A New Route to the Summit
I have been up on Cerro Santa Rosa a number of times, but I had never been to the summit before this past week. Most of the times I have gone up looking for the mummies that an archeologist told me were in a cave up there, but so far I have never found them. This time I went up with the purpose of going to the summit, as well as getting some high altitude practice for an upcoming mountain climbing trip. I also wanted to explore a new route to the mountain, going up a canyon that I had never been in before.
The canyon is between the villages of Yumasca and Cahuana, which are both situated up above the Cotahuasi River on higher plains, near the village of Alca, which is on the river. Starting from the east, there is a third village called Ayahuasi, the Quebrada (canyon) Shihuamaya separates that from Cahuana. The canyon separating Cahuana from Yumasca is unnamed on the map but looked very interesting. I had crossed it going from Yumasca to Cahuana on a bridge and had also admired the wide Inca trail going from the ruins above Cahuana up the canyon, so had wanted to explore it for some time. Earlier in the year, I had gone up Cerro Santa Rosa from the other side, crossed over a saddle near the summit and tried to come down into this canyon. I tried about three possible routes, and each time was stopped by high cliffs or smaller canyons when I tried to go around the cliffs. I figured if I started in the canyon, it would be easier (and safer) to try to find a route up than trying to find one down from the top.
The trail up to Cahuana starts near the mouth of Quebrada Shihuamaya and goes up steeply for 30 minutes of hard climbing. Then you have to cross through the village and continue climbing up to the Calla ruins. From there the trail again climbs up on the left side of the canyon, giving a good view of the cliffs on the other side.
Follow the Cattle Trails
I came to a fork in the trail, which amazingly had a sign painted on a rock. The sign showed a trail going straight ahead and climbing, with an arrow pointing in that direction. The fork to the right didn't have an arrow but the word "Puculluhoy" was painted at the end of the line. From the sign I wasn't really sure which fork led to Puculluhoy or what it was. There is nothing on the map with that name and no villages are shown up there. I took the right fork because it was going the direction that I wanted to go, and soon came to the stream in the bottom of the canyon. There was a trail continuing on up on the other side but it went up to the steep cliffs so I decided to leave that for another day when I didn't have a full backpack.
I backtracked and went up the trail marked by the arrow and met an old woman coming down with a few animals. I asked her if there was a village up above and she said no. I then asked if there were any ruins there and she assured me that there wasn't anything or anyone up there. Nevertheless, I soon saw some rock walls that turned out to be old ruins of something, along with lots of cattle. At this point I was debating if I should go to the top of Cerro Santa Rosa or go to some rocky points off to the left, which I found out later was Cerro Leonhuachana, which is actually the rim of the canyon. I was now following a small path alongside of an irrigation canal through a pasture area. I needed water before going up any higher but wanted to get above the animals if possible. There was one possible route off to the left across a gully but the gully was dry, so I decided to go in the other direction, which was the direction the water in the canal was coming from. I could see cattle right above where it looked like the canal joined the gully, so started for the gully but angling higher to get above the cattle.
As I got closer I couldn't see any water above them but thought it must just be hidden in the depths of the gully. However as I got even closer I could hear the water below and still couldn't see, nor hear, any above, so changed course and angled down to the cattle, where I could see water. When I got there I discovered two small springs, which were the source of the stream and canal. One of them was under a large rock so I chose that one to get my water from. By this time I was at about 12,500 feet and it was close to 5:00 pm, and about an hour before dark. From here on up looked fairly steep and rugged, so as long as there was a suitable tent site right by the spring, I decided to stop for the day and camp there. The cattle had all left right after I arrived so I had a pleasant camp to myself all night long, enjoying the relaxing sound of the water in the creek.
In spite of getting to bed early, I still had to force myself to get up almost 12 hours later when I checked my watch and saw that it was 7:30. In the morning I was still debating the best route but finally chose to head up to the saddle to the left of the summit and then traverse from there on a ridge to the summit. Starting out at 8:50 I crossed the gully and followed a cow trail heading in the general direction I wanted to go. However steep rocks and deep gullies forced a number of detours and I finally ended up heading in the direction of the left edge of the summit plateau, following various paths and trails. I realized that even though the trails all looked about the same, the ones used by humans had the thorny yucca plants trimmed away, and that they were the best ones to use to go in the direction of the summit.
At one point the trail I was on headed down into a deep gully but I couldn't see if it came back up on the other side. Thankfully there were some cattle ahead of me so I waited to see if they showed up on the other side, which they did, so I followed them. By this time I was farther to the right than I had planned, so instead of continuing to the ridge, I just angled towards the summit. At about 11:30 I had just climbed up a rather steep section and arrived at a ridge that I could see led directly to the summit plateau. It also crossed a well-used trail going towards the saddle, right near a large boulder. I took advantage of the windbreak there and enjoyed a rest and snack in the warm sun at about 14,300 feet, before starting the final climb to the plateau cliffs.
A Rock Climb or a Walk Up?
After taking a couple of pictures on the summit, I realized that the true summit was a large stone block, just a few feet away, that was one foot higher. However I wasn't able to get a good photo of me on top of that because I had to set the camera on the lower peak, jump down and climb the summit block and get ready for the picture in 10 seconds. It wasn't a difficult climb, it was just hard to do it fast enough to beat the self-timer.
Unwinding After the Climb
I started down at 2:55 pm, checking out the ruins on the summit ridge and then returning by the same route most of the way. I wanted to look for a more direct and quicker route down the cliffs and terraced fields but I missed the best opportunity and then was on the wrong side of a deep gully and didn't want to go back. I decided to continue down to where I had camped and get water at the spring, reaching there at 4:17. My original plan had been to return home that evening but it was too late to catch the last combi from Alca to Cotahuasi at 6:00, and I really wanted to spend the night at the hot springs, so I changed my plans. I had not told anyone when I would be back to Cotahuasi, which was a good thing because there is no cell phone service on that side of the mountain, and therefore I couldn't inform them of my change of plans.
The hot springs is in the next canyon over, the one between Cahuana and Ayahuasi. I guessed it would take me about three or three and a half hours to get there, as I had to go almost back to Cahuana. It gets dark at about 6:00 pm here now, however the moon would be about ¾ full so I was looking forward to a beautiful night hike. After taking a delightful shortcut along an irrigation canal, I reached the main trail just as it got dark. From there it took 1½ hours to the hot spring with the trail fully illuminated by the bright moonlight, during which time I ate the last of my snacks and arrived tired and still hungry. Grilled cheese sandwiches and instant mashed potatoes with the last of the cheese solved the hunger problem and soaking in the hot water soothed my weary body.
Breakfast in the morning was a bit skimpy as I didn't have enough fuel left to heat the normal amount of water for tea and oatmeal, but I still had my emergency supply of sugar coated cornflakes for the walk back. I managed to be on the trail by 7:30, which allowed a little time to explore a side canyon, and still arrive in Alca in time to catch the 10 am combi for Cotahuasi. The only problem was I had not realized that the return combis leave on the half hour, so had to wait until 10:30, during which time I visited with a tourist and then ate the cereal. I usually take too much food and fuel but this time I reached home with nothing except a little oatmeal and no fuel. I still took too many clothes though; need to work on that a bit more.