I slept in until 10 am this morning, not for laziness, but because I couldn't make myself get out of bed. It was warm and there was so much... oxygen. Nothing special, except that the night before I was in a bivy somewhere around 14,000 ft.
My first day in Arequipa I spent walking around the city looking for someone to drive me to the XXX trail head. Most said it was "unadvisable" and that I should have a guide - then they would quote a price half my total budget. Persistence and a loud mouth paid off. As a fellow hostel resident said "Don't listen to them, just stay true to yourself." I'm big on listening to others, maybe too much sometimes. This time I held my own.
Jack, my reasonably priced driver, met me at 7am the morning of the 4th. We drove through a gated property and up a 4 wheel only road (is it considered a road if only 3 wheels ever touch the ground?). The gate is manned by the family that owns the property you drive through before getting to the mountain road. The guide pays them per trip he makes, a nice source of income for the family and an extra layer of protection for hikers. It's safe enough to leave your gear at base camp for an ultra light summit day. The trailhead is at 3,300 ish meters above sea level, and clearly marked. He left me with "It's easy. The trail is well traveled, and base camp is right there - two features up after the foothills turn to volcanic sand. The trail follows the ridge directly above."
His directions were incredibly accurate. The high desert flora seemed very familiar: cacti, pokey plants, sand and small grasses. The trail wound uphill, then left to the next ridge, then left again and straight up. At the crest where sand turned to ash, I went left again and found a "false" base camp. I decided to camp there rather than hike up another 30 minutes to the next one. It just didn't seem worth it. I started hiking at 8, and made it to camp a little before 2. That left a whole afternoon to eat, nap and pack for the morning. It was awesome. That much solitude and time in the sun with those views... Worth the hike up alone. I slept for an hour or two, took some pictures, cooked dinner and aimed my bivy at the setting sun. The horizon was on fire, and if I'm not mistaken, I could also see the ocean in the distance.
I slept for 6 or 7 hours, woke at 1am and contemplated an alpine start. The sky looked good, but I wasn't sure about the clarity of the trail, as there had been many offshoots (always leading up, though) during the hike below. Also, the thought of doing it in the dark was incredibly demoralizing. I re heated my water bottles and went back to sleep. I woke right before dawn, made a hot breakfast and was hiking before the sun was fully up. Much better. I figured I'd go until I felt I might not be able to safely get down again if I continued, due to altitude sickness or whatever.
In an hour I was already higher than if ever been before. I called my ride (full bars there) and asked him to meet me at 4pm. I kept hiking, feeling myself get slower and slower, stopping frequently to assess my progress and the possible path the trail might take. And breathe. I would look at my watch and say "well, I might as well keep going, I have nothing better to do." Same approach I took on the Grand. Worked out well. My hard stop was noon, and my goal was the crater rim, not the true summit with the cross on top. Too many steep cliffs around it, so I figured I'd pass.
At noon I was struggling against lethargy, nausea and a small but persistent headache. I was also at just under 19,000 ft. I gave myself another 20 minutes and pushed hard for the top. I made the crater rim, took some photos, and wondered how the hell all the guides got their clients down in only 2 hours. Then I noticed, the skid marks down the chutes on either side of the ridge.
I aimed down the steep volcano ash and immediately fell on my ass. Then I tried again. It was amazing. Like skiing. It took me an hour and 20 minutes to make it to my bivy, sliding the whole way. I had left it to dry in the sun, so I packed up, and headed down. More sliding, then a right to the original ridge I came up. There I met the first people I'd seen all day- three hikers and a guide. The guide called me a crazy lady, and said people get lost. How, I don't know. You can see the entire route from the entire route. Maybe I've just done enough vague climber trail finding to make it seem easy. He have me a tip, to go one ridge more over and slide down the rest of the way, taking a left up a small hill to return to the original trail once the scrambling was over. I was down to the parking lot by 3:15. That's a net loss of 6,000 feet in just under 3 hours. SO much fun.
My only regret in the whole trip is not applying enough sunscreen to my face. My forehead hurts today :-P
I may be a crazy lady, but I know myself and I'm happy. That's all that matters. And today I'll go find aloe.
Better photos to come once I find a place to upload from an SD card.