The hike to Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain) traces a path between mountains created from weathered minerals and stripes of sedimentary rock, rare and specific to this part of the Andes. Sulphide yellow, chlorite green, limonite, rusty iron reds. It is a rainbow of lavender, gold, burnt orange, turquoise.
At 14,189ft, the foot of the climb is already leaving us semi-breathless. It’s a crisp, sunny daybreak and the local compañeras line the path with dozens of horses ready to carry those who can’t face the day’s hike into the altitude.
As we climb the sky clouds in, rain becomes sleet, sleet becomes snow. It doesn’t bode well that the very colours we are trekking towards are now dusted in a fresh, colourless white blanket.
The pinnacle of rainbow mountain ends with a sharp climb towards a viewpoint; here a man in a checkered shirt, traditional hat with neon streamers operates a candy store and serves hot tea. It is a strange dichotomy and contrast to the surroundings and makes me very aware of the impact of tourism on this fragile landscape.
Up here, at 17,060ft, the snow has melted enough,and the clouds come in waves allowing glimpses of the layered palette.
Sleet sets in again and muddy rivulets run rampant down the trail back to the vans. No more casual conversation, this is like a race for the bottom, a soggy, gruelling mudslide back to shelter.
We pile in, my face pressed against the misted window wrapped in a turkish towel and a raincoat, tucked in a ball hugging my camera bag for warmth I try to sleep despite the cold and echo of chattering teeth. The light dwindles and fades into bleak clouds as we drive the three and a half hour ride back to Cusco.