Southwest Peru, Ausangate, fourth highest mountain in the country and seventeenth in the Andes, forms a large mountain massif, the main peak is 6372 meters at its highest point. It dominates the Cordillera Vilcanota, a particularly wild region of Latin America. The area around offers an impressive landscape of mountains, glaciers, lakes and streams.
This splendid summit is around turquoise lakes and Alpacas and Vicunas live free in it. Lagoons, vast plateaus and forests of stone, make this area a paradise, completely isolated from the modern world. It is impossible not to fall in love with the beautiful sunsets over the permanent snow.
I am in the sleeping bag, it’s freezing cold. At 4715m, we just set the mini camp. It is 19:11, the night is dark. This is false, it is brilliant, thousands of stars are looking at the earth. And I’m a lost point in one of the most beautiful places in the world. High in the Cordillera of the Andes, attached to Mount Ausangate I walk around for 4 days. Today I start on the second stage with a single pass at 4700m. I left the small houses of Alpaca breeders, to reach the mountain and walk around on the right. Little by little, the landscape opens onto beautiful valleys where eagles and a multitude of birds flying over the Vicunas’ territory in the mountains. With their small cuddly toy’s mug, they devour the mountain grass, guarded by the few farmers in traditional costumes. Earth is ocher, dark red, sandy, rocky, pungent, dry. It surrounds with the white coat of Ausangate, staring at me at each step.
I sink into the shakings that move my whole body. But I fight because I want to close my eyes as late as possible, to shorten the freezing radical phase.
Last night I slept at the “arriero“‘s place accompanying me, where I chose to put up my tent in the straw and rabbit droppings. It was the first night, the one where you shiver because you forgot to take all precautions. This time, I set up my tent great, tight like skin ass. The novice’s mistakes in Patagonia are far away now, when I left my canvas home in the hands of wind, that played me his best icy symphony, transforming in into a drum.
That first night, when you ask yourself what you’re doing here. You seek in the dark hoping to win this little torture initiation, that begins in the feathers of the sleeping bag. I woke up in the night, thinking it was the dawn, because of the light illuminating my tent. Opening the zipper of the tent, I found myself face to face with the moon irradiating the hay field.
The night was going to be very long with this permanent shivers.
Tonight, I’m going to fight harder. I have with me, pirated books of Garcia Marquez, and I’ll test the power of poetry against freezing temperatures. This is the second time I face long dark nights, because of my previous treks to the ends of the world, in Iceland and Patagonia. There, I experienced whole day walkings till the eternal sunsets give way to the cold night. Here, the light periodes dedicated to walking are reduced and you have to stop early enough to find an acceptable location to put up your tent. Today, I’ve chosen the site between huge rocks to shelter from the wind. I’m pretty proud, it’s flat and my mattress is placed on grass forming an ideal carpet. Alberto has settled a few meters, near a 4 meters stone, against which he prepares the food. A Chinese soup and pasta with tomato have filled our bellies in the dark, under 15 layers of clothing. I was blown away on arrival, with a dash of olive oil in the pan, and corn exploding into a magical popcorn at the altitude of Mont Blanc.
I knew that there two challenges waiting for me on this trek: altitude and cold. My little heart responds great. After 2 days of acclimatization in Cusco, where I slept constantly, I am good, I pass the stages and the passes without problems, I believe that I can go much further for the next destinations, beautiful prospects on my mind. I look at this mountain so close to me, but that I can’t climb on because my inexperience is complete. It is a matter of time because the desire is there.
My heart doesn’t panic and accompany my walking, squirting blood in every sense because all the organs fully consume the so rare oxygen.
Earlier, I’ve acted as a fool running 100 meters uphill, all my strength leaving me for ten long minutes. A lesson for the novice.
Now, a moth is walking on my tent, attracted by my headlamp. Alberto’s listening to his radio and Cumbia that doesn’t leave him for a moment.
I wanted to do this walk alone but on the forums, they advised me to be accompanied because some hikers have been robbed a few years ago. And then they warned me against altitude sickness. This time, I had little time to prepare and I arrived exhausted from the stress of work, so no unnecessary risk. And this time I want to come back in one piece because I have my first ascent of a summit that awaits me in three weeks (the Mont Blanc). This stunning trek is part of a series of major slaps in my face, and I want to keep giving my cheek.
I admit, I’m a coward, because we are three on the road, a horse is with us, and he’s carrying my bag. Alberto suggested me to do so, as he does with all his clients, and I abandoned my principles. I don’t miss my bag, my steps aren’t so heavy now, I fly like a kid, taking the lead. This is a free walking without spokes in the wheel, the look up devouring horizons.
But I am separated from my water, the essence of my body. I have begged Alberto for him to prepare a stock for tomorrow. Because today I may have drunk non-potable water, my urine was bright yellow, sign of imminent dehydration. Here I am surrounded by sources of water flowing from the mountains, but they are all infected because of the Alpacas, donkeys, sheeps, wild rabbits, dogs, that are everywhere. Lagoons are turquoise, but the water has to be boiled. Alberto takes care of this while I’m fighting against the cold, because my head is exploding, not because of the altitude but cold. It makes you want to abandon everything, but in the morning when you open your not enough cosy den, the first sunbeams burn your skin. Tea’s flowing into my throat, and then my motivation is at its top. Mercilessly, I string my package and … let’s go.
Tonight, I’ve put 15 layers on me and the night’s going to be good. Dogs are howling in the night, I hear their echo in the mountains. They defend their herd of cattle against night predators. In the herds, there are sometimes very young animals that are barely standing on their four legs.
Walk and look at the sublime.