We woke up to day 2 on the Ausangate trek in Upis to a crystal clear sky, and a beautiful sunrise. The alpenglow of the Andes is pure magic. For breakfast, we had some bread and a delicious quinoa and apple cinnamon porridge. I also stuck to my daily routine of starting the day with two cups of instant coffee, that I would make so thick it looked like tar on my stirring spoon. Jose told us about our plan for the day, which would take us up and over our first of four passes on the trek. This one would be Pas Arapa Apachita, at 16,150 ft. The total distance for day two would be a little more than 10 miles, with 3,000 ft of climbing.
The first mile of hiking was a bit boggy, and it wasn’t long before Julia dunked one of her feet into the ice cold glacial water we were trying so hard to avoid. Luckily, her feet dried quickly in the dry air. Being that it was the dead heat of summer back home, I was really enjoying the high altitude climate with piercing wind and snow capped mountain peaks. We took a few pictures at the base of Ausangate before beginning our steep climb to the pass. This is also the moment I really started to appreciate Jose as a guide. His timing was impeccable. One second he would be there giving us the history and geography background of the landscape, then he’d be off ahead giving us plenty of time to ourselves. Being an independent person that wasn’t so fond of having a guide on any sort of trip, I was a bit worried how things would play out. After the Salkantay trek, my fears abated as our guide was great, it was just the fellow trekkers that slowed our flow. On this trek, everything was perfect.
The climb to Pas Arapa Apachita was steep but smooth, and we made it up without much of an issue. Having the time to acclimatize in Cusco and on the Salkantay trek must have really helped, because neither of us were feeling the effect of the thin air above 16,000ft. This was also the closest we had been to the 20,945 ft summit of Ausangate in our 24 hours of adventure. I was really starting to look forward to the next three days, where we would be making a counter clockwise loop around the massif.
We continued on from the pass and before me stood the most beautiful glacial lakes I had ever laid eyes on. They were a deep sapphire blue, surrounded by flickering blades of golden grass, set deep beneath the towering peaks above. It was a humbling experience to be embraced by so much untouched beauty, with only Pachamama to see us. The morning air was taut and calm, leaving the surface of each lake still and reflecting the world around it.
We were making great time due to the pace at which Julia and I were able to hike in the high altitude, so Jose suggested we try our hand at a bit of fishing. He grabbed a bit of line and hooks from our porter, and gave me a handful of fish to use as bait. I couldn’t see anything moving in the lake we had stopped at, but it was still a very fun and relaxing experience to cast a line out there deep in the Andes.
After fishing, we began a descent to the valley floor where we would be stopping alongside a creek to break for lunch. The views on our walk down to the camp site were spectacular, as much as the views of the alpine lakes blew me away, this was even better. I think that’s a reoccurring theme on this trek. Every view you see feels like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and yet, it continues to be outdone with your very next step. If there is a heaven, it has to look like this.
We set up shop alongside the creek and had some time to relax before our lunch was ready. We pulled out our sleeping pads and laid on our backs staring up at the passing clouds. The views here, with the horses grazing, was simply splendid.
The second half of day 2 involved a shorter climb over another pass. We took it on with great energy and enthusiasm, as Jose told us of the beautiful glacial lakes we would see along the way. He also started telling us about the entire camelid family and what we would see in this range. The camelid family in South America is made up of four species; the llama, alpaca, vicuna, and guanaco. Most of the camelids in the area are alpacas. Llamas can be found at lower elevation in the Cusco province. The Guanaco can be found further south in Argentina. The most reclusive, the vicuna, can be found in the Andes on the Ausangate trek. A vicuna scarf can go for tens of thousands of dollars, as it’s the softest and warmest of all the wools. They are a reclusive species, that don’t take well to domestication. They can also be hard to spot, as they only live at very high altitude. I made it my goal on this trek to see one, as doing so is considered a very good omen.
On our way over the second pass of the day, we saw a few stunning turquoise lakes. Lakes get this color from rock flour. Rock flour is bedrock deposited from a moving and eroding glacier.
After crossing over the pass, we made our final descent for the day to our campsite to another gorgeous golden valley. We set up camp and had a nice dinner before falling into a deep sleep from tired legs and satisfied souls and minds.