A Weekend Hike to Rainbow Mountain

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Although it sometimes can be hard to take the initiative to get out of Cusco for the weekend, it is always refreshing to take a little adventure, even if it’s just for a quick day trip. This weekend I went on a hike to the newly popular ‘Rainbow Mountain’ which is just a few hours’ drive outside of Cusco and about a five hour hike round-trip. I would never pretend to be anything other than a novice hiker, but the abundance of opportunities for outdoor activities in and around Cusco is impossible to pass up, so this past Saturday I decided to go.

Rainbow Mountain became popular in the past few months after pictures of its unique and multi-colored peak became widely circulated throughout the internet. Cusco is a city which exists in part off of tourism, so the plethora of local travel agencies were VERY quick on the uptake. In just a few short months, pretty much every agency has begun to advertise hikes to the Montaña Colorada as a nice one-day add-on or bookend to a vacation already including visits to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

I’ll admit that I wanted to see what all the hype was about, but that I wasn’t interested in getting ripped off by a tourist agency. So when I saw that South American Explorer’s Club was offering a Saturday hike for much less money than the local tourist agencies, I decided to seize the opportunity.

In Cusco and South America in general things don’t always go according to plan…this turned out to be the case on Saturday when our guide failed to show up. But our twenty-five-person group was not to be deterred! The transportation had already been arranged, so we piled into two vans and began the journey to Rainbow Mountain. Upon arriving, we immediately started because the group varied in its physical capabilities, and we knew that we’d likely be chasing daylight on the way down. After about three hours, I was among the first to reach the 17,000-foot summit. It actually was just as breathtaking as everyone had said! Without a guide I don’t know what the source is of the rainbow patterns, but they are pretty impressive, especially when combined with views all-around of glaciers and the revered Ausungate Mountain.

While the hike up was difficult, due to an ever-decreasing levels of oxygen, the hike down turned out to be difficult for several frustrating, but ultimately humorous, reasons. After taking my pictures at the top, I was eager to begin the descent. I put my headphones in and set off on my own on the slightly marked trail. Larkin will be the first to tell you that I have a pretty bad sense of direction and a tendency to not pay much attention to anything while in transit, and so it wasn’t really a surprise when I began to feel a bit lost. Luckily, I found a large group of llamas and alpacas who all seemed to be moving in the direction I needed to go in. Logically, I followed them. Then it started hailing, and they started moving faster so I jogged a bit to catch up with them. Finally, I found a small hut that I’d remembered seeing on the hike up. Feeling energized, I knelt down to tighten up my hiking boots when suddenly my entire right hand felt instantaneously on fire! I looked down to see what appeared to be a pretty harmless plant under my hand, although it clearly was the exact opposite. I was alarmed to say the least, but also even more eager to get back to the vans, and so I plowed my way through hail and enormous herds of camelids until I finally made it back to the safety and (relative) comfort of our vans.

It was overall an interesting and exhausting day, and my hand didn’t stop burning until I woke up the next morning, but the day was a success and a series of great stories. That’s all I could ask for.

– Caroline


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