I hadn't originally planned to go back to Peru this summer, but sometimes life just doesn't happen the way you want it to. After an abrupt turn of events, I decided that Peru would be a good thing and contacted Jenn at Skyline Adventures to see what I could do by way of a trek and possibly a climb. She suggested going in with a couple of guys from New York City who were doing the Huayhuash Trek and then possibly doing an interesting (and challenging) climb on a mountain called Huarapasca, which sounded good to me.
The trip started out at National Airport on a Thursday evening with a flight to Atlanta and then one to Lima. The flight from Atlanta was supposed to get me into Lima Friday morning at 5:30 AM with plenty of time to get to the bus station for the trip to Huaraz, but mechanical problems delayed the flight and I didn't get into Lima until about 8:30. After clearing immigration and customs, I met Fernando, my usual driver, who hurried me through Lima to the bus station just as the bus was getting ready to leave. After that it was the familiar 8 hour bus ride to Huaraz: up the coast past Patavilca, then winding our way up to 13,000 ft. in the Cordillera Negra, and down the valley (the Callejon de Huaylas) to Huaraz at about 10,000 ft. Ted met me at the bus station and took me to Olaza's Bed and Breakfast, which has been my home away from home in Huaraz and is a great place to stay.
A Day in Town
Saturday morning breakfast on the rooftop patio of Olaza's with the great views of Huascaran and the other great snow-covered mountains of the Cordillera Blanca brought the usual delight of being back in Huaraz. It was an extra day that was spent just getting used to the altitude and doing some shopping and walking around town. I checked out the local craft market for possible souvenirs and got some postcards to send to people back home. I also met the other guys, Bill and Gary, in the evening and showed them around Huaraz a bit and then had dinner with them. They were a few years younger than me and had done a lot of trekking in Asia, but had not been to Peru before. Both were really serious photographers and probably got much better photos than I did.
On Sunday we met our hiking guide, a young Peruvian gal named Gladys, and started the acclimatization process by hiking out of town and up a ravine called Pukaventana (red window). I short stretch of the hike was like a small slot canyon. We hiked up to an area called Rataquenua that overlooks the city and then headed back down by a different trail. After the hike I did a bit more shopping and then had ceviche for dinner at one of the local restaurants that I hadn't tried before; it was a bit pricy for Huaraz but excellent.
On Monday Gladys picked us up at Olaza's and we headed out of town for a hike up to Laguna Churup. I was a bit surprised when we stopped at a small village called Lupa, which is about 2 miles from the usual trail head at Pitec. The added hiking got us warmed up before we started up the steep trail that goes to the lake and it provided good views of areas I had hiked a couple of years ago. We also passed some local women in traditional garb as we headed to Pitec, but the harsh sunlight didn't make for good photos. The hike up to Laguna Churup takes you up a grassy ridge where you have views of a waterfall below the lake and then to some rock scrambling among quenual trees; at one point you climb a makeshift wooden ladder. When we got to the lake (at 4485 m. - 14,715 ft.) we had lunch and were surprised to see locals out for a picnic. It was Peru's independence day, so they were having a holiday – you wouldn't find your typical couch-potato Americans doing something like that. After lunch we took a different way back that took us up above the lake and gave great views of it. From there it was all downhill to Shacna where a cab was waiting to take us back to Huaraz. That evening was spent repacking for the trek.
On Tuesday we loaded up our gear and got into a 12-passenger van for the 6-hour trip down to the Cordillera Huayhuash. We stopped by a small stream outside of Chiquian for a picnic lunch. From there the road takes you through some impressive canyons to the town of Llamac and on to Pocpa (3470 meters - 11,400 ft.), where we unloaded everything and set up camp for the night. After getting everything sorted out, we went into Pocpa to shop for some local vegetables and check out the town. We learned that our camp site had once been the site of a hacienda that was taken by the government and given to the local community as part of a rural land distribution program. Nothing remained of the hacienda building except one corner that had contained a small chapel. There was a rough stone wall between our campsite and the road that reminded me of the mountains of Virginia. It consisted of gray-black dolomite with veins of calcite, just like the stone you see in the Shenandoah Valley; greenstone (paleobasalt) just like that of the east side of the Blue Ridge; and a bit of sandstone/quartzite just like the Tuscarora sandstone/quartzite of the Massanutten Mountains. The night sky was amazing: no city lights and millions of stars.
Starting the Trek
On Wednesday, after a really good breakfast, we started hiking down the road that led to our next night's camp site at Quartelhuain (4200 meters - 13,800 ft.), which is really just a collection of three or four small farms. Along the way, we had views of a mine high up in the mountains and several small farms. Most of the surrounding area was what they call puna, high grassland, surrounded by rocky mountains too low for glaciers or snow.
