The first day was short and intense. Split into two sections, a prologue and a hellish climb, we were up before sunrise to meet our guide, Domingo Enty Atao, in front of our hostel. Half the day was spent making our way by bus to the starting point of our trek. We stopped at a small town (Mollepata District 2800m) for breakfast and to buy some hiking sticks and then continued on our way by bus to the start point. We walked for an hour or so along the trail before reaching our first tent meal at Chuñuna. Here, we met our horsemen, horses, and cooks. This was the prologue, an easy going hike along a mostly flat trail to warm ourselves up and get our bodies adjusted to the rocky / gravel-filled road with horse droppings sprinkled throughout. We stopped to take in the scenery and even spotted some fool's gold. What followed lunch was pure hell.
With our bellies satiated everyone strapped on their bags for the first 'real' hike of the trip. It started out pretty mellow, a few flat areas followed by undulating hills. Then came the switchback from hell. After weeks at a desk, none of us were in shape to tackle the climb. I'm not sure what to compare it to in order to give people a good idea of what it was like. Bent forward so that the weight of your hiking bag wouldn't pull you backwards off the mountain, each step was like a vertical lunge where you brought your knee up to meet your chest before pushing off that lead leg dragging the rest of your body upwards. In my mind I thought it would be easier for the taller folks but I then realized the wind would have bothered them more. At the high altitude all of us were already gasping for oxygen, every time a gust of wind blew by it felt like I was in a vacuum unable to draw any air into my lungs. In the middle of the climb most of us made the realization that we packed too much. At times some of the crew were literally blue in the face, I've never seen that happen in person, only in cartoons. Fortunately Lynn had hired a horse so when someone fell far behind, Lynn would send the horse back for the laggard. It got so bad that one of us actually blacked out while on the horse and slipped off the saddle.
It was freezing cold by the time we hit our camp site. Wiped out from the climb and wanting to get warm and toasty none of us bothered with dinner, we just had soup and hit the sack. Both tents were set up by the time we reached the camp grounds, in a bid to stay warm we crammed everyone (all five of us) into the larger of the two tents, a 3-person tent. But after laying there for 15 minutes and noticing how tall the ceiling was we decided to brave the frigid cold again to move to the smaller 2-person tent. It warmed up a bit that night when the earth started releasing the heat it absorbed during the day. By the time I got out of the tent in the middle of the night to take a leak, frost had formed all around us. It was probably the most scenic bathroom break I ever took. Our campsite (4,000m) was nestled between mountain ridges next to a small pond. Overhead the stars were as bright as I've ever see them. We would resume our hike the next day by walking around the pond towards a trail between the two ridges. The day was a nice wake up call that the trek wasn't going to be easy...
Photo Gallery: Day 1 by Kevin Boon aka Costner