IntroductionThis is the story of our adventure in Peru and in the Arequipa and Chivay regions. The root of the trip trace back to last fall when a friend asked me where a good place in South America is to go to in early April for some climbing. April can be a tough month to find good climbing conditions in much of South America, but I suggested that the Arequipa region should be reasonable, even if it might not be quite be ideal then.
I was just suggesting a place rather than planning to go myself, but then I checked airfare during our discussion and noticed that it was just over $600 round trip to Arequipa from Denver. This was too good of a deal to pass up, so after checking with my employer, I hoped to book the tickets!
Kessler (my now 11 year old son) and I had already been to that region of Peru, but I was supposed to take Shaylee (my nine year old daughter) on a Daddy daughter trip when she turned 10 and she was getting fairly close to that age (I promised both kids that I would when they turned 10). I asked her if Peru is where she wanted to go and she said yes.
Kessler was one upset kid when he heard that there was a good chance that his little sister could have a chance to beat his high altitude record, so he was begging and pleading to go as well. My wife wanted and needed a break from the kids, so it was decided that I would take both kids to Peru.
As far as our previous adventure in Peru went, Kessler and I did that one when he was five years old. On that trip we trekked through and across one of the world’s deepest canyons, climbed in the mountains up to 17,400 feet/5300 meters, and even experienced a volcanic eruption up close.
2007 Trip Report
Now that the kids were older, we would have a chance to have a more adventurous trip. Because it was just me and the kids though, I wasn’t comfortable with going alone with just them. Our other friends were headed down there at the same time, but in the end they were planning on climbing Ampato, which was something I considered to be too big for my nine year old girl.
I decided to check with some local guiding agencies and see if we could put together a trip. I didn’t want to do just the normal tourist treks (some of which we had already done on our last trip anyway), but wanted to visit some new areas and get into some remote places. We also wanted to do one of the popular peaks as well. I had some ideas of various routes and peaks wanted to attempt so I checked around.
In the end, it was Incadventura whom we decided on and whom was willing to take us to the remote places we were planning.
The plan was to do a remote trek and circuit around Ampato, Sabancaya, and Hualca Hualca. We would do some more things around Chivay and hopefully this would be enough acclimatization for a climb of Pichu Pichu and either El Misti or Chachani.
The weather did adjust our plans, but we still had a great trip. We climbed or attempted several peaks, reached 5850 meters/19,200 feet, did some exciting river rafting, did some great treks, saw lots of wildlife, and had lots of cultural experiences.
It was also amazing how much the region had changed since 2007. There is now a very modern paved highway Arequipa to Chivay, (and more tourists!). For better or worse, now it's a quick and comfortable 3 hour bus ride Arequipa to Chivay instead of a bumpy and dusty road that used to take all day!
Here is our story……….
March 22-23: Getting There is Half the Fun?It was somewhat a trial to get to Arequipa! First, the windshield wiper flew off the car during a blizzard on the way to the shuttle pick up point in Steamboat. The shuttle had to drive through the blizzard over the mountains to Denver.
Connecting through Mexico City was a real pain and it took 3.5 hours to clear customs. We were next to a screaming kid (not mine) on the flight we tried to sleep on. The kid was throwing a fit, stabbing the seats with a pen, throwing cheese, and all kinds of stuff. I have seen kids throw tantrums, but not for three and a half hours straight.
The first day we visited some old churches around Arequipa and went on a horse ride in the evening.
We also talked to Hugo and Nicolas at Incaventura. The area around Chivay had been experiencing much thunderstorms and the mountains were receiving heavy snow. We would have to adjust the original plan.
I was afraid however about heading directly to Pichu Pichu or El Misti because of acclimatization factors. In the end we came up with a plan that sounded good.
March 24: Bosque de Piedras/Sumbay Cave Paintings/Nevado ChucuraToday was our first day in Peru. We met with Hugo, Eloy, and Nicholas from Incadventura to visit the cave paintings at Sumbay and to climb Nevado Churcura.
We drove to the Pampas Cañahuas and stopped at Patahuasi. Along the way, we saw thousands of llamas, guanacos, vicuñas, and alpacas. Shaylee especially liked them. From Patahuasi, Kessler, Shaylee and I did a hike over to the Bosque de Piedras, which has some impressive and strange rock formations. After arriving back at Patahuasi, I was chased by a huge and angry sheep! I do not know what I did to make it mad; I just walked by. I had to run fast before the local ladies chased the sheep away with a broom!