Thursday saw us hiking away from the road and steadily uphill toward an easy pass called Cancanpunta (4690 m. - 15,400 ft.). Punta is a Spanish word that is often used to designate a pass (abra is another one). From Cancanpunta, it was downhill to our next night's camp site at Laguna Mitacocha (4270 meters - 14,000 ft.). I shouldn't call it Laguna Mitacocha because that is redundant: laguna means lake in Spanish and cocha means lake in Quechua. We had the camp site all to ourselves and it had great views of Jirishanka (6094m. – 19, 990 ft.) and Mituraju (5750m. – 18,860 ft.). The map calls it Nevado Mituraju, which is another redundancy since nevado is Spanish for snow-covered mountain and raju is the Quechua equivalent.
On Friday we said "we don't need no stinkin' trail" and just walked along the lake and then up toward a pass. Most of the way we were heading up steep grassy slopes, but eventually got above the grass and saw some old snow beside the route as we wound our way through the rocks. I was going a bit slow, something to do with the thin air I suppose. Eventually we got to an area where we did a high level traverse of about 2 miles over talus and scree (boulders, rocks, gravel, etc.). After that we had to climb a couple hundred feet or so up a bedrock slope that had 2 or 3 foot furrows in it kind of slanting up the slope to a pass at about 4800 m. – 15,750 ft. where we found some small fossils (ammonites). After that it was downhill to a small lake and lunch. From there we followed various paths through tall ichu grass down to the regular trail leading to Carhuacocha and around it part way to our next campsite right beside the lake.
Saturday was a rest day that was spent hiking up to an old terminal moraine above our camp and taking pictures of the camp, the lake and mountains, and a small farm that was just above our camp. The farm houses there are typically a round rough stone wall with a conical thatched roof and a dirt floor. They raise mostly potatoes and sheep and do their cooking over a coal fire – the coal is hand dug locally. After lunch, we hiked around the lake, wading a glacier-fed stream that fed the lake, and getting chased by some local dogs.
Sunday we packed up again and started out around the lake and up the stream valley toward a high pass that gives great views of three lakes that are fed by the glaciers on Serapo and Siula Grande. It sleeted a bit as we got up to the pass, but before too long it cleared as we crossed a high meadow/bog where we stopped for lunch. It seems strange to see all these cushiony green plants growing on soggy ground at around 15,000 ft. From there it was a good trail downhill with our first views of the Cordillera Raura to our campsite at a place called Huayhuash (4330 m. - 14,200 ft.). All of the camps have a local person collecting a fee, which helps the local communities pay for roads, schools, etc. At Huayhuash the fee collector was accompanied by a young guard carrying an ancient rifle – the only gun I'd ever seen in Peru other than those carried by the police.
El Condor Pasa
Monday started off with a gradual uphill followed by a fairly level trail past some boggy areas and a small lake followed by a steep uphill to a high pass (Portachuelo de Huayhuash) at 4780 m. – 15,680 ft. Adrian, our guide, hollered out to me at the pass, and I looked up to see a condor circling above. It was the first one I'd seen where you could be absolutely certain that it was indeed a condor; the wingtip feathers were spread out like fingers, but you could also see the white ring of fluffy feathers around the neck. I hesitated to get out my camera, thinking it would surely not stay around long, but it did; by the time I got the camera out it was farther away, but I still managed to get a recognizable photo. After that it was a long downhill past a herd of alpacas and around a lake (Laguna Viconga) to a steep downhill to our camp at 4400 m. – 14,400 ft. Once we got settled in, we hiked downstream a short way to hot spring, where we enjoyed a nice soak and a bath.
Punta Cuyoc and Viscachas
Tuesday we hiked up to Punta Cuyoc (4950 m. – 16,240 ft.) where it looked like we could almost reach out and touch the glaciers on Nevado Cuyoc (5550 m. – 18,200 ft.). From there it was a steep downhill over scree (loose gravel) to our campsite at a meadow called Guanacpatay (4490 m. - 14,730 ft.). The area behind the camp had a lot of boulders with crevices that were inhabited by viscachas (also called rock rabbits), little gray mammals which have ears like rabbits and tails like squirrels. The viscachas would come out to the meadow in the evening to graze and go running back to the rocks when anything startled them.
Down and Back Up
On Wednesday it was cloudy so we decided against going over the San Antonio Pass, since the views would probably be limited and not worth the steep uphill and steep downhill to get to our camp at Cutatambo. Instead we headed down the valley toward Huayllapa and then up along the Rio Calinca to our campsite at 4265 m. – 13,990 ft., for a distance of about 20 km. – 12 miles. Our campsite at Cutatambo was below several lakes and not far from the scene of the book and movie "Touching the Void."
