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Peru, Huaraz – Touching an Area Near Something Sort of Voidish?

PERU | Friday, 21 October 2011 | Views [2253] | Comments [1]

Glaciers so close you could reach and touch them

Glaciers so close you could reach and touch them

After our horror afternoon and night in Lima, we got the first bus possible the next morning to head to Huaraz, where we were looking at undertaking a couple of hikes within the Andes. We arrived late in the evening and made our way to a comfortable guesthouse to rest and recuperate. The first morning, we had a big sleep in and skyped family and some friends to let them know what happened and assure them that we were ok, although it took a couple of days of downtime to start to feel even close to 100%. The guesthouse was really nice though: comfy beds, a rooftop dining and lounge area with great views of the surrounding mountain ranges, a tasty breakfast, a big fireplace and friendly staff.

The first trek that we undertook was the popular Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca. Probably the most popular trek in the area, it is normally done in 4 days with donkeys and guides, but to save money we were heading out on our own, and we were a bit short on time trying to squeeze it in with the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit, so were aiming to complete the trek in 3 days. The hike passes through snow-capped mountains and glaciers, and has a single pass at 4,750m. 

We started the hike in the town of Vaqueria; by the time the bus arrived it was 12pm. On the way up we’d passed through some bad weather, so we were relieved to see that the weather had cleared nicely. We passed pigs, goats, chickens and a guinea pig farm through the friendly town, a nice start to the trek. During the afternoon, we passed our first glaciers for the hike, and at our campsite we were able to see watch the sunset behind a glacier; it would have been lovely except for the millions of sandflies trying the steal all our blood. To escape, we hid in the tent and played cards until it was dark enough for those guys to head to bed.

Day 2 was the tough one, having to walk the best part of two days distance and climb up the pass. We got up at 5am to try and get moving before the midges woke up. The first couple of hours was pretty unremarkable; although the walk is within a National Park, a lot of the land through here is farm land, with lots of cattle, donkeys and sheep. As the morning passed though, the sides of the valley rose up and we were treated to views of glaciers and snow-capped peaks poking through the persistent cloud layer. The climb up the pass was hard work, but the trail rewarded us for our effort: on the other side, the weather was pretty clear, and there were gorgeous glaciers and glacier lakes on either side of the valley. As the cherry on top, just after we came over the pass, a big Andean condor flew overhead!

It was the evening campsite that was the real reward though. Coming down through the valley, we decided to camp at the beginning of a series of a couple of trout-filled lakes, located between the normal day 2 and 3 campsites. As we approached the lakes, on each side of the steep valley, there were tall waterfalls generated from the glacial mountains above. The lake was a gorgeous green colour, and reflected the sun that was just beginning to set behind it. A group (band? pack? flock? family?) of horses were running around on grassland, and some curious donkeys came up to watch us set up our tent. It was a gorgeous sunset, and the sunrise/moonset were even better! Down the valley from behind us, was a lovely view of the pass and the glaciers out that way. It’s hard to imagine a more magical campsite, I could have spent a couple of days there (especially with a fishing rod…). Incredible.

Nice morning views from the day 2 campsite.

The last morning was about 1200 metres of descent, along the valley. Some nice lakes, rapids and waterfalls lined the way, although after two long days walking, we were starting to feel the pinch a little.

After the first hike, we had a rest day in Huaraz, which consisted mostly of arranging logistics and eating food. The next hike consisted of a much more optimistic 9 day circuit of the Cordillera Huayhuash. The circuit consists of 9 passes between 4500 metres and 5000 metres, and the majority of the hike is above 3800 metres. Huayhuash is home to the second highest mountain in the America’s, Nevada Yerupaja. It also houses Siula Grande, which was the setting for ‘Touching the Void’. Going in to the hike, we were a little nervous. Probably only 20% of hikers do this trek without a guide, and most of those still use donkeys to carry their supplies. However, we’d done quite a few warm-up hikes, were as adjusted to the conditions as we were going to be, and I felt confident that we could do it.

The next morning, we got a bus to Chiquian, where we were to get a second bus to Llamac, the trailhead. Only problem was, the town had declared a general strike for the day, which included blocking the roads. We sat in the park playing some cards while waiting to see if it would clear up later, before heading to the Huayhuash Hotel, run by the incredible Fredy, one of the friendliest hotel managers you’re ever likely to meet. He gave us a load of advice regarding the trek and transport, invited us to lunch with his family (which included me eating roast guinea pig head, starting accidentally with the eyeball, but otherwise tasty enough) and helping us forget our frustration at the mornings delay.

The next morning, we were off in earnest. The first day was a slog along a mining road, carrying 9 days of food and all our other belongings for the next week and a bit on our backs. We made the mistake of patting a local’s dog (we christened him Old Greg); he then, despite all attempts to get him to return home, followed us doggedly for the rest of the day, about 12kms from where we met him. When we finally hitched a ride with a local mine truck, we thought we’d managed to shake him. We set up our tent, had our dinner, and then to our shock, Old Greg sauntered up to the tent. Fortunately our continued goading managed to get him to connect to an English couple who were doing the trek guided by a local and a team of 8 donkeys. Dog-thieving guilt averted. A couple of condors and a nice sunset over the mountains were our entertainment for the evening.

