Ausangate Trek: 4 Days Among Untouched Beauty
Ausangate Trek: 4 Days Among Untouched Beauty
Ausangate is a beast of a mountain. At almost 6,400 meters, it is the tallest mountain on the Vilcanota mountain range in Peru and it’s most imposing. Known as “Apu Ausangate” (Apu means “Lord” in Quechua, the original language of Peru), it has special significance amongst local people and in Incan mythology. Ausangate protects the people of the Andean highlands. It is considered the holiest of the 12 sacred Apus in the Cusco region. For me, the Ausangate Trek meant 4 days among Untouched Beaty, a truly amazing experience.
While not the most well-known trek of the Cusco region and devoid of any Incan or pre-Incan ruins, the Ausangate Trek features breathtaking views. This hike offers travelers the rare experience of coming in close contact with the local Peruvian pastoral societies. The trek is made all the more special by the fact that most of the time you and your travel companions are the only people in sight!
Three weeks ago, two friends and I headed off on the four-day Ausangate trek. Those day were filled with unspoiled nature, loads of alpacas (and the rare herd of vicuña), various ready-made (yet nutritious) meals and the odd beautiful Andean lodge where the caretaker left the keys under the doormat so we, naturally, let ourselves in…
Day 1: Beginning of Trek and Loss of Contact
“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts” -Yvon Chouinard
After a three-hour bus drive from Cusco, we took a one-hour taxi ride from the local town of Tinke to the trailhead, along the way admiring the spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, herds of fluffy alpaca and tiny pristine ponds that guide the way. After thanking the taxi driver, Amaru, and pulling all of our gear out of the trunk, I reached into my pockets and realized that I had (stupidly) left my cell phone in the taxi! As I watched the taxi slowly zigzag back down the mountain as he made his way back, I cringed as I thought about all the opportunities I was losing to take pictures of the most glorious place I had ever been to on earth. I also thought about the loss of all my past pictures, any ability I might have to connect with the world once back around the mountain, and lack of funds to purchase a new phone…
I knew I had to put this out of my mind so that I could enjoy the Ausangate trek and not be a burden to my friends. This proved easy once we started walking because all I could do was fathom at the pristine beauty that was surrounding us. The rest of the day was pretty simple as we wandered along the edge of the mountain on pretty flat terrain and even met a new friend, Jasper, our mountain dog companion. We camped that night next to one of the many glorious lakes, ate our pasta, and then went to bed.
Day 2: 5100 msnm pass and the magical Andean lodge
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” -James Thurber
Day 2 of the Ausangate Trek proved to be much more difficult than the first. While day 1 consisted of finding our hiking legs and hanging out, day 2 consisted of a 9 hour hiking day and two 5000 meter passes! At least, in our planning, because whilst most people do a 5 or 6 day hike, we planned on hiking only for four days. Needless to say, it was quite difficult with all of our gear on our backs. But the views from the top of the passes were unforgettable. As we marched up towards the top of the first pass, we reached a great viewing spot that overlooked one of the strikingly azure glacier-fed lakes below.
When we reached the viewpoint, there was a young local lady sitting there weaving as her two children slept bundled up next to her. We all stopped in our tracks at the sight, partially because we were astonished that she had made it up there with two small children and her weaving materials.. But also because it seemed like such a pure moment. Many of the traditions in this part of the world have not been corrupted by western culture which gives the illusion that you´re trekking through a community stuck in a simpler (and probably healthier!), period of time. I was about to ask the young lady if I could take a picture but then stopped, realizing that not every beautiful moment needs to be captured and that it would be indeed belittle the moment to do so.
As we wandered down from the top of the second pass later that day towards our next campsite, we could see a large building in the distance. Once we made our way down, we realized it was a giant Andean lodge meant for more well-to-do tourists venturing around Ausangate. Figuring it was locked, we started unpacking our tent until one of us walked up to the front door…and found a key sitting under the mat! We all started laughing as my friend opened the door and we headed in with our belongings. Later that night a nice local man who spoke limited Spanish came by and, after scaring the hell out of us, sat down for dinner and then charged us only 20 soles (7 USD) to spend the night there in the warm, cozy beds.
Day 3: Lost in a Blizzard
“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.” -Unknown
We started the third day of the Ausante Trek eating oatmeal as we gathered up our belongings and packed up the tent. That day was my day to carry the tent (lucky me!) and right off the bat, we had no idea where we were going. Many times during on the Ausangate circuit you can see more or less right where you need to go, but getting there is not so clear. We started up a giant mountain face adjacent to Ausangate and then miraculously found relatively flat land and an eventual descent back into one of the myriad valleys that speckle the mountainscape. Once we made it down and could enjoy a little more oxygen, we turned to see that the major pass that day was just ahead of us. The only problem was that it was somewhat difficult to see from all the snow that was falling in the distance!
Having no choice (I had to be back at work the following day), we stormed up the mountain and through the heavy snow we somehow managed to only take a few wrong turns. If it wasn´t for my friend using his “Maps.Me” application on his phone, I´m sure we would not have made it very far that day. After reaching the top of the pass and hiking for about another 3 hours (including another hour after sunset), we decided we were not going to make it to the town that we had planned to get to. So we camped that night next to, yes, another beautiful lake.
Day 4: Victory Lap to the Hot Springs
The last day we woke up and, while we ate our tasteless oatmeal, a local lady came by trying to sell us some of her hand-woven goods. While I normally run from these people in Cusco, it was very nice to see her – especially since we had only seen two people in three days. And, her scarves were especially beautiful. We chatted with her for a few moments, bought our scarves, and then headed back to the town nearby so that we could bask in our achievements as we relaxed in the hot springs!
After our peaceful morning, we took a short taxi back to Tinke and waited for our bus to Cusco. We all ate a delicious lomo saltado – a typical and well known Peruvian dish – and then, out of nowhere, I saw our first taxi driver, Amaru! I chased him down and… he gave me back my phone!
Treks in Cusco
I have enjoyed numerous treks in South and North America over the past few years (The Lost City in Colombia, the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, numerous hikes throughout in the Grand Canyon and around Utah’s national parks in the United States). But none will leave such an indelible mark on my mind as this trek around this majestic mountain, the Ausangate Trek in Peru. I have never, and doubt I will ever again, be able to appreciate such untouched nature with some of my closest friends. Ausangate and the surrounding area is truly one of the greatest areas on earth, and everyone who has a chance to go, even for a day, should jump at the chance.
Written by Daniel Wood.
For more information about the Ausangate Trek and How to Book this trek.