On this expedition we trekked from Hauncalle to Machu Picchu via Raccachacca, Tiyuyoc, and Totora. We crossed most of the Cordillera Vilcabamba in the Andes of Peru. Five mountains were climbed of which at least one was a first ascent. Condors, deer and viscachas were commonly seen. Several times we stayed with the locals in their home villages.

Peru May 2004

Marcelo came along on the excursion in the Vilcabamba Range of Peru as a cook. He had to catch a flight four days earlier than everyone because due to work commitments. He left the rest of the group and made a dash out following maps and a pre-programmed GPS. This is what he had to say:

What a trip!! I just got out of the mountains and into
Aguas Calientes yesterday at about 5pm. Man has this place changed! I was royally bagged so I got a room, made it as far as the first pizzeria (all the restaurants here are Pizzerias!), and then went straight to bed.

The following is a little description of some of the memorable points of the trip. It is an account of how we got started, how we made our Porters famous, how we spent our days, and my walk out.

Check it out! We left Cuzco on the 13th at about 8pm, and arrived in Vilcabamba at 4:30am. Neil sprung for two taxis witch got us to
Huancacalle about 5 hours early. Don Paulino and his two sons were there waiting for us with 7 mules and 1 horse early, so we decided to
start walking right away instead of spending the night like we had originally planned.

We spent the first two days walking up some breathtaking valleys, in a totally new area to the porters and Conny; to a pass that we were told hadn't been passed with mules for 20 or 30 years. We found a sweet camp spot at about 4100 meters elevation, and Conny and Neil geared up for the next days climbing.

That was a pretty neat day. Conny and Neil left at 4am to climb this peak behind us, Don Paulino went to see if the next pass Conny wanted to do was possible (it looked twice as high, and 3 times as steep!), his sons went hunting for viscacha, and Jamie and I went on a little 3 hour hike, and finished our day with some rock climbing on a nearby bolder. That night we ate viscacha, and had a good time with one of the three bottles of tequila Neil brought along.

The next day we took camp down the valley, past Raccachacca, up another valley, over a pass of 4400 meters, and then over two more passes and down to 4100 meters. Some of the people we saw while heading down the first valley were in shock to see us coming down because they hadn't see us go up the valley. They didn't believe that we came over the pass with the mules.

From the first pass that day we were walking on a beautiful Inca trail that was about 8 feet wide, covered in moss, and still in great shape. It wound around the mountain tops giving us some incredible scenery. That night we had a wonderful diner of bacon and vegetables in a mustard/curry sauce, with pasta. That night the farting started too! Believe me; it had to be mentioned, because it was bad.

The next day, day 5 already, we rolled a mule! We were following an ancient Incan trail into a valley that was all pampas on the top and thick jungle down below. The trail through the jungle was so much fun. It was like a tunnel through mossy trees and vines. The rain made it really muddy and slick, but it was good times for most of us. Anyway, the poor mule was trotten' calmly behind his partners on this steep, mossy, wet, narrow trail, when the loose moss gave. It must have tumbled 10 meters down to the creek bed before it managed to get to its feet.

It's lucky for him that he got the load of sleeping bags and air mattresses, instead of the camping stoves and ice climbing equipment. So after we rolled the mule, we came upon some half eaten shrubs, and a big pile of what looked like bear shit. The animal must have been very close but we didn't see it. That night we camped on the other side of the valley, and the farting continued.

Day 6 was a long one. We all must have eaten something bad that left us with little energy and more gas, but the real rotten kind. No one got really sick, but after 6 hours of hiking and going over a 4600 meter pass, some of us weren't in the best of moods. A little Tequila and some of Neil’s miracle pills changed that though. Our camp was at about 4350 meters. We made diner, and then Neil, Conny and Jamie geared up for the next days climbing. We were surrounded by cliffs, with glaciers pouring off them. Quite a site!

I woke up around 8am (unlike the others who left at 4am again) on day 7, had some potatoes and tea, and then went off to do my mornings paperwork. I went for a couple of hours up the valley to scout out our next camp spot, and when I got back at 10am Conny and Neil called down from the summit of the first peak with an echoing Baaaaaoooooooooooooooga!!

He told me on the walkie talkie that they had left Jamie about 2 and half hours early, and that he should be getting back to camp soon, and that if he wasn't there at noon, to go look for him. At 11:45am, just when I was explaining to the porter that I am going up to look for Jamie, we hear a cry out of the mist above "Where are you guys?" I guess he didn't really see where he was going in the morning (they walked for 2 hours in the dark), so he didn't really know how to get back to camp, other than going down. He was pretty far off course when we saw each other, but made it down just fine....actually, he was miserable (but in good spirit). He said he only enjoyed about 10 minutes of the whole 8 hour trip (which was a nice spot between two rocks to send the kids down the hill) He was quick to get into his sleeping bag and take a nap.

At noon we spoke with Conny and Neil again They were on the summit of peak #2 and ready to go for #3. After lunch we moved camp an hour down the hill and onto the valley floor, where we waited for Conny and Neil. They came down at about 630pm pretty bagged, after a 14 hour day. That night Neil Cracked a couple of nice wines for his birthday (very nice wines!), and we had an early night.

