Great River Amazon Raft Race 2012

No time to write about this right now, as off on another adventure.  Here is  a short video thanking people who so kindly sponsored me.

All donations will go towards helping ACRES establish the first Wildlife Rescue and Education Centre in Lao PDR. The centre will mainly house bears rescued from bear farms. 

The race was tough! I knew it would be tough, but it was way tougher than I imagined! Would I do it again? YES!!

Click on the picture to play the video

When I get a bit more time I will write about the experience and provide some tips.  Suffice to say it was an experience of a lifetime!!

Here is a video featuring EVERYONE  !  

Leave a comment

Filed under adventure, My Videos

Vallanaraju: mi primera montaña en la cordillera blanca

Fue difícil entender que en realidad había llegado hasta la cima. Definitivamente es una de las pruebas físicas más difíciles que he enfrentado. Tomando en cuenta que la temporada para escalar estaba por terminar, y después de haber estado a 4000 m. el fin de semana anterior en Huayhuash. decidí que si iba a escalar una montaña, tenía que ser en ese momento. Inclusive después de haber participado en la caminata (o senderismo) en Huayhuash y haber obtenido un poco de práctica, mis músculos y mi corazón hicieron un ejercicio maratónico.
Mi guía fue Rommel, la persona que nos guió en Huayhuash y el organizador de la actividad de ciclismo en la montaña, parte del viaje educativo al aire libre en Huaraz Gracias a su personalidad callada y centrada, Rommel fue el guía perfecto para mí, aunque admito que algunas veces mientras escalábamos no sentí lo mismo.
Viajamos a Huaraz en la madrugada del Jueves en un autobús de primera clase, con asientos cómodos y una mesera que ofrecía bebidas y snacks y llegamos a Huaraz el viernes temprano. Rommel me alojó en una habitación en la casa de sus padres y me dejó ahí por un par de horas, mientras él organizaba el equipo que debíamos llevar. Estaba demasiado emocionada, pero finalmente me dormí un par de horas antes de que él regresara con una mochila, una piqueta, polainas, crampones, y una bolsa de comida, y supervisó lo que yo había empacado. Él verificó todo y me dijo, sin dudar, qué era lo que no podía llevar. Fue muy divertido, me dijo que dejara mi diccionario, y cuando vió mis sandalias me preguntó si creía que íbamos a ir a la playa.
Tengo un cariño especial por mis “Tevas“ (la marca de mi sandalias), por una razón simple y lógica. Sinceramente desconozco la razón, pero siempre tengo la necesidad de tomar mucha agua, y eso significa tener que ir al baño en repetidas ocasiones, y eso es tanto de día, como de noche. Es muy complicado para mí tomar la decisión final de salir gateando de la bolsa de dormir para ir al baño en la noche, después de haber estado acostado por horas, luchando en contra de mantener la vejiga llena o salir de la tienda de campaña al frío, pero cuando tomas la decisión final, lo último que necesitas es tener que ponerte las botas para escalar, especialmente cuando estás usando calcetines gruesos de alpaca. Después de haber sido ajustados la noche anterior, los “Tevas“ pueden ser colocados o removidos de manera fácil. Estaba decidida a empacar mis “Teevers“, pero parecía que “ir a la playa“ fuera un término relacionado con las montañas, porque mi guía no paró decir que parecía que yo iba a hacerlo.Rommel también me dijo que no llevara dos tiendas de campaña, lo cual me hizo sentir más necesidad de llevarlas. Ya es suficiente malo despertar en una tienda de campaña, y si a eso le sumamos despertar a un guía de mal humor… Bueno, sacrifiqué el diccionario, pero empaqué mis Tevas.Antes de irnos al taxi de la plaza de la ciudad, tomé algunas fotografías de Vallanaraju con las dos montañas gemelas que se ven como dos orejas de gato. Se veían a una distancia increíble, muy altas, casi imposibles de escalar. ¿Realmente iba a escalar hasta allá arriba? El viaje hasta la base del campamento fue largo y difícil, y no muy popular entre los choferes de los taxis, y necesitaban de un muy buen incentivo económico para llevarnos hasta allá.Llegar a la base del campamento fue un poco abrumador porque todas las subidas eran demasiado empinadas. El lunes anterior por la noche, fui a la casa de Rommel y de Guinevere a cenar, (con su hija adorable, Tamia), y él me preguntó si necesitaba un ayudante o si podía llevar mi propio equipaje, pero yo no estaba segura, ya que no había llevado un paquete desde mucho antes del accidente. Incluso en Huayhuash teníamos burros y sólo llevaba una mochila. El paseo desde la base del campamento hasta el campamento morrena en Vallanaraju era demasiado empinada para los burros, sin embargo Rommel me aseguró que nos tomaría dos horas, y teníamos todo el día para llegar allí. Me dijo que podría tomarme todo el tiempo que quisiera. Rommel pronto se arrepintió de decir eso, porque me llevó ¡5 horas! A pesar de que la subida era muy empinada y mi mochila pesaba alrededor de 18 kg, fuimos a un buen ritmo durante la primera hora. Entonces las cosas empezaron a ir mal, porque tenía calambres estomacales repentinos. Rommel estaba liderando y estaba un poco frustrado por la interrupción constante. Traté de convencerlo de que siguiera sin mí, y me sentí aliviada cuando, después de casi dos horas me dejó y se fue a su propio ritmo.Yo estaba en agonía y teniendo que agacharme detrás de las rocas con frecuencia (haciendo ruidos terribles, ya que estaba sofocada). Sí – usted lo adivinó – ¡tuve diarrea! Ahora, como he mencionado anteriormente, yo no sé mucho acerca de los efectos de la altitud, pero yo estaba bastante segura de que la diarrea no era uno de ellos – mis sospechas yacían pesadamente sobre el sándwich de pollo servido por una dama que usaba un ajustado uniforme rojo en el autobús! Por un lado, la altitud por lo general me da dolores de cabeza – y no dolores de estómago, y yo no era mayor de lo que había sido el fin de semana anterior. (Además – ninguna persona usando un vestido rojo ajustado es digna de mi confianza) 

