|Well it is now Monday and I am writing this, so I must have survived the Andean trek. I must admit that it was incredibly hard, probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, in terms of physical effort. Before we started out I was a bit concerned as you know, but at least the five days before we started we had already been at a high altitude so my body had more or less acclimatised.
Friday morning we got up early, as usual, and started out on the first day of our trek at about 8.30 a.m. We walked up a valley along the river and started out at 3,000 metres, which is already about as high as most peaks in the Alps get. Following the course of the river we steadily climbed and of course I soon had trouble keeping up. With Christiane and Jean, a couple from the Alsace who are a bit older than me, I soon formed the last "party" of the group, but still keeping a relatively good pace and arriving maybe 20 minutes later on a stop then the first ones. In the meantime it had started raining on and off and the ponchos we had bought the night before in Cusco came in handy. Somewhere between 3,500 and 3,800 metres I really had trouble following not so much from the exertion as from not getting enough oxygen to my muscles, and for quite a while I was trailing. From Christiane I learned quickly to take steps that are as small as possible and in that way to control my breathing and not get out of breath. In parts that were not too steep that was enough to keep a steady, if slow, pace.
The surroundings were beautiful, small terraced fields with indiginous crops, wandering lamas, alpagas, cows, pigs and what have you. The porters and horses carrying most of our gear came up behind us and overtook us just before lunch time, incredible how adapted these Peruvians are to the conditions. They prepared lunch along the little river and we ate it in a light rain, the temperature was dropping considerably. After lunch we walked on and at about 3.00 p.m. we arrived at Cancha Cancha at 4,000 metres. We, I mean I, had made it, a climb of an incredible 1,000 metres in altitude and I arrived again in the last party, maybe about 20 minutes later than the first. I can tell you, I was pretty happy and proud that I had done it. Tents were ready and while some others went off to do a little bit more of walking, I went straight to my, -10 degree resistent, sleeping bag and stayed there until 7.00 p.m. for dinner. A cold wind was blowing and occasional rain showers fell adding to a hostile environment, with snow and glaciers a little bit higher up.
The next morning we got up at 6.00 a.m. for the second and hardest day of the three was about to start, but after the first I was less anxious. Sanitary conditions were limited to two toilets and no washing exept for the river. After breakfast out in the open, we started out at about 7.00 a.m. From 4,000 metres we were to go up to the summit to at about 4,800 metres to cross over into the next valley and to start the descent. The climb was steep, much steeper than the first day, and I was doing quite well in the beginning. Soon the first victims fell: Jean had trouble breathing and had to get up on the horse that acted as fall back. About 6 or 7 of us are accomplished climbers and were leading the way, but they too, had a hard time. The higher and higher we came the more difficult it got. The lack of oxygen means that for every step the effort is tripled or quadrupled. Every time I managed, slowly, but with several others still behind me, to get to the next stop. There we generally conferred on how far we had gotten (several had altitude metres on them) and how far we would still have to climb. God how much did we want to get to that summit!
After three or four times of making every effort to climb the last metres to what we thought was the summit I was getting a bit fed up, still I wanted to go on. Youri, a Parisian of Russian descent, had a heart rythmn disturbance and had to get oxygen and get on the horse. Several others had to take oxygen too. I was still going on and it is really amazing how you can get on ever so slowly, literally one step at a time and still get higher and higher. The horse drivers came up behind us and again prepared lunch, it was now about 1.00 p.m. I was dead tired, but of course happy to have an extra rest. After that we went on again and from the terrain I had the impression that we had arrived at the pass: there was a lake and a more or less level terrain before us. But Tumpé, our guide, indicated that we still had a long way to go. Well that was not exactly what we had hoped for. Higher and higher we trekked. After another peak he indicated that the pass was in the distance and we still had quite a long way to go climbing slowly in order to get there. It was there that I decided that enough was enough and I took a bit of a ride on the horse, for about 400 or 500 metres of gradient, where we had a stop again and Youri got on the horse again. From there it was only the last hundred, hard, metres climb to the summit: 4,860 metres according to the altimetres, higher apparently than the Mont Blanc, Europe's highest at 4,810 I am told. And we have a picture to prove it (photo from Anne cecile and Eric added).
How different was my world from then on: on the descent I was one of the first. Because of the weak state of some in the group Tumpé decided to stop earlier than planned and after descending for an hour or two, camp was set up at about 4.00 p.m. We had arrived practically at the same time as the porters and helped them set up of the tents on a dung-strewn soggy field, at least we were able to tell them that they should be on flat bits please! Rain was coming down but the temperature was not too bad. As soon as my tent was ready I did the same as the day before and slid into my sleeping bag. Nobody was having an extra walk that day! After dinner at about 7.00 p.m. , everybody got into bed in preparation for an early rise at 5.30 a.m. the next morning.
I was probably the only one that washed and shaved in the little river the next morning, no other facilities being available. We started out at 7.00 a.m. and had a long and steep descent for hours on end. Again I was doing well, straight on the guide's heels so to speak, no problem whatsoever. Some were lagging because of the problems of the day before. After about six hours walking we arrived at a little village where we met our bus. Lunch out in the rain and then off in the bus towards our next challenge: rafting!
I can tell you that I was pretty happy I had made it and actually felt quite good after the three days. Of course this high-altitude, level-4 trek was beyond my capacity (as Olive had pointed out when I first spoke of it), but still I had managed to get through in one piece and felt pretty OK.
In later discussions some of the more experienced members of our group, having done other treks, doing triathlon. etc., were of the opinion that day two as such was rather level 5, but of course when you do a level 5 trek you do many days at that level. Well whatever the case, here I am writing this to you after another interesting day, rafting through level 2 and 3 rapids. Rafting was fun, I was inclined to say, "fun too" , but that is maybe getting over the top!