After Patahuasi, we headed for the Sumbay Cave Paintings, which are 6000-8000 years old. We had to pass through a ghost town, which was eerily quiet. Someone from the town (only a very few people still live there) usually comes to open a gate, but there wasn’t a human in site.
We were able to pass through the gate to the lip of the gorge containing the cave paintings. The gorge was actually a narrow and impressive gorge and the region looks like it would make for some good exploring. We climbed down into the gorge and visited the caves and paintings. Most of them were white and interesting. Some day it would be nice to explore the rest of the gorge for a day or two.
We returned to the vehicles for lunch before heading for Churcura, an old volcano. Near the crater and along the road, we saw some vizcachas, which are similar to a large rabbit, but with a long tail.
The route to Churcura starts right at the Mirador de los Volcanes, which in good weather provides an outstanding view of all the major volcanoes in the area. This time though, it was cloudy and there weren’t many views.
We climbed up the ridge towards Churcura (which is a very easy climb for its altitude). There was some light snow falling at times, but the weather was pretty good even though we didn’t see much in the way of views.
To date, this was the highest elevation Shaylee had even been and her first time over 5000 meters (Kessler had been above 5000 meters many times). We climbed one of the summits of Churcura, and because it was windy and cold, Shaylee wanted to go back. Kessler and I wanted to head to another one in order to get a better look at the crater. Shaylee headed back with Nicolas and Kessler, Eloy, Hugo and I went over another ridge to see if we could see more of the crater.
After climbing up the ridge, we headed back. We saw a condor, but Shaylee and Nicolas saw two more condors close up.
It was a great day!
March 25: Sick in Arequipa :(We got really sick the night before. It was probably some bad food in Arequipa. The kids both threw up several times in the night and I didn’t feel that well. We would definitely lose a day and would not be heading for Pichu Pichu. The next morning I felt OK, but I got worse as time went on. I was so bed ridden that Hugo and Nicolas took the kids to Hugo’s house and gave the kids some soup. They gradually got better throughout the day. We did manage to briefly visit the archeological museum to see some mummies.
I was worried about losing an acclimatization day. By the end of the day we were all feeling a bit better and it was decided that we would spend three days in the Pichu Pichu region in order to get some more acclimatization.
March 26: Laguna SalinasToday we left for the Pichu Pichu area. We drove through some beautiful fields and terraces before reaching the high paramo. Laguna Salinas didn’t have that much water, but we saw lots of animals and birds. There were many llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos.
Before an early lunch we went for a hike around the lake. We saw hundreds of flamingoes, but we couldn’t get close to them.
After lunch, I explored an old abandoned church and old houses for a short bit. They looked like they hadn’t been inhabited for a long time. The church had the year “1909” on it, so by Peru standards, it wasn’t very old. Since it was long abandoned, it did have an eerie aura around it. I wondering what the area was like all those years ago.
After the hike and lunch, we drove to some hot springs and set up camp. Kessler, Shaylee, and I went to climb a small un-named peak for the views and to help acclimatize. There was a beautiful sunset behind El Misti and the last of the sun painted Pichu Pichu red.
March 27: Pichu Pichu BasecampToday was mostly a laid back day. We drove to the Pichu Pichu basecamp. Hugo and Nicolas set off to find a route up Pichu Pichu. The kids and I climbed a smaller peak not far from basecamp. It was mostly an acclimatization day.
It was a rough night with lots of wind and some snow.
March 28: Pichu PichuToday Kessler, Shaylee, and I attempted Pichu Pichu with Incadventura, with Nicholas, Eloy, and Hugo (it was just me and the kids, so I thought we'd better go with a guide service). Because the night was rough (blowing snow and high winds) and we still were not fully recovered from a stomach bug picked up in Arequipa, Shaylee only made below 16,000 feet (4800 meters) and Kessler 17,100 feet (~5200 meters). Kessler turned back with Nicholas that worked for the agency (Nicholas was really tired too since he scouted a route towards the summit the day before).
I wanted to push on, but I did not want to pass under the cliffs of the headwall, due to the rock fall danger from the fresh melting snow so I suggested to the Peruvian guide Eloy (I did not want to climb these big mountains with children alone, so we hired a local agency) that we climb the headwall directly. He was a little hesitant at first, but agreed and we climbed the steep headwall directly. He had never heard of anyone climbing this route.
