Post by Zachary Czuprynski
Altitude sickness is humbling. It has spread amongst a handful of the group and has reminded us that we have not been below 10,000 feet for a while. Today was bittersweet because it marked our last trek into the field, and only half of the group was able to commence. We arrived late morning, sluggishly hiking past the small hamlet that shared potatoes and tea with us the afternoon before. Scruffy dogs barked and alpaca grazed lazily as we made our way to Paco Pampa, our final study site. Paco Pampa is a bofedal much like Ampatuni. Two steep ridges guard both sides of a valley that is filled with swampy ponds of water and short, spiky vegetation. Over the past three days, these two systems really provided a scenic view, one that I will not forget.
By our third day, we were masters at collecting methane data, aerial imagery, isotope samples, microbes, soil samples and core samples. While everyone was still working at the lower site, Colin and I took the challenge of hiking to the end of Paco Pampa to collect data from the glacial source. The 3.5 kilometer stretch didn’t seem bad when viewing it from Google Earth the night before; however, at 15,000 feet every physical exertion is magnified and takes twice as long as planned. We took 360 cameras, isotope bottles, a drone and a core container. The hike took about 1.5 hours, and we stopped several times to take in the unbelievable views.
It was an odd experience being separated from the group for several hours. Although Colin and I were hiking together, there was a solitudinous silence that lingered over the dendritic stream, the open valley, and the massive glacier fixed in front of us. We climbed up the side of a waterfall and looked out upon the bofedal. Short of breath and sore-legged, I felt the immensity of the adventure I was on. I was standing next to a glacier in the middle of nowhere within a country whose language I cannot even speak. For me, this was a moment that could not be captured by any picture, video footage, or words. It was an experience that I am extremely grateful for and will not forget.