to ride, and we walked faster. Around 4:30 am our vehicle approached with a heaving ribbon of dust in tow. Our driver had been unable to sleep for the cold and decided to return to the upper trailhead, probably hoping we had turned back early. His pessimism was rewarded when he met us at 14,600', only half a mile from where he'd parked. We rode the roller-coaster back to Arequipa as our driver set a new world record for fastest vehicular descent of 7,000', barring free-fall. Arriving at the hotel I was again sick to my stomach.
El Misti Another view back towards Chachani (not visible) Miguel and his 4x4 steed
Did we learn anything?
No. Well, maybe.
Our time was 4 hours for 200' of gain and 2,800' of descent over 6 miles.