What Goes Down Must Come Up

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Monday, October 31, 2011

Sometime yesterday while admiring the height of this canyon from deep down below, I realized that what comes down must go up at some point.   Ten Empire State Buildings more or less stacked on top of each other would fit inside the depths of Colca and hiking the equivalent of five on the way down and about the same heading back to the upper plateau gives some perspective to our route.   These narrow rocky paths that leave anything crossing them caked in a fine white dust from head to toe are roughly 4 miles each way, and range from over 10,000 feet at the trailheads to around 6,000 feet at the river bottom.   This is some high altitude hiking for sure, but I really do believe anyone with some stamina and determination can enjoy the amazing views that unfold around each turn.

My two cabin crew friends, Beate and Gosha, were worried that they wouldn't make it to the top and joked around that renting a mule might be the only way to compete day three.  Yes, looking straight up steep cliffs can be daunting, but I assured them we would easily reach the finish line without a stop at the mule rental facility.  Taking an ascent like this is best done slowly since this is not a race but a four mile hike for our enjoyment of nature,   I even learned a new word for slow in Polish, powolny, that I would constantly call ahead to them as they would try to speed up. 

In the end, we proved true the old saying that slow and steady wins the race.   So many hikers blew past us hacking and wheezing and we'd always catch up to where they were slumped on a rock taking an out of breath break.  A few minutes later the whole scene would repeat as they once again literally left us in their dust, but we maintained our pace.   One powolny step after the other we made our way up the steep winding path and actually we never once felt tired or out of breath.  And keep in mind this ascent up to over 10,000' leads to some much thinner air.   I explained to Beate and Goshe what Candy had told me back in September...we need to listen to nature and not push our bodies to where we only hear the aches and pains.  If we are hurting and then only fixate on "are we there yet?", how could we even enjoy the views along the way?

And what views those were.  With the equivalent of several skyscrapers worth of height behind us, we reached the top and listened as many hikers recounted how hard the ascent was.  A few of the more egocentrical type even verbally basked in the glory of what great athletes they are for being able to achieve such an epic trek.  A journey that had ended only minutes before had already taken on urban legend status!  The three of us had a completely different take on things...Anyone can do it.  Just put your mind to it. 

You'd think some of the hikers had just climbed five Mt. Everests blindfolded as they dramatically recounted how demanding the trail was.  Did they see anything beyond the winding path and their aching bodies?  Probably not based on what we were hearing.  Let them have their tall tales that will likely be embellished to even greater heights as the emails and pictures are sent home.  In the end, they earned it.

Rather than people being the great ones for having accomplished only three or four miles, Mother Nature deserves all the credit for providing us such an amazing place to spend a few days to challenge our bodies and minds.  We came away with a great respect for what Colca Canyon holds deep inside its walls and great pride that we can handle any path put in front of us.  And I do pity the masses who will only see the top of the canyon near Cruz del Condor and never experience the vastness with all their senses.

On the ride back to Arequipa, we joined the Cruz del Condor crowds at the obligatory tourist stops such as a viewpoint over agricultural terraces complete with native women selling cactus fruit among other items.   We tried it and I can at best describe this sticky mess as looking like the green insides of a kiwi but tasting like the most sour lemon on earth.   Needless to say, one bite satisfied my curiousity and I passed the rest on to the next victim.

I am back in Arequipa enjoying electricity, meat other than alpaca, and already I miss the quiet and solitude of the Colca River.   This trip gets better and better each stop and as great as the Canyon is, I am confident I will discover even more places straight out of National Geographic.
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