The next day (day 9) Conny and Neil had plans to go for mountain #4 in that group, and I had to leave so that I would make it comfortably in time to catch my flight out of here. So after some coffee and doughnuts I packed my stuff and headed down the trail. It was 3pm when I reached the hot springs I was planning on camping next to, and after just a look, I knew I would be bored staying there by myself for the whole afternoon and night, so I pushed on another 15km to Playa where I needed to catch the bus the next day. It ended up being a pretty long day for me and when I got there I was pretty happy to see that first coke stand! It was probably about 30 or 35 km that I walked, starting at 4100 meters and ending at 2000 meters with about a 40lb pack. Yeah, my legs are still sore!

So I get into the town of Playa right, and the guy at this first Coke stand says "Hey, you look like someone I know!" "Conny!" So I explained that I'm the little brother and from that point on I was well taken care of. He fed me and then woke me up at 5am to catch the first fruit truck down to Santa Teresa

On the morning of the 22nd I made it up to the Hydro plant and train station at about 11:30am on my way to Aguas Calientes. I was greeted by a 5 year old (whose dad owned the beer store where my ass was parked) that told me he knew me, and that I was there 10 months ago with a really tall guy with big feet, and travelling with lots of bags. I can only imagine that it was Conny and Sean last June. I had the choice of walking for two hours up to Aguas Calientes from there or Waiting until 4pm to catch the train. This little kid’s dad invited me to the Camp of the Hydro workers to use their swimming pool and facilities, so I decided to wait for the train and enjoy my afternoon next the pool. (I was the only gringo there!) It ended up being that it was the anniversary of starting up the plant, and there was a party with live music and all kinds of sports. The Swimming pool I had all to myself, and after 9 days without a shower, was truly a dip to remember!

Anyhow, my whole body is stiff today, so that's why I've been happy to park my ass in this internet Cafe for so long. Tomorrow I go to Cuzco for the day, and the day after I leave at 4pm. I think I'll do a little shopping around for nice, cheap things.

All and all the trip was great. I would do it again in a heart beat. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves, including Lyn Shun, who I haven't mentioned yet, but spent her days chilling and bathing in the cold rivers. I had a headache for 4 days probably due to the altitude which kept my motivation down for doing any of the extreme climbing that went on, but the views from our different camps were awesome, so with a few Advil a day, I was fine.

I think the rest of the group will get to civilization either tomorrow or the day after. So we should be hearing some other perspectives on the whole trek soon, as well as how the last few days went.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting back to Canada to start work, and to seeing some of you shortly. Take care, and Cheers (it's Pilsen)

After Marcelo left things got a little more hectic.

Shortly after Marcelo left Tiyuyoc Neil and I left Jamie, Ling Shun and the wranglers to sleep at a high camp.

The plan was that they would cross a 4100m pass and wait for us in Totora. The porters organized a Pachamanka for us for that day.

The next morning Neil and I started up another unclimbed peak. Things went really well for us until we reached the summit. The only thing bothering us was that there was no radio communication with camp.

We were hit by a nasty snowstorm at 5300m that closed our visibility to 30m. We had no idea of how to get off the mountain other that we had to traverse the whole mountain and come down the other side to reach the Totora valley.

Things turned to ice and we moved really slowly. At 1745 we heard a scream over the radio from Jamie he sounded really worried. We managed a sentence of communication before things cut out. It was dark at 1800 and we had to descend the heavily crevassed glacier by head lamp. We recognized where we were and knew we had to cross a high pass to bet to the right valley. Loosing the trail in the dark we crossed the pass but didn't realize that we were in the wrong valley until we had descended at least a 1000 feet too low. After an epic vertical grass traverse following the little arrow on the GPS we finally got to another pass that dropped into the right valley.

We arrived in Totora at 0230 in the morning. Paulino broke into tears he was so worried. Ling Shun and Jamie were relieved to see us. We had a soup and coffee and went to bed after a 23 hour day. We had done the first ascent of three more peaks, as well as a traverse of the entire mountain named Nevado Tiyuyoc.

Up at 0700 the next morning we had to go for coffee at all the huts in the village to say hi and invite everyone for lunch. At noon we had our pachamanka. At 1530 we started on our way to the hot springs. 14 other tourists came out of the mountains here but we were the only ones in the hot springs. We soaked till midnight drinking more than our share of beer.

The next morning we started early and stopped at Don Paulinos's Granadilla/ Honey farm. We ate so much passion fruit and honeycombs we were hurting for the next hour and a half out.

An hour past Paulino’s we reached Playa. We all sat around for an hour waiting for the truck to arrive. It was a crazy ride down stuffed in the back of a fruit truck. Everyone was picking bananas and avocados from the back of the truck. Santa Teresa was an ugly town that never really recovered from a flood in 1998.

We left Santa Teresa early to beat the low elevation heat. The trip up the valley was interesting and punctuated with exciting river crossings.
The next morning we arrived at Hydro at 1100. We played cards and fed the monkey eggs. Neil and Ling Shun booked themselves into the Machu Picchu Sanctuary lodge right on the ruins. They did this by sat phone. On the train we were approached by the Guardaparques, and the two where shuttled off to the Ruins at 1730.

The next day we invited Paulino to Machu Picchu and left to Cuzco at 1700. Paulino hadn’t been there for 30 years and was shocked to see all the people. He said there was still a family living in the ruins when he was there last. Machu Picchu is still incredibly beautiful no matter how many times you see it!