It was steep and difficult and we eventually found ourselves on a subpeak on the knife edge ridge about 30 feet lower the true summit. On the subpeak was a Inca shrine (made of wood and rocks) that seemed to be in really good condition considering it was several hundred years old (most of the other ones were grave robbed years ago, even on high mountains). I assume that because it was so hard to get to that it had been in good condition after hundreds of years. Probably very few people have seen it since then since it is well off any known route and the route is very rugged.
Because the true summit was on a technical ridge that was iced up, it was unclimbable with the gear that we had. We returned down the mountain. We took a different way down and descended into a cirque basin. We had to downclimb a cliff band and the route was fairly rugged.
I was not disappointed that we did not reach the true summit since we were on a more spectacular summit and it had an Inca shrine.
It was a good climb, but I was exhausted.
March 29: Rio ChiliToday was a “rest” day and we chose to do some rafting on the Rio Chili. It was a very exciting river trip and quite scenic as well. The rapids were great and the kids like to jump off the cliffs into the river.
We (the kids and I) had to decide whether to climb El Misti or Chachani the next day. Chachani is quite a bit easier, but you have to sleep higher and the summit elevation is higher.
In the end, we decided on El Misti because it should be better for acclimatization.
March 30: El Misti (Day 1)Today we started on our climb of El Misti, a huge symmetrical volcano piercing the sky at 5822 meters and rising 3600 meters above Arequipa.
Shaylee, Kessler, and I left with two Peruvians to climb the mountain. We drove to the trailhead on a mostly sunny day and headed up. El Misti is non-technical, but it is steep and requires 2400 meters of elevation gain.
It took us five hours to climb up to basecamp at 4610 meters. We ate dinner and watched the sunset. It was very beautiful since we could look down on the clouds. The lights of Arequipa were far below as well.
March 31: El Misti (Day 2)We awoke very early in the morning, around 3 am. It was windy and cold, but the weather was pretty good. The kids said they weren’t hungry, but I really encouraged them to eat some high calorie foods. I had them eat a huge chunk of cheese. This was probably a mistake since it didn’t set well with Kessler’s stomach. He didn’t make it very far up the mountain. He returned with one of the Peruvians.
Shaylee and I continued up the mountain. Shaylee was determined to reach the top, but high on the mountain she had stomach cramps. We reluctantly turned around and headed back down the mountain.
It was still a good climb, even though we didn’t reach the summit.
April 1: On to Cabanaconde!Today was originally planned to be a rest day, but we had already lost a rest day back when we were sick. I was hoping to head for Cabanaconde so we could soon start are big circuit of Haulca Hualca. We got up early in the morning and took a bus to Cabanaconde, seeing the Colca Canyon along the way.
We ate in a small local restaurant. Since it was April Fools Day, Nicolas and I were teasing the kids and saying we were eating carne de condor (condor meat). It was really alpaca.
Also in the evening, there was an earthquake, but since we were walking we didn’t feel it. It was the same one that hit Chile (we weren’t far from the Chile border).
April 2: Hualca Hulaca (Day 1)Today we started our big traverse of Hualca Hualca. It was a major endeavor, so we had two mules to help carry gear. Eloy, Nicolas, and a muleteer joined us.
We started right from Cabanaconde in good weather. We walked through town and then through the beautiful terraced fields above town. We were told that the terraces are hundreds or even thousands of years old and are still being used today.
The valley was very green because we were at the tail end of the rainy season. After the scenic valley, we had some steep climbs and much of the route was off trail. The views of Hualca Hualca were really nice and we saw several condors (I actually lost count of how many condors we saw on this trip).
The route was pretty rugged, but we all did fine. Shaylee would sometimes get “tired” so rode the mule a bit. I think she just liked riding the mule, but the route was tiring at times. Shaylee really enjoyed the wild horses which were seen.
There were some really spectacular views (Hualca Hualca itself is a really beautiful mountain) as we climbed high and higher into the mountains. It got cloudy as well and we were glad to climb over the final ridge and to descend to a beautiful little valley to camp. Camps was set up at 4600 meters /15098 feet.
Except for a bunch of cows pooping up the place, it was an ideal campsite with a nice crystal clear stream, a waterfall just above camp, and hot springs. Bad weather hit not long after camp was set up, so we retreated into the tents early.
It was a beautiful day.
