The last week I got the opportunity to cover an event that has been the most demanding I´ve done so far. It was a marathon of 44km through the Santa Cruz trail, in the Huascaran National Park, located in the department of Ancash, in the central highlands of Peru, where you get to pass over 4,750 meters at the highest point of the trail.
I camped one day before the race at 4,400 meters above sea level in one of the help stations. To reach this place we walked through hills along 16 kms. The group was composed of two foreign volunteer couples, the guide Robert and his assistant, and a couple of donkeys responsible for carrying our stuff, also helped me carry all my photographic equipment, sleeping bag and food.
Halfway up we were surprised by rain, which then turned into hail. All my sleeping bag got wet after a few minutes of storm. Luckily it would dry up a bit with the last remaining hours of sunlight.
That night was probably one of the coldest nights of my life, despite wrapping myself with three big jackets, gloves and double socks. I did not sleep much because of the freezing cold and all energizers I took during the day. After a couple of hours of bad sleep I got up, it was still night and I started to prepare myself to hike 2 km halfway up the highest and steepest part of the mountain and wait for the runners at this point.
Around 7:30am the first appeared. When they past by me, I had to pick up the pace for a change of scenery and keep shooting photos to the next ones. With my tongue hanging out, exhausted of the demanding effort of carrying my heavy camera equipment in such hight, I reached the top in Punta Union (4,750 m). Then came a steep fall of almost 4 km of extreme beauty. With the snow around me and a turquoise lagoon on the side, it has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Taking pictures of the competitors in this scenario was amazing.
After more than 3 km. of steep descent, and carrying much weight, my knees started hurting a lot and I started to wonder for an urgent horse I had been promised the day before when I reached this point. When I got to the help station -point 5- the people in charge told me the horse they had was for emergencies and there was no other one I could use. But I was told to continue for 7 km to the next point of support and for sure I would get a horse in the next point. So I started walking and the landscape became a sandy desert of several kilometers, surrounded by mountains. This part was critical. It was midday with an intense sun that landed straight in my face, without sunblock, chased by flies, carrying my heavy equipment, my jacket and my empty water bottle that I drank in the first kilometer. There was no one in sight and the other side of the pampa seemed unattainable. Walking in complete solitude through this desert was exciting and interesting, even though physically I did not feel anything near good.
I finally reached the point of support and ordered a horse. It was the same story, there was no horse for me; but I was told that in point 7 I would be given a horse for sure. I left my backpack with my photographic equipment at this point. That is something that I would never do- and walked only with my camera, one lens and a bottle of water. Having eaten all day only energy drinks, bars, and chocolates, my head was exploding in pain from the lack of liquid. However, I had already reached a point where I did not care to walk on, and at least I had got rid of the great weight I carried before.
After walking several kilometers I reached point 7, where I finally got a horse. This horse did nothing but slow me down, and as I’m no expert riding, this slow horse kept slipping on large rocks beside the river and only made my headache worse. In some parts I had to walk and pull him, because the road had become too rough and steep.
At one point I met a drover who came downhill and asked him to help me with the horse. He stood back and with a couple of lashes, the horse I thought was afraid of the big stones started galloping over these. With one hand I grabbed my camera and the other the frame; I was about to fall on the stone soup almoast all the time, in a downhill ride that was pure adrenaline. It was a scene that anyone would of laught at. Then I decided to leave the horse with the drover and keep walking down for another 6 km until the end of the route.
I had to cover this race for more than 12 hours and 44 kms. It ended up being a huge challenge for me too, not only for marathoners. Despite the difficulties and discomforts, I would do it again. The race organization was impeccable and to see the expressions of the participants and the commitment of the volunteers for everything to go well was really motivating. Also being surrounded by the unique beauty of the Peruvian Andes gave me strength to fight all mental obstacles and always think positive, demanding my body to the limit.
Four days later, I’m counter cold at home for my oversights on the road, but I feel more alive than ever and eager to continue doing this type of work. I thank all the people who trusted that we could do it, my assistants Arantxa and Kevin, who also have their own great history, Sierra Andina and Columbia to make such an extreme, entertaining and different race and all the volunteers who helped to mark the route, run the camps, take away food, clean the trash, etc. Also to all the people who ran, for daring to do such a demanding route in the wonderful scenery that the Peruvian Andes gives us.