Adventures in Peru - I Did a Stupid Thing Today
By Vic Hanson
I did a stupid thing today. I was trying to find a trail to the top of a mountain near me; it is one I can see out my window every day. I have wanted to do it for a couple of months, but don't know where the trail is (There are trails to the tops of all the mountains here). I had searched for a trail a few months ago, but the one I tried disappeared after climbing up a ways. It is a very steep and rugged mountain, and there is no obvious trail on the upper steep part. I did see one that goes part ways up, when I was on top of a nearby mountain ridge the other day, however it is not easy to see from the road at the base. As I was walking to the area where I thought that trail should be, I saw another trail that looked like it would intersect with the one I wanted, so I took that, thinking it would be quicker. First Mistake!
Again, this trail disappeared once it started to get steep, and I still hadn't reached the trail I was looking for. As I climbed higher and steeper (bushwhacking through brush and cactus), I had to pull myself up by grabbing on the brush, and trying to avoid the cactus. It was too steep to walk, and no big rocks, just loose dirt/sand. I finally got to a slight plateau and realized that I wasn't going to meet the trail I was looking for, there was a ridge between it and me. No problem I thought, I saw a rock filled gully that looked like it went to the top. I decided to go up that, and look for the other trail on the other side of the ridge. Second Mistake!
As I climbed up the rockslide, I went around a curve in the gully, where it got steeper and turned into a dried mudslide. I again had to pull myself up with brush sticking up through the dried mud. Sometime using cactus (a lot like the yucca plants in Southern California) along the edge of the slide, when there wasn't any brush. This really wasn't too much worse, as the brush had thorns too! By now I was into more of a canyon with rock walls, and I was able to find some hand holds on the rough rocks, after I scraped off the loose, caked mud. About this time I thought, "I really should turn around and go back down, and look for the real trail", but I knew if I did that I wouldn't have time to climb back up again, so I didn't. Third Mistake!
The rocks weren't solid; they were very crumbly. When I grabbed a nice handhold, it would break off when I pulled on it, not too comforting! By now I was hoping it didn't get any steeper or worse conditions, because I didn't want to go back down the same way (I hate down climbing). I thought that surely when I got to the top, I would find the right trail, and could go down that. I was beginning to realize that I was doing something stupid, and I could be in trouble if I couldn't find a better trail going down the other side. Pretty soon I heard someone whistle up above me but I couldn't see them. Anyway, I was relieved that there must be a better route, if someone was above me, because there had been no tracks going up the way I came up. A few minutes later I saw a bird sitting up on a rock...do you suppose...sure enough, I watched it a bit and then heard it whistling. It sounded just like the whistle the Peruvians use when they are trying to get someone's attention. OK, I thought, "So maybe there isn't a better way down, now what?" I kept going up.
About this time I brushed my knee against a cactus that had long thorns. It didn't stick to my knee like they usually do, but my knee really started to hurt. There is one type of cactus here that has a thorn-covered ball at the end of each arm. It usually takes just a light brush and you have this thorn ball (which breaks off the cactus) with about 4 or 5 thorns stuck in your skin. The thorns also have a barb on the end, so they don't come out without a fight. Now you have to try to pull them out by grabbing hold of this thorn ball, without getting it stuck to your hand. I got one stuck in my fingers last year, but pulled it free and didn't think anything off it. Usually after you painfully pull it free, it hurts for a few minutes, and then the pain goes away, the same as the yucca thorns. However this time it continued to ache, and by that evening I could barely close my hand to make a fist. It was very stiff, swollen and sore. When I did make a fist, I couldn't open my hand by itself, I had to use the other hand to pry the fingers open. I went to a doctor and he said there was no poison in them, but if a thorn hit a nerve, it could cause that reaction. He said it would go away in a few days, which it did, but it was kind of a nerve-wracking experience. My knee was beginning to feel the same way. It was stiff and it hurt to bend it. I was really hoping that it didn't get worse.
By now I could see what looked like the top of the ridge, the mudslide had finished, and it was just a difficult scramble on rocks to the top. A few minutes later and I reached the ridge. Looking down on the other side, there was no trail in sight, and that side was steeper than the way I came up. It was an absolutely spectacular view; I wish I had been in a position to enjoy it. I really didn't want to go down the same way I came up, so I decided to go down the other side a ways and see if it got any better. I had already given up on going for the summit of the mountain, which was even steeper, as it had taken me two hours to get up to the ridge, and it was now 4:00 pm, two hours until sunset. I also realized that if I started down the new way and reached a cliff that was impassable, I would have to backtrack up to the ridge, and go down the way I came up. I didn't think I would have time for that before dark, although I did have my small LED headlamp with me. I tried a couple of different routes down, but neither of them looked promising. I could see what looked like a cliff down below, but I couldn't see any route around it.
After about 10 minutes I realized that it would be stupid to attempt to go down a new route, not knowing if it was passable or not, so I went back up to the ridge and headed down the way I had come up. Fortunately, even though my knee felt like it didn't want to bend, it did, and without too much pain. By now I was fulfilling the Biblical command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 - "pray continuously". I was wondering if a butt glissade would be the best way down the talus field near the top. I realized that if I didn't get stopped before reaching the large rock slide area, it wouldn't feel very good, so wisely decided not to try it. Besides, the thought of sliding across a cactus was another reason not to do it! Much to my surprise and relief, it was a lot easier going down than climbing up. I went to the other side of the gulch and found more branches to grab onto (and less cactus), and made very good time going down. That was until I grabbed a branch that pulled out of the ground. I almost caught my balance, but then fell and rolled once, fortunately ACROSS the rockslide into some brush, not DOWN the rockslide or into the cactus. I only got a couple of small scratches on my hands and arms, and was able to continue on down.
I reached the road at the bottom in less than an hour, and from there it was an easy hike on a good trail, I arrived home about 10 minutes before dark. My knee was still very sore though, so I was a bit concerned about that. However, I went out hiking the next day and thankfully my knee was fine.
Vic Hanson is the founder of Adventure Cotahuasi Tours, which offers pre-planned and custom adventure travel tours in Cotahuasi Canyon and other areas of Peru.
If you are interested in your own adventure in Peru, check us out!
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