Climbing literal rainbows ...
By far my most physically and mentally challenging achievement to date! Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, is located in the Peruvian Ausangate region, south east of Cusco. The aptly named mountain boasts beautiful stripes of colour due to the altitude, sediment and atmosphere of its location. Rainbow Mountain sits 5200m above sea level, and is located deep into the mountain range. Until recently, Vinicunca was quite unknown, with only locals coming across the natural phenomenon. With less than one percent of the global population having visited; Rainbow mountain remains rather untouched and treasured by a small percentage. The trail remains still rather quiet, especially in comparison to other treks in the country, like the famous Inca Trail. The trek to the candy-coloured mountain takes around six days following the Ausangate trail, however it is also possible to visit with a one day trip form Cusco. Due to having limited time in the area, we only had the option of visiting with a one day trip. Six of us signed up for the expedition, knowing full well that it would be extremely challenging. We had already completed the Inca Trail a few days earlier, experiencing hiking in altitudes of 3000m. But that would be nothing compared to the 5200m we were heading for. Our trip started extremely early with a 2:30am pick up time. Half asleep but gearing to go we jumped into the van with our guide. We had a three-hour drive before our hike would start so we all happily fell back to sleep, which lasted for the two hours before we went off the beaten track. The roads were no longer roads, rather we were driving over rocky trails, which abruptly awoke us all with the jolting of the van. After an hour on the bumpy terrain we arrived at the base of our hike. Our guide led us to a large tent where a cooked breakfast awaited us; scrambled eggs, bacon (questionable as to whether it really was bacon) and toast accompanied by coffee, tea and coca tea. After fuelling ourselves we were ready to conquer the Rainbow Mountain.
Our hike had us starting at an altitude of 4200m above sea level. For those that have never been at altitude, this was already quite demanding and difficult to breath. The six of us were all of quite good fitness levels, but altitude made us feel as though we ridiculously unfit. We hiked the initial section of the trail before reaching a horse station, with locals offering us horses to ride, rather than hike. We had one horse included with our guide to carry the bags, but we also hired an additional horse as an emergency horse. Now this may have seemed like overkill, but it came in handy when someone in our group was struggling. The 16km hike, although the distance and the terrain itself was rather easy, the altitude made the trek extremely challenging. The valley that the trail followed presented varying scenery with some areas of vivid colour, and others boasting snow-capped mountains. Once I caught my first glimpse of the mysterious rainbow mountain, it became so much easier to push through the pain and make it to the top.
Being the rainy season, we weren’t so lucky with the weather. The clouds were hanging low, obstructing the panoramic view of the mountain range but we could see admire the beauty of Vinicunca. Our guide so appropriately celebrated our achievement with us by playing Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ after having been motivating us throughout our trek with tunes from ‘Rocky’.
With the weather starting to turn for the worst we headed back down the trail into the valley from whence we came. The trek seemed so much longer on the way back. It didn’t help that we got caught in a thunder storm with heavy hail pelting down on us. The trail became extremely slippery and I’m 100% guilty of stacking it more than once. Wearing fleece jumpers, rain jackets, gloves and ponchos we made it back to base where we were warmed up with a warm lunch before starting on our three-hour return drive. Although the return trek was not too fun, the experience was incredible. Definitely one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted and accomplished. I hope that one day I can return and revisit this incredible wonder, but regardless, I will always remember and treasure my experience.