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Part 3 (back to Part 2)

Coming Down
Coming down a mountain is actually just controlled falling, a literal freefall with just a few steps in between. The trip from the high camp to base camp is a joy, as the scree moves with you on your descent, softening the graceful glide downhill. The air thickens, or at least feels thicker, and we all feel strong again. On one part of the route, Carlos Zarate, a mountain guide and a member of our Peruvian team, fixes ropes down a rock face so we can descend quickly, shaving some 45 minutes off our descent time. The heavier loads are literally zip-lined down the ropes to the waiting, and thankful, porters below.

visions Base camp feels unfamiliar, a warm oasis at 15,000 feet compared to our less hospitable high camp. A few new faces appear here; local villagers have heard about our find on Sara Sara and climbed up to see for themselves what we've been up to. We wonder if one day Sara Sara will be a popular trekking peak where locals will guide curious tourists to the summit, and stories will be told of the Inca mummy we found there.

grass The descent puts expedition manager Matt Wells into high gear. It's a logistical puzzle of numbers of loads versus numbers of backs to put the loads on. Some carry over 100 pounds of gear to base camp, where 15 burros wait to carry the bulk to Quilcata. We know the expedition is nearing an end because our staples are running out. As we move down from base camp to Quilcata we have cheese sandwiches without bread. Lunch simply consists of cheese, chocolate, and cookies. Coming down from the bland white and brown of the snow and rock on Sara Sara's summit, we become acutely aware of the green grasses, trees and cacti. The sounds of birdsongs and the smell of green thicken the air with life.


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