Volcano Misti: The Hardest Climb of my Life

When the plane landed in Arequipa, we all disembarked onto the tarmac, and stood in line outside in the sun waiting for our turn to show our immigration and vaccination documents. The process was slow and there wasn’t much to do but look around and admire the scenery while waiting for my turn. Right there, rising up from the Earth, straight in front of us was the Volcano Misti. Of course I didn’t know that was its name yet. First I posted it to social media, as you do. Second, my Argentinian friend Charlie messaged me and said he spent time in Arequipa, and that I should climb the volcano.

I hike a lot, I’m in decent shape, I like adventures, so I thought ‘why not?’ In the taxi, I asked the driver about it. He said it can only be done with an agency. So once I got to my hostel, they pointed me in the direction of Waiky Adventours.

But that evening, I started watching some videos on YouTube, and I started to get scared. Two Spanish guys claimed they almost died, and cried happy tears once they reached the base camp, to still have their lives. They didn’t make it to the peak. Some Americans who did make it to the peak said they would NOT recommend it to anyone else.

I started to get scared. I was nervous. For the altitude. For my knees. For my hips. For the difficulty level. On one hand, those videos turned me off from the idea of climbing it. On the other hand, I saw it like a challenge and became even more interested.

The next day I went to Waiky to ask about the climb. The woman working there convinced me it’s not so tough, it’s no big deal, and gave the example that a 65 year old woman had just finished it without a problem to further convince me. I guess it worked because I handed over my credit card and started making arrangements. Challenge accepted.

This is what the Volcano Misti Climb includes for 250 soles:
Transportation
An experienced guide (Alejandro was my guide and he was great)
Dinner on day 1
Breakfast on day 2
Warm jacket (if you don’t have one)
Warm pants (if you don’t have them)
Gloves (two layers)
Camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag, mat)
Plastic bowl, mug, spoon

This is what the Volcano Misti Climb does NOT include:
Hiking boots
Walking sticks (70 soles to buy, 15 to rent)
70 liter Backpack (20 soles to rent)
Headlamp (10 soles to rent)
5-6 liters of water (you are required to give 1.5L to the guide for cooking)

Extra stuff to bring:
1 roll of toilet paper
Sunscreen SPF
Sunglasses
Snacks (cereal bars, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, lemon candies, etc.)
Lunch on day 1 and 2 (I pre-made sandwiches)
Cocoa leaves (to help with altitude sickness)
Medication (I brought 4 altitude pills I got from the local pharmacy – 2.5 soles each)
Toothbrush/toothpaste
Contact lenses/glasses if necessary
Phone/camera
External battery chargers
Wet wipes (for washing hands & face- bum if necessary)
Camelbak or the like
Fanny pack (for easy access to things like chapstick, camera, and candies)

Clothes I wore:
Light pair of hiking pants for day 1 going up
Two T-shirts (one for each day)
Light waterproof jacket
Yoga pants (for sleeping and worn on day 2)
Fleece
Down Jacket (borrowed from Waiky)
Wind Proof winter pants (borrowed from Waiky)
Three pairs of socks
Cap for the sun
Beanie for the cold

Stuff to pack. I actually did leave some of this stuff behind.

PRE-TRIP
They asked me to come into the Waiky shop the day before the trip to get fitted for all my extra equipment. I tried on pants, jackets, gloves, etc. I got my sleeping mat, sleeping bag, headlamp, backpack (I had to rent one since mine wasn’t big enough), and walking sticks (I purchased them since I’ll be doing other treks in Peru). We got everything organized and put together in one pile so it would be ready the next morning.

MORNING OF DAY 1
They asked me to arrive at 8am to Waiky, though the other 4 in my group didn’t arrive until 8:30. Once I arrived, I unpacked all of my items from my personal backpack and organized them into the larger borrowed backpack, along with all my other borrowed items such as gloves, sleeping bag, jacket, etc. Around 9am, once everyone was there and had their bags organized, we met our guide, Alejandro, and threw our items on top of the 4×4 that was to bring us to the base of the volcano.

We drove about 30 minutes, and made a quick 15 minute stop in a market area where we could grab any extras we might need such as TP or snacks. I grabbed some bananas and an apple from a verduleria, 6 lemon candies from a snack shop (supposedly help while climbing in altitude), and a bag of cocoa leaves, which are also said to aid in altitude sickness. After the market stop, we piled back into the 4×4 and head towards the volcano, about an hour drive.

ARRIVAL TO THE BASE:
We pulled off all of our bags from the roof of the 4×4, and Alejandro encouraged us to reorganize our bags to make sure everything felt super even. We put on SPF and even took a shot of Anis (local alcohol) that one of my climbing mates had brought. We took a group ‘before’ photo, threw on our bags and started walking.

