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Climbing A Rainbow In Peru: A Dazzling View That’s Worth The Effort

Sep 27, 2020 04:23PM ● By Story and photos by Lisa Ballard
Coming off a four-day trek to Machu Picchu, I had a full day in Cusco before my flight from Peru back to the United States. “We can set up a hike for you in the Rainbow Mountains,” emailed Bonnie Schindelman, my contact at Alpaca Expeditions, the guide service that had set up my trek.

The Rainbow Mountains? I had never heard of them. Digging around on the Internet, I found out there are two Rainbow Mountains, the range in Peru that Bonnie referred to and the Fourteen Colored Mountain, also called Mount Hornacal, in Northern Argentina. However, the vibrant photos that appeared over and over online were from Peru and particularly from Mount Winnikunka (16,500 feet), the high point of hiking there. After looking at the surreal technicolor landscape striped with vibrant red, pink, orange, green, and turquoise, I had to go.

On the day of my climb, my guide Jaime (pronounced HIGH-mee), a driver and I left Cusco at 3 am. It took three hours to cover the 60 miles to the trailhead, the last hour of which we spent winding slowly up a muddy two-track. We were among the first to reach the oversized parking lot, which is when I learned how much the route had recently exploded in popularity. In just three years, the Rainbow Mountains had become one of the most visited sites in Peru.

Jaime estimated 1,500 to 2,500 people per day attempted the 2.5-mile climb to the top of Winnikunka during the peak months of June through August. Luckily, I was there in September. Perhaps 500 people would follow me up the mountain that day, and not everyone would make it. The trailhead sits at 15,000 feet, then it’s another 1,500 feet to the top, with most of the vertical gain during the last half-mile of the ascent.

To read more about this adventure please go to The ImageMagazine Fall 2020 digital edition page 77.

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