Friday, July 23, 2010

El Misti Volcano, Arequipa, Peru

El Misti, Arequipa, Peru - 5822m (19,101 feet)
Start of the trek up El Misti

Seeking the only shade around.

Enjoying a banana
Hiking up sand.

Sunset at base camp was beautiful.

While travelling Peru in 2005, we visited Arequipa. It is hear we decided to hike the well known volcano El Misti. The summit elevation is 5822m (19,101 feet). Because we were not traveling with a tent and were not sure how safe the local area was we found a guide to take us up the mountain, however it was a sketchy little operation that we would not recommend. In fact we ran into many other tours that said the same thing about their tour guide.

The problem is these tour guides try to make the ascent way to fast which resulted in more than 50% of the trekkers experiencing serious altitude sickness problems from headaches to gastrointestinal problems. Many hikers had to turn back due to these increasing symptoms. These tour operators wanted hikers to summit the peak in less than a day when a 2 day minimum is required, and a three day is highly recommended, which is a 25 km circuit plus climb. This requires you to tent for 2 nights (as opposed to the inefficient 1 day). The hike up is not hard, but the height gain is so fast that it does not give any time for acclimatization.

There are two main routes on the volcano. The more used Pastores route which starts nere the city of Arequipa at 3,300m and camp is made at 4,500m at Nido de Auguilas. The second route starts at Aguada Blanca route which starts at 4000m near the Aguada Blanca reservoir and base camp is made at 4800m at Monte Blanco (the name of this camp comes from the fact that it is at the same height as the summit Mont Blanc).

We started the trek at an elevation of 2380m and trekked to base camp at a height of about 4,800m. We set our tents up and then were to wake up the next morning at dark and push for the summit.

The view from base camp was pretty impressive, especially the sunset over the mountains. While at base camp we were told to give our water to our guide, which was never part of the details provided to us. We were not impressed as this left us with little water for another day to the peak and back down. When asked for more we declined as we had to look out for our own safety. The following morning before dawn we were to summit, but the group I was with had severe altitude sickness and I was thinking that this guide and trip was all too sketch for me to go any further despite having no symptoms.

Overall, I would recommend the trek, but would search for a more reputable company to trek with and to make sure it is done in a reasonable time frame.

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