Very few moments are like the first few of a morning in the Andes Mountains. I lie awake for some time waiting on the first rays of sunshine to break over a peak with a name like Taulliraju or Huandoy. My bones ache from the long night of light sleep and from tossing and turning trying to get comfortable. The problem is not that you never were comfortable it is just that you have been in the sack so long.
The mountains are so high that the sun doesn't go down gradually it sort of turns off like someone hit a giant switch in the sky and everything goes black. The dry pack food supper was consumed as quickly as it was prepared (just add boiling water and eat) and the talk around the fire soon dies out because everyone is so dead from the rugged day's trek. So after you stay awake as long as you can and feel you could sleep for a month you head away from the fire's warmth and jump in clothes and all into the sleeping bag in a two-man tent. You get just comfortable and take a look at your watch to check the time. It is 7:50 PM. Oh well, you're tired and you figure you won't wake up until they call for breakfast.
The temperature has dropped from the 70's to the 20's and you wake up to pull the sleeping bag up a little and maybe put the stocking hat back on. "I'll check the time" you think and turn on a flashlight to see when you notice the thick ice that has formed on both in inside and outside of the tent. On the outside it is frost. On the inside your breath is freezing. Oh yeah the time, 12:20 AM. You roll over and knock off a few more Z's. pretty soon the back starts hurting, the bag gets twisted and you're freezing again. You make your adjustments and then check the time and now it's 2:10 AM. At about 4:30 your wide awake and no matter what you do you are ready to write Cabela's outfitters a long letter informing them that their self inflating Thermarest® pads are worthless and are anything but comfortable. "Will this night ever end?"
You've had enough at 5:30 and just have to get up. Stoke the fire, start the coffee, stretch, and if brave wash off your face in the glacial stream that runs by the camp. That switch that was used to turn the sun off last night must be out of order now because it is nearing 6:15 AM and still nothing.
Then it happens. For just a few minutes the peaks of the snow capped mountains come alive in an array of dancing color that words can't capture. First the hue of black changes to blue and then lighter and lighter until you know something is about to happen. It is as if a huge fiery monster is going to hop over that Eastern slope and burn up everything in sight. But as you are looking to the East waiting for the blast of rays someone says to look to the West. As the sun first touches the tips of the peaks and starts working down, the white mountains turn to gold. The gold works its way down the slopes and seems to be running like water. Then when the golden river of light is about to reach you the sunbeams top the Eastern peaks. The light is so bright you have to squint and look for sunglasses. Within minutes you forget the cold and the soreness vanishes and everything seems perfect. Down come the tents and the breakfast of hot oatmeal seems a feast and you can't wait to wear yourself out on the trail once again. All of the effort for Andean trekking is worth it just to see one of those sunrises. I can't wait to do it again.
Read Phil's 2004 Trek Report
Read Phil's 2005 Trek Report