We christened him 'Old Greg', he adopted us on the first day, even though we tried to lose him. Fortunately he later adopted an organised trekking group that might have more food than tinned tuna, dried pasta, muesli and soup.

The next day, we began climbing up our first of 2 passes that day and 9 for the entire circuit. The start marred by passing a horse that had died 2 days previously on the way up to the pass after the trail collapsed beneath it. Some of the companies save money by overloading donkeys and horses: whether or not that killed this one I couldn’t say; but still not a nice sight. The pass wasn’t too difficult, although we had to climb up about 700m to 4,700m, our legs felt fresh and the trail was a nice grade. We took an alternative route from the trail so we could get in closer to the mountains. The track became poorly defined and hard going, but we did pick up some nice views of the glaciers. As a result of taking the alternative trek however, we missed a checkpoint area, where locals make you pay to pass through the trail. This only came to our attention when we started the climb to the second pass, and we heard some shouting. Looking back, we saw a local guy chasing us, carrying a (scarily homemade-looking) shotgun. Suffice to say, we paid the toll. After finishing the second pass, we had an incredible view, watching the sunset lighting up a series of five or six 6000+ metre mountains, while we rushed to reach the campsite before it got too dark. When we finally made camp, we were setup by the river, and went to sleep to the sound of glaciers cracking in the distance, mixed with local dogs fighting.

Sunset over mountains over 6,600m tall!

Day 3 took us through the most spectacular scenery of the trip.  We walked past a series of glacial lakes, all different colours, as four separate glaciers were cracking and avalanching. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the view, before commencing our hardest pass of the trip, not the highest but a 1000m climb at about a 1 to 1 grade. As we approached the pass, it started to hail, and then snow. By the time we reached the pass, it was snowing pretty heavily, and we had to navigate by compass as visibility dropped and the trail was concealed.

The fourth day was pretty unremarkable terrain, we passed one lake and then reached the hot-springs. It was a Sunday and the guys running the place were having a family barbeque at the site. We were just getting ready to boil some water to make soup for the fourth time in five days when they asked us if we would like to join them. Roast lamb, sweet potato and potato roasted in coals? Yeah, I think we’ll join you. We had a great time, chatting with the locals about the area and farming – it was the best lamb we’ve had since we left Australia (possible exception Kypriaki’s at Whistler?). Once we’d finished being force-fed lamb and potatoes, we joined the local guys in the pool, playing a drinking game that involved passing around a 1 litre bottle of beer, taking a swig and passing on to the next guy – if you finished the bottle, you had to buy the next one. After a couple of buys, I realised the rules of the game and was able to avoid having to buy more than my fair share (to be fair, I think the locals were happy enough with that arrangement too). It turned out to be a really fun day, and after we posed for photos with and for everyone, we headed back to the tent to enjoy another nice sunset and some pasta with tuna.

What are you doing, crazy local drunk guy. Great fun in the hotsprings, we could even wash our hair!

The next day we had our highest pass – and Bron’s first time hiking to 5000m. The view was good for the entire climb, but incredible at the pass. Glaciers so close you felt you could touch them balanced precariously over glacier lakes and bizarrely shaped rocks, twisted from the forces of glaciers long since gone. To the distance were other lines of mountains, standing proud in the clear blue sky. We were on a high after the climb (possible as a result of the thin air?) and as we scrambled down to our campsite we started to invent what might be the world’s highest altitude crimp (different to a crump, or a cramp, and who would have thought – two Mighty Boosh references in one entry!). Record to be verified. The rest of the day was a really nice and relaxing walk down a valley, with our nicest campsite of the trek, and another great sunset.

At 5000m, the air is thin and you can jump pretty high!

We had a couple of grinding days hiking, with long steep climbs followed by long steep descents. Our last night was spent at another trout-filled glacial lake (the porter from a guided group that had a rest day pulled out over 50 that day, showing there sure were a lot of trout there, if not for long), a 6km long glacier and steep sided valley. The only downside was an aggressive dog that charged at Bronwyn, causing her to fall when she turned to face it. There were a few angry dogs along the trek, something that did impact upon the enjoyment of the hike.

The Huayhuash Circuit is an incredible hike – some of the most amazing scenery you could hope to see. It certainly wasn’t easy (Bron rates it as the hardest thing she’s ever done, and she’s a trooper!), and if doing this trek I’d recommend either doing the work at altitude beforehand or going with a guide and letting a donkey do all the work for you. But the sense of reward from completing it, on our own, and the ability to see unique landscapes without seeing another hiker between days 2 and 7 of the trek, is pretty damn special.

Nice views while cooking

We got back from the trek the day before my birthday. To celebrate (and recuperate) we headed to the Way Inn Lodge, about 30 minutes outside of Hauraz. After a couple of weeks pretty much solid hiking, this was perfect. Beautiful grounds, a room with a giant bath and fireplace, incredible food, trout ponds with massive trout, coca liqueur and a super massage. Huaraz was great.

Tags: hiking, mountains, peru




We really liked your post and decided to feature it on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that other travellers can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

  Kate Hoffman Nov 17, 2011 9:19 AM

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