The before photo

DAY 1 HIKE:
I won’t sugarcoat this. It’s fucking hard. It started out a challenge within the first 5 minutes. It’s steep. You’re walking on pebbles, sand, rock, ash. While each portion was quite hard, the time did seem to pass by quickly. It was around 10:30-11am when we first started hiking, and it was hot. I hiked up in just a T-shirt and light pants, my rain/wind jacket strapped to my backpack. We stopped several times on the way up, maybe 4-5 times, to take a totally necessary rest. We stopped for lunch around 1:15 for 30 minutes. Then we strapped our bags back on and continued up the volcano. A couple more stops, and then we were finally at the basecamp, around 4500 meters above sea level by about 4pm. The last push to get there was truly difficult, walking on ash, you feel as if you are sinking a little with each step. Arriving to the basecamp was a relief. The total hike for day 1 was 5 hours. That’s 5 hours of straight up. It was hard. But I had no idea what was to come the next day.

ARRIVAL TO THE BASECAMP:
As soon as we arrived to the basecamp, Alejandro encouraged us to find a spot and set up our tents around a massive rock, which allowed for a bit of wind protection. I shared a tent with a young Dutchman. We set up our tent, threw in our mats, sleeping bags, and backpacks.


I changed my clothes right away, as I didn’t want to get cold from my sweaty T-shirt. I put on my yoga pants under my hiking pants, changed T-shirts, changed socks, put on my fleece, my rain jacket, and the big jacket over that. Changed my sun cap for my beanie. The clouds were coming in and it was getting cold.

The “bathroom,” Alejandro explained, was just on the other side of the big rock. I was surprised by the tons of shredded pieces of toilet paper scattering the area. In addition to old water bottles, Anis bottles, etc.

Our tent location

DINNER AT THE BASECAMP:
Alejandro prepared dinner while we set up our tents and changed our clothes. Around 5pm he called us over, time to eat. The first portion was a creamy noodle soup. Delicious. I’m not sure if Alejandro is the best cook in the world, or I was just incredibly hungry, but it was amazing. The second portion was rice and broccoli with a hamburger patty. We ate while the clouds rolled in just below us, and the sun dropped down into the clouds. It was a beautiful moment.

SLEEPING AT THE BASECAMP:
Sunset was between 5:30 and 6pm and we headed to bed. I, of course, brushed my teeth first, though I think I was the only one to do so. I climbed into my sleeping bad, and tried bundling myself up as much as possible. The night was cold, though not quite as cold as I had expected. I really didn’t sleep well, or much. The ground was quite uneven, with my feet several inches lower than my head. The mat didn’t provide much comfort and each rock could still be felt underneath.

I woke up several times per hour. Sometimes due to the high winds. Sometimes due to the sounds outside the tent. Just before going to bed, Alejandro warned us to put our bags and bowls inside the tent because foxes come at night. My Dutch tent-mate refused to do so, so all night I was paranoid that foxes were surrounding us. Sometimes I woke up because I was just plain uncomfortable. Sleeping in fetal position worked to warm me up, but only so long until the side of my hip started hurting. Then, of course, is the age old question of – I have to go to the bathroom but it’s cold outside, so do I get up and suffer but then sleep better, or do I stay here and just hope I fall asleep again?

Arequipa at 2am

I also woke up a few times with a slight headache, so I grabbed several cocoa leaves from my bag and chewed them hoping for relief. I was relieved when 1am rolled around, as that was our scheduled wake up time. I got up, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, got dressed, only to go to the eating area and have Alejandro tell us it’s too windy, and we’ll need to wait another hour. Back to bed, back up again at 2:30 for breakfast.

BREAKFAST AT BASECAMP:
Once we got up the second time, we found Alejandro over the flame preparing cocoa leaf tea for us. Another delicious Alejandro creation. Also on offer for breakfast was bread, cheese, and marmalade. Quite honestly, it was hard to eat that early, and I didn’t have much more than tea and a couple pieces of salty cheese.

DAY 2 HIKE:
We started at 3am, with our head lamps turned on. I had loaded myself up with all my clothing, but got incredibly hot right away, and so stopped to remove my rain jacket within the first 15 minutes. Day 1 was hard, but I felt okay. I often was the first or second to reach each break point. Day 2 was a different story for me. I really suffered. I tried my best to maintain the pace with the rest of the group, but I just could not do it. I remained in the back almost the entire day, allowing the space between me and the pack to grow wider and wider. The group stopped to wait several times, but as soon as I got near, they continued on. This left me very little time for longer breaks that the rest of the group was having, though I had several mini breaks of my own.

