Arequipa, Misit Volcano & Colca Canyon
04.06.2010 - 09.06.2010
With La Paz behind me I set my course for Arequipa with another volcano climb (Misti at 5825m) and some trekking in the Colca canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world on my radar. Arequipa itself is a nice enough city that is supposedly the second largest city in Peru but has a small city feel about it.
Within a day I had sorted out to visit both back to back which I was happy about given I sat still in La Paz a little longer than I wanted to. A good night out with the entire hostel going out on my first night was nice and then after a day of rest it was time to get ready to climb Misti.
At 8am in the morning we headed off to our starting point at 3400m, this was an interesting enough trip in itself with drive requiring us to go past where they were still working on the road. In fact the conversation went something like this:
Road Worker: You can’t go up there, there is nothing there. No road or nothing.
Driver: I’ll just go around then!
And with that he took off ahead! Still with about 15 minutes of offroad driving we managed to get back onto the track we were supposed to be on and eventually arrived successfully at our starting point. From here it was a climb of ~2200m to the top and the guide pointed the path we would take. Path however was a generous way of putting it, as it seemed merely to be a case of going straight up from where we were. Never the less we set off and with the volcano not having any refugio’s we set off with full backpacks, carrying out tents, water for two days and cooking equipment all up a nice ~15kg weight to make the first days climb just that bit more interesting. Within minutes we were starting our ascent climbing over rocks and dealing with the loose gravel path that made grip difficult. This bit of the climb was a bit difficult with the harsh sun and backpacks wearing us out quickly, so the water breaks were coming thick and fast (this did atleast lighten the load a bit!)
After about 5 hours of solid climbing over rocks we arrived at the ~4800m mark where we would be setting up our tents and camping for the night. The relief in the group was obvious as we were all a bit tired from the stiff climb. Within half an hour we had set up the tents, started cooking and added layers as here once the sun drops it gets quite cold in contrast to the quite hot days in the sun. By 7pm we had eaten our hearty meal of soup, chicken and pasta and were headed off to bed with an early wakeup at midnight.
Predictably after much tossing and turning midnight came around with no one other than the guides getting any sleep at all. Weary eyed we drank our cocoa tea and snacked on some bread and cheese before starting the climb. This time thankfully we set off without our backpacks however with three layers on both top and bottom to deal with the cold….it was very cold and extremely cold feet was just one of the challenges of the climb! Slowly but surely we worked our way up the mountain with the guides showing us the path….and by path I mejan which rocks to climb over. I was still in the stages of recovering from my cold and this wasn’t the ideal place to recover but I had done nothing for too long and was enjoying being away from the city once more. Our guides seemed a bit rushed and we were all a bit confused when we got to 5000m and he announced that breaks were not going to be taken every 10 minutes anymore but every 25, needless to say we all ignored this! After about 6 hours of climbing we finally reached the crater from where you could see a good view of Arequipa, a view of the cross at the highest point and sadly a poor view of the crater itself. Owing to our guides now cautious approach we were not allowed to go near the crater for photos….an incredible let down sadly as there is no real peak at this volcano to see. Still with little option other than to wait at the top and freeze we set off to finish the climb and reach the cross, the highest point. With the cross set right back in the volcano the view is actually better from crater lip with the countryside and Arequipa in full view. Still its always nice to get to the top and 5825m is still fairly high and good practice for the coming weeks.
The interesting bit of this climb however is the going down which is supposed to only take 2.5 hours to the bottom something that we didn’t believe. Our guide then showed us the path which involved going straight down one of the sides….we thought he was joking! But just five minutes later he was telling us to grab our trekking poles dig our heels into the soft dirt and essentially ski down on our feet! Definitely a fast and slightly crazy way to go down, especially with the backpacks once again on your back but make it down in 2.5 hours we did! It was then time to catch our transport back to Arequipa (this time almost entirely offroad – I guess the roadworks happen slowly over here too!) to be back about 2pm. After checking into a hostel and having a well deserved hot shower it was time to get some sleep for the 3am wake up for the colca canyon trek.
3am came around a lot sooner than I would have liked but after no sleep the night before I was able to get a few hours and got on the 3:30am bus headed for the canyon. Still tired I slept almost the entire way to the condors cross, apparently the best place for seeing condors. Some days the condors will come out to play and sometimes they don’t, today they didn’t with the half hour we were there only 3 condors visible and none close enough to take a worthwhile photo. You can’t everything I suppose and I was still optimistic of seeing more condors whilst trekking in the canyon.
About an hour later we arrived in the town of Cabanaconde the town that we would begin our trek into the canyon from. The first day was easy enough as we headed off just after lunch towards the towns on the other side of the valley. The hike was gentle enough with us taking a little 3 hours to hike down the 1200m on our side of the canyon and up the 500m on the otherside. Along the way we sampled the local fruits from the cactus, the sweet (tuna) which is similar to passionfruit and the sour (samcayo) that is about the sourest thing I have tasted. Tonight we would sleep at Cosnirhua a very small town of about 30 families that relies almost entirely on fruit production and trade for its produce. A really nice sleep (very welcome after the last two nights) mainly owing to having my own room left me nice and refreshed for tomorrows trek.
The trek for the second day promised to be the hardest but first we had a gentle trek down to the jewel of the canyon (atleast according to the tour agencies) the oasis, a series of swimming pools amongst the palm trees at the bottom of the canyon. An easy hours hike down saw us arrive comfortably and the 30+ temperature saw me in the pool in a very short time. A couple of hours later we had lunch and then looked at what remained ahead, the 1200m hike back up the side of the canyon. For me it didn’t look too bad but the couple I was with were doing their first hike and they were slightly more concerned. After lunch we headed upwards at a slow and steady pace given the slope and the heat. After an hour we had reached the halfway point and our guide suggested I shoot up ahead and sort out the hotel and dinner reservations so I shot up and broke a sweat by the top but it was an enjoyable hike amongst the canyon and the reward was getting to see the sunset from the top of the canyon – a glorious sight indeed. My guide and rest of the group made it too the top much to their relief and enjoyed the walk a little bit atleast. That night we were staying in a four star hotel which was a bit more than required but once again ensured I had another fantastic sleep and left the canyon extremely relaxed.
The third day was by far the most difficult with only a visit to the hot springs and two hours in the 35 degree water further relaxed the body and eased the muscles. After that it was a nice bus ride back to Arequipa and the end of a very enjoyable and relaxing visit to the colca canyon. The biggest disappointment was the lack of condors with only another three seen in the two days walking through the canyon but you can’t have everything. Still it was a great walk through some gorgeous multi coloured countryside. However one that given my time again I would have done without a tour such was the ease or maneuvering through the valley. Next for me it’s a little bit of a rest in Arequipa before making the long journey up to Huaraz for some more trekking and a visit to Chavin de Huantar, ruins from a 3000 year old civilization.