Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it. -Sai Baba
After a hard night’s sleep at base camp, we rose early for our second and last hike in Condoriri Valley. I was relieved that physical exhaustion had finally gotten the best of me and I was finally able to sleep in my iceberg tent at the foot of the glacier. It wasn’t as bitterly cold as the night before and I had finally acclimatized to our base camp elevation of 15,500 feet.
The sun was rising and the only sounds we heard were of the wind and of our cook Eugenia, preparing our morning meal. Today’s hike was going to be a big one. We would climb about three to four hours up to the top of Cerro Austria also known as “Cerro Negro” to an altitude of 17,698 feet/5,396 meters. It would take us another 3 hours or so to descend depending on our speed.
I was a little bit weary of the hike because once again our guide Javier called it an “easy trekking peak that can be reached via moraines and rock slopes with no technical difficulty” in our itinerary. After a day of trekking with Javier, a serious mountaineer, I realized that “easy” for him meant something entirely different for my dad and me. But of course I was determined to make it.
The only concern for the day was the weather. A storm was coming in so we had to leave as soon as possible so we wouldn’t get caught in it. The thought of being caught in an electrical storm made me uneasy but I trusted Javier’s experience and knowledge of the high Andes. He had been climbing for over 30 years. If he didn’t know these mountains, no one did.
As we set off early in the morning, I could see the clouds coming up from the Altiplano. They were white and fluffy and did not show any sign of darkness. Reassured, we began the long ascent up the rock-studded landscape.
Austria Peak is on the other side of Chiar Kota (the “dark lake”) and once you are on the summit, you look down on our campsite as well as the mountain we climbed the day before, Jaillaico.
It was cooler than it was the day before and the winds were definitely picking up as the hike went on. The terrain was steeper and contained the same kind of slippery rocks left over from the glacial moraine.
At this altitude not much grows except for Ichu (a yellow sharp grass) and Bofeda (a green spongy plant that looks like moss and only grows in the high Andes). Llamas and alpacas have become well adapted to these plants and you can see them grazing high above along the cliffs of the mountains.
It was slow going once again given the high altitude and difficulty breathing. The hike itself was not very hard but breathing in the thin air was challenging.
The further we climbed, the winder it got and the darker the clouds became. It was time to speed up our pace a little bit in order to beat the storm.
The views continued to grow more and more spectacular the higher we ascended. There is something about being on the top of the world that is truly amazing.
The higher we got, the better the views. It was absolutely stunning but the distant rumbling of thunder began to get on my nerves. It was going to be a short lunch break once we reached the top.
I think this is my favorite picture below…
Finally we were almost there!
Just a few more steps!
And….we made it!
Just as the storm clouds rolled in…
It was a relief to be on top of the world. Yet, we had to hurry as the storm was moving in fast and there is nothing more dangerous than being caught in an electrical storm with no place to hide.