"Touching the Void"
Thursday was a layover day that allowed us to hike up past the site of Joe Simpson's and Simon Yates' camp site for their climb of Siula Grande and on to Serapococha and views of the glacier that Joe had crawled over with a broken leg. After that we hiked up an old lateral moraine to a lake where Sebastian had caught some trout that we had for dinner and then back down to our camp.
Down to Huayllapa and Back Up
Friday we hiked back down the valley toward the town of Huayllapa at 3490 m. – 11,450 ft. It was the first we had been below 4,000 m. - 13,000 ft. since the beginning of the trek. We didn't stop in the town though; we just kept going and headed back up another valley (Quebrada Huatiaq) to our camp at 4300 m. - 14,100 ft., below Tapush Punta and a mountain called Diablo Mudo (mute devil).
Saturday we headed over Tapush Punta (4770 m. – 15,650 ft.), past a small lake called Susucocha, then around a mountain called Cerro Nitishcocha, and up another pass called Llaucha Punta at 4850 m. – 15,900 ft. After that it was all downhill to our camp at a lake called Jahuacocha at 4060 m. - 13,300 ft. At dinner we found out that the box of wine that had been sent along had gotten damaged and all of the wine had leaked out, so we shared some beer bought from the locals with the crew.
Back to Huaraz
Sunday was mostly downhill except for a great sidehill trail that brought us to our final pass, called Macrash Punta at 4272 m. – 14, 015 ft. After that it was a scenic downhill stretch to Llamac at 3250 m. – 10,660 ft. where a van was waiting to take us back to Huaraz. Back in Huaraz I got a shower and then headed out for a nice dinner and a Pisco sour.
Monday was a rest day spent doing some more shopping and taking some photos of the locals around Huaraz. After that it was time to check gear for the climb and then we went out to a Thai restaurant for a celebration dinner. No drinks for me though - I was climbing the next day.
Tuesday I got up at 3 AM and the cab with Adrian showed up at 3:30 and we headed up the valley past Catac to the road that takes you up toward Nevado Pastoruri and around to the south side of Nevado Huarapasca. We had some breakfast in the cab, then put on our boots, harnesses, and packs and started out at 5:30. The approach was a bit uncertain, but after some uphill hiking around and over rocks we reached a snow field where we put on our crampons, roped up, and headed for the glacier that led up a steep couloir toward the summit plateau. The first part was very familiar: Adrian started out until the rope was taut and then I followed. I continued to follow as we did rising traverses up the 30 degree or so slope of the ice field until we got to the glacier. At the glacier it got much steeper and I waited until Adrian had gone up a rope length and set and anchor to belay me as I climbed up toward him. There was deep snow on the glacier so I had to use the spikes on the ice axes instead of the picks to get the axes down to the ice where they could get a decent grip. After I climbed up to Adrian, I clipped into the anchor and dug out a seat and sat with my crampons dug in good while he went up another rope length. On a couple of pitches it was so steep that Adrian set a picket or two along the way. Each time he got up a rope length I followed and the process was repeated until we reached the bergschrund, which is a large crevasse where the glacier is pulling away from the mountain. At the bergschrund, I belayed him as he crossed it and got to a stable location then he belayed me across it. From there it was fairly easy walking up the summit plateau where we took a bunch of pictures and had something to eat before heading back down. Heading down was about as tricky as going up; I led each rope length as Adrian belayed me. At the toe of the glacier, Adrian rappelled down leaving a couple of pickets behind; it was just too steep for him to safely downclimb without a belay. We got back to the cab at 5:30 PM and then headed back to Huaraz. After a shower and the first shave in three weeks, I went for some dinner and a couple of Pisco sours.
Wednesday was a bit of last minute shopping, packing, saying goodbyes and taking the bus back to Lima. My driver was waiting for me at the bus station, a nice, fairly young gal who was an architect. My hotel was a nice old place in Miraflores called Hotel San Antonio Abad. After settling into the hotel, I walked down to Larco Mar and looked for a good restaurant and had some great ceviche and a couple of Cusquena Maltas.
Thursday, I got up early and my driver took me to the airport. I had a window seat, so I looked out for the mountains. I could see the Cordillera Huayhuash and the Cordillera Blanca and was able to distinguish Huascaran. After that it got cloudy below, so I tried for some sleep. I woke up somewhere near the north end of the Panama canal and then slept some more until we got to south Florida (Everglades City). I had some dinner at the Atlanta airport and got into DC in the evening. The weather was balmy compared to what I had gotten used to and I got home feeling great about the trip and feeling good to be home.
Back at Work
On Friday, I had to go to work and decided to wear shorts and one of my souvenir tee-shirts along with the sandals made from old tires that I had bought in Huaraz and of course the hat I had bought last year on Taquile Island.