Cuando finalmente escalé por todo el camino de piedra interminable, Rommel ya había establecido un campamento. Después de intentar todo lo posible para darme una jovial bienvenida y felicitarme mientras tomaba una foto de mi llegada, Rommel expresó su preocupación por mi ritmo extremadamente lento, y su temor de que yo no tuviera la fuerza para la cumbre de la montaña. Antes de que pudiera detenerme le dije que tenía diarrea! Estaba bastante tranquila después de eso y yo estaba segura de que iba a tratar de convencerme de volver a bajar. En su lugar, me sugirió ir directamente a la cama y descansar tanto como sea posible y ver cómo me sentía en la mañana. Hice exactamente eso. No podía comer de todos modos y antes de las 6:30 pm ya estaba metido en mi saco de dormir a 4950m. A pesar de tener que hacer 4 salidas rápidas en la noche (mis Tevas fueronmuy útiles), dormí bien y se despertó sintiéndome renovada, pero había indicios de un dolor de cabeza.


Nuestro plan inicial para el día 2 era subir al glaciar y hacer algo de entrenamiento de escalada en hielo, pero Rommel dijo que la recuperación de un malestar estomacal en la altura no era fácil y que debía pasar el día descansando. También me confesó que se sentía un poco mal del estómago – ¡lo que confirma mi teoría sándwich de pollo! Cuando comenté “entonces tampoco te sientes al 100%”, su respuesta fue brusca “Puedo subir una montaña en un 20%”. Hah!

