With our few days at La Constancia planned out to take in as much as we could of what was on offer, one item on the menu was always going to be climbing Champaqui, pronounced chum-pa-kee. The relatively small range of mountains of Cordoba is where we are situated and Champaqui is the highest point in the whole province of Cordoba, not all that far from here. With the opportunity to climb to the highest point of anywhere it seems like it would be a sin to not give it a shot, and today is the day, we’re going to the top with Laf and Barns. Although the total altitude isn’t all that much to crow about (2884m) the hike from La Constancia is, we need to climb 1400m in altitude and back again in one day, a fair slog in anyone’s book.
Although it’s not a technical climb it’s insisted that we take a guide, Saulo, another of the kung-fu crew from nearby, the masters disciple as it were. With an early breakfast down the hatch we’re off and commencing our stretches with the guide that look more like 80’s aerobics moves but who’s looking, we get into it. And we’re off, the climbs bolts right up more or less from the start, this is going to be a long day. Apparently we’re going into puma territory and although sightings are rare we’re hopeful.
Early on in the trek we don’t quite see a puma but we do see another snake. As calm as can be, Saulo wanders back, traps the snake under his staff and flings it off down the mountain, casually waving goodbye to the flying reptile to display that we are now safe. That was pretty cool. The path we’re on winds up the spine of a ridge giving us commanding views to the west, north and south. In the shade of the mountain for the early hours we look upward to a blanket of cloud overflowing the higher ridge like a flowing, rolling blanket, these mountains looking more and more grand as we ascend.
On and on, this path made for horses is consistent, unrelenting and ever upward. Regularly glancing back we see the cluster of buildings that make up La Constancia transforming from homestead to speckle in the distance as the hours roll on. And ever onward we climb, the mental tricks of any good mountain start to play on us, is this ever going to end? Every time we reach a peak we are greeted by yet another ascent before us in place of where we hoped to see clear sky.
After nearly three hours of trying to keep up with our kung-fu machine our path slowly loses some of it’s biting upward slope, flattening into a passage between two peaks. Finally a respite and granted wishes of clear sky ahead. We make our way across a small glen before stopping for a rest. Saulo decides to show off and stalks a horsefly, the slow motion shadowing ends on a flash of his hand and the fly caught alive first go, this guy is a beast. He also pulls up a few handfuls of a plant under the lee side of a huge boulder, apparently an aphrodisiac; good to know. Barnaby is keen for the fly so he can use it fishing and duly kills another before realising that Saulo didn’t kill the fly in line with his buddhist beliefs, oops.
And on we trudge, our oasis of blue sky was but a temporary reprieve, we tack left with most of the altitude gained already, dare we say home stretch? On a road for a short time we plod along feeling simultaneously like we’ve nailed the worst of the climb yet with plenty still to go. It’s pretty tough going here but would we have it any other way? Of course not. Gazing downward from a high peak knowing that you have climbed that whole way is pure gratification. From the base of the slope these mountains seem to lack some of the enormity of grander areas but from above the effect couldn’t be more opposite; sheer, imposing and grand. This never gets boring.
On flagging legs we clamber up the final rocky pinnacle of Champaqui, turning back was never an option. If we’d left here without making it to the top we’d have felt like we didn’t really see all that we could see. And we can see a lot. Gazing eastward now we have an unobstructed view to the world beyond, clearly seeing the range we drove over when driving from Cordoba city. The range smoothly rises from the plains to its peak and retreats again, an image akin to a grainy photo of the Loch Ness monster. We even get the sight of eagles soaring on the thermal winds and this time they’re below us, this perspective is always disorienting and awe inspiring, this relatively small mountain playing a lot bigger than its altitude suggests.
We pose for a few photos on a small platform at the highest point, Saulo showing off with an awesome kung-fu pose perched on the precipitous stage. Our legs know little difference in the work but now the path turns downward. On and on. About nine hours after setting off we literally limp back across our familiar wooden bridge back to home, a day of exploration marked with soreness and fatigue. I wonder who will be the first to suggest gin?
It is with no great surprise that we all feel thoroughly satisfied with our efforts, Champaqui has been scaled, no puma sighting doesn’t dampen the sense of achievement at all. We’re in a hot spot of luxury and indulgence yet we put ourselves through pain to get to the highest point. Why is it that we do this? It blissfully remains an unknown mystery of the human condition; higher, faster, stronger a constant desire. We have done nothing out of the box in terms of human capability, we’ve just walked up a hill yet the feeling of need to do it is an unavoidable instinctive urge. In a way we are indulging I guess, indulging in a need that is not commonly associated with indulgence, going further, bigger and higher. How nice it is to be able to climb to the peak of a mountain and call it indulgence, a perspective that only travel can grant and one we’re happy to indulge in.