After reading bits and pieces of the Ausangate trek online, I stumbled upon a picture of what I can only describe as a rainbow in a mountain.
This soon became an obsession for me to find out where the mountain was and how we could get there. Knowing that it was close-ish to the trek we were planning, but not able to find any information online, we were at a loss. We went into guide shops, scanned social media, and still came up empty-handed. Now with one day before our takeoff, we stumbled upon a distorted map of an old trail. Having some idea of where the mountain was we made some notes and set out.
Every adventure-seeker dreams of an undiscovered land, a place that is off the beaten track, where you get away from it all; but is there such a place anymore?
Vinicunca Mountain in Peru is one of these places travelers have yet to discover — a secret that has been kept so well there is no information about it.
The journey will take you 6 days to complete. It is a high altitude adventure that will keep you begging for oxygen as you strut above a constant 14,000 feet. Crossing 5 passes ranging between 15,000 and 17,000 feet and passing thousands of roaming alpaca and llama, you walk through beautifully diverse landscapes that change daily from snow capped peaks, to neon red desert mountains, to marshy pampas. The real reward, however, is when you arrive at the painted hills hidden deep in the Andes. Resembling a rainbow, this mountain will require extreme route finding, harsh camping conditions, and a strong determination, but it will not leave you disappointed.
Want more? You are rewarded on the first day and last with a relaxing soak in natural hot springs and the best part is you will be on a trail that gets very few visitors each year. This is a destination not to be missed for any adventure seeker.
At the start of the trek we were instantly greeted by herds of alpaca and llama; starting around noon we only hiked a few hours before the clouds came with uninvited rain and we set up camp for the night. Content that we were stationed right next to the hot springs we waited out the rain and enjoyed some coca tea to stay warm before having a nice long soak to prepare our muscles for the extreme days ahead.
Each morning we fueled our bodies and took off to conquer pass after pass. With Ausangate mountain in full view, we passed deep blue lakes, active glaciers and desert landscapes.
We were getting closer to the rainbow. Preparing for a difficult day ahead, and hoping we would actually find what we were looking for, we were up early, and took off a few hours earlier than usual. First thing ahead of us was a steep climb up a daunting 16,000 foot pass, over 1500 feet of elevation gain in less than a half a mile. Steadily, we make our way up taking frequent breaks to marvel at the snow capped peaks behind us while chunks of ice the size of a car break off and plummet into the glacial tarn below. One step after another we traipse over lavender colored sand; already it feels as though we are in a different world, but it’s only a precursor of what is to come.
At the top of the pass we grab for our map to have another look. Since we are now off the circuit, there is no more trail and we are at the mercy of our map and hopefully good judgement. Every few minutes we stop to check our track, and gasp for more oxygen.
We make our way through the lush green valley and begin another climb our second 16,000 foot pass for the day, hoping the whole way that this was actually the pass we needed. Three hours later we reach the top, and a rush of emotions stream through my veins. We could see it. The mountain we were looking for. It exists, and it was only a few hours with in reach. Not that it was going to be an easy task to get there though, we still had many miles and a deep valley standing in our way. On an adrenaline high, we continue on for the ultimate view of the rainbow.
When we finally arrived at Vinicunca I was again overwhelmed with emotions. It was better than I could have ever imagined and it was just us and the Andes. Surrounded by a splattering of neon reds, electric yellows, and soft blues. It was as though it shouldn’t exist in reality – as if Dr. Seuss created it himself. We sat there in silence awed by the beauty that exists in this world, and stunned that we even were able to find it.
The rest of the trek was nothing short of a backpackers dream. We crossed four more passes, slept under a sky crowded by stars and colors from the milky way, swam in some beautiful (yet cold) lagoons, and didn’t see a soul until the last day where we again rested our muscles in a hot springs.
My partner and I have seen some amazing things and been on a lot of adventures, but this is one that we will never forget. A journey to the secret, painted hills of the Andes mountains where we walked into the unknown. What will your next adventure be?
Since this trek, LeAnn Morris and her husband have started an adventure company. You can learn more about it on her blog or in the video below.