Climbing Nevado Chachani in the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve
Chachani Volcano is a snow-capped, dormant volcano in the Salinas
and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, located 22 kilometres from the city of Arequipa. It’s not considered a highly technical climb, but its elevation of 6,057m a.s.l. (19,872 ft) made the hike challenging.
I had originally booked to climb Misti Volcano, but on the morning of
my tour (I was literally just finishing breakfast), I was told that the rest
of my group had fallen victim to that all too familiar combination of too many Pisco Sours and ceviche. To cut a long story short, they postponed their tour by a day, but unfortunately for me, I had already bought a bus ticket to Cusco. He offered me a tour to Chachani or a refund. Without hesitation, I said yes to Chachani.
Trekking to base camp (5,000m asl)
I arrived at the agency to get my rented gear - it took about a couple hours to get our group of six sorted. The common theme of the morning was to expect Chachani to be cold, both at base camp and especially at the summit.
We piled into the 4WD and got to know the other people in our tour. At the time there were six of us, and we learned later that a seventh member would follow in the other 4WD. The group only needed to trek two hours to base camp, and to be honest I would have done it easily had it not been for the five litres of water in my pack. Two and half litres were for cooking and the remaining would be my ration for the two days.
Base camp was picturesque itself, and at sunset turned the landscape into the ‘red planet’. At 5,000m a.s.l., it was already higher than most places I’ve trekked to. We arrived around 3.30pm and our guides soon began the task of getting our tents set up and sorting out dinner. Soup and spaghetti bolognese was on the menu that night.
I’ve never slept at altitude, and personally I didn’t know what to expect. Our tents and sleeping bags were OK, but I still definitely felt the cold. Trying to find a comfortable position that also help me breathe was challenging. I found lying on my stomach helped and I guess I got about three hours sleep before our 1am wake up call.
While I was in my tent and attempting to sleep by 7.30pm, the others
took a bit longer. I went to the bathroom before closing my tent, but unfortunately the cold triggered my bladder twice that night. Not that
I minded, the desert night sky was incredible. If it wasn’t so cold I
would have even dragged my sleeping bag outside and stayed outside
a lot longer.
A breathtaking sunrise before reaching the summit
I was already awake before our 1am wake up call, and after a quick breakfast, we set off around 2am. There were plenty of groggy faces - most of us managed to get about three hours sleep. I’ve never trekked in the dark before, but we had headlamps and really we were all following each other so I wasn’t worried about it.
Trekking at this altitude is more of a grind than requiring that much skill. At around 5,500m and almost two hours in, one of the guys in our group was looking seriously wobbly! I know, because I was behind him and his 6’5” frame showed clear signs of altitude sickness. It never easy to watch someone go through that, and after 30 minutes the guides decided it would be better to take him back down to base camp. Our group of six and the remaining guide continued up the volcano.
Sunrise crept up on our left, and knowing daylight (and warmth!) was upon us lifted our spirits significantly. Every small step inched us closer to the summit and that’s what I focused on. About 200m was when fatigue really started to hit me, but it was so close that I had to keep going. Altitude sickness can affect you in various ways and the best way to manage the symptoms to acknowledge them and if the level is beyond a seven, listen to your body.
Summit was at 6,057m and we stayed up there no more 40 minutes. It was too cold to stay still for too long and we still had the descent to come. My old nemesis, scoria, did somewhat take away some of the excitement from summiting. I was relieved to reach base camp about three hours later.
fivefootronna is Ronna Grace Funtelar - a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and poet currently working and traveling in Peru. A woman with
a curious mind who lives for hiking mountains, outdoor adventures and eating pizza. She has a unique brand of optimism that is a combination
of her great enthusiasm for life and cups of coffee during the day.