The “short” trek that changed everything
“Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focusing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round… It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison.” —C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
These words echoed through my mind the minute I opened my eyes on May 26th. It was early in the morning on the second day of a five-day, 50 mile trek from Marcocasa to Machu Picchu, Peru. As I unzipped my tent, with sleepies in my partially opened eyes and socks on my hands as make-shift gloves, I looked up to see a glowing mountain and sun rays sneaking up over the top.
Less than 24 hours before, our sixteen-person team had started our adventure after few hours of sleep and a broken plumbing system in our hostel. We had spent our first day of the trek hiking up, down, and all around, from Marcocasa to the base of Humantay Mountain.
But while these several hours were awe-inspiring, they are now completely overshadowed by memories of the events that evening—some of the longest hours of my life.
It all began when we decided to take a “short” side-trek to the Humantay Lake—1,200 feet above our campground, which was already 12,800 feet above sea level. We dragged ourselves up the incline that felt as steep as walking straight up the side of a skyscraper.
At one point, about half of us stopped at a leveled area, which we thought was close to the top. It was here that I noticed some clouds crawling towards us and the sky color turning from dusk to a gray that I know all too well having lived in Pittsburgh for four years. Trying to push this to the back of my mind, I continued with the group up, up, and up still.
I am still unconvinced that the lake we saw that evening actually exists in reality.
It still seems like a mirage of gray-blue that my imagination created as a distraction from the events looming around us. I knew we were in trouble. The black clouds were no longer impossible to ignore. We began our rushed descent back to the campsite, quickly realizing there was no chance we would beat the storm swirling above us.
Our plunge down the mountainside was an hour of adrenaline. The slow rain picked up velocity as the clouds grew thicker, darker, and louder. Bolts in the sky allowed us to see further than our two shared headlamps.
It was as though we had been consumed by a pitch black cloud fighting with itself.
The only thing that brought us back to reality was the dodging of rocks and mounds and piles of horse droppings as best we could on the steep decline while being pelted with rain drops.
Eventually we made it back to camp, completely soaked to the bone and feeling like human icicles. Our team trickled into the food tent, one or two at a time, until we were all huddled together jumping around to keep warm.
Ever so slowly, our faces became unscrunched, our voices came back, and even smiles began to form. The misery of the evening’s events was so undeniable and unchangeable that we could do nothing but laugh and swap stories about our paths down the glacier. We ate together that night in a new way; being brought to our lowest points among people we had only known for a few weeks, we rose to new heights together with this newfound bond.
We had been brought together in a new way, by forces of substance and depth we had not known before.
Now in the morning light, as I peered out of my tent towards the luminous mountain ahead, my eyes readjusted, settling into a new way of seeing God's creation that persists to this day. The night before had been one of the worst in my life, but also one of the most valuable, awakening me to the realization that beauty can come even from everything going wrong. I downed a sweet cup of coca tea and set my gaze to our next peak.
It has been only a few months since Peru happened, which I cannot believe.
In some sense, it feels like I was sitting and eating with my crew of teammates just yesterday. In another sense, it feels like a decade since I saw the clouds touch the mountaintops of the Andes. I have returned home, where majestic mountains and glimmering glaciers are not around every corner and bend, which has been hard to accept.
But this does not mean I have forgotten the realizations from that miserable mountain walk and the next morning. I have begun to see that there is undescribable beauty all around, beauty which pales all other things in comparison, and now I am on the lookout for it, in all its forms—raging storms, mountain peaks, and all the long trails in between.
This is the gift of my time in Peru. The solid has become easier to recognize beneath the superficial, and that has altered everything for me.
—Katie Moose graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 with a degree in accounting and marketing. She now works for an accounting firm in Rochester, New York.