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El Misti: The 6000 border


 

A well prepared trip

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After I left Cusco to Arequipa, two things really catch my interest: The Colca Canyon and Arequipa’s guardian volcano: El Misti.

The following day after my arrival and after I found a cheap but perfect guesthouse, I start thinking what I will need to take with me to make this trip safe in solo.

Indeed, I realized I don’t need to find people to start an outdoor activity since there is at least one tour agency doing it at the same time. That confidence put me in a deadly situation but I will tell you why later.

I go to the market and start picking all the things with the best weight/energy ratio I can possibly find: 600gr of dry fruits, 7 cereals powder and quinoa/wheat cereals mix. This will do for breakfast and when I need to eat along the way. Then, I don’t have a stove with me. That means I need to prepare two big meals (lunch/diner) providing me carbohydrates, proteins and antioxidant. I decide to make a big omelet with onions and tomatoes with rice beside. It’s also a good idea to cook now because I will not find any water point during 2 days, hence I will have to carry less water (wasted in steam) so less weight.

At the end, I just have to consider how much water I have to take with me. I read 4L per day was the minimum, but I know myself and I don’t drink that much, especially during winter time. Instead I prefer to wear less clothes to limit the sweat and decide to carry 3.5L with me for 2 days.

I will also leave everything that is not essential to do this trip at my guesthouse. Like that, I only have my equipment to protect me during one cold night, two possible cold days and to eat and drink.

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A little mess to get off from Arequipa

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My alarm was set up at 6:30 but I told the old lady I might wake up at 6, so she did the waking up service quite well at 5:50am. After breakfast, I leave the place and go to the main avenue to find a cheap way of transportation…without any success. One and a half hours later, after I ran out of options, I accept to take a taxi. I will be dropped off in front of the gate where the track to El Misti starts. I will spend 10 good minutes with the Peruvian ladies living here to teach them how to count in French up to five before to begin my way up. The 5km dirt road was nice and easy to walk and I start El Misti trail just 1h30 after leaving the Peruvian ladies. The single track stays quite flat a solid hour before going more and more up. Physically I don’t feel any difficulty. However the track isn’t always easy to spot. It’s a good thing the vegetation is low. I will pass a group that almost went up to the crater of the volcano but didn’t because of the ice. When I ask if there is somebody else up there, one of the French in the group confirms I will be alone. From now on I’m half happy, half worry. Hopefully a new group will join me! On my way up I spot a bottle of water. Instinctively I decide to tag it with a “gift” icon in the track I’m recording to find it on my way back if necessary. With only 3.5L with me, I might need it exactly here.

I reach Pyramde campground 3h45min (breaks included) after I started the track when the guide book says it takes…8hours! I quickly set up my tent on the gravel ground before getting stuck in the clouds until the next morning. I will spend 6 boring hours inside my tent without anything to distract me (I’m really packed as light as possible!)

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It rained and hailed lightly by moment but the tent resisted. When I wake up at 5am, I discover some frost inside the tent. I’m glad my sleeping bag and matress protected me very well from sub zero temperatures. Getting change is the hardest part to start the day but the transition from warm to cold clothes isn’t as bad as expected. After I ate my delicious extremely cold breakfast (no stove!), I spend some time watching the sunrise over the snowy volcanoes and clouds. This one is astonishing and never a picture will be able to translate what I’m seeing. My fly cannot dry, so I pack it outside my backpack in a minimum amount of folds. At 6:15, I’m on my way up to El Misti!

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How Orux Maps saved me from a critical situation by three times

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I’m finally adapted to the altitude. I’m going up at a good average speed until I start smelling suffer from El Misti just above 4600m. I forgot to mention it but El Misti is still an active volcano and its last eruption was in 1985. I’m so glad I don’t experience any headaches at all! The wind is strong and higher I go, colder it gets. My Goretex hacker and shoes does its job perfectly as well as my rain pants and gloves. Everything works find until 5400m. From here, I start feeling dehydrated because of the breathing acceleration caused by the altitude. I still have 1.5L with me, I decide to keep going. The crater is only 300 m higher. However something else happens quite shortly after: my body refuses to ingest any kind of food or drink. That is a real problem. To reduce the intensity of the exercise I go slower and takes more breaks. But the way up is also getting steeper, icy and the track doesn’t exist anymore. Until now I could hardly follow the footprints from the previous group but it seems nobody else went higher than me.

El-Misti_crater_Arequipa_Peru_WorldTour-OutdoorExperience10:15: I’m at 5680m, I can see the crater. I’ve only 20m more to go but it’s on a 40° icy asset and it’s way too dangerous. I’m alone at almost 6000m between ice and boulders and my body is loosing all its strength. I’ve also forgot to check my water level and I’ve only 600ml to walk back 15km on a really hard terrain with 2800 vertical meter to loose. Now it’s time to turn around and quickly. Each second is now important to reach a lower altitude and make my body eat and drink again before I collapse. I’m also thinking about the possibility of calling an helicopter since I can give my GPS coordinates but first let’s see how I go in a survival situation.

I understand that following down the same way I went up is not the solution to reach quickly a lower altitude. Nevertheless I have a plan: I can avoid the technical bouldering area by running down on the 40° smooth asset on my left hand side when I’m underneath the freezing level. Once at the bottom, I can cut back to the right to the campgroun thanks to Orux Maps. Everything works in a fraction of a second in my mind. I’m running and sliding and falling down many times without injuring myself in the soft ground. I loose about 800 vertical meter in 15min and reach the campground in less than one hour (it took me 4h to go up to the crater of El Misti…). That’s a good thing but I’m not safe yet. My body still refuses eating dry fruits or drinking water. I cannot rest, I have to go more down. Fortunately I notice a regain of energy in my legs that can now support me.

However I have to face another difficulty from 4400 m: a thick and heavy mist. Yesterday the track was already hard to find. Now it’s invisible. Again, Orux Maps helps me to reach a lower altitude safely since I recorded my way up. The “backtrack” option tells me how far I am from my initial route.

Last but not least, what really put me out of danger is the famous bottle I spotted and tagged on my way up in Orux Maps. This one is still here and even if I struggle to drink, my body doesn’t reject it. I have food, I have water and I carry a shelter. If I feel physically bad I can relax, sleep, eat and drink but this is not the right option to select now. If I can walk, let’s get back to civilization where I will be free from my preoccupations. An hour before noon, I pass a group going up to El Misti. I tell their guide the ice kept me away from the crater. He might have to consider another way if he wants to take is group to the top. I don’t tell him about my critical situation and how happy I was to see human beings but I feel way better now. At exactly noon, I’m at the beginning of the El Misti trail. It took me 2H45min from the crater to here when the guide book says 4hours down…to reach to campground. They really have to edit their data even though I took a big shortcut. This time I force myself to eat the left overs from lunch and dinner and yes, my body accepts the food! Once finished, I stand up and start walking on an automatic pilot mode. My conscious doesn’t control my body anymore, this one takes us back independently from my volition. I’m really impressed about what I’ve just accomplished and how my body at first in difficulties came back to an athletic level. I tell my dangerous adventure to the Peruvian ladies and promise something to myself: I’m not going alone to an unknown environment again.

The way back to Arequipa is easier this time and in less than 30min, I get a lift with a lovely family. Then, I get the right bus to don’t have to walk more than 40m until  a hot shower!

One more time:

I’m not going alone to an unknown environment again.

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