Para desayunar me obligué a comer un rollo de pan crujiente untado con mermelada de fresa por mi estómago y oré por un impulso de energía para al menos subir al glaciar. Rommell empacó el equipo de escalada y emprendimos el viaje. Y ¡wow, qué increíble era! El cielo estaba claro y azul intenso, el sol brillaba y sobre las rocas nos fuimos a conseguir nuestro primer vistazo del glaciar! Mi corazón estaba lleno (porque estaba bombeando mucho oxígeno a mi sistema, pero también con la magnificencia de los paisajes que nos rodeaban)¡!

Pasamos tres horas gloriosas en el glaciar y practicaba escalada en hielo ¡por primera vez en mi vida! Así que eran muchas “primeras veces“, la primera vez que poner los crampones, la primera vez que paso a paso subía y la primera vez anclado a los tornillos de hielo, la primera vez que mis pies pateando con todas mis fuerzas contra la pared endurecido para encontrar pinzamientos para ponerse de pie en la primera vez, blandiendo un hacha de hielo y rompiendo una y otra vez, me llenaba de astillas de nieve helada y el hielo hasta que encontraba un asimiento sólido! Es a la vez agotador y emocionante y yo estaba en el cielo!

Fui dos veces hasta el borde y podría haber hecho todo el día, pero tenía que ahorrar fuerzas para el ascenso por la noche. Volvimos al campamento Morrena y del agotamiento eufórico me caí sobre mi estera fuera y dormí toda la tarde bajo un cielo azul claro sin un alma a la vista.

Rommell me despertó por la tarde para sugerir que comiera algo y también practicara cómo ponerme los crampones. Nuestro ascenso estaba previsto para las 2am y que tenía que ser capaz de ponerlos rápido una vez que llegaramos al glaciar, ya que sería muy frío en la noche. Durante mi practica, Rommel me informó de la subida, explicando firmemente que íbamos constantemente y descansaríamos poco a poco, pero no detenernos, poque eso significaría frío. Esto también significa no detenerse para fotografías ¡”todo el tiempo”! Hmmm! (Supongo que tomar 120 fotos en el glaciar fue un poco excesivo!)

Por la tarde una pareja de Bélgica se unió al campamento morrena con su joven guía, un amigo de Rommel. Ya no éramos los únicos en la montaña. Rommel había explicado que en temporada alta, la morrena a menudo tenía hasta 40 personas acampando allí (aunque no podía imaginar cómo podrían caber todos). Al final resultó que, el hombre Bélgica se enfermó durante la noche y no acompañó a su novia a la montaña. Al parecer, este no es infrecuente. Mucha gente viene a la montaña y no sigue después del campamento morrena.

Una vez más nos retiramos a nuestra tienda temprano y estábamos profundamente dormidos a las 6:30 pm. Me sentía más confiada de haber logrado comer unos espaguetis con salsa de tomate y beber mucha agua durante el día. Todavía me sentía un poco débil, pero sólo tuve que salir de la tienda dos veces en la noche.

Cuando Rommel me desperté a las 2 am, la noche no era tan clara como antes. Era más nublada pero la ventaja era que no había viento y no era tan intenso el frío. Tomamos una bebida caliente y un bollo de pan rancio y caminamos, sobre las rocas hacia el glaciar, con los faros y las muchas capas de ropa. La colocación de los crampones y la fijación de la cuerda no era tan ardua, porque no había viento y la temperatura era relativamente baja. Nos dirigimos hacia el glaciar y comenzamos nuestro ascenso largo. Yo estaba unida a Rommel por una cuerda y él fue fiel a su palabra – no parar! Así que caminamos guiados  por la luz de nuestros faros. Las formaciones de nieve eran fascinantes, pero cuando me encontré la primera grieta ¡fue un poco inquietante! Tuve que cavar mi piolet en la nieve dura y sentarme a la barra mientras cruzaba Rommel, y luego seguí. En la segunda grieta que encontramos, Rommel esperó un tiempo para encontrar el mejor lugar para cruzar mientras miraba nerviosamente. Cada grieta parecía más aterradora que la anterior. 

Mantuve el ritmo de Rommel hasta la hora final, pero los efectos crecientes de altitud hicieron que comenzara a desmoronarme y antes de las 6:30 yo estaba agotado y realmente creía que ni podría seguir adelante. 


