Adventures in Peru - Trying for 16,000 Feet - Huambo Part 2
By Vic Hanson
About a month previous to this, I hiked up to an extinct volcanic crater near my house. I got up to 15,000 feet on the slope of the crater and ran out of time so had to go back down. It looked like the rim might be another 1,000 feet higher. On a Monday I decided to return and try to get to the top of the rim on the crater. Unfortunately, due to getting to bed too late the night before, when my alarm went off at 6:15, I couldn't drag myself out of bed. "Just a few minutes more" turned into 15, then 30 and I finally got up at 7:00. Part of the problem is that this is the coldest time of the year here, it gets down to about 40 degrees F. at night outside and just below 60 inside. Still not moving very fast, I didn't leave the house until 8:25. By now it was up to 50 degrees but I was hiking in the shadow of Cerro Huiñau so it took a few minutes to get warmed up. Going up hill helped, and soon I got into the sunlight and had to take off my fleece jacket.
I was going to take the same trail as last time, at least to the base of the crater but I guess I wasn't paying attention and soon realized that I was on the wrong side of a water reservoir. That one was easy; I soon found the correct trail on the other side. Shortly after that I came to a fork in the trail and decided to take the left fork, as the right one didn't seem to be a main trail and it didn't connect up with the trail at the road crossing above. What looked so promising soon turned into a bushwhack up terraced fields which was no fun. When I came to an irrigation canal going to the right I followed that and was soon at the correct trail. I came to another fork and again tried the left one and that turned out to be the right choice, I was soon right at the upper trail across the road that I had to hunt for last time.
Making good time, I started up a very steep section and was busy looking at my altimeter watch to see how fast I was climbing. It was between 30 and 40 feet a minute, and I was feeling good, not having to stop and rest. Up past two waterfalls, a couple of small houses and soon into a terraced pasture. Wait a minute; this isn't the same trail as last time! I had missed the trail again, probably looking at the altimeter too much. Again a bushwhack up, got to another canal, took it to the right and was back on the correct trail, but this time I had wasted over 30 minutes trying to find a passable route. I was soon at the base of the crater, which is open on the front side so it is kind of a horseshoe shape. Last time I had stayed on the floor of the crater and went straight up the slope on the backside of the crater. This time I figured it would be faster to start on the left side of the "horseshoe" and follow the ridge up and around to the center and highest part of the rim.
My house is at 8800 feet. After climbing almost 4,000 vertical feet, I was starting to drag. I always seem to "hit a wall" at about 13,000 feet. Even though it was early for lunchtime here, I decided to stop and eat at 13,000 feet, which was about four hours from the start. After lunch, I had another 30 minutes of rocky, brushy slope and then made it to the start of the rocky ridge. I was expecting this part to be easy as there is often an old use path on the ridge but this was a very rough ridge, lots of large rocks and boulders, and very slow going. There were numerous times when it looked like there was an impassable rock cliff ahead of me. It was a fairly narrow ridge with a very steep slope on the right and a drop off on the left. However as I got close to each obstacle, I was able to find a way over or around it and was able to keep climbing. It was mostly 3rd class scrambling with some 4th class to keep my attention focused. The worst one came at about 14,500 feet. By this time I knew I wasn't going to have time to get to 16,000 feet and it looked like I might not even make 15,000 feet. There were these large boulders and slabs of rock, stacked up on end and leaning on each other. At first it looked like I could go under but that looked too scary so finally ended up climbing over. It reminded me a lot of the climb up Mt. Russell, next to Mt. Whitney, except not as much exposure here most of the time.
I was getting near my original turnaround time of 3:00 pm but had already decided that I was not going to return the same way. I could see a steep sand and gravel slope near what I hoped was a 15,000 foot peak, so had decided to slide down that to the crater floor. This would be much quicker so I didn't have to worry about the time deadline anymore. The almost full moon was due to peek over the rim any minute and I knew that I could be back to a good trail before dark. There, with the bright moon, I was looking forward to another nice night hike back. My target peak turned out to be a few hundred feet short so had to keep going to the next peak, which registered 15,040 feet. Just about this time the moon came up, but I was a day earlier before the full moon, so there was still an hour of sunlight left and the moon wasn't near as bright as last time.
It was a pretty quick slide down, even though I had to keep moving over to the left or right to find a good gravel slope to slide down. I did make one mistake, instead of going all the way down to the crater floor and easier flat hiking (and maybe even a trail), I decided to traverse the side of the crater about 2/3 of the way down, thinking it would be quicker. It turned out to be very rough, rocky and with tall grass, so it was hard to see where to step, as well as at a steep slope, slow and miserable going. About halfway back I decided to give up the slope and go down to the crater floor. There I found a trail going my way almost immediately and was soon back at where I started up the ridge, just as the sun was setting. I was about 30 minutes earlier than the last time but the moon was higher as well. After seeing a beautiful sunset, I had a nice moonlit hike home, and didn't even need to use my headlight. The first time I had to use it some, where the moon was still hidden behind the mountain or trees. Reminded me of how much I miss all the full moon hikes we did in Los Angeles before I came here.
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. Have a look and start planning your adventure in Peru right now.
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