Although not the greatest mountain in the region, Nevado Mismi, a rugged 5597-m peak roughly 15 km north of Ichupampa and the Río Colca, is special for a couple of reasons that might be worth remembering at 0300, when its -15°C and youre huddled inside a sleeping bag, counting the hours to daylight. First, it provides an adventurous trek to the source of what, in terms of volume, number and scale of tributaries, perhaps even legendary status, is the greatest river system on the planet (see box, page ). Below the mountain to the east, tropical forest stretches uninterrupted to the Atlantic Ocean. Second, the regions extreme remoteness means that wildlife, extinct in other parts of the Andes, is present here. Its not unusual to see vicuñas, viscachas, many species of Andean water birds and, perhaps, the occasional condor in the mountains to the north of Tuti. Pumas and the spectacularly rare Andean mountain cat, prey on the tough herbivores of these undeveloped hills. Cultural aspects long vanished elsewhere also cling to existence close to the Amazons beginning. The area north of the Colca Canyon has some of Perus last traditional llama- and alpaca-herding communities. Living a nomadic existence, these remarkable folk live a life dedicated to the needs of their animals and the growth of the tough grasses that form their staple diet. On a practical level, this is one of harder areas in the Peruvian Andes to get to with public transport, so a professional guide or, at a bare minimum, a local arriero (mule driver) is highly recommended. Several established agencies in Arequipa offer itineraries in the area. Carlos Zarate (see page ) is very knowledgeable regarding the regions possibilities and has backed up TV companies in the zone. Without a guide you must be totally self-sufficient. There are many interesting hiking routes in this region. A good one requiring four to five days is outlined below. Make sure youre well acclimatized before you start treks in the area; much of the land lies at 5000 m or higher and you must be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions.
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