Cuando íbamos entre las dos cumbres, Rommel me informó que ir a la cumbre sería demasiado peligroso para él porque creía que yo estaba demasiado cansada. Yo estaba agotada y emocional. Yo no iba a discutir con él de todos modos. No importaba lo que sentía – él era el experto y él era bastante bueno en la capacidad de lectura de una persona y condición. Rommel también añadió que aunque podríamos subir la cumbre, existía el peligro de que yo estuviera demasiado cansada para ir hacia abajo, lo que sumaba nuevos riesgos. Si bajábamos demasiado despacio nos daría demasiado frío, y si nos tardábamos mucho, la nievese derretiría por el sol, lo que hace más difícil caminar. Incluso al escuchar a Rommel durante unos minutos, me empecé a poner muy frío, así que me acerqué al centro de la cresta, en el sol y traté de obtener un control sobre cómo me sentía, mientras las lágrimas rodaban por mis mejillas y no estaba segura del por qué. Rommel me grababa en la cresta. (Véase en pantalla completa con el volumen alto)
Así que sí! Si has visto el video, ya lo sabes! Llegamos a la cumbre! ¡Increíble! Es difícil resumir la experiencia en palabras. Supongo que tengo una idea de por qué la gente hace este tipo de cosas. Es indescriptible.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Vallanaraju………my first “white” mountain

The realization that I actually made it to the summit has still not quite sunk in. It was certainly one of the hardest physical challenges I have faced. With the climbing season nearing its end and with my having been at 4000m the previous weekend trekking in Huayhuash, if I was going to climb a mountain it had to be now.   Even with the preparation of trekking in Huayhuash, my heart and intercostal muscles endured a marathon workout —  my heart racing and my lungs heaving for hours and hours on end at every stage of the trek, ice training and glacier walking.

My guide was Rommel, our guide in Huayhuash and the organizer of the mountain biking activitiy on the outdoor education trip in Huaraz.  With his no-nonsense quiet manner,Rommel was the perfect guide for me, although I admit there were many times on the climb when I did not feel that way!

We travelled to Huaraz in style – on the overnight Thursday bus with first class comfortable reclining seats and a waitress who served drinks and snacks, arriving in Huaraz very early Friday morning. Rommel set me up in a room in his parent’s home and left me to sleep for a couple of hours while he organised our equipment. I felt far too excited to sleep, but did manage an hour before he came back with a rucksack, ice axe, crampons and gaiters and a bag of food  and asked to see what I intended to pack.  He checked everything and firmly told me what I could and couldn’t take. It was quite funny! He told me to leave my dictionary behind – a fair call, I guess, but on seeing my velcro sandals, gruffly asked if I thought we were going to the beach!

Now here is the thing with my beloved Tevas. I have a perfectly logical attachment to them. I dont know much about the biology of acclimatisation (and I keep meaning to research this) but I do know that I have to drink a lot, and drinking a lot means peeing a lot, and this goes for the night time as well! It is hard enough making that final decision to crawl out of your sleeping bag to go to the loo in the night time, after lying there for hours, weighing up the pain of a nagging bladder versus the shock of cold when you open your tent…. But when you do finally make the decision, the last thing you need is to fight your way into trekking boots! Especially when you are wearing thick alpaca socks! Carefully adjusted the night before, Tevas can be slipped on over any thickness of sock and allow for a quick get-away. I was determined to pack my Teevers, but they remained the butt of many remarks over the next few days. I was not sure if “going to the beach” is a mountaineering term or a dig at my sandals, but the expression was mumbled a lot!

Rommel’s next mumbled comment about not carrying two tents made me even more determined to pack them!  Bad enough getting out of a tent on your own, but knowing that every time you do, you are going to wake up a grumpy guide……well! So I sacrificed the dictionary and packed my Tevas!

