Last month (December 2016) while I was in Arequipa I decided that I needed a second attempt to reach the summit of El Misti.
I first tried 4 years ago when I spent 2 months in Arequipa at Spanish school. At the time I felt I was physically fit but I was not used to carrying a heavy backpack or the altitude and when I booked the trip I only found out the night before that I was expected to carry everything up to basecamp!! This included my clothes, tent, sleeping bag, crampons, ice pick and 5 litres of water.
Unfortunately I had never walked more than 100 metres with this kind of weight and was unprepared for hiking from 3,500 metres to 4,500 metres for 5 hours!! Despite frequently giving the content of my backpack to the rest of the group, my legs could not cope with the amount of weight hiking uphill for so long. By the time I reached basecamp my legs had had it but I was still determined I would make it to the top.
Our group was made up of 2 girls and 2 boys. We had to leave 1 boy at basecamp as once we got to 4,000 metres, altitude sickness kicked in for him and he was unable to see properly or walk in a straight line. He got in the tent and did not appear again until we were ready to hike back down. At 1am we got up and started our attempt to summit. At the time I thought I had achieved about 5,300 metres but I now realise it was probably only about 4,800 metres.
4 years later, I knew that it would be more of a mental than physical challenge for me. I didn’t feel as physically fit as I was 4 years previously but I knew what to expect and I was used to carrying my heavy backpack for at least an hour and I had spent a lot of time in the previous years at altitude. I got picked up at 8am and taken to the agency to meet everyone else and get any supplies we needed.
As I had already hiked this volcano I had come prepared with my 4 season sleeping bag and no change of clothes or toothbrush/paste (as these add to the weight), I only had 3.7 litres of water and this time I was put in a tent with a boy who I decided looked fit enough to carry the tent!! Once we were all ready and had our gear packed, we headed out to the jeep and drove to the start of our hike, stopping on the way to buy coca leaves, for us to chew and help us with the altitude. They taste disgusting and you have to keep them in the side of your mouth, but surprisingly they help with the altitude and give you energy!!
After a few hours and driving up a dirt road forever, we finally reached the starting point. We unloaded, found a bush to use as a toilet and put our backpacks on. The guides told us it would be a 3 hour hike but I knew last time it took me 5 hours, so I was prepared for a 5 hour hike!!!
It was a hot day and the sun was out. The last few days, Misti had been covered in clouds and there had even been a little sprinkling of snow on the summit!! I started off strong with 2 of the guys in my group but quickly the guy with my tent went hiking off in the distance and the other guy started having issues with the altitude.
I carried on walking a bit ahead of the guides but the path was easy to see and eventually got to basecamp after 5 hours!! My tent buddy made it in 3 hours, but on this trip I came in 2nd out of our group of 7!! This is unheard of for me, I am normally at the back!!
The last guys made it in 7 hours, just as the sun was setting!!
The sunset was amazing to see, and I just stood there taking lots of pics and watching the lights come on in Arequipa.
We then had dinner which was soup!! We were all just looking at the guides thinking is this it after a 5 hour hike and when we were told we would only get coca tea and a piece of bread when we got up to make the summit we were like surely we need more food, so they made us some pasta!! Just pasta with nothing on!!
We were then told to go to sleep as we would be getting up at 1, the guide made the mistake of telling us we might have a problem sleeping because of the altitude and of course I couldn’t get to sleep!! Was even worse hearing the guy heavy breathing next to me knowing he had fallen asleep straight away.
I heard the guides get up about 1 but when it all when silent quite quickly I wondered what was happening. At 1.45am I looked out of tent and woke the guides up and asked them if we were still going to the summit, they said yeah we were just waiting for the water to boil!!!
We eventually set off as a group of 6 at 2.30am. One guy was exhausted from the hike earlier and decided not to try the summit. Another of the guys headed back down after about 15 minutes as he could not cope with the altitude (he had got really sick the previous day hiking up to basecamp).
I was doing well, 2nd in the group, again something very unusual for me, but I was mentally getting to the top!! I kept asking the guides how high we were and did we have enough time as I had heard the guide say we needed to set off back from basecamp at 10am!!! They kept assuring me that I would get to the summit, that was my only goal, all I could think was that I never wanted to do this hike again!!
It was freezing cold and my 2 pairs of woollen gloves were no match, luckily someone had a spare pair of gloves and with 3 pairs I was feeling warm again!!
Eventually after about 6 hours I could see the top of the old crater. Though it still seemed to take forever to hike that short distance!!
It does not really look like a crater as its not deep, but from here we would see the flag in the distance showing where the summit is. The summit is about a 45 minute hike from the crater. 5 of us made it to this point, 2 decided not to summit but to go see the new crater that was steaming!! My tent buddy had already done both by the time we made it to the crater, so he headed back down while 2 of us decided to get to the summit.
It was a hard uphill hike to get to the summit at 5,822 metres and even a few steps away I had to stop for a break, but eventually I got to the top where I just sat down and cried!!
I couldn’t believe I had made it to the top, I was so proud of myself for having the willpower to get there, it had taken me 7 hours but I did it, and I got to see the amazing views!! Thankfully it was a clear day and we got to see the other volcanoes and Arequipa in the distance.
We had about 20 minutes at the summit, taking lots of pictures and selfies to prove we made it before we had to start out descent!! The guides thought we would be quick getting down as you go down the volcanic sand!!
It was funny to watch the guides just run down while I went quite slow, aware that if I fell and broke my wrist again I was only insured up to 4,000 metres and not 5,822 metres!!!
I eventually got back to basecamp to find my tent buddy had packed away the tent and my sleeping bag and eventually we started the descent back to the jeeps. Again we went down the volcanic sand, which by this time had heated up enough to melt the soles off my hiking boots!! It was great to hike the last hour over rocky ground with no proper soles on my shoes!!! I was so scared of slipping as I had no grips!! Eventually though I made it back to the jeep and looked back at Misti, unable to believe that just a few hours earlier I had been stood on the top of it!!
What an achievement, I am so pleased I made it to the top, and I never need to do it again!! At times I did think I wasn’t going to make it and that I would be trying again in a few years but NO I made it, I got to see the amazing views and I know that I can cope with the altitude that high. I know that mentally I am strong and if I am determined I can do anything I challenge myself to.
It’s not an easy hike, one of the hardest I have done because of the altitude, but if you are in Arequipa then it’s a great one to try. The agencies will tell you its an easy hike but it is far from it and not everyone will make it to the summit!!
Yes you need to be fit, and capable of carrying your backpack for 5 hours, but make sure you take as little as possible in your bag though you do need to take a certain amount of water, tent and sleeping bag. Clean clothes, deodrant, toothbrushes and toothpaste are not essentials and you can do without for 36 hours!!
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