Only a couple of years ago, very few people knew about Vinicunca, the so-called Rainbow Mountain of Peru. I don't just mean tourists - the locals of Cusco, only three-or-so hours away, didn't market tours to Vinicunca and, if you'd ask them about it, wouldn't have known what it was. That all changed when a then-coworker of my wife and her friend (both of whom are coworkers still and were with me on this trip) somehow came across the hike, published a blog post about it, and started a company to lead tours there. Now you can't throw a rock in Cusco without hitting an ad for Rainbow Mountain hikes.
FlashPacker Connect, the aforementioned company, found Quechua partners for both guiding parties up the mountain and cooking breakfast and post-hike meals for their hikers. The day for us started at 2am when we were picked up - three hours of driving took us to 14,000 feet and a small house in which a Quechua man cooked us omelettes and quinoa drinks. A 20-minute drive past that and the fun began.
The hike is only around nine miles round trip, but with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain along that length, breathing - and therefore life in general (for us sea-level-dwellers) - becomes quite difficult. Justin and I were quite tired, but our Quechua guide (an incredibly interesting man with whom I spoke as much as possible when my lungs allowed it) was not - our wives, on the other hand, were suffering badly and elected to turn back before the top. A wise move, as the elevation gain only increased and we passed into rain, heavy rain, and then snow approaching blizzard conditions. Still, we reached the top (ultimately 16,273ft), and although Vinicunca's folded, metal ore strata were not brilliant, the alpine view was breathtaking (both literally and figuratively).
Being the only non-natives on the mountain, an elderly Quechua woman chatted us up near the top before bounding away with light-footed grace, making us look like the stumbling, oxygen-deprived oafs we were. I'll never forget it.