We met our taxi at the town plaza and before heading off I took a few photos of Vallanaraju with its distinctive twin peaks looking like 2 lopsided ears on a cat.  It seemed an impossible distance away and at an impossible height. Was I really going to be able to climb up THERE?

The drive to basecamp was long and rough and not popular with taxi drivers!  They need very good financial incentive, and no wonder!

Arriving at basecamp was a little overwhelming as every which way was only UP and STEEP!  On the previous Monday evening at Rommel & Guinevere’s house for dinner, (with their adorable little daughter, Tamia), he asked me if I needed a porter or could I carry my own pack? I was not sure. I had not carried a pack for any length of time since long before the accident.  Even in Huayhuash we had donkeys and only carried a day pack. The walk from basecamp to the moraine camp on Vallanaraju was too steep for donkeys, however Rommel reassured me that although it should only take 2 hours, we had all day to get there. I could take as long as I wanted. Rommel soon regretted saying that!  It took me 5 hours!  Although it was really steep and my pack weighed about 18kg, I actually went at a good pace for the first hour. Then things started to go bad!  I got sudden stomach cramps! Rommel was leading and getting a little frustrated with the constant stopping. I tried to persuade him to go on ahead. I was secretly very relieved when after almost two hours of stopping every few minutes; he finally left me and headed up at his own pace. I was in agony and having to duck behind rocks frequently (making terrible gurgly noises)! Yep – you guessed it – I had diarrhoea! Now as I previously mentioned, I don’t know that much about the effects of altitude, but I was pretty sure diarrhoea was not one of them – my suspicions lay heavily with the chicken sandwich served by a lady in a tight fitting red uniform on the bus! For one, altitude usually gives me headaches – not stomach aches, and I was no higher than I had been the previous weekend. (Besides – anyone that fat wearing a tight red dress should not be trusted!)

When I finally made it up across the never-ending boulder path, Rommel had already set up camp. After trying his best to give me a jovial welcome and congratulate me as he took a photo of my arrival, Rommel expressed his concerns about my extremely slow pace and his fear that I did not have the strength to summit the mountain. Before I could stop myself I blurted out to him that I had diarrhoea! He was pretty quiet after that and I was sure he was going to try and persuade me to go back down.  Instead he suggested I go straight to bed and get as much rest as possible and see how I felt in the morning. I did just that. I couldn’t eat anyway and by 6:30pm I was tucked up in my sleeping bag and fast asleep at 4950m. Despite having to make 4 quick exits in the night (my Tevas came in handy!), I slept well and woke feeling refreshed and no hint of a headache. Another argument for my case of an upset stomach as opposed to altitude sickness.

Our initial plan for day 2 was to go up onto the glacier and do some ice climbing training but Rommel said recovery from an upset stomach at altitude was not easy and I should spend the day resting. He also admitted to me that his stomach was feeling a little funny – further confirming my chicken sandwich theory!  When I remarked “so you are also not feeling 100%”, his abrupt response was “I can climb a mountain on 20%!”. Hah!

For breakfast I forced a stale crusty bread roll slathered in strawberry jam down my stomach and prayed for a boost of energy and requested that we at least walk up to the glacier.  Rommell packed the climbing gear and off we headed. And wow! How amazing it was!  The sky was clear and intensely blue, the sun was shining and up and over the rocks we went to get our first glimpse of the glacier! My heart was bursting with not only coping to pump enough oxygen through my system, but also with the sheer magnificence of the scenery around us! We spent three glorious hours on the glacier and I practised ice climbing for the first time in my life! So many firsts! The first time putting on crampons, the first time stepping up and over a ridge anchored to ice screws, the first time kicking my toes with all my might into the hardened wall to find grips to stand up on, the first time wielding an ice axe and smashing it over and over, showering myself in splinters of frozen snow and ice until it found a solid hold!  It was both tiring and exhilarating and I was in heaven!

I went twice over the edge and down the ice and back up again and could have done it all day, but I had to save my strength for the night ascent. We went back down to the moraine camp and in elated exhaustion I crashed out on my mat outside and slept the afternoon away under a clear blue sky with not a soul in sight.

