I went out with a friend the other day and he told me (after reading ALL of my blog posts – wow) that he was surprised that there weren’t more Peru posts, considering all of the experiences I had over the 20 days I was there. So here we go, another Peru post. This one is for him, and all of you.
While in Peru, we hiked some incredible hikes – Colca Canyon (the third deepest canyon in the world), Montaña Machu Picchu (one of the mountains that flank the Machu Picchu ruins), and Rainbow Mountain (not so much a hike, as it was a natural walk at an EXTREMELY high elevation). If you hadn’t made the connection from the title of this blog post, my Rainbow Mountain experience is the one I’d like to share with you today.
Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, is about the same elevation as the base camp for Mount Everest at around 5,200 meters. (It’s about 150 meters lower than the Everest base camp- but at over 5,000 meters, what is 150 more, really?) The mountain got its name from its colorful appearance (clearly). Many layers of sedimentary rock compacted together and then were pushed upward by the tectonic plates to create these beautifully colored mountains hidden in Peru.
The only way for us to reach Rainbow Mountain was for us to either hike or ride a Horse. After a bad experience with a mule with a death wish down in Colca Canyon, I decided to take this hike on by foot. The path wasn’t on too much of an incline, and after Machu Picchu and Colca Canyon, I really thought I could take on anything.
Hah. The joke is on me…
On my way to the top, we struggled through pits of mud (a number of people fell, I didn’t – pro status) and battled with the constant feeling of being freezing when we rested but roasting when we were hiking. And we saw some more alpacas!
Like I said earlier, I thought that I could handle anything after our two previous Peruvian hikes. Colca pushed my body through a rigorous downhill path – ow, my knees. And Machu Picchu challenged me spiritually as well as pushed my fear of heights to the brink. Compared to those two hikes, Rainbow Mountain was set to be a nice nature walk with a slight incline, for the most part, ending with a little bit of a steeper climb. No big deal, right?
I didn’t account for elevation at all. I live every day at an elevation of about 230 meters. Rainbow Mountain is over 22 times higher than where I live back at home. No matter how many miles I can run at a time, or how much weight I can lift, or how physically fit I am – that altitude is nothing to scoff at. I quickly fell to the back of the pack of hikers, moving slowly. It was a little hard to breathe and kept getting harder the closer I got to the top. My calves started burning, and the burning turned to sharp pains. My lungs started shriveling up. The thoughts in my head became more and more negative. At about a quarter mile from the top, I was tempted to give up.
I was ready to throw in the towel. I wanted to quit, I wanted to sit down on one of the rocks and wait for everyone else to come back down. I was disappointed in myself, heartbroken. My lungs felt like raisins, my calves had knives embedded. I was panicking. Thankfully, one of my fellow hiking friends turned around and came back. She talked me down until I was calm again and gave me a coca candy to help with the altitude. She told me I could do it, I came too far not to. So I got back up and I started moving. 20 steps at a time. I kept telling myself:
You can do anything for 20 seconds. You can do anything for 20 seconds.
I won’t lie to you. It wasn’t some miracle. It hurt. It was hard. I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to stop, but wouldn’t let myself. And then I made it to the top and I cried.
I stood on the top of that mountain, my face in my hands and cried. Cried out of relief that I made it up. Cried out of disappointment, I couldn’t believe that I could beat myself down enough to almost quit. Cried because the mountains were beautiful and the human body is beautiful. I was stronger than I thought.
So are you. You are stronger than you think. Next time you run into something difficult, remember – You can do anything for 20 seconds and you are much stronger than you think.
Fun at the top
Once at the top (and once I was done crying), we took some fun pictures that I couldn’t keep myself from sharing.
Until next time, remember – you are stronger than you think.