Emerging from a warm sleeping bag, when you know there is snow and cold air awaiting you on the other side of the nylon tent, is quite difficult. Despite the struggle, Day 3 would prove to be the most challenging, and yet, the most rewarding day on the trek.
Immediately upon leaving camp we were climbing our way over the next mountain pass. Camp was at 15,320 ft., Pasa Surini was at 16,370 ft., which made for a good morning workout. Snow still covered the ground, leaving the mountainsides glistening and our feet slipping. We left camp around 5:30am and reached the top of the pass around 6:45am. The views from both directions were stunning.
Descending the first pass was a journey for the surefooted and nimble. Stumbling and sliding took a few of us down to our knees as we made our way down the mountain in icy conditions. Waiting at the bottom was a lake with “mocking” ducks seemingly laughing at us as we labored along. The reflections from the water of the snow covered mountains was mesmerizing.
Our next challenge was to climb our way to the painted beauty of the Rainbow Mountains. Instead of making the full descent from the first mountain pass, I had suggested a zip line across the valley, seeing as it wasn’t already in place, we had no choice but to go down, only to go back up. The journey was slow with a steady climb up a “knob” with a breath-sucking, eye-pleasing ascent. We refueled on the knob before continuing around the side of the mountain hugging a thin trail with a slight incline.
The final ascent to the Rainbow Mountains was something pictures will not due justice. Perhaps if you read this while breathing through a straw and scaling a vertical wall, you’ll have a small idea as to the challenge of reaching the top of the vista point for the Rainbow Mountains. A glimpse of the striated colors kept calling us forward, but the lungs and legs were screaming for relief. Most of us reached the Rainbow Mountains between 9:30 - 9:45am, while our guide wanted us there earlier to beat the day-trekkers, we were satisfied with our efforts to make it there before too many people came the “easy” way.
The Rainbow Mountains served as a symbol for the purpose of our Trek - to bring a road to the new land for the school in Cusco called PROMESA. The rainbow serves as a promise of love from God to never flood the earth again. PROMESA serves as a promise to the children attending that there is hope for a future, an education without discrimination, and the support to learn in a safe environment. Reaching the Rainbow Mountains was in a way, our promise to partner with PROMESA to continue their mission of educating the children of Cusco.
Prior to reaching the Rainbow Mountains, a decision was made to alter our route to descend to a lower campsite. Many were experiencing the effects of the high altitudes and it was beneficial to make camp at a lower altitude. The alternative was to return the way we came and camp at the same campground we had slept at the night before (a good 1,000 ft above the lower campsite option). The thought of returning up, down, and around to the higher campsite was daunting, so everyone was thankful for the alternate route.
Our descent from the Rainbow Mountains was a winding trail through a rocky path to our campsite. This campsite was ground owned by a farmer, meaning we were surrounded by animals. Sitting at just over 14,000 ft., those affected by the altitude started to feel better at the decrease in our elevation.
Because we chose to alter our route in favor of avoiding the 17,000 ft. mountain pass, we would add mileage to day 4. More on the added distance tomorrow.