Rommell woke me late in the afternoon to suggest I try and eat something and also practice putting on my crampons. Our ascent was planned for 2am and I needed to be able to put them on fast once we reached the glacier, as it would be very cold in the night. During my practising Rommel briefed me on the climb, explaining firmly that we would go steadily and slowly but not stop, as stopping would mean getting cold! This also meant not stopping for photographs “all the time”!  Hmmm! (I guess taking 120 photos on the glacier that morning might have been a little excessive!)

In the late afternoon a Belgium couple joined the moraine camp with their young guide, a friend of Rommel’s. We were no longer the only ones on the mountain. Rommel had explained that in the high season, the moraine often had up to 40 people camping there (although I could not imagine how they could fit). As it turned out, the Belgium man got sick in the night and did not accompany his girlfriend up the mountain.  Apparently this is not uncommon. Many people come to the mountain and do not make it past the moraine camp.

Again we retired to our tent early and were sound asleep by 6:30pm. I was feeling more confident having managed to eat some spaghetti with tomato sauce and drink plenty of water during the day.  I was still feeling a little fragile but only had to exit the tent twice in the night.

When Rommel woke me at 2am, the night was not as clear as previously. It was more clouded but the upside was there was no wind it was not so intensely cold. We had a hot drink and a stale bread roll and off we trekked, up and over the rocks towards the glacier, with headlamps and many layers of clothing. Putting on the crampons and fixing the rope was not so arduous as there was no wind and the temperature was relatively mild. We headed up onto the glacier and started our long ascent. I was attached to Rommel by rope and he was true to his word – we did not stop! It was eery walking by the light of our headlamps.  The snow formations were fascinating but coming across my first ever crevasse was a little unsettling! I had to dig my ice axe into the hard snow and sit down to anchor Rommel while he crossed, then I followed while he anchored me. The second crevasse we reached, Rommel walked a long it to find the best place to cross while I nervously looked on. Each crevasse seemed scarier than the previous. I kept pace with Rommel up until the final hour but the increasing effects of altitude saw my resolve start to crumble and by 6:30 I was exhausted and did not really think I could go on.

When I did finally make it to the ridge between the 2 summits, Rommel informed me that going to the summit would be too dangerous for him because I was too tired. I was surprised at how I felt – I pretty much didn’t care! I was exhausted and emotional. I wasn’t going to argue with him anyway. It didn’t matter how I felt – he was the expert and he was pretty good at reading a person’s ability and condition. Rommel also added that even if I did try to summit, there was the danger of me being too tired to go down, which added further risks. If we went down too slowly we would get too cold, and the longer it took us the more melted the snow would be from the sun, making it tougher to walk. Even listening to Rommel for a few minutes, I started to get really cold so I moved over to the centre of the ridge, into the sun and tried to get a grip on how I was feeling, as tears were rolling down my face and I was not sure why. Rommel videoed me on the ridge.(this one you need to watch in full screen with the volume loud!
So yeah!  If you watched the video, now you know!  We made it to the summit!  Unbelievable!  It is difficult to sum up the experience in words. I guess I got an insight into why people do this sort of thing. It is indescribable.

7 Comments

Filed under Trek

Huayhuash: amazing trekking!

And now for a new adventure: The Silver Award trek: 12 students, 2 teachers & 1 guide.  Heading east again on the same journey as to Huaraz except this time in the moonlight. The full moon gave an eery effect to the striking scenery, making the mountains gleem silvery like tall ghosts on either side of the valley, towering above us. After an 8 hour bus ride we arrived in Chinqua at 1am at 3350m altitude. Despite the hour the town was alive with marching band, fireworks, crackers and general joviality in some kind or anniversary celebration that lasted through the night and continued to accompany our early breakfast in the Huayhash hotel.

