This post covers our four day Ausangate trek. In these four days we saw so many amazing things we would like to share with you, that this post turned out to be very very long (200+ pics)…
In order to make it more readable without chopping it into several parts (Colombo knows Andy doesn’t like to chop up articles 🙂 ) we decided to start with a short description of the entire trek and then just add relatively short comments to some of the pictures, so you can just browse through them. Enjoy!
Initially interested in the Inca trail, as probably all tourists are, we quickly realized that without a booking well in advance there is no chance to get a permission ticket. The tickets sell out many months in advance! Looking for an alternative we came across the Ausangate trek. And after reading up on it we got convinced that this is the trek we want to do!
Ausangate is a mountain of the Willkanuta mountain range in the Peruvian Andes. With an altitude of 6,372 metres it is located around 100 kilometres southeast of Cusco and the 7th highest mountain in Peru. The region is inhabited by llama and alpaca herding communities and is linked to the Incan mythology. Even today some of the inhabitants living very remotely and in extreme heights, live almost entirely from their llama and alpaca herds and what the mountain has to offer. Often they still believe in and even make offerings to their ancient goods for good harvests and healthy heards! For them Ausangate is an Apu, a designated holy mountain and home of the Quechuan gods.
A tour around Ausangate offers everything one could hope for from a trek: soaring alpine scenery, trail-side hot springs, glaciers, lakes, ragged llama and alpaca herds and mountain huts and people giving way to an empty landscape. It is a tough route, with steep uphill and downhill sections and high altitudes, yet the views and the challenge we believed to be well worth the effort.
After interviewing several agencies offering the tour, we decided to place our hope in Quente. In personal discussions the founder of Quente, Joaquin convinced us of their qualities and we felt in good hands. He recommended to bring a guide, a cook and a horseman to carry the food, cooking equipment and tents, leaving us with a far more light-weight and comfortable backpack! The idea sounded strange to us at first since we have always been cooking and carrying our things ourselves, but we quickly got used to this new set of interesting trekking conditions.
Our Ausangate Trek Details:
– Took morning bus (6 am) from Cusco (3400 m) to Tinke (3800 m, ~3 hours)
– Hiked from Tinke to Upis (4450 m)
– Camped overnight; got up early next day
– Crossed Arapa pass (4780 m) in the morning
– Crossed Apachata pass (4890 m) after lunch
– Camped overnight; got up even earlier next day
Longest and toughest day!
– Crossed Palomani pass (5130 m) in the morning
– Crossed Jampa pass (5090 m) after lunch
– Camped overnight and relaxed; the rest would be a piece of cake 🙂
– Hiked back towards Tinke, passed the village of Calachaca
– Crossed Pachanta pass (4350 m)
– Since it’s all downhill, arrive in Tinke at around 1-2 pm
– Took a taxi to Ocongate and then the bus back to Cusco
– Arrived in Cusco in the late afternoon
Initially we planed the hike for 5 days, but since the weather turned bad in the morning of day 4 we decided to speed up a bit and finish day 5 on day 4 🙂
Carrying a small GPS tracker we were able to record our entire trek. Here you can see an interactive Google map of our Ausangate trek (if you wait for it to load you can zoom in on all parts of the trek; be careful when using the mouse wheel while the mouse cursor is located on the map!):
The elevation profile of the trek (the red vertical lines mark the overnight camp sites):
Now let’s start with the images…
The bus tour to Tinke was an adventure for itself. The bus, designed for 40 people, was stuffed with at least 60 people. But that did not stop other people from shoving through the bus to sell bread(!), advertise some health-food package which is supposed to even help against cancer or women with a load of goods on their back heading to a market to just sit on the floor of the aisle. And then in the middle of all of this the bus driver assistant worked his way through all the people to collect the fair… All in all a very interesting and close to Peruvian everyday life experience for us 🙂
After we finally arrived in Tinke we had a small breakfast in a local place our guide Lizandro chose.
