Ausangate Circuit (April 26 - May 1)

May 1, 2009 - Ausangate, Peru

Six days, 2.55 km up and down, 4 mountain passes over 4800m and the best trek ever!

I started off with a flu and a few injuries from a mountain bike crash. Thanks for the messages about the swine flu - you will all be pleased to know i have recovered from the flu and although i was constantly surrounded by llamas, sheep, alpacas and the dog that adopted us called marley...there were no pigs. Also, i have managed not to contract this disease even though i just had my first shower in six days (best shower ever!!)

The trek is called the ausangate circuit, and is known as one of the best hikes in the area around Cusco as it circumnavigates the highest mountain range in southern peru (6,380m above SL!). I organised the trek through apus peru and ended up with 5 other people, including Barbara, my roommate from antarctica. This was our third big adventure together and it is brilliant to travel with her!

I have included a stack of photos and won't go into too much detail here. If you want to know more about the trek you can check out what we did each day below.

As a nice summary... It was so incredibly beautiful. Just constantly feeling like we were walking towards and around these magnificent mountains covered in snow with jagged peaks and glaciers. There was a continual supply of glacial fed lakes, large rocks, waterfalls, rivers, wicked valleys, pretty plants and birds, llamas, alapacas and small mountain communities where we could get a glimpse into the unique clothing and lifestyles of the andean mountains. We were often walking on rocks, grass, up and down crazy passes, generally in the sun and frequently through muddy valleys where we leaped from one mossy patch of grass to another. I felt such a spiritual connection to those mountains, I can´t quite put it into words.

I had an absolute blast with the people. Every day we camped in a stunning location and we were thoroughly spoilt by our support crew. We had one guide, one cook and four other support staff, along with 6 horses. They were all so lovely, always setting up the tents, cooking us food, giving us water, waking us up with coca tea at our tents each day, preparing basins of water for us to wash our face and hands in at the end of each day and doing the SAME WALK AS US! unbelievable. Also, we would find out that Martin (our chef) was a pro at soccer and nearly made the peruvian national team. He was mesmerising to watch playing soccer, i kept forgetting to play because i would just stare at him! Every day was a three course meal. Anyway a big cheers to felix, martin, santiago, mario, gabriel and wilber!

I will never forget this trek and it just makes me realise how much I can't wait for all my treks to come. I'm starting to change my plans for later in the trip to do some more high altitude crazy trekking.

Roughly what we did...

Day 1 Cusco - Tinqui
We depart Cusco at around 830am for the 4-hour bus ride to the small village of Tinqui (3800 metres). We have lunch here and chill for the afternoon. Barbara and I go for a walk through the mountain villages.

Day 2 From Tinqui to Upis to Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha
The first 3 hours are a wonderful prelude to the magnificent scenery of the Cordillera Vilcanota, with great views of Ausangate.
We trekked for two hours more until we reach the hot springs at Upis (4,400 metres) which offer fantastic views of Ausangate at the end of the valley. Have a quick dip and keep on going...
After lunch we cross the Arapa pass (4,850 metres). From here, we continue 3½ hours down the valley, passing the green lake of Puqa Q'ocha until we reach the turquoise Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha. We camped here. The views of Ausangate are particularly close and spectacular. During the night you can hear ice falls into the lake, but we had running water instead.

Day 3 From Lake Jatun Puqa Q'ocha to the valley beyond the Palomoni pass
In the morning we ascended the second pass of Apuchata (4,900 metres) with the stunning turquoise blue Laguna Ausangate Q'ocha below. This lake is fed from the melting snow of Ausangate. From the lake we ascend to the Palomani pass (5,200 metres); the highest point of the trek. Barbara, Dino, Brandon and I climb higher to at least 5,300m (which is a tribute to how intelligent you feel at that high an altitude). From the pass we follow the trail into the valley (that was full of llamas) where we camp for the night.

Day 4 From Pampacancha to Q'omer Q'ocha
During this morning we enjoyed views of the snowcapped Tres Picos and Puca Punta. We continued through the broad green valley of Pampa Jutunpata and up the Rio Q'ampa valley. After passing through the small community of Q'ampa we walk North west to the last pass of this hike, the Q'ampa pass (5000 metres/ 16400 feet). We see several different coloured lakes and camp beside Q'oma Q'ocha.
This was a great plan...except Dino, Brandon, Barbara and I (team naughty) decided to add a bit of a side trip in the morning because we didn't think it was tough enough. Dino and Brandon found a waterfall with a glacier above and decide to tackle it. Barbara and I join in. It was ridiculous as we scramble over landslides and do some silly rockclimbing. But it was worth it!! Awesome fun. I ended up getting mild altitude sickness on the 5,000m pass later in the day and was quite delirious. We got snowed on on that pass.

Day 5 From Qomer Q'ocha to Pacchanta
This is the easiest day of the trek, with lots of time to relax and bathe in the shadow of the great Ausangate. We hike for several hours before arriving at the small village of Pacchanta. We soak in the thermal springs for a couple of hours, and even have a well-deserved beer (wine in my case)! We set up camp near Pacchanta and had the afternoon free to climb a hill and soak in the great hot springs. We had a soccer game with our support crew and guide at this site and realised our cook martin was one of the best soccer players i have ever seen!!! He almost made the peruvian national team. Soccer at altitude is funny as you can´t really breathe.

Day 6 From Pacchanta to Cusco
It's 3 hours trek back to Tinqui where we had lunch and said our goodbyes before taking the bus back to Cusco.


campsite first night
sunset first night
my first glimpse of ausangate mountains
the team and marley in front of ausangate
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