The drive from Chinqua to Llamac to commence our trek was another adrenaline charged experience! The reaction of the other staff members confirmed that it was not just my paranoia – it really was quite a terrifying drive down a zig-zagging narrow windy gravel road, descending into the valley and up the other side.  However, when I did chance a glance, it was stunning. In Llamac we gave our backpacks to the “arreros” (donkey drivers) then began the steep ascent of our trek.

The previous week when I had been teaching the students how to unpack, set up and pack their tents, the teacher in charge gave me the map and indicated the journey. I admit I was a little taken aback when she said the first day of trekking entailed a 1000m ascent over 15 km, estimating it to take 8 hours. That sounded pretty tough to me! Well it certainly was! It was up and up and up with no relenting. We ended up having to use the back up ponies as some students succumbed to exhaustion or the effects of altitude or a combination of both. We finally got to the Pampa Llamac pass at 3pm, having set out at 8:30am.

However the journey was far from over! We had to descend into the next valley and walk to Laguna Jahuacocha. It sounded easy and indeed magestic, but it took far longer than anticipated with us arriving close to 7:00pm, in the dark. It is not easy setting up a tent with a head torch. It is even harder when the tent pegs are missing!! We also had tired, hungry, thirsty and grumpy kids.

Amazingly I slept well and at 5am when my bladder alerted me, I crawled out of my tent, convinced someone had put on a floodlight!  The full moon was so incredibly bright that you could not look directly at it. An hour later Rommel woke me saying “Karen, now is the best time to take photos!”. And wow! The sun was behind the mountain and the early light revealed a blue cloudless sky, frost underfoot, ice on the lake and clear views of the Cordillera Huayhuash (mountain range).  No wonder National Geographic rate this as the 2nd best trek in the world, next to Annapurna in Nepal.  I could not stop taking photos and saying “WOW”!

The day continued to reward us with clear skies as we headed off on a shorter 5km trek to the next lake. However at 4100m, any trek is tough! We walked all along Lake Jahuacocha and then up another hill and onto a ridge to another amazing surprise.  I have never seen such a colour as the rich turqouise of the higher Laguna Solteracocha. It lies at 4120m and is surrounded by high walls and cornices.  Standing on the edge, looking over towards Rondoy, Yetupaja, Razac & Civla Mountains, you feel you could almost reach out and touch the huge glacier. We were so close you could clearly make out the seracs. Here we had our lunch.

Rommel suggested I go on and walk up to the next pass: Sambuya Punta (without the students). It was another 800m higher and he estimated it would take me 3 hours. It was tough, but again, just a feast of views with new peaks revealing themselves in differing perspectives and light. I was also entirely alone – not a soul in sight. It took me 2 heart-pounding hours. I took a photo looking back at the lake every half an hour and I just did not seem to be getting any further away! It was steep!  Finally I got over a ridge and could see where I was heading – the pass was between sharp rocky peaks. Once there I could see over into the next valley and beyond.  I used the timer on my camera for the first time to get some shots at the pass. I took 3 shots from different angles, but also nearly got blown off!  The only thing missing was prayer flags! The descent was awful! I was terrified in the first 50 m that I would end up on my bum and slide all the way down. It was hard getting a grip on the bare gravel on the top section. It took me an hour to get down and another hour to get back to the camp. I was glad I went – it was a physical challenge but worth it. I certainly pushed my limits.

That evening the lovely wife of our horse man invited me into her hut for a steaming hot cup of “Mate de Coca”- now that’s the secret to my trekking success!  Hah!

5 Comments

Filed under Trek

MACHU PICCHU

What can I say about Machu Picchu?