Andy’s question on the existence of toilets was politely answered with: “Just out the door, left and then left again”. Following those simple instructions, this is what Andy got to see:
At this point we really realized we had arrived in a different world. If you are guessing the toilet to be in that little hut the wash is attached to, you had the same instinct as Andy. That is correct. The opening is on the back side. I say opening and not door, because there was no door…
We will admit we got scared for a moment, but this was about the worst hygienic situation we encountered in the days ahead 🙂
On the way to the trail-head we picked up our cook and horseman and left them to organize the packing while we started the trek:
In the first few kilometers we passed smaller villages and their traditionally dressed inhabitants and many animals from their farm life:
A cactus blossom:
Here Ronny (the cook) and Nilberto (the horseman) are catching up with us. They packed everything on three horses and Nilberto was wearing sandals almost the entire time. This is remarkable because only by looking at him walk up a pass with those sandals we started getting cold feet…
Their job was to provide us breakfast in the morning, pack everything up, pass us on the way, set up the tent for lunch, prepare lunch, we would then arrive to eat and then continue hiking, they would clean and pack everything up, again pass us and repeat the same procedure for dinner! Comparing ourselves to them we felt like pretty slow hikers…
The only thing in our defense I would like to mention is, that we really took very many pictures which considerably slowed us down 🙂
Also we always managed to beat the time Nilberto said was a good time for tourists, so we were happy with that 🙂
Along the way we met many children who would pop out of wherever they were hiding before. They would often very shyly ask for some candy which we were happy share with them. Luckily we had brought a big bag of not too sugary sweets 🙂
This bull kept his eyes on us all the way we passed by. Boy were we happy there was a fence between us 🙂
While Andy is sure they liked the sweets, these children seemed suspicious about that pale senorita next to them 😉
Continuing on towards the west face of Ausangate:
We stopped every once in a while to drink and have a small snack:
Our first alpaca on this trek! We just love their cute little and sometimes so stupid looking faces 🙂
Some more alpacas sharing the road with us:
The look back into the valley:
Arriving at our lunch-tent site:
Lizandro after lunch. From him we learned never to start walking right after lunch! How right he was!
Continuing on we saw mountain eagles soaring high above us in the sky:
Many more alpacas grazing on pretty steep hillsides:
With that beautiful landscape ahead:
and following a brook one could easily stop looking where one places his steps…
And suddenly it is too late to avoid. Tini had stepped into a puddle of (hopefully) mud. Andy was laughing pretty hard and had a great time on Tini’s cost. She couldn’t be angry though and cleaned it all off in the nearby brook.
And soon she would get the chance return the laughter…
With cleaned boots we kept heading towards our night-campsite, lying close before the foot of Ausangate you can see in the back:
View back along the way we’ve came so far:
We passed by the first hot springs with a stream of boiling water flowing from the earth and coloring the surrounds yellow from the sulfur it carries:
Finally we arrived at the campsite. And while Ronny and Nilberto started unloading the horses:
Andy started to get friendly with the horses:
I don’t think I’d be a good horseman though, as the horse wouldn’t follow me anywhere…
We set up the tents and prepared for the night. These can become extremely cold (below zero every night!) because of the altitude. Thank god we were well equipped and had brought several layers of clothing and good sleeping bags with us!
All meals consisted of at least 2 courses. Unfortunately we sometimes just forgot to take pictures of all of them. Here the delicious soup we had that evening with some spicy vegetables to add as desired:
Next day we woke up to perfect weather for starting our first pass (Arapa pass 4780m):
We had toasts and pancakes filled with half banana and apple mouse and a caramel decoration. Delicious!
After that breakfast for champions we started to tackle our first pass:
And as we climbed higher and higher the air got thinner and thinner. It’s amazing to witness how breathing becomes more difficult and all actions become far more strenuous!
At these altitudes all flowers have very short stems and thus grow very close to the ground. But if you look closely there are many more flowers than just the ever present cacti:
Yes, this is a huge pile of shit! To be precise it’s alpaca shit and the farmes living up here collect it and use it either as fertilizer or they burn it. Why burn it? Because up here there is not much that can be burnt. No trees or bushes grow in these altitudes.
