We had a few hours of rest, but I didn’t manage to sleep for even five minutes. Apart from the problems of altitude, I was sharing a tiny tent - meant for campers of Peruvian build - with a tall Polish guy, who was a loud snorer. Of course, this had to happen the only night I forgot my earplugs. Luckily I was feeling pretty good and had no symptoms of altitude sickness. We started our long hike in the middle of the night under a shining moon which had been full only days before. After a few minutes the French and German trekkers gave up and decided to go back to the camp as they weren’t feeling any better. The Polish trekker, an athletic French girl who does walking races and myself continued with the guide. The first difficulties, apart from the steepness, came from the volcanic cinders covering the terrain: at every step our feet slipped back, making our progress quite tiring, especially above a certain altitude. In any case, it wasn’t particularly cold because there was no wind, even though the temperature before dawn had been around zero. I felt the lack of sleep as I walked during the night and when we had an occasonal rest and I stayed standing for a few seconds, I felt sleepy and weak.
At around 5000 metres, the sun slowly came out to warm us. All of a sudden I felt some new extraordinary energy and with daylight everything changed. We were all feeling well and even though it began to be difficult to breathe, we managed to carry on at a slower pace, with a strong odour of sulphur coming from the volcanic gases. After seven tiring hours of marching, we reached 5700 metres, where the view was extraordinary. We could see the big cross fixed on the summit from where the massive crater would be visibile. My two partners decided to stop there as she wanted to preserve her strength for the descent and he seemed a bit uncertain or worried about the last slope which was covered with frozen snow. I myself didn’t think about it twice, said goodbye and carried on alone, full of enthusiasm, with my ice-axe in my hand.
My heart was racing because of both euphoria and the altitude but the idea of reaching that summit I’d been dreaming of gave me great strength. So after a two-day hike taking me 2500 metres higher and with no sleep at night, I was finally alone on the summit of this amazing volcano (video), surrounded by a grand 360 degree panorama of an enormous fuming crater, the Peruvian Andes, Arequipa and all the canyons of the valley. I felt one of the most intense emotions of my life, this was the highest I’d ever been, I fell on my knees and cried with joy. I felt as if the volcano and I were one thing, united, together, and was filled with happiness. There was a smile on my face all thirty kilometres of the descent.
Mountains are a pure school of life, teaching you to suffer in silence, to clench your teeth and never give up, even when the summit seems unreachable - so when eventually you do reach it you experience a unique feeling.