Ever since I was a little boy, I have wanted to climb Mt. McKinley. But by the time I finished college and started working, the costs for such an adventure far exceeded my means. So I have been eagerly waiting for Daniel to come to Peru where we could climb Mount Chachani for a fraction of the cost.
Daniel, Scott (a friend from the office) and I started this adventure on December 29. We met our guide at 9am, picked up a little extra gear, and headed to the mountain. For about 2 hours, we bounced around in a 4-wheel drive along dirt roads and trails. As we rose in elevation we saw several groups of vicunas (similar to a llama) feeding along the way.
We were dropped off at about 16,000 feet and started our climb to base camp. After about 1 ½ hours of steady climbing, we made it to base camp at 17,700 feet. We set up our tents and tried to get a little rest. About 4pm, the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped from a nice 60 degrees, to below freezing. Ice started forming on out tent lines and gear. At 5pm, we gathered for a nice hot meal of soup and vegetable stew. A cute little fox smelled the food and was curious enough to hang around for a few photos.
With darkness setting in just after 6pm, we settled into our tents to try and sleep. Even resting, our breathing was uneven and gaspy, so sleep did not come easy at this elevation. And it was cold! I don’t know what the temperature was, but our water froze in the tent. Our sleeping bags were rated for 20 degrees, and I slept in my pants and sweater with my hat and gloves on. Daniel got up in the middle of the night and put on his snow pants to stay warm. Needless to say, sleep would be better described as short 5-10 minute catnaps every hour.
We got up just after 1am. We grabbed a quick breakfast of bread, jam, and colca tea. By 1:45, we were off to the summit. The route we were on is the most common way to the summit. It was not a technical assent, although the darkness made it a little more challenging. After a short climb, we crossed the ridgeline from the eastern side of the mountain to the western face. It was cold and the light wind made your fingers even colder. We came to a long traverse across a steep skree slope. The guide had us get out our ice picks to arrest our fall in case we slipped while we crossed the slope. Although the ground was frozen, there was no snow or ice this time of year, so we did not need to use crampons. After the long traverse, there was a steep climb that took over an hour. Our lungs were burning by this time, and we took a small break after crossing a small saddle just below the summit. The time was just before 6am and the sun was rising. After a 30 minute push up the last slope, we reached the summit at 19,931 feet. (Just 389 feet lower that Mount McKinley!) We had made the assent in about 4 hours and 45 minutes. The guide had set a quick pace, since the normal time to summit is 6 hours. He said we were strong climbers. The sky was clear and the view was amazing. We could see the tops of several other mountains, Misti Volcano, the city of Arequipa, and in the distance another taller mountain. After a short photo session, we headed back down.
The trip down was much quicker than going up. On the steep slopes, we went straight down, taking big steps in the soft, loose gravelly soil. The sun was warm now, and we had to take off some layers of clothes. We arrived back in base camp by 8:30am. The altitude and lack of sleep had given us headaches, some nausea, and we were all tired. We set down our packs and enjoyed a nice (but short) nap in the warm sun. All too soon, we were packing our gear and heading down the trail to catch our coche ride home. Another great adventure through God's creation.