Facing the Challenge of the Andes


If you ever go on a guide led expedition, a good guide will always prepare you for the days ahead. They will map out your route, and try to set the expectations correctly. After the health issues and the extremes of the 4 days of hiking prior, hearing that day 5 and 6 would be the real tough part wasn't very reassuring. Cathy and I always try to stay focused about the here and now, and not being overwhelmed by what's to come. When we were reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro, I barely looked up at the trail ahead. It can be discouraging to see how much there is still to tackle, so focus on what you can control... that next step.
After day 3 of the Choquequirao Trek, the number of fellow hikers dwindled to only a few small groups of hardy souls. Although the 3-4 day loop trek of Choquequirao is popular, the 9 day version leading to Machu Picchu is a lot less traveled. Those of us left found an instant kinship and became an extended support group for each other.
One thing you learn very quickly on the Choquequirao is that it is extreme. I have never been on a trail that had so many steep inclines and declines. "Gradual" is rarely used to describe any part of the trek. Right from camp, the trail was an immediate steep incline into higher elevations. I liken it to stepping onto a treadmill that is already moving fast. You either get up to speed or you need to stop before you hurt yourself.
Despite the increasingly colder temperatures at the start, it is easy to heat up from the work it takes to keep moving. These kinds of treks involve constant layering and de-layering of clothing. I found it very amusing to be applying sunscreen, insect repellent and donning a hat and mittens at the start of the trek.
To get to the camp for the night meant we would be hiking some of the most difficult parts of the Choquequirao trail, but first was lunch. Stopping for lunch on trail for us usually happens at some significant point. Some of our favorites are picturesque scenic views or even better mountain summits where you can celebrate reaching a peak. Although we would be climbing over a few mountains this day, our lunch spot was the most amazing place. 360-degree views with clear skies and the majestic mountain peaks that went on forever. After being sick for days and now hiking so long and hard, I was starving. Fortunately, we had plenty of food and enjoyed a truly memorable lunch in the mountains.
The trails of the Andes can be very intimidating at times. Despite the beauty, it is a rugged trail. Far more challenging than we expected (and we expected a challenge). The hardest trails sometimes have the greatest rewards, and Choquequirao has some hidden treasures for the willing. After lunch, we took some time to explore abandoned mines along the route. Our guide and cooks were just as curious as us and seemed to love exploring the mines as much as we did. It seemed surreal to be pushing our bodies, exhausted at 12,000 feet and seeing a mine entrance appear around a bend. Suddenly we were no longer tired, donning headlamps, and becoming would-be explorers for treasure in the Andes.

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