Our 4-day trek around the highest mountain in southern Peru. Thousands of alpacas, small villages, and glaciers.
After reading about the Ausangate trek and seeing pictures, I was interested. Then, after seeing that besthike.com had rated it number 4 in the world, I HAD to go. The trek is difficult, high, and cold. Three solid reasons not to do it, but this also means that not so many tourists visit (and also because the trail does not lead to Machupicchu). Along the route you encounter thousands of alpacas, llamas, vicunas (the wild camelids that only live above 4000m), viscachas (rabbit-like animals), and the people who live around Ausangate usually only speak Quechua (with bits of Spanish, less than us!). Another interesting factoid, the first ascent of Ausangate was by a German party including Heinrich Harrer, author of 7 years in Tibet.
We tried to call the small town of Tinqui to arrange an arriero (horse driver), but didn´t have much luck with the one phone in town, so decided to go with an agency in Cusco (Apus Explorers on Suecia). They were a bargain at $130 per person but what was left out was a stove and gas, horses, a cooking tent, and a tent for our guides! These were arranged by our guides Luis and Alejandro in Tinqui, but cost us some time and we ended up spending the first night camping in Tinqui.
The following day we set off, but Eden had gotten a bit sick from the boiled water and wasn´t feeling well. Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes describes the trek as 6 days, but now we were going to doing it in 4 with horses. The first day we climbed steadily through brown puna grassland, past grazing sheep, cows, llamas and alpacas. We made camp at 4750m below one of the satellite peaks of Ausangate. The view was stunning, but when the sun went down it became very cold and our water in the wash basin froze at 6:30pm even though there was still some light out. While the guides were cooking I climbed two of the orange hills, first by running and then gasping my way to the top.
The next day we woke early to cross the first of the three passes for the day! The first wasn´t difficult because we already had the altitude, and then we descended into a valley. On our left a huge glacier was hanging above two large lakes. The second pass was quite a bit harder at 4850m (4861m on GPS), but we were going to have lunch and a 1 hour break after. From the top of this pass, our guide/arriero Alejandro pointed out the third pass. I couldn´t believe it. 300m higher than where we were standing, but we also had to descend 250-300m to the valley below. Doh!
The guides ran ahead to start lunch while we went down slowly. After lunch we started the slow climb up to Palomani Pass with me stopping every 5 steps to catch my breath above 4800m. So while Eden (still ill) was ahead, I was struggling every step. We reached the top, which registered 5123m on the GPS (5165m according to Lonely Planet). From there the view was stunning. Glaciated mountains to the left, a green valley below, and orange desert to the right. We then walked for several more hours to our camp on the Rio Jampamayo. When we arrived we were cold and exhausted.
We were happy that the third day had only one pass, even though it was the second highest of the trek at 5080m. Along the way we passed a few other trekking parties. The largest was a group of Israelis with 19 horses!! We knew that Israelis like to travel in large groups, but this made us wonder how many there were. Along the scree on the side of the trail we encountered rabbit-like viscachas. The trail then steadily climbed, and the pass itself was very broad (we were over 5000m for over an hour). The nearby peaks of Pico Tres and Collapa Ananta (both over 6000m) were stunning. We then descended into the valley where there were lakes with varying shades of blue. Stopped for lunch at a small tarn (didn´t think it was the cleanest water source for soup and tea), where two 8-year-old girls came to see what we were up to. Gave them some candy, crackers, and lunch and they gathered our horses afterwards.
After lunch we continued down valley, past more alpacas, stone fences and houses to the village of Pacchanta. Here there were hot springs and electricity, but we used neither since the tub was packed with Israeli trekkers and we decided not to stay in one of the small hostels.
Next morning we headed back to Tinqui, stopping for last looks at the mountains, then unloaded the horses and let them graze, tipped the guides, and caught the bus back to Cusco. At the first stop in Ocongate, our guide Luis got out with three other guys and downed a litre of chicha (not very tasty but cheap (20 cents) corn beer) and confirmed our suspicions that his yellow corneas are from liver problems.
Our arriero Alejandro was very good, is from Upis, and we recommend him to anyone considering the Ausangate trek. Even for experienced trekkers, the altitude makes things much more difficult and having an arriero makes things safer as there have been reports at South American Explorers of robberies along the trek. However, for trekkers going solo the trail is not difficult to follow with the description in Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes. Other agencies in Cusco charge between $180 and $800 for this trek with two people ($800 with SAS). If you call Alejandro two days ahead of time (only Spanish spoken), he will arrange everything for updated $120 (old price $80) per person for a 5-day trek. This includes horses, stove, gas, tents, cooking tent, food, and of course him. The only things he doesn´t provide are sleeping bags and mattresses, but you can rent these in Cusco. You may be required to get to Tinqui on your own, but this isn´t difficult. Two busses leave daily at 11am behind Coliseo Cerrado in Cusco. The better bus is Huayna Ausangate. Alejandro Gonzo Huaman can be reached on his cell phone at updated 984 382333 (old number was 984230664), or if you can´t get through you can try his brother at 984391965 and tell him you´re looking for Alejandro. He can also be reached via email alejandro.gonsalo(at)hotmail.com but the phone is probably better.