Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, and what type of travel do you enjoy?
I split my time between Augusta, Georgia where I'm an emergency room nurse and Cusco, Peru - two weeks a month in each spot, and lots of time on an airplane. I travel on my own quite frequently and love adventure travel, especially when hiking is involved. I have a tough job in the states, so hiking in new environments always clears my head and restores my soul. I do some leisurely travel as well, but I prefer to be active - a day on the beach may have some kayaking involved as well!
How did you first set your sights on the Ausangate Trek?
I moved to Peru part-time after joining a friend on a last minute trip and falling in love with the country, especially the Cusco area. I'm lucky to have a work schedule that allows for travel, which made the decision easy. Ausengate is regarded as one of the most amazing hikes in Peru - after being in the country for a while, I heard about it from several friends, including my Spanish professor (who's done it twice and claims it as her favorite trek!). So, I decided I needed to do it too. I look for hikes that most tourists don’t do, and Ausengate fits the bill.
This trek has notoriously high altitudes, including three mountain passes over 16,000 feet. How did you prepare?
I worked out pretty strenuously in the gym for several weeks beforehand. Elliptical, treadmill with high incline, and stair climber. I also used decadron, which I started 2 days before I started the hike, and then drank the coca tea. I probably drank about 3 cups of coca tea and ate the leaves a day. And I felt great at altitude!
What part of your trek will you always remember?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. Every day was different and special, and the beauty of the area is amazing. I know my camera couldn’t do it justice - I’m not even sure my eyes could! Seeing all of the animals, especially the vicunas, was so much fun. We even got to see a lizard at 15,000 feet! We talked about that rare sighting for at least an hour afterward.
One of the most memorable moments happened about an hour into the hike. Apu [the mythological spirit of the Peruvian mountains] decided that he was going to test us to see if we were worthy. It started to rain, hail, snow, and sleet. I was sure within an hour I was soaked, and was wondering what I had gotten myself into. We stopped for lunch, and it was too windy for the dining tent, so we stopped at the house of a Quechua woman. She let us use her barn, brought me two very warm alpaca blankets, and bundled me up. It completely restored my faith in humanity, I’ll never forget her.
What's your best advice for travelers interested in doing the Ausangate Trek?
Train, train, train. And wear/bring proper equipment. We ran into a couple that had to cut their trip short because they didn't have the proper gear or an appropriate guide. You must do this trek with a guide you can trust and that know what they are doing, as it’s very easy to get lost up there. Appropriate clothing is a must, it can get cold and wet and the altitude is not something to joke about. I would definitely recommend this trek - I loved it so much that I have decided to make it a yearly tradition.
Where are you planning to go on your next adventure?
Italy in December, Torres de Paine in Patagonia in April, the Inca Trail in August, and my second annual Ausengate trek next October!
Kristin's trip was planned through kimkim by James Mackender, a local travel specialist based in Peru. A big thank you to Kristin for supplying three of the photos in this article!