It is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and certainly lives up to this title. Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th Century Inca site. “Pre-Columbian” meaning before the Spanish invaded! (actually the term commonly refers to time before any European influence).  It was an Incan estate for an emperor, built on a mountain ridge on the Urubamba Valley at 2430m altitude. It was abandoned during the Spanish conquest: decades of fighting that caused the collapse of the great Inca Empire. In the 12th Century, the Inca were originally a pastoral tribe in the Cuzco region of the Andes, who began expanding after victoriously defending themselves against an attempted overthrow by the Chankas, another Andean tribe. (This they did by mythically turning stones into soldiers – they dressed stones as soldiers to deceive the aggressive Chankas – but that is a whole other story)

The interesting thing about Machu Picchu is how long it remained hidden from the outside world, including the Spaniards! It was only in 1911 that the American Yale History professor: Hirram Bingham, discovered the site and bought it to the attention of the rest of the world.  He was actually seeking the last Incan refuge from the Spanish conquest, and after years of exploration in the region, an 11 year old Quechua* boy led him to Machu Picchu. He began excavation work as well as notoriously taking back many artifacts to Yale University, where they are still stored and being fought over to this day (Yale’s argument being they only they have the facilities to safely store said artifacts). Bingham called the site “The Lost City of the Incas” and the National Geographic devoted their entire April 1913 issue to the site, paving the way for its fame.

Wayna Picchu (Young Peak or Huanya Picchu) is the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu that has a trail built by the Incas for the high priest to climb each morning to welcome the new day.  It is 2720m high and only 400 tourists may ascend each day, necessitating the need for advanced booking. We climbed in the second session – 11-2 and were forewarned that any sign of rain would cause the mountain to be closed.  Once reaching the top it was easy to understand why.  The summit is a pile of boulders that would no doubt be dangerously slippery if wet.  We “encouraged” all the students to climb and all agreed it was well worth the effort, as these pictures will testify.The very last section of the climb entailed scrambling through a narrow rock cave – it was nearly enough to stop me making it up but my two lovely Indian students coaxed me through.

After descending back to Machu Picchu, Emmett and I headed out to the Intipunku – a sun gate that marks the end of the famous Inca Trail and served as a guard post. Sadly I cannot find any information on the Intipunku but it was explained to me that a certain time of the year, the sun shines through in a special way that aligns the first rays with the gate and a feature on the Machu Picchu site. The views from here gave a whole new perspective of Machu Picchu. We were also treated to being the only people on the path as it was near the end of the day, with the added benefit of us view some interesting birds.  Walking along the path to the sun gate it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had been so well hidden. The vegetation is very thick and dense, as I have tried to show in one of the photographs. You can also see the zigzag path up the mountain, taken by the buses bringing thousands of tourists each day.

We stayed 2 nights in Aquas Calientes – the town near Machu Picchu (the only town – so everyone has to come through here). It is a very interesting town with many markets, hotels and great restaurants. You just need to be aware of the trains!

*Quechua is the collective term for the indigenous Andean people of several tribes that speak the Quechua language. This includes the Incas, Chankas, Huancas and Canaris and other throughout the entire Andes.

1 Comment

Filed under Places of historical interest

Train ride to Machu Picchu

The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is magnificent.  It descends along the Urubamba River and with its large windows one can enjoy amazing views of the valley, small villages and farms as well as glimpses of several mountains in the majestic Andes.  The waiters serve drinks and snacks and offer to sell a range of Machu Picchu related souvenirs. The journey passes in a heartbeat as you scramble from one side of the train in order not to miss the ever changing scenes of horses drinking in the river, farmers tending crops, children waving, hydro dams, Inca terraces and snow capped wonders.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ollyantaytambo

WHAT A BEAUTIFUL TOWN!   I could live here……  Ollyantaytambo is a picturesque town lying at 2800m above sea level, on the Patakancha River, near where it joins the Urumbamba River.  It is known for its:

  • magnificent archaeological Inca sites
  • extensive agricultural terraces on the mountains either side of the valley, all the way down to the river
  • the Inca storehouses for grain, with their unique ventilation systems
  • quarries of rose rhyolite used for the buildings
  • several chullpas: small stone towers used as burial sites in Pre-Hispanic times
  • some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America
  • the starting point for the Inca trail
  • the train to Machu Picchu

We only spent a couple of hours here but one could spend weeks exploring the various sites.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized