Trekking Peru’s Ausangate

Global Adventures leader Cheryl Talbert explains why trekking in the high mountains of Peru keeps drawing her back, and why her upcoming trek under the remote 21,000-foot sacred mountain of Ausangate is a challenge strong, hardy trekkers won't want to pass up!
Cheryl Talbert Cheryl Talbert
Global Adventures Leader
August 28, 2019

I rose shivering in the pre-dawn dark and poked my head out of the tent. Frost coated every surface and glittered in a thick layer on the tent fly. Outside a faint glow was building over the ridge opposite our tents, and the donkey drivers on our support crew were hooting and hollering on the hillsides, bringing our donkeys down from their overnight grazing spot above camp. Another glorious day in Peru was about to start, and we were looking forward to greeting the sun at the top of  a  15,416-foot pass.

Our cooking crew was already up, chattering and singing and banging pots in the cook tent. After a couple of quick cups of coca tea, a slap on the face with a hot towel, and a hurried breakfast, our guide led us out of camp. We labored through switchbacks, back and forth, back and forth, up the rocky slope to reach the first high pass of the day.  The mantra “two steps, breathe! two steps, breathe!” got me to the saddle at the same moment as the first rays of the sun. High above us, clouds boiled and offered up peek-a-boo views of the craggy snow-spackled summit of 19,386-foot Nevado Pucajirca.

Our donkey team clattered to the top after us, laden with propane cans and boxes of cooking gear and our multi-colored duffels. The donkeys were chased to the top by their drivers – men from a local village who trotted along for hours, keeping the donkeys moving so that they could set up our next camp before we got there. As we descended the other side, the terrain looked like a velvet painting of golds and browns and blues: rolling hills stretching as far as we could see, brilliant lupine higher than our heads, more glacier-laden crags in the distance, and – juxtaposed on the soft folds of the hills – small squares of laboriously hand-built corrals and tiny summer shelters. At the turn of the valley, a herd of alpaca grazed in the early sun, the little ones jumping and dancing. 

It's  clearly not a fleeting fancy for me - I love the high mountains of Peru. Despite the lung-numbing altitude. Despite the mud, despite the dung around your tent, despite the occasional  gastric distress. I’ve been back four times, and am eagerly awaiting another trip in June 2020 – this time to a totally new spot, the sacred Ausangate, standing at 20,905 feet. It’s the highest mountain in the Cusco region, and shares a ridgeline with the  “Rainbow Mountain”. The Ausangate trek will be one of the harshest, most remote, and most uniquely stunning trips I’ve undertaken in Peru to date. 

I may not choose to hang off ropes or collect peak pins for fun, but I do feel the irresistible siren’s call to push my physical limits by going on foot for weeks at a time on seriously tough trails deep into places that few people have seen. That’s why I was attracted to the idea of an extended trek to a place with descriptions accompanied by qualifiers like “challenging”, “not for beginners”, and "must be a strong walker.”

Starting at 12,000 feet, spending multiple days over 15,000 feet, and reaching high passes close to 17,000 feet, the 50-mile 7-day Ausangate trek gets to some serious altitude and stays there for days. But the rewards! The trek passes through villages of just a few small stone huts and corrals, with women in colorful dresses spinning alpaca wool and weaving textiles, while kids laugh and chatter and sing nearby. Our feet will take us through the rolling velvet foothills up to high passes to spy yet another side of the towering snow-capped Ausangate massif. We’ll traverse one and another and another aquamarine lake, wander along a panoramic ridge with the icy Ausangate on one side and the incredible multi-striped sandstone ridges of the Vinacunca “Rainbow Mountain” on the other, and pass herds of alpacas and even the rare vicuña.  Imagine deep breaths of the freshest of air, and the sheer immensity of the empty landscape, and knowing that very few people other than the locals have passed where we are walking (Oh, and did I mention the hot springs?).

So if you’ve been saying to yourself “I’ve done the Inca Trail, why go back to Peru?” you might think again. It’s the soaring peaks of the Himalaya surrounded by golden foothills and with  historic, playful, raucous Cusco just 3 hours away, and the citadel of Machu Picchu just a little farther. Come with me on this Mountaineers Global Adventure if you’re a hardy hiker who’s ready for some frosty mornings and heavy breathing.  Come for a chance to challenge yourself with compatible and capable companions in a place that will leave an indelible mark on your psyche. Take a look at this video of the Ausangate trek and you’ll be hooked!

Susangate & Rainbow Mountain, Peru - June 2020

Find out more about this June 2020 Global Adventure to Peru’s Ausangate and Rainbow Mountain and apply:

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