Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 10: El Misti


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August 18th-19th (days 24-25): El Misti (5822m)

The town of Arequipa is flanked by three mountains: Chachani (6077m), the volcano El Misti (5822m) and Pichu Pichu (5500m). Since I'd already climbed a 6000m mountain a week earlier (Huayna Potosi near La Paz) but had never been on a volcano before, I decided to climb El Misti. I was still well acclimatised after spending the last two weeks above 3500m, but had to hurry up since Arequipa lies at only 2325m and I'd soon be unacclimatised. So I set out on the morning of my 2nd day in Arequipa.
El Misti as seen from my hotel, without zoom.

I was in a group with a Dutch guy called Daan who I got along with well and about six English guys and girls who were traveling together. We were driven towards the volcano by jeep and dropped off at an altitude of 3415m, leaving us 2400m to climb.
Getting ready to go at the drop-off point.
It was a straightforward, monotonous walk up the cone. While I was well acclimatised and in good shape by now, the Englishmen weren't, so the group went much too slow for me. The guides were very patient like they should be, but I almost missed my turbo-guides from Bolivia. Fortunately the view on the landscape around got more impressive as we got higher.
Still a long way to go
Looking back down. Notice how the sand is dark grey because of the volcano`s ashes.
Just like on Huayna Potosi I'd decided to only take my small backpack, but I hadn't considered that we had to carry up a tent this time. As you can see on the next picture, I ended up putting the tent in my backpack, hanging my sleeping bag on the outside and carrying everything else in a plastic bag. No problemo!
This is me in front of the 5500m high mountain Pichu Pichu
We set up camp on a wide ledge at 4700m altitude, where previous climbers had arranged rocks in rectangles so as to provide some cover against the wind for the tents. I shared a tent with Daan.
Me just after arriving in camp. I`d taken off all my shirts except my fleece to let them dry in the wind.
Me and Daan before our tent

After a dinner prepared by the guides (we'd all had to carry up some of the ingredients) we went to bed at 6pm. Neither me nor Daan got any sleep as a strong wind was shaking our tent all the time and it was freezing hard, but after Huayna Potosi I hadn't expected otherwise. The guides woke us all up at 2am but then let us wait an hour in the cold while they made tea, which I didn't even want.

At 3am we finally got going. There was no moonlight so we walked by the light of our head torches. Far behind and below us were the lights of Arequipa but otherwise there was nothing to see in the dark night. The walk was still technically easy and the pace very slow, but the cold was brutal because of the strong winds blowing around the mountain. Soon I couldn't feel my toes anymore and it got increasingly hard to do anything with my fingers - at one point I had to ask someone to unclasp my backpack because I couldn't. While climbing during the night had been a magical experience on Huayna Potosi, it was just terrible this time, and the voices in my head were cursing me for going on this climb which wasn't even gonna break a record.

When the sun came up at 6am we were still only halfway but now I just hung at the back of the group and started making pictures.
The pointed shadow of El Misti falling over Arequipa.
A stitched-together picture of the early sunlight flowing over Pichu Pichu.
The low sun revealed the courses of all the streams, which run through the landscape like veins.
Here lies Arequipa at the foot of the volcano.
At 8:30 we arrived at an opening in the crater rim and now things got really interesting.
Arriving at the crater rim
The inside of the crater rim. The black rock just right of the middle of this pic is the highest point of the mountain, you can see people walking up to it.
The highest point of the crater ring, and hence the summit of the mountain, was still a 100m higher. I now went ahead on my own pace and got this great pic of the rest of the group walking up, with Arequipa behind and 3500m below them. On the summit there is a metal cross where we took a group picture.
My group climbing up to the highest point of the mountain
Group picture on the summit, 5822m high.

The view from the summit was fantastic, better even than on Huayna Potosi, and it more than made up for the boring climb and the terrible cold during the night. The biggest eyecatcher was of course the huge crater right below us, a spectacular sight.


In the distance beyond the crater, above its left edge, we saw the volcano Ubinas which was active at the time (900 people had to be evacuated) and its smoke plume (this is how it looks from space). Just right of that are shiny white salar plains, and above the right half of the crater is the nearby mountain Pichu Pichu. The following panorama is a bit wider...


Let's have a few closer looks...
The whole crater could just fit on one pic
One of my favourite photos and the clearest one of the smoke plume above the volcano Ubinas
While I was making the pictures you`re watching, Daan made this picture of me. On the right you can see part of the crater rim.
Zooming in on the Ubinas but unfortunately it was blowing less smoke now.

To the other side the view was fantastic as well: there stood the beautiful next-door mountain Chachani (6077m) and we had an unobstructed view from root to top and from side to side. I stitched together the following picture of the whole thing...


Click here to open this picture in a new tab, then scroll it.

Me in front of Chachani
Same pic without that stupid tourist
Close-up of the top

Then it was time to go down again. Unfortunately, because the group had been so slow, there was not enough time to descend into the crater. That was a big disappointment, but still this had been a great climb already, and strangely the best was yet to come.
Walking down from the summit
Zig-zagging down
I thought it would be a long walk down, but the guides had a surprise for us. The whole mountain is covered with a dark grey mixture of sand and ashes, which had made climbing tiresome because our feet always slid away. Back at the opening in the crater rim, what looks like a river of this stuff runs straight down the mountain. Instead of walking back along the path we'd climbed up before, the guides started going down this 'river'. It had a slope of more than 45 degrees but because our feet sank ankle-deep in the sand, we could walk straight down it, leaning backwards and taking big steps forward and downward.
View down from the opening in the crater rim. This is where we started walking straight down.
Walking straight down the volcano towards a landscape over 3000m below us.
Then the guide started running down instead of walking and that's when the real fun began. You had to lean backwards, run on your heels and lift your knees really high but then you could run straight down the slope at a crazy speed, making huge steps. We ran from 5700m to 4700m (our base camp) in minutes, while it had taken us 5 hours to climb up that part! It was fantastic fun and it looked totally hilarious, I just couldn't stop laughing. This has to be one of the funniest and most spectacular things I've ever done! I held up my camera and made some movies while running to remember the experience :) Here's one...


That landscape in the upper part is 3000m below us and we're running straight down towards it, an incredible feeling! To get an idea of how funny we looked, check this movie I made of Daan running down (you can hear me laughing as he runs off):


This 'river' ended right next to our base camp at 4700m, but after packing our stuff we could run down some more ashes elsewhere though at a lesser angle and with more rocks to force us to be careful. There was one more stretch of pure ashes though and there I did a sprint with the guide and passed him, which judging by his woohoo's impressed him a lot :) I could have done this thing all day, it's more fun than skiing!
The last part of the descent
Looking back up

Of course my shoes, socks and all my clothes were full of ashes afterwards due to a couple of crashes I made, and my camera made weird sounds after making those running movies and eating a lot of sand, but it was all well worth it :)

The whole descent took us little over two hours, and we were back at the drop-off point shortly after noon and back in Arequipa by 2pm. I spent the next day around town again, and then went on a three-day trip to the Cañon del Colca.

<< Part 9: Arequipa    -   Back to Index   -    Part 11: Cañon del Colca >>




Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on LonelyPlanet.com.

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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