Emily Schaldach is a student at University of Colorado, Boulder. She is an ISA Featured Photo Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.
Five women and I took on the Santa Cruz trek in Huaraz, Peru for our spring break. While most people went to the beach, we convinced ourselves that four days in the Cordilleras range would be full of beauty, feelings of simplicity, and accomplishment.
We each own a pair of hiking boots, on the final bus to reach the start of the trek, I laced up my shoes with a sort of superiority that my choice of hiking shoe was clearly the best for this endeavor. Lightweight, approach shoes, with laces that start down by my toes, and an impressive level of waterprooofness.
We started walking, up, lots of up, with small rocks on the trail, large rock steps, and a stunning river raging to our left. Rainy season hydraulics teased the water as it plunged along. We had heard the first day was a mere two hours of hiking – so, two hours in we took a break, took of our shoes, and wiggled our tired toes in the frigid river.
Lesson number one: never, ever listen to anyone who tells you how long the trek will be. Another 2+ hours later, we finally reached camp, slightly frustrated at the length of the day, but happy to have arrived. I took off my trusty, and now dusty, hiking boots and slipped on my camping crocs.
The following day, some feet had blisters, and we had heard we would be walking for closer to five hours. However, see lesson number one.
Eight hours later, with feet covered in blisters, we made it to camp number two. The number of times we convinced ourselves it was “just over that ridge” was comical. By the end of the day, we had all chatted about our boots, and found each of us was incredibly, unbudgingly, partial to our own shoes. Whether this hinged on weight, level of waterproofness, age (new or old), or numbers of miles walked, we all tapped our toes together while sitting at lunch and chatted, simply, about boots. Part of the beauty in simplifying, in only really chatting, walking, eating, and sleeping, means we had space to talk about shoes, or really detail how a certain cup of coffee tasted, or reflect for slightly too long on how massive mountains look silhouetted by the stars. However, by the time we reached camp, no matter how fond we were of our boots, we were all happy to take them off and wiggle into camp shoes.
Day three, they told us eight hours, so, naturally, ten hours later, we had successfully summitted the highest peak (15,600 ft). We squealed, and continued to gasp as we looked higher than we thought possible to the tops of the surrounding peaks.
As we made our way down the other side, the rain started, and the stomach aches started. It was a low point. Clean shoes turned fully brown from stepping in surprisingly deep mud puddles, and we walked in silence as the hours ticked by. Six rain-poncho-ed girls kept each other moving through the occasional words of encouragement, but mostly through the shared experience of continuing to trudge along together.
By day four, our feet were permanently smelly, hurting, and resistant to another day of walking. Two of the girls had pretty brutal stomach bugs, and the hike ahead seemed almost cruel. Fortunately, each of us had moments of pulling the group along, and we were able to step up, often fueled by complaints, and followed by amazement at the world around us.
The cleansing mountain air was refreshing, trying, and breathtaking. We did it though. We all made it from start to finish and it was not easy. I think most of us shed a tear and wished we were at home in our beds. However, the shared experience of walking, chatting, and feeling tiny in the massive valley brought a renewed sense of smallness as well as accomplishment and strength. I’m thankful for strong women, resilience, and of course Pachamama for the earth she built.
As we finally returned to Cusco, after almost a week of travel, I pulled my absurdly smelly boots out of my bag, and put them straight outside to air out. And, while I have no plans of putting them on in the next few weeks, I am still convinced they are the absolute best option – but aren’t we all.
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