April 3: Hualca Hulaca (Day 2)It snowed throughout the night, so we awoke to a blanket of white. The weather was a mix of sun and clouds. Camp was packed up and we headed up the valley. It was pretty steep at first and we climbed up to and past the waterfall. Along the way we saw some vizcachas in the rocks.
After the initial steep climb we found ourselves traversing a gentle high elevation valley. We would then climb up to a pass. Unfortunately, the pass which is normally climbed on this route was iced up and had fresh snow, so we had to climb an alternate pass. This once was at 5000 meters/16,404 feet. The other pass was higher, but this alternate route would be much longer and more rugged.
Climbing up to the pass was pretty easy and there were some nice views of the storm clouds dancing over and shrouding Hualca Hualca. We could see the Colca Valley as well. After the pass is where the route got much more difficult. We would have to traverse up and down the steep mountains. There were some nice views, some wild horses, vicuñas, and an interesting area of geysers and hot springs, but it was a long and tiring route.
In the early evening, we finally reached our campsite near a constantly erupting geyser. We were at 4600 meters. We had actually planned to go up to the Hualca Hualca basecamp at 5000 meters, but we ran out of time and energy since our alternate route was so rugged and tough.
We had some rain in the evening as well. Kessler and I went over to check out the geyser close up before heading to bed. It was an exhausting day!
April 4: Hualca Hualca (Day 3)It rained the night before, but the snowline was higher up and around 5000 meters. We awoke to a mix of clouds and sunshine. Since we had camped lower than planned, it was assumed that we woudn’t make the summit of Hualca Hualca. Climbing 1425 meters/4700 feet isn’t that easy at over 6000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet). The summit of Hualca Hualca is 6025 meters/19775 feet elevation. Because of the rugged day before, we got a late start as well.
We started out on a really steep climb towards the basecamp. Shaylee rode part of the way, but the mules couldn’t go very high. We moved fairly quickly and were at basecamp after an hour and a half of climbing. There were several wild horses at basecamp.
From basecamp, it was steep climbing on boulders and into a hanging valley. The weather was still pretty good most of the time, but it did snow a bit as well.
The upper realms of Hualca Hualca were really impressive up close. The mountain is a mass of snow, ice, and rock and is very craggy. Giant icicles hung of the cliffs of the mountain. We pressed upwards and upwards. Shaylee was ahead of Kessler and I much of the time and really seemed to be adjusting the altitude quite well.
We took a break and short lunch on a rocky knoll and climbed up higher and higher. With every step the kids were setting their new altitude records, something they were proud of. Eventually we donned our crampons and started up the snow slopes. It was snowing on and off as well.
The snow was quite soft, but we pushed on to a highpoint along the ridge. The summit looked oh so close, but the snow was soft and not in good condition. We were at a point that Eloy estimated to be 5800 meters (after carefully studying the map with the satellite photos after we got back, I estimated that we were actually at 5850 meters/19,200 feet). It was definitely the highest elevation the kids had climbed to and my third highest as well. It was time to turn back.
Eloy wanted to take pictures of him with the kids since he had never climbed with children before.
We took an alternate route down the mountain and followed a ridgeline. At times the ridge was very rugged and there were some cliffs to climb down. The end of the ridge was extremely steep as well, and it snowed at times, but we made it rather quickly back to basecamp.
It was a long and tiring, but very spectacular day!
April 5: Hualca Hulaca (Day 4)After our big climb the day before, we slept in a little bit. We packed up camp and headed down the mountain following the creek. We checked out the geyser before continuing the descent. The weather was good and the descent was beautiful route through a well watered valley. The trip down was mostly uneventful.
We had some good views of the mountains and eventually reached the green fields above Pinchollo. My feet were pretty sore, so I was behind the rest of the group much of the time. Eventually we descended down to the town of Pinchollo and visited Eloy’s house and then the main square while waiting for the bus.
After that it was a bus ride back to Arequipa.
Hualca Hualca was certainly the highlight of the trip and one of the most interesting climbs I have done. It had a variety of scenery, some rugged peaks and crags, and active geysers and hot springs. There was also lots of wildlife and especially condors. It was a very memorable trip.
April 6-7: Homeward Bound and ConclusionWe spent a final day shopping and checking out Arequipa before flying out that night. After some long layovers and the shuttle ride through the snow, we finally arrived home early morning on April 8.
It was a really great trip and we sure crammed a lot of adventure into a short time period. I don’t think we’ll ever forget the experiences that we had. Special thanks should go to Incaventura, especially since they were willing to take us far off the beaten track.