Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Day 8. The hardest day of our lives.

Ah yes, the surprise. So remember how I said it was raining the night before? Well, when we stepped out of our tents that very next morning, there was snow all around us covering every inch of mountain. Within 1 hour, we were to set off on the longest and hardest day of our trek, not to mention the highest point, with tons of snow to wade through to get there.

We had warm tea waiting for us at 5:30 in the morning, giving us 30 more minutes before breakfast so we can pack for our incredibly long day. At 6, we all stumbled into our dining tent, where we were served vegetarian omelettes and Coca tea to help us cope with the altitude.

At 6:30 we were on our way. We began the hike by a brisk walk through the foothills. We walked for 30 minutes before reaching the first checkpoint. At this checkpoint, it was expected that we pay 150 soles each to pass. Fortunately, Willie set them straight and we went on through for free.

At this point, we began walking through the rolling hills. Up and down we went as it began to lightly snow. Alin took lots of photos of me along the way. We encountered a few feeding cows but nothing to write home about. Finally, we reached a second gate, this time no checkpoint. The gate opened up into a huge valley. The valley was covered in snow, with fresh laid tracks of other trekkers pointing the way up the side of the mountain.

We followed these tracks, crossed a stream, and began our slow, long journey up to the highest point. On our way, we ran into a friendly couple from Holland who had been left behind by their guide and porters. They had had no tea, guidance, or support from their team which consisted of more experienced trekkers. We asked if they would take our photos in exchange for taking one of them, they agreed. We even shared some of our Coca tea before heading back out on the road.

By this point, we were making great headway. I was leading the pack, apparently feeling the best out of the bunch, just marching up the mountain. I have to say, it was probably quite selfish, as Alin was struggling. Fortunately, Willie was there to help her as best he could, offering Alin the mule to help her up the mountain. Alin steadfastedly refused.

At around 12:30, we finally reached the top. It was glorious. We were surrounded by three huge mountains, all so close it felt like you could touch them. Each one, covered in snow and glacial ice. We stood around, congratulating ourselves, sharing a small snack and taking lots and lots of photos to prove we had done it. We were exhausted, but our journey would not be over for another 6 hours.

We headed down the other side of the mountain, towards a small campground located in a vast valley. This part of the hike was probably more difficult than the actual way up. We were already tired and the downhill did a number on all of our knees. Alin and I were especially hurting.

Hiking on and on, first through the snow, and now through the rain, we made our way down. Alin, at one point, almost started to cry because she first slipped and got mud in her shoes, then she slipped near a cliff and caught her self in the mud, soaking her mittens in mud. Hiking on and on, I did not make it unscathed, I also slipped and some how got snow, up through my jeans, and into my shoes. I would have been more angry if I wasn´t so surprised at the sheer physics of how snow got where it did.

At around 3:30 we finally made it to lunch. We were tired, wet, and totally pissed off. When we reached the valley we came upon a red tent, we were hopeful that it was a new tent to replace our rainsoaked one from last night, alas it belonged to another team. Our tent, was at the far end of the valley, another 15 minute away.

When we finally got there, another warm and delicious soup, this time it was Tomato soup, was awaiting our arrival. After soup, we had chicken with rice. After an hour of rest, we had to journey back out into the rain to walk another 3 hours to campsite. As we followed the river from above, we could see waterfalls caused by the melting snow from the mountains we just trekked through. They were a sight to see, it was beautiful. As we hiked further and further, the rain stopped, the sun poked through, and we began to feel the warmth again. We got to our camp site at around 6:00PM.

Because it took us much longer than expected to complete the first part of the day, Willie chose an altnernate campsite about an hour closer. We were thrilled, not because we were done walking, but because we were the only ones at this campsite. It consisted of three terraces with the sound of the river off in the distance. We setup all of our tents on the first terrace and Willie started a camp fire for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, we ended up using the fire to dry off all of our wet clothes, sleeping mats, and sleeping bags. Oh joy.

Alin managed to burn two of our four pairs of wonderful wool hiking socks. I wanted to get mad, but it was pretty damn funny, and I knew that Alin was feeling pretty miserable about the whole thing.

At around 8:30, we sat down to enjoy our 2nd dinner together. For dinner this evening, we had spaghetti and fajita strips. Shortly after dinner, with all of us in pain, we headed off to our tents to go to bed.

That´s when the going got tough. I surprised Alin with a tent that might have been considered a disaster area. The place looked like a tornado had blown through and unpacked all of our belongings and strewn them across our tent. To top it off, one of our two sleeping bags was slightly moist and that threw Alin over the edge. She refused to let me help clean up the mess, only asking me to point the flash light here and there as she collected the mess I left behind. I could try to defend it by saying I was searching for the flashlights so we could finish setting up camp, but THAT apparently doesn´t fly. I´m sorry Alin, I should have been more considerate.

After about 45 minutes of cleaning, we were finally ready for bed and sleep we did.

Day three comes tomorrow. Hasta maƱana.

-s

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