Nice try, thanks Chachani

8 05 2010

First morning light on Chachani summit.

The Chachani (6076m, 19.930ft) is the most impressive and highest volcano near Arequipa. We tackled it quite fearless and perhaps with a bit of lack of respect on our own – but had no luck.

With a 4×4 transport it takes 2.5 hrs from Arequipa to get to the begin of the trail at 4855m (15.930ft). Then you hike up to your base camp at about 5200m (17.060ft) which takes around 2 hours.

The problem is: You have to get up at 2.00 am to start your summit ascent. The first part we had checked out the afternoon before so we would find our way with headlamps to a saddle at around 5600 m (18.370ft). In sheer darkness we arrived at the beginning of the snow and ice area and started a long traverse along a quite steep slope. Some days before over 20 people had tried the ascent to the summit so there should have been a well trampled track. So we thought. But after two hours the track fainted more and more and we started to doubt if we were on the right path. Temperatures were way below freezing point and Kim and me had severe problems with cold hands and feet. You start worrying if you can’t feel your fingers anymore, don’t you? As it was still dark we decided to head back and walk down in a rocky valley to check out alternative paths.

As the first sunlight hit the scene we could see that we had been totally right. The icy and snowy path was leading to the next ridge from where you start to hike up to the first and then to the real summit of Chachani. As we detected this it was too late to start a second attempt. We felt a little sorry because this time we had slept well and had nearly no signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) like headache or nausea. And we walked quite fast considering the high altitude and the darkness.

With mixed feelings we crawled slowly back to the first saddle where the first rays of sun warmed our frozen bones. The descent to the base camp then was easy. Warm tea and potato soup helped to get back to life. The rewarding of this try was the complete loneliness (it was only us two in the base camp) and the amazing wildlife. We saw a fox strolling through the base camp after we had hiked up a little bit on the first day, two eagles landing 50m away from our camp and a cute brown mouse near our tent making a hell of a noise the whole night through. And we detected puma prints on the path in the snow (our driver had told us that there were pumas in the Chachani area). Or was it the Andean Yeti?

And we experienced an earthquake in the middle of the night. Kim was close to jump out of the tent while the earth was shaking under us. I felt quite lucky to be outside and not in a building in the city. For Remco from our Hostal Tambo Viejo who was organizing all our trips the “terremoto”  was quite normal.

I am still thinking about coming back and give Chachani another try. Volunteers welcome. Now I can act as guide.

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