That the pack was able to just keep stepping one foot after the other seemed like a miracle to me. I would often take 2 steps, and need to stop again. I started making a goal to walk at least 15 steps before a break, then 25. Sometimes I even made it to 27 or 32 before I had to stop again. I didn’t feel I was struggling with breathing, and my headache was gone, but everything felt heavy and my legs were on fire. My calves and thighs burned with each step, and I could feel the backpack digging into my hips.

We watched as the sun rose over a nearby peak. Headlamps went off, and the sun came out. A Misti shaped shadow covered the city of Arequipa. Each step was harder than the last. Stepping over massive stones, with the feeling that one accidental step backward would fling you down the side of the volcano. My feet sunk into the sand and ash and everything felt heavier and heavier.

Finally around 9am, the peak appeared in sight. I was far behind the group and watched them take steps on the path where I knew I would make it to eventually. Slowly and surely. The last push up to the crater was a struggle. Alejandro pushed through the ashen path like a pro and cheered me on once I got nearer. I counted my steps, but just could never get more than 25 before another break. Another break. Another break. But then I made it. At 10:13am, I made it to the crater at 5700 meters above sea level. We each reached the crater in order of age (not including Alejandro, the pro). First the two 22-yo boys, then the couple- 27 & 30. Rounding out the pack was me, at 39.

Alejandro made the decision that we would not be hiking the last 100 meters to what is officially the peak, as it was getting too late. Partly because of our late start, and partly, I’m sure, due to the group waiting for the slowest member of the pack (hi, it me!). The crater was cold and windy. We took several pics to prove we had made it and then it was time to turn back around and head down.

THE DESCENT TO BASECAMP:
What took 7 hours to climb up, took just under an hour to go down. We did not take the same path back down as I had expected. Instead of traversing the giant rocks and pebbles of the incline, we went straight down the side of the volcano, doing what felt like ash skiing. With the help of gravity, we flew down the side of that volcano, filling our boots with ash, and trying our best not to fall, which happened several times. As we got closer to the basecamp, the rocks got bigger, as did our focus to avoid them. We arrived back to the basecamp just after 11am.

Going ash skiing down the volcano

We had until noon to relax, eat, and pack up our things. Thankfully, another group was headed up the volcano just as we were headed down, which meant that we did not have to pack up the camping gear, nor did we have to carry it. We left our mats, bags, and tents where they were, and just focused on, well actually nothing. It was hard to think with that much exhaustion.

THE FINAL DESCENT:
Noon arrived, and Alejandro was ready to guide us one more time. He also wanted to get back and eat pizza. This was his second Misti climb of the week, and I would say he deserved some pizza.

We once again went down a different way than we had come up. And, once again we continued our ash skiing until we reached a more civilized path you might see in mountain hiking. The type of path I was grateful for, and had missed. The descent down took about 1.5 hours, and I fell about 3.5 times. Weak and tired legs, lots of pebbles. Fall, fall, fall.

We were all super grateful once that 4×4 on the dirt road was in our sight. We washed our hands, took that necessary AFTER photo, and climbed back into the 4×4.

THE END:
We arrived back to Waiky around 3:15pm, with just a slight detour- the vehicle ran out of gas, and the guys got out and pushed it to the gas station. Once we unloaded our gear from the car, the women counted each item and checked for any inventory we may have lost or broken (I lost a pink glove on the way down. If anyone sees it, please bring it back to Waiky).

I gave a 20 soles tip to Alejandro once we arrived back, but I’m honestly not sure if that is enough, not enough, too much. I tried to find out from the others how much to tip and what was normal. I asked one of the Peruvians and she was surprised we would tip at all. I asked the Dutch and he said 20 soles should be enough per person. I didn’t see any of the three Peruvians give a tip (they may have and I just didn’t see it), but I think only the Dutch boy and I tipped.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I’m an avid hiker and I’m in good shape. I hike several times a month. I’m from Boulder, Colorado where the elevation is more than a mile above sea level, and I struggled. I walked for 25 days across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, averaging 25-30km per day. Hiking Misti was harder. I truly think this was the most physically exhausting thing I have done in my entire life. I would recommend it to others to do if they are ready for the challenge, but only if they know how hard it was. I felt slightly mislead about the difficulty level of the hike, and I just wasn’t mentally prepared. If you plan to climb Misti, I don’t think you will regret it, but you will be better off knowing from the jump just how difficult it really is.




Published by Nicki

I've lived all over. I want to help you do the same!

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