Climb to the heights of the condors in the sacred valley

March 8th, 2010

With Machu Picchu closed recently as the result of flooding, Cusco has proven itself as a destination that offers more than just one particular Inca citadel on a hill. It has become easier for other attractions and activities to come to light, such as this one in Pachar near Ollantaytambo. Climb 300 metres up sheer cliff-face using metal handles and steps embedded into the rock.

Text and Photos by Iñigo Maneiro for El Comercio

Ever imagined how it would feel to be like Spiderman, climbing buildings and walls? Ever wondered how the view over the sacred valley would look from the point of a condor soaring high above?

In Pachar, a small town in the sacred valley just 8km from Ollantaytambo, you are offered the chance to find out. The climbing trail of Natura Vive is the only one that exists in Peru, and one of three in Latin America.

Called a ferret trail, it can be both vertical and horizontal, equipped with the latest in mountaineering technology capable of taking anyone to areas previously accessible to only the most experienced rock climbers.

Colombian climber Natalia Rodríguez, and husband Ario Ferri, a Peruvian mountain climbing guide, decided to leave Bogotá-Colombia and the business they had there to relocated to the sacred valley with their two year old daughter. They came by car. loaded down with all their things – a journey that took one month.

“We lived for two years in Bogotá doing something that didn’t really leave us fulfilled. We wanted to give our daughter a different life, spend more time with her and live closer to nature”, Natalia explains.

And so began a project, the only one of its kind in Peru, a project adding more value and more options to the traditional Cusco vacation.

For Natalia and Ario, the first task was renting a mountain. It turns out that mountains also have owners and the enormous rock that they chose was located in the community of Pachar. Its geological characteristics, its steepness and its proximity to Cusco made it a perfect choice.

They came to an agreement with the community. They would benefit from tourism while the couple would begin construction of the trail – something that took three months and also involved getting all the international paperwork and safety checks.

From the ground you can’t see exactly where the trail of metal steps and bridges up the near-vertical slope lead. In anticipation of the climb your heart begins to beat faster. It doesn’t matter than about 200 people have done this before, including a child (the minimum age is 8), it is still terrifying.

It all begins in good humour, the equipment is prepared and a safety talk is given. The technique is simple but precise, the harness, the helmet, the carabiners, the gloves. They explain how to manage the safety lines – the climber is permanently attached to the rock-face by two security systems.

The security cable is divided into sections of two metres, in such a way that if the climber falls, the body is caught without any serious impact against the wall.

The entire circuit is formed by 500 steps separated between 30 and 40 centimetres, as well as a bridge of some 10 metres, a mere cable above a huge emptiness. To get back down you must rappel, with a maximum ecstasy level on a vertical descent of 100m of cliff face covered by bromelia and orchid flowers, where you cling on to your rope as if it were the only thing on the planet.

In total, the circuit takes four hours (of clinging to walls, arriving at natural platforms in the rock and staring at impressive views over the valley) to complete. It is four hours made all the more tiring by the adrenaline pumping through your veins.

At the highest part, some 300 metres up, is a rock that juts out of the cliff providing and ample platform some two metres wide, appropriately called the Sheraton. Here you enjoy a boxed lunch prepared by Natalia.

There will exist two routes, the first that goes the full length and to the full height of 300 metres, and a second calmer one currently being constructed aimed more at families with young children or those looking for less of an adrenaline rush.

Back down, watching Ario and Natalia expertly moving along the trail, you get a feeling that you want to do it all over again, climb to amazing heights and play once more with your fears and vertigo.

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