Yesterday’s hike up into the mountains started out great as I was able to film and make some new friends from Utah along with their guide, Elisban, who was knowledgeable and friendly.
I was able to get some good shots on the way up, but was having more fun talking with my new friends and didn’t get nearly as much as I’d planned. As always, there’ll be other days for that.
Unfortunately the weather failed to cooperate and, just as I was nearing my goal at around 13,800′ (4200m), a massive hailstorm came in pelting us with the heaviest and largest (almost pea size) hail I’ve ever hiked in. It continued for nearly an hour. While my rain coat performed great, my pants and supposedly waterproof shoes began soaked and I realized that I needed to start back down as hypothermia might become a concern.
The heavy downpour also caused the few streams to become rapidly rising small rivers. At one point, after slowly making my way down an ice-covered rock path, I found the stream I’d easily jumped across 30 minutes before had become much wider and faster. As the only place to cross was above a waterfall, I had to gather rocks and create place where I could cross safely. Even then, it was a bit of a leap of faith as I just ran across hoping not to loose my footing as I had to scramble up a slight rise on the other side. To fall and be swept over the waterfall would, of course, had meant disaster.
Thank goodness my North Face shoes, though not as waterproof as the Goretex lining was advertised, gripped the wet rocks very well and that saved me on several sections of the trail back down.
In some places an inch or more of hail covered the ground. I started up what was likely a safer trail above, but quickly realized that trail was unrecognizable so I went back and took the lower trail which I knew and could likely follow even if it was unclear — something that turned out to be true several times as I had to change course because the trail had become unpassable.
The entire side of the mountain for about 30 minutes of hiking had become a steady downstream waterfall. In some places it was so strong that I had to search for places where I was confident I could find footing solid enough.
Stream beds like the one in the photo that were dry on the way up were now full and roaring down the mountainside. Luckily, after the first problem spot, I was able to find ways to cross the handful of stronger flows fairly easily.
Despite the discomfort of being wet on my lower half, the temperature was not too cold even at that altitude and I was able to keep moving fast enough so I never really got into any trouble. I was very worried about the really narrow parts of the trail along very steep mountainsides, but those spots turned out to be in good shape and were easily passable. Fires a few months earlier actually helped a lot as the thick ichu grass that would have made footing harder to see was gone.
The only time I really got a bit cold was riding the bus down from Tambomchay. My lower half was still soaked as the rain had continued as I made my way down the mountain trails, so I hopped off a bit early once back in town so I could walk the rest of the way home and keep my body heat going until I reached to comfort of home.
Needless to say, this little hike turned out to be quite an adventure. I wish I had more photos and video to share of the return, but my concern was to get down as quickly as I could. Battery life was gone in my GoPro video camera and nearly gone in my cell phone and there was no way I was going to stop and change batteries or try to do any charging.
While a bit of an adventure, the day reminded me how important it is to be prepared for anything when up in the mountains. I wish I’d taken some rain pants to keep my lower legs dry as well as waterproof gloves since my hands were quite cold. Some dry socks to change into had the rain stopped would have proved useful as well.
Like anywhere in the mountains around the world, weather in the Andes can change very, very quickly and it’s wise to be prepared for anything. Next time I go up higher, I’ll take a larger day backpack with more things in case of unexpected turn of events.
Knowing the trail made a huge difference, too. I was able to “bushwhack” off-trail in some places to find safer routes, but someone with lesser knowledge might have found themselves in a very dangerous situation.
No matter how challenging yesterday was, I’m still ready to get back out there and do some more exploring!