December 6 – December 10, 2019
Day 423 – 427

After trekking the Choquequirao and the Salkantay, there is one more iconic trek in the Cusco region: the Ausangate trek. This trek takes place around the Ausangate mountain at 6384m.

For our last trek in the Cusco area and in Peru, this will be the most intense. Not because there is many kilometers nor because is a lot of elevation. It is one of the hardest trek in Peru because of the altitude. Most of the trek takes place above 4,500m, with several passes over 5,000m.

At this altitude, many problems occurs.
The lack of oxygen first, which makes the hike hardest.
The coldness, if the sun is not out and/or if there is wind.
The tiredness. Ok high altitude, it is much harder to sleep well. It is cold at night, and your sleep is sometimes very restless.
And being in the rainy season, another major problem can be the weather. We are still at the beginning of the rainy season, so it is still ok. But predicting the weather is impossible. We are likely to have rain, hail and snow.

So we packed the lightest possible. We took our warmest clothes, our warm sleeping bag, our food. And we started this trek.

Day 1: Trailhead to Pacchanta

11km / +650m / -100m

This first day was the easiest one. We just took the bus to reach the trailhead and had to walk 3 hours, with just a small elevation.

This first night will be “the warmest one”. Well… We are still sleeping at 4300m. During the night, we will have snow.

Day 2: The 7 Lagunas

8,5km / +500m

We wake up with a totally different landscape from when we went to sleep. Everything is covered in snow ! We don’t do much during this day because we are too busy looking at the landscape and stopping to take picture.

As well, the fact that we have to walk on the snow makes us slowler. The path we take go across 7 lagunas (We struggled counting them). Some people do it on a one day trip and go back. For us we continue to go up.

This was probably the most beautiful day of the trek. The snow made it harder to walk, but made the landscape incredible. We walk at the base of the Ausangate mountain, which dominate us from it’s 6,384m.

We arrive at our camp around 2pm. We decided to stop there since the next step would be a high pass, and we don’t want to be stuck up there in a snowstorm. The weather is getting bad.

We put the tent and we even take time to make a snowman. I have to say, this was my idea (I didn’t had such a beautiful snow in years!! So I had to make a snowman).

The worst thing that happened today was actually not what we were worried about: the sun. With the white snow everywhere that reflect the sun light, I got some terrible sunburn all over my face. And especially, at places where you don’t think it will hit you, so it get worst: my ears, my neck, my lips and my forehead are burned.

We spend the night at 4,800m. My new personnal record (not for long).

Day 3: The first pass: Abra Khampa (5,050m)

15km / +700m / -650m

We only have 250m elevation to reach this second pass. It still takes us 2 hours (thanks to the altitude). We hike under the fog and we can’t see much. But we still have snow !

We hike the first pass at 5,050m.

After the pass, the snow has disappeared. We go down to the Khampa valley where we continue our way along the river. We have our first bad weather while hiking with some hail. Not too bad, it doesn’t wet.

For this third day, we decide to hike up as much as possible before the next pass in order to have less the next day.

At the end of the day, we can see a beautiful brown/red-ish lagoon next to the Mariposa glacier (a mountain next to the Ausangate).

We hike up to 4,850m where we decided to spend the night next a lodge that is there, just next to the pass we need to pass the next day.

But… by looking carefully, we saw an open window at the empty lodge (it is low season). We hesitated a bit, but the coldness of this altitude made us took the decision: we sneaked in the lodge to spend the night inside.

It was in the end a restfull and warm night, if I remove the fact that my sunburns are burning me.

Day 4: The two passes

13km / +770m / -740m

The sun is out for this morning. I don’t take any chance again and cover myself the best I can to avoid the sun to hit me.

Again we have 250m elevation for the second pass of our trek at 5,100m: Abra Paloman. This will be highest point of the trek. The view is beautiful from up there. We have a 360° view of the surrounding, and from far far away, we can even see the rainbow mountain we will see the next day.

The rest of the day will pass us down to the Ausangatecocha, a nice blue lagoon. We continue then to hike up through Green valley, full of lamas and alpacas.

Around 4pm, the pass the third pass of the trek: the Abra Warmisaya at 4,985m. We have even a closer view of the rainbow mountain from up there.

We finish the day by hiking as close as possible to the rainbow mountain. Then, the next day, we will be able to wake up early and go there before all the tourists.

We put our tent at 4,870m (we always push the number higher). This will be a good night, where unfortunately, Mathilde will spend a very bad night because of altitude sickness. It is our last night, hopefully.

Day 5: The Rainbow mountain and the Red Valley

13km / +390m / -1110m

We wake up at 4am, pack and start to hike in the dark. We only have 45 minutes to the rainbow mountain, but this small hike is very painful for Mathilde who feel very badly the altitude sickness.

The arrived at the viewpoint on top of the Winikunka (5,036m) at 5:45am. We are alone, and above the clouds.

The rainbow mountain is first covered by the fog. So we start to cook our breakfast (luxury to be the first one there). Some more hikers arrive, and finally, the rainbow mountain uncover itself.

We enjoy the view, before the mass of tourists arrive.

We keep going to our next stop, the red valley. For that, we will go through the last pass of our trek, at 5,038m and even to the Mirador nearby at 5,069m. Gladly, Mathilde is feeling much better now.

Again, we are there before all the tourists. This valley is very special, and very different from what I used to hike, as it is…. Well… Red :p Combined with the green grass, the range of color is interesting.

This valley goes down a lot and we will walk it down for 8km. After a while, we follow a river and even the river we follow turns red (probably because of the red rocks and sediments that goes into the river).

Again, we hike next to the lamas that are curious to see us.

We finish quietly to go down the valley, where we reach the road again and the civilisation.

In the end, this trek was the most beautiful we have done in Peru. The landscape was changing so much all the time.

But you need to earn it. With 5 passes, and 4 of them above 5,000m, you can definitely the altitude in terms of oxygen but as well as the coldness at night.

But as always: worth it!

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