Day 5 – Viconga to Cutatambo
6am peek outside our tent – clouds with breaks of blue. We were hopeful! We walked from the hot springs back up to the valley we came to reattach to the main trail. We had two big passes to conquer today. The first one at 16,500 ft and the second at 16,600ft. We were prepared for a challenging day!
The first climb was slow going. I felt really fatigued and out of breath most of the way. I would walk a few paces and then sit on the next rock available.
At the top, there was life! Condors flew overhead like jets (their wings literally sounded like a plane coming in to land) and a herd of Guanacos were not far from the summit grazing on the mountain side. We sat and celebrated our first victory of the day soaking in the sunshine and glacier views.As the sky changed, some of the clouds started turning darker. We decided we needed to head down quickly if we were going to reach our second pass of the day. Thankfully, hiking down was a steep decent so we dropped elevation quickly.
Before our next climb, at the bottom of the valley, we took a break to fill up our waters at a crystal clear stream. Dark clouds started to form (which worried us more) so with tired legs, we started our second climb up to the highest point of the Huayhuash Circuit!
I really struggled with the second climb – more than the first. Low on energy, I felt like I was getting weaker with each step. I struggled to eat while climbing as my breath was short and my head was airy. I sucked on gummy worms to keep me going. At 16,000ft, with only 600ft to go, I started feeling pressure and a slight headache. Feeling so close to the top, the summit was deceivingly far away. The trail was mentally challenging as the hike weaved us through a rock field with the summit in constant view. Snowflakes started to fall! Right as the first flakes fell, Jake and I both knew we had to agree on a “Plan B.” So we decided, if the weather got worse within the next half hour, we would head all the way back down to the valley to safety and set up camp for the night.
Continuing to climb, the weather appeared to be letting up, and the clouds rolled in the opposite direction. At my snail pace, Jake ended up making it to the top first. Before I could see any view, he shouted down, assuring me it’s was worth the climb!
The wind curled across the top of the summit and hit me square in the face. I made it and was instantly awestruck! I thought for sure there would be no view, but the sun was striking the sea of glaciers and high peaks in front of us like a grand show. Below was a glacier blue lake contrasting with the red and green colors swirled in the mountainsides. It was amazing!
The trail was very steep with loose rock, so it took us a while to get down to camp. The trail walked us right beside the glaciers – the air was so icy, we had to put our mittens on.
What a day!! We were safe, the weather was GREAT, the views were epic – it was a successful, double 16-er day!