One of the huts the people here live in. Not necessary to mention there is no electricity or flowing water…
Finally at the top of the first pass:
Shooting a jump-in-the-air picture can look stupid from an outside perspective:
But the final picture always looks funny or interesting:
The Arapa pass at 4780 meters:
While we were still wallowing in the happiness that we had managed the first pass Ronny and Nilberto quickly passed us with their horses and some friendly words 🙂
And also we continued the journey remaining at this altitude for some time.
We saw our very first vicuñas which are very beautiful but extremely shy. They are believed to be the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas and produce only small amounts of extremely fine wool. Products made from this wool are very expensive (a scarf made entirely from vicuña can easily cost 800 – 1000 USD) because the animal can only be shorn every two to three years, and has to be caught from the wild:
Some of the stones seen on the way:
We continued our route in this thin air regime never dropping below 4500 m that day:
Some of these mosses grow as little as 1 mm per year:
Then from an opposite hillside we suddenly saw this little boy running towards us. It was just crazy seeing him run down the hill and up our hillside again just for the hope of some sweets. As he got closer he quickly slowed down and seemed to wonder whom of us to approach and what to say!
Andy quickly got out some of our emergency Oreo cookies and handed them over to the boy. But he wouldn’t smile or start eating them until we turned our backs and continued walking. From some distance we then saw a big white smile and unpacked cookies which let us know that he enjoyed them 🙂
We continued heading towards our lunch-tent destination:
A good spot for a break:
Here we saw some sheep grazing on the hillside being watched by a female shepard. Perhaps the mother of the boy?
And more plants growing right on the surface of the earth:
Another short stop to just sit and enjoy the beautiful landscape:
We were also starting to get hungry and kept trying to spot our red lunch-tent:
The always delicious starter soup (remembered to take a picture just before the soup was gone…):
And vegetables, rice and a chicken burger as main dish:
Our little expedition group:
After lunch we started to tackle Apachata pass (4890 m) and passed through these beautiful landscapes:
Some of the parts of Ausangate consist of glacier which snow-cap the mountains white, even in summer:
Just a short brake in the afternoon sun:
Before we again continue climbing Apachata pass…
What a beautiful alpaca! You can firmly see how warm his fur coat is:
A nice example of the good fertilizer quality of the alpaca manure:
The glaciers are also an important source of clean drinking water for man and animals:
Another one of those interesting stones…
And these five friendly alpacas showing us their b-side:
After a short hail intermezzo:
We finally arrived at our campsite for day 2:
And had a strengthening and delicious dinner. The soup with noodles and fresh vegetables:
And spaghetti with tomato onion sauce:
Next day we got up early, as you can see in our faces:
And started the day with a delicious omelette breakfast with fried banana on the side:
And all flavors of tea including coca-leafs:
As we started to climb the Palomani pass which is with 5130 m altitude the highest pass of the trek, we passed by lots of glacier ice and this small waterfall:
And continued the strenuous way up the pass:
Another kind of yellow moss, we had not seen so far:
And a look back over the valley we had slept in:
And more of the incredible plants surviving at this altitude:
Finally the false summit with a great outlook. Can you tell our brains are already getting too little oxygen? 😉
Our supply unit passing us seemingly without any effort:
And the last ascent before we reach the real summit of the Palomani pass:
At this point you just walk with very slow steps and try to keep going constantly:
As you can read on Andy’s face we finally reached the top:
One more look backwards into the valley:
And into the new valley were about to descend into:
Also here traces of people living as remote as one can imagine. To get to any civilization at least one > 5000 m pass must be crossed…
And of course aplenty of alpacas. This one actually seems to have understood the “smile into the camera” instructions:
Find the error on this picture. One of the alpacas does not fit into the pattern. Can you tell which one? 🙂
And then again some just don’t want to smile into the camera:
Andy taking pictures of the alpacas:
On the way out of the side valley:
A group of houses that looked abandoned to us:
Tini having a short brake on one of her waiting stones:
And some more of those short-stem flowers:
The beautiful valley lying to our feet when looking back. We entered this valley from the right side between those two mountains:
And then it suddenly happened! While crossing a brook Andy stepped on a piece of grass that apparently was only swimming on a pool of mud. After sinking in almost to his knee and hollering some curses while he quickly pulled his leg out again, his leg was covered with mud. Now it was Tini’s turn to laugh which she did a lot 🙂
Luckily it was really mainly mud and by quickly taking off the shoe and the bottom part of the pant, Andy could almost entirely avoid his shoe getting wet.
