What it's Like to Hike Mount Vinicunca, Peru's Rainbow Mountain

Gallery Mode

Photographer

Graham Hiemstra, Sam Huff, Heidi Shultz

Camera

Contax T2, Yashica T4

Film

Kodak Portra 400

Back to article
Fallback
Fallback

What it's Like to Hike Mount Vinicunca, Peru's Rainbow Mountain

Deep in the Peruvian Andes exists an ancient land of unbelievable natural beauty, if you're willing to work for it

What it's Like to Hike Mount Vinicunca, Peru's Rainbow Mountain

Author

Graham Hiemstra

Photographer

Graham Hiemstra, Sam Huff, Heidi Shultz

Camera

Contax T2, Yashica T4

Film

Kodak Portra 400

https://www.fieldmag.com/articles/rainbow-vinicunca-mountain-trek-peru

I awoke with a jolt. Awful noise was everywhere. It was pitch black. My phone’s alarm was ringing. Sam’s phone alarm was ringing. The bedside telephone was ringing. It was 1:51 AM in Cusco, Peru, and our ride was already downstairs, waiting. We were headed to Vinicunca Mountain—or, Rainbow Mountain, if you prefer the recent marketing-minded Western rebrand—just as soon as we wrapped our minds around what was happening.

Three hours later, just as the sun began to peak over the surrounding mountains, our oversized cargo van pulled to a halt. The road in was windy, and rocky, and perched on endless hillsides that made the internal roll cage a bit too real of a necessity.

At the trailhead we stretched legs, craned necks, and marveled at the surrounding beauty, and at the heard of alpacas. With just under a handful of hours of rough sleep and a cold empanada in our system we readied ourselves for ~10 miles of hiking at well above 15,000 feet elevation (4500m).

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-33
Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-32

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-25
Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-24

Thankfully our local guide had the foresight to get us going before the other tourists arrived. In recent years Rainbow Mountain has seen a surge in international popularity, and though we were visiting during the rainy off-season, the unbelievable painted hills still draw a healthy crowd daily. After a brief cocoa leaf tea we hit the otherwise empty trail.

At all elevations along the trail the surrounding landscape is absolutely unreal. Picking your head up when hiking is always a funny thing to remember to do, but here, each time we stopped to take in the terrain, we gasped. No joke. Brilliant greens, deep purples, and rich reds streaked the touring mountains and rolling hills all around.

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-26
Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-6

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-29
Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-27

Though the hike was challenging to say the least, at no point was there any reason to turn back—the thought of what still laid ahead was as strong as draw as could be felt.

On the list of provided amenities our guide company Flashpacker Connect offered was oxygen. Back in NYC, at sea level, when planning the trip, I laughed. Standing at 16,500 feet, head literally in a cloud, I half wished I had taken our guide up on his offer. The air was thin, but the views were truly stunning—equally breathtaking, to grab the low hanging fruit from the joke tree.

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-12
Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-17

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-20

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-16

Rich minerals cascade over the saddle of a hill now called Rainbow Mountain. And the shoe fits. It’s a rainbow in many senses of the word. Vibrant colors exist in every direction, to the point that it was difficult to decide on where to point my camera. When shooting film one must be conscious of every frame—here, I shot without restraint, knowing only operator error would result in anything but a keeper.

After some alone time on the summit—or rather, the saddle of it—my group of three watched as low hanging clouds parted, revealing wave after wave of tourists making their way upward. Some on foot, others on horseback, all with a porter or three. But we couldn't judge—we were there for the same reason. We were all there to see Mother Nature at her best.

That said, I've never been more thankful for a pre-2 AM wakeup call than I was then.

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-22

Rainbow-Mountain-Trek-Peru-10

Fallback

Related articles

Photographer Forrest Smith on Life Adrift and His New Book “Wilder"
Photographer Forrest Smith Shares His 5 Favorite Moments From New Book "Wilder"

Reflecting on a thoughtful project spanning four years of photography, nine states, a handful of countries, and a lifetime of experience

Trekking 20,000-foot Peaks in Peru's Cordillera Blanca Range
Trekking at 20,000 ft in Peru's Iconic Cordillera Blanca Range

21 color images from 20 rolls of film captured across 21 days of travel throughout the Andes

Gear Review: Fjällräven Keb Eco-Shell Jacket
Gear Review: Fjällräven Keb Jacket

A clean, waterproof shell made from recycled fabric for long, wet days in town and on the trail

What it's Like to Hike Peru's Legendary Salkantay Trail
28 Film Photos Capture the Spirit of Peru's Epic Salkantay Trail

Three days of sun, snow, and rain under the towering 15,000 foot peaks of the Peruvian Andes, on our way to Machu Picchu

The Lost Inca City of Machu Picchu
Photo Essay: The Lost Inca City of Machu Picchu

Exploring the mysterious 15th century citadel deep in the jungle of Peru

Gear Review: Danner Light All-Purpose Hiking Boot
A Hands-On Review of the All-Purpose Danner Light Hiking Boot

From exploring cities in Colombia to hiking through jungles in Peru, we put the American-made boot to the test

More articles
Fallback
Fallback