Getting our asses kicked by a canyon
Trip Start Nov 08, 2011
21Trip End Feb 21, 2012
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From Cabanaconde, there’s a trail that snakes down to the bottom of the canyon, to a place called Sangalle, the 'Oasis.’ It’s a really straightforward hike—you climb down, lounge a bit (Sangalle’s set up like a lavish rest stop with a couple of small pools, some bungalows if you want to spend the night, and a mini restaurant), then climb back up.
Trekking down was effortless. We encountered very few people and the hike really isn’t difficult—it’s certainly less laborious than Half Dome and much shorter too. Plus, Colca Canyon is beautiful, or rather, breathless to behold due to its sheer magnitude and grandeur, austerity, roughness. It’s impossible not to gawk when you first encounter the canyon and just the canyon, the way it slopes down down down in big, long strokes, clumps of cacti, dry brush, sand-colored boulders jutting out at odd angles as if a desert landscape had been plastered across the walls of a vast crevice. We could appreciate such sights, inebriate ourselves with such sights, on the trek down.
Trekking back up, on the other hand, was one of the most difficult physical activities I’ve ever attempted. What we hadn’t realized was the effects that the altitude would have on us. Cabanaconde is almost 3,500 meters above sea level where the air is thin and it’s normal to feel short of breath just from walking up a flight of stairs. It’s advised to spend a few days acclimating to such great heights before undertaking any strenuous activity.
I’m not sure how to recount the horror of the hike except that I don’t use the Sisyphus example lightly. Forward movement felt futile. The cruel sun scorched our skin and the whole world, as far as the eye could see, was a lifeless shade of yellow ochre and sand.
We were crippled by the altitude. It felt like our chests couldn’t take in enough air no matter how big of breaths we took and our hearts kept pounding crazily, like machines out of control. We had to rest after each switchback, leaning, sitting, eventually lying on rocks until we could breathe normally again. Before the effects really hit him, Chris fed me small sips of water (from our quickly vanishing supply. We had to conserve, and I dreamed of downing limitless chilled bottles upon our return) and found me shady spots to sit.
The shadows grew longer and longer. We had set out quite late in the day and were warned that we had to be back before sundown when the canyon would be pitch dark.
It grew later.
And then we met a group hiking down—they were planning on spending the night at Sangalle.
"How long have you been hiking?" we asked (inquisitioned really).
He looked taken aback by the fever in our eyes. “Er, about 30, 40 minutes.”
Relief and joy! With renewed energy, we hustled ourselves up the path, resting at every other switchback, swigging our water carefreely.
Eventually, we plodded into town on sore feet, legs covered with bug bites (sandfly bites apparently, an insect I’ve never encountered on the North American continent but which leave horrific, itchy, bubonic plague-like bites in its wake), shivering because the sun was setting and it gets really cold after dark. But of course, we were back, and icy Sprites soon satiated our burning desert daydreams.