Of course it took some cleaning, but after the right pant side and the shoe were almost as good as new:
Some more thorny fauna:
And a hidden gem even growing under the grass:
Once again on our way to the lunch-tent:
Viscachas are closely related to chinchillas, and look similar to rabbits. Here’s one of them:
Drying the socks and feet in the sun. They weren’t wet, just a little damp…
Delicious garlic bread:
Some rice, a steak and a yucca croquette:
Ready to tackle Jampa pass (5090 m), our second > 5000 m pass that day:
We met some more alpacas up here:
And in order to see them in action Andy gave them a little chase:
Their footprint in case you ever come across them:
These guys just seemed to be posing in front of that mountain scenery:
Same as these fellows:
But as soon as you try to sneak on the picture with them, they take off…
Here the most beautiful and still very young vicuñas we saw:
In order to get pictures of them this close, Andy had to do some sneaking up on them. At an altitude of almost 5000 m not only a challenging, but also strenuous task…
And with all those thorny plants Andy had to pay the price… 😉
Once again that day, almost at the summit! We shared some chocolate and mobilized the last energy reserves:
After some short moments of despair:
Tini rejoicing that we almost made it:
From this point on we would only be walking downwards! We made the pass!
One more look back over Jampa pass:
And down we hiked heading for our campsite:
Can you see that little red tent Ronny and Nilberto already set up?
Andy too was glad we finally arrived in that days camp-site…
Hmmm! Once again a famous soup of Ronny:
Some spicy addons for the soup and the main dish:
And the most delicious broccoli quiche with rice and roasted chicken legs we have ever eaten (above 4800 m :-))
That evening the clouds moved in quickly and forecasted some nasty weather for the next day:
The next morning we had a breakfast for champions once again. Toast, jam, coffee, tea:
And then some scrambled eggs and fries. Even Tini who is not a fan of hearty breakfasts enjoyed this:
And as predicted the weather had changed from sunny and clear sky to cloudy and cold, but that too was fine:
From out of nowhere this friendly man popped up with his 3 barking dogs and started to spread out the bead laces and other arts his family had crafted at home. Tini quickly fell in love with one of the colorful bead laces she had to have:
As we continued the weather got crazier and crazier. From hail in the one moment:
To sun and back to rain in the next moment. You can see the steaming grounds here:
Here one of the local farmers who brought goods to the market:
Close up of stones from this region:
Eventually we arrived in the village of Calachaca:
Several women again started presenting their handcrafted products. This time Andy chose a naturally colored alpaca wool hat with a condor as a motif. It took the women almost one week to fabricate it and she considered a fair price to be 40 Soles (~14 USD).
The local men making bricks of clay and straw:
They get the clay from this source:
And after drying the bricks in the sun they use them for building their houses:
Once again a weather change to rain. This time it came from all sides and got us wet to the bones:
After more walking we finally arrived back in civilization, visible from the Coca Cola sign on the clay brick house:
And our very last lunch of the trek before heading back to Cusco. Ronny’s starter-soup:
And fried chicken strips, rice and french fries:
Overall we really loved the Ausangate trek. For us it was the perfect trek. The only other tourists we saw during these entire 4 days were on day 3 and consisted of a group of 4 people crossing our way.
We heard from many other people that the Inca trail is quite the opposite and crowded with tourists. After all they permit 500 people per day to the trek…
We would definitely recommend the Ausangate trek. Just make sure you take enough warm cloths as the weather is always cold at nights and otherwise unpredictable!