Getting By With A Little Help & Home From My Friends

December 01, 2017

This piece comes to you from BioLite Ambassador Abby.

I’m an outdoor person.

I grew up in Colorado; I hike; I camp; I’m good at orientation; I respect nature’s power.

I’m an outdoor person – and being helpless in the outdoors is unfamiliar territory for me.

Here’s my story of how a little bit of help and a little bit of home became a humbling experience in the foothills of Peru.

Alpine climbing - view from the top

My friend Rachel and I spent a week in Peru exploring Lima, the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, and Cusco, and rounded out our trip with an epic trek along Rainbow Mountain. This mountain is known for its colorful faces, the result of erosion exposing layers of mineral sediment. If you go during the right weather (stories of rain and sleet make it extra treacherous), you’re rewarded with breathtaking views.

And regardless of the weather, you are always rewarded with breathtaking altitude.

Rainbow Mountain sits at an elevation of 5.2k meters – that’s higher than Mt. Whitney (4.4k meters) and almost as high as Everest Basecamp (5.38k meters). And if you ever get winded in Denver, that’s 1.6k meters for reference. Humility Moment #1: This mountain asks a lot of you. With high elevations, ambitious trails, and unpredictable weather patterns, you have to go with a guide to complete your journey. As a self-sufficient hiker, the idea of needing a guide and crew felt unfamiliar; I’m a pro at this, I don’t need some touristy outfitter to show me what to do. I’ve carried my own tent before, I know how to rough it.

Turns out, ‘roughing it’ had no place on this mountain.

Summit attempt on Orizaba

To be clear, the opposite of ‘roughing it’ in this context isn’t glamping; it was about setting up conditions that allowed you to recharge fully under the grueling conditions. It was about creating a small slice of home on the side of a mountain that allowed you to center your mind, take care of your body, and replenish your energy. Humility Moment #2: Home has a place on the frontier – in fact, I would argue that finding home the frontier can be one of the most important things you do.

Let me back up for a second – before home, there was the trek: it started with a 2:30am wakeup call from Noah, our head trail guide, who informed us that we’d be hiking a glacier for the day. We met up with the rest of the crew, consisting of Francisco (Base Camp Leader), Charlie (Camp Cook), Julio (Van Driver), and Felipe (Horse Guide). Humility Moment #3: Felipe grew up just miles from the trail and hiked our entire journey in sandals. Sandals.

Sunset at Orizaba
Resting in Puebla - BioLite SiteLight Mini

Our day consisted of an intense 7 hour hike across the glacier, but instead of Rachel and I trekking with pockets of silence or with the occasional “I Spy,” our day was filled with laughter and conversation with our crew, getting to know their own stories, their connection to the mountain, and swapping jokes (who cares if they got lost in translation?). By the end of our Day 1 Trek, our spirits were high but our bodies were totally depleted – as the sun set, a damp fog rolled in and the weather quickly cooled down. It was time to set up base camp, and fast.

Our base camp was situated at 15,000 feet at the foot of countless jagged peaks. Our setup consisted of individual sleeping tents circled around one large communal tent where we could eat and spend some time together before retiring off to sleep. As we were setting up, the crew began to pull out their gas lanterns and, after a day of receiving nonstop encouragement and support from them, I leapt at the chance to be helpful: could I contribute a something to our setup?

The guys said “sure.” I went to my bag and pulled out my BioLite NanoGrid.

Charlie was the first to flip out.

Summit attempt on Orizaba

“What IS this?!” he remarked, running around with the SiteLightXL trailing him like a kite. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” He grabbed the BaseLantern from my hands and moved it around, experimenting with the best setup to aid in his cooking. We eventually landed on setting them up inside the communal tent. It felt good to share something on a day where I had been receiving so much from them.

Once the string lights were up and we all sat down around our dining table, it was as if a weight lifted. I’d never spent time in a communal tent and after a long day trekking, this was the perfect place to stretch our legs, eat a meal, and build friendships. It’s funny how simply recreating the feeling of a cozy, well-lit home in an extreme climate can help you relax. If you’ve spent time sleeping outside, you know that once the light goes, the evening often ends quickly; with our lights going strong, we were able to keep our conversation flowing and connect – something I’d never be able to do hanging out in a tent by myself.

Summit attempt on Orizaba

After our delicious and nourishing dinner (another reason why a little bit of home on the frontier is clutch), I casually mentioned that I, too, had a stove with me – one that could charge your phone from fire. This time the crew didn’t even give me a chance to explain further. They took it from my hands and took over.

Our guides couldn’t wait to move outside to make tea on the CampStove 2. Despite our language and cultural barriers, we were all brought together around the fire by Noah who helped us translate and recount stories from the day. It never ceases to amaze me how a fire in the outdoors can unite people who have never met before. By the time we were ready for bed (saying goodnight to each other in Quechua) it was as if we’d known each other forever.

Sunset at Orizaba
Resting in Puebla - BioLite SiteLight Mini

The next morning, Charlie woke up early and boiled us eggs on his new gear obsession, the CampStove 2. I woke up soon after, eager to take on the day and make it to the summit, but as soon as Rachel and I left our tents, our bodies said otherwise – the altitude had caught up with us and sickness was setting in.

If you’ve never experienced altitude sickness before, it sucks. Some people describe it like having the worst hangover of your life – headache, nausea, disorientation, it’s all there. Unfortunately, it’s not something you just “power through;” it can stop you right in your tracks.

Noah and Charlie suggested that we move to lower elevations and hike through a different part of the landscape rather than pushing ourselves to reach our intended summit. Humility Moment #4: Listening to your body (chances are it’ll make the best decision for you) and knowing when to change course. We rested (gratefully) in our makeshift home for a few hours and, accepting the ever-positive, always-cheerful help of our guides, we made the choice to head back down.

Like most great adventures, ours didn’t go according to plan – our frontier took on a different shape, flattening out instead of ending with a peak. But I wouldn’t trade that night at base camp for anything in the world and the Day 2 alternatives were just as inspiring: instead of the summit, we encountered local shepherds; instead of scrambling jagged peaks, we explored a powerful waterfall pouring out of the side of the mountain, all with our newfound friends by our side.

Humility Moment #5: With a little bit of help and slice of home, there’s always another frontier waiting, if you’re ready to find it.


When she’s in her home-state of Colorado, Abby adventures with her two pups Kodi and Kuma. You can keep up with all of her travels here.