(aka the most challenging endurance test of my life)
Here’s Ryan and I at the start of our trek. Happy, breathing, and excited for what lies ahead, little did we know what kind of challenge we got ourselves in to…
As stated in my last post my mini “flu” sickness pushed our camping trek back a day. Cusco is a city surrounded by mountains, valleys, and many options for trekking. I wanted to grab a tent, sleeping bag, stove, and head out on my own sans guide. When asking around about options our lovely hostel friend recommended the Lares trek. A three day trek full of beautiful snow-capped peaks, clear blue lakes, and luscious green valleys; sounded great to me. I found a crap map for cheap in the plaza and we chose our route. The night before our plans to leave my not so lovely flu-like symptoms took over my body. Ryan ran around collecting our tent, sleeping bags, pads, and a cooking stove while I climbed into bed with every piece of clothing I owned. The next morning feeling better we started packing for the trek. By 11am we realized it was too late to start, we were not ready, and my stress levels were too high. Alright “let’s get prepared today, and take off early tomorrow.” Chatting with Freddy, our local guide he recommended doing the same trek backwards in two days. More hours of walking during the day, but doable. Great, trek back on.
Woke up at 6am to check out and grab a taxi to the collectiva (bus) stand. [4soles $1.30]
One hour collectiva ride to Calca. [5 soles]
Hung out in Calca for an hour waiting for the van to fill up. 90min ride to our drop off point just south of the town of Lares. [10 soles]
Just short of 11am, we shoved an avocado sandwich down our throats and started ascending. [somewhere around 3,000 meters above sea level]
Not too long after our start, I realized this was not going to be easy. We arrived in the valley and we were welcomed by a herd of sheep. We walked along Rio Lares passing one family villages and farms trying to remain on the path and not on someone’s driveway. At one point we were trudging through squishy grass and mud and we could not see a direct path. After climbing over a local’s rock wall and being confronted by a large pig, we noticed we were walking through someone’s farm and quickly headed back to what looked like the trail. The little girl below came out to stare us down as the sheep “bahhed” us through their land.
The next five hours were the most challenging of my life. We ascended and ascended and ascended. I slowly heaved my way up as Ryan walked a good 15 meters ahead of me. We’d get close to the top of a mountain thinking the descent was near and bam another peak to climb. We passed a few beautiful lakes and climbed higher and higher in to the clouds. Every step my pack felt heavier. Ryan carried the tent, his mattress pad, and the cooking stove. I carried the sleeping bags, my mattress pad, most of the food, and a full 2.5liter camelbak. The picture below is the start of the worst of it. The next photo is my “the struggle is real” shot.
Ryan continued to say, “just a bit further” in his chipper Northern English accent and I prayed for a scream of happiness each time he summited another peak. Needless to say I never heard it. Peak after peak, I decided we were never going to descend. Whilst in the clouds around 5,000 meters I wanted to give up. I wanted to cry. I wanted my Mom. I wanted to turn around and head back to the start. Ryan was barely 10 meters ahead of me and I could not see him. All around me clouds. The path turned into loose rocks and eventually we lost the it completely. As Ryan almost walked off a cliff I spun around praying to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to lead us out of this mess. Either thunder or the wind clapped around us and our hearts started racing. Good god we would not survive up here and we would have no chance of setting up a tent in this loose gravel. In the distance I noticed a narrow line heading the other direction and thanked Pachamama when we realized it was our trail. 20 minutes later we arrived at a sign that read “Cancha Cancha 4kms” and an arrow pointing left. Our fear was gone, we would survive and our ascent finally turned in to a descent.
Once we were below the clouds we found ourselves in absolute beauty and it was an incredible feeling.
The sun was shining down on us and we could finally see the snow-capped peaks we had been walking along for the past few hours. Only a few more kms and we could set up camp and eat a proper meal; we thought. Another two hours later, climbing up and down, and down and up we passed the local village not having a clue where we could set up camp. Although the Lares trek is less popular than the other treks in the area, we assumed we’d meet up with other backpackers at some point, but we didn’t. We walked by locals and tried saying hello. Some were friendly, some were not. We passed wild horses, herds of llamas and sheeps, and sherpas moving their flocks. It was beautiful to be a part of the Andean people and watch how they live out their days. We continued on and a little after hour seven, we found a somewhat flat, non-rocky patch that wasn’t covered with animal droppings. It sat next to the bustling river and we decided to call it our camp. The sun was sinking below the mountains and we had no idea if we could find a better spot ahead. [3800m]
Surprisingly the tent went up quickly and we had rice cooking on the stove in minutes. The tent kept us warm from the cold mountain air night and after demolishing a pot of veggies and rice we passed out around 7pm. I woke up two hours later to the sound of rain. I sat up praying the tent had no leaks and our things were dry. With the exception of natural dew, everything stayed somewhat dry as it continued to rain till 6am. Ryan slept a straight 12 hours as I woke up every few checking on the tent and stuffing more rice down my throat. Around 7am we awoke to the rushing river and thankfully not a drop of rain. We climbed out of our sleeping bags and unzipped the tent to this view.
I jumped out of the tent and spun around to take it all in. As many of you know, traveling makes me the happiest of the happiest and sometimes it makes me so happy I cry. This was one of these moments. I wanted to scream, I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry. Not only because of the scenery but because we did this. We trekked this insane journey on our own, carried our own things, and it felt incredible. Beaming and high on life, we slowly broke down the camp and waved to the locals as they moved their herd along the river bank. The next leg of the trek was descending along the river and it was absolutely beautiful. At one point we arrived at a slightly difficult river crossing. As you can see below a few unstable logs sat above the rushing river and we decided with the weight on our backs our only options was to sit and slide our bodies across. We laughed as we awkwardly scootched over the river and we continued onward.
At one point we ran in to a family herding their sheep and llamas and we felt horrible when the herd starting running in opposite directions away from us. The rest of the descent was easy and only took a few hours. This was the way we planned on beginning the trek in the first place. As frustrating as the day before was we were glad day two was a stroll in the park. Twice we ran in to tourists taking short day hikes into the valley and soon found ourselves passing through the final town called Huaran. Around noon we arrived at the road. We did it. A three day trek completed in two in the opposite direction making it much more difficult than either of us ever expected. We sat with a few locals as we waited to hail down a collectiva. Another avocado sammie and fifteen minutes later we were on a van heading to Cusco. [6 soles/ $2]
The human body is truly amazing. If I was told beforehand I’d climb near 2,000 meters up mountains carrying over 10kilos (22lbs) on my back for five hours not a chance I’d tackle that challenge. But having no idea, having no option but to continue, I did it. And I was rewarded with the jaw-dropping scenery this beautiful planet provides us with every day. This world continues to amaze me and I continue to fall more in love with it each and every day. No drug, no bottle of booze, no flat screen tv, car, house, could ever give you the high that mother nature can and I will continue to walk across this Earth until my last breath. I hope this inspires some to get out of their cubicles, get out of their comfort zone, and see how fortunate we are to be surrounded by such beauty. I have more inspiration soon sharing my four day Jungle hike to Machu Picchu, but for now here’s an adorable guy we passed on our way down. Cheers and remember don’t quit your day dream. x