On 1 July 2015, 10 members of Trojan Squadron – part of the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme – and 2 Summer Mountaineering instructors set out on Ex Aventura Peruana, a three week mountaineering exercise to Peru. The south of Peru is home to the Andes, a challenging mountain range that offers some of the most incredible and remote locations on this planet. The main aim of this expedition was to ensure that the 10 novice mountaineers gained the Summer Mountain Foundation qualification. Further to this it was a chance for all 12 group members to experience the effects of training at a very high altitude and the challenging affects it places on the body.
The exercise consisted of two treks: the Salkantay Trek and the Ausangate Circuit. On 6 July we set off from our hostel located at Cusco (the old Incan capital of Peru) at a height of 3,300m above sea level. The effects of altitude can be felt at any height above 2,500m, and can have varying effects on everyone. To counteract the effects acclimatisation is essential, the Salkantay Trek worked well for this purpose where we maintained the training method of climbing high and sleeping low allowing the members to adjust to the low levels of oxygen.
The first day of the Salkantay Trek presented challenging terrain for a 6 hour hike to the first camping location at a height of 3,800m. The second day was to be the most challenging day of the trek as this involved the highest mountain pass at a height of 4,650m. At the peak we were met with rewarding views as well as the traditional Incan stone pyramids placed by travellers as a tribute to the mountain. After this peak we trekked a further 16km making the total trip a 26km day, this proved to be both a physical and mental challenge especially at an altitude where only 55 percent of the normal level of oxygen is available. After a hard day walking it was time to enjoy the local atmosphere, which involved a game of football with the locals. The third day of the trek involved walking to Aguas Calientes, an Incan village set just under Machu Picchu where we stayed for the night ready for the cultural visit in the morning.
We awoke at 4am to reach Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, before sunrise. There we learnt many things about the culture of the Incans, as well as the huge engineering advances they were responsible for in the 15th Century. Machu Picchu itself was only discovered by an American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, it is believed that the city was abandoned around 1470 due to the Spanish invasion. However, if the technology had been found and studied correctly it could have led to huge advances in the engineering world, for example they had fresh running water from a glacier 5km away, further to this, irrigation and farming methods meant it was possible to cultivate at high altitudes on steep mountain faces.
After this trek it was straight on to the more arduous Ausangate Circuit. A 6 day trek walking at altitudes between 4600-5200m, encompassing several mountain passes on increasingly hard terrain in a very remote setting. The trek itself was difficult and forced one of our members onto horseback as they were affected by altitude sickness. The highest pass we achieved was called the Condor Pass, which we reached on our third day, at an altitude of 5,200m. Despite the challenging conditions faced, this trek was the most rewarding. Being isolated from all civilisation and technology really was an incredible experience shared by all and was definitely worth the hardship.
Every member is extremely grateful to the Ulysses Trust for their generous support of Ex Aventura Peruana. The opportunity, although challenging was an invaluable experience and one that will never be forgotten.