A step too far at altitude: rainbow mountainous

After spending more than a week at altitude between Bolivia and Peru, we had the chance to go even higher. The rainbow mountain trek, three hours drive from Cuzco, takes walkers close to the height of Everest Base Camp at 5,200m. Most people do this as a day trip from Cuzco.

To get to these multi-coloured mountains, from what I’ve read, you are:

  1. picked up from Cuzco at 3.30am in the morning
  2. driven for three hours in the dark along mountain roads
  3. stopped at 4,200m for breakfast in a small village
  4. made to walk (or take a horse if you’re struggling) from 4,200m to 5,200m in a chain of people with the guides pushing you on because there is not much time

You walk the same route back and on the drive back to Cuzco you can see the mountain road that was driven in the dark earlier and is apparently terrifying.

Last big adventure

This was something that Elaine and I were both nervous about long before coming to Peru as we had read some frightening accounts. However we aren’t the type of people to give in to fear (some would say we’re a little foolish sometimes, hey mum!), we signed up for a Rainbow Mountain tour while booking our place for Machu Picchu. It would have been our last big adventure and it felt appropriate after opting out of being in altitude at the start of our trip in Nepal.

In the days leading up to the trek, Elaine and I both felt uneasy separately and it wasn’t until at dinner the night before the trek that we talked properly about it. Discussing the pros and the cons led us to try to work out what our motivations were for doing it. On reflection, the reasons were shallow. We wanted to:

  • get good pictures of the mountains
  • say we had been at that level of altitude
  • feel that we could do anything we put our minds to

The reasons weren’t strong enough to quiet the doubts. We already have plenty of incredible pictures from our trip but had learned that a nice picture is not worth a day of hell. Rainbow Mountain was a climb too far for this pair of adventurers, on this occasion.

Relief

When we made the final decision not to do the trip as we went to bed, I was surprised at how much relief I felt and not a hint of regret. The next day that relief only grew.

The incident taught me something important about travelling: just because something is presented as a once in a lifetime opportunity or a must see, doesn’t mean you should abandon what works for you.

Setting boundaries and listening to your body is just as important when you’re wearing a backpack as when you’re at home. Memorable experiences come in many different forms and don’t have to involve putting yourself in real danger. Particularly when you have less than a week until you catch your unmissable flight home.

What we did instead

Instead of dragging ourselves out of bed in the middle of the night, battling our fatigued bodies up a mountain amongst crowds of people and then panicking as the bus jerked along a treacherous mountain road, we:

  • had a lie-in
  • did a yoga class
  • had a relaxing brunch at a place we wanted to try
  • explored the incredible Incan site Saqsaywaman on the edge of Cuzco

In between those things, we stopped to soak up the sunshine and enjoy the buzz of Cuzco’s main square. It was a day of being rather than doing.

So I never got to see the Rainbow Mountains and I probably never will. My instagram feed may be a duller place for it, but my memories of being in Cuzco are better. That to me is a winning trade off!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s