After a flight from National Airport to Miami and an overnight flight to Lima, the trip continued with the usual 8-hour bus ride to Huaraz. The overnight flight avoided a stay in Lima and allowed me an extra day in Huaraz at 3100 m (10,200 ft.) for shopping and acclimatization.
Meeting up and Getting Acclimatized
After a day of walking around town and doing a bit of shopping, I met the other trekkers – a couple in their 20's and a gal in her 30's; all from Australia. We did an acclimatization hike up a ravine called Puka Ventanna (red window) with our guide Gladys – also in her 30's. I didn't realize at the time that their age would be a great advantage and they would all be faster than me. The following day we did the usual hike to Laguna Churup at 4460 m (14,600 ft.) - a hike I could definitely do, and enjoy, every year. We didn't come back to town after the hike, instead we stayed at the Way Inn out in the countryside to further aid in acclimatization. The Way Inn is definitely a great place to stay – no electricity, but great rooms with very comfortable beds and a pond with trout in it – it also has a sauna and a climbing wall.
There was a transportation strike going on (we're talking about roadblocks with the potential for violence) and the trekking plans were in danger of all sorts of modification, but it ended by the next morning, so everything was back on schedule. Humberto, the cook, showed up bright and early, which was a pleasant surprise, since he had cooked on two other trips I had done and is an incredible gentleman besides being a great cook. When the van showed up we headed off to Skyline's headquarters to load gear and then went down the valley to Yungay and Caraz, and on to Hualcallan at 3150 m (10,300 ft.) where the trek started.
Day 1 of the Trek
The first day was all uphill to our camp at Huishcash at 4000 m (13,000 ft.) - a good reason for staying high at the Way Inn instead of spending the previous night down in Huaraz.
We packed up early and headed for a lake (Laguna Cullicocha) that provides hydroelectric power and clean drinking water to the valley below. After lunch we headed further up to the Osoruri pass at 4860 m (16,000 ft.) and then down to our next camp at 4500 m (14,750 ft.) – another good reason for the extra acclimatization at the Way Inn.
This day was a long one – up to a pass at 4770 m (15, 650 ft.) and then a very long downhill past some ancient agricultural terraces from the Wari period at a place called Ruina Pampa to a nice camp below the north face of Alpamayo. The flat ground where we camped had resulted from an alluvion (snow, ice, water, mud flow) triggered by an earthquake that came down off of Alpamayo – this gave the valley and mountain their names; Alpamayo means muddy river. We stayed there at about 4200 m (13,800 ft.) for two nights instead of trekking on.
Today we did an out and back up to where the base camp at 4600 m (15,000 ft.) was that Alpamayo was first climbed from. Nonie and Tim were jumping up and taking pictures in mid jump, so I decided I would do a headstand for a photo, which Nonie took for me. After that we scrambled up a rocky area to try to get a better view of Alpamayo, but there just seemed to be more and more rocks and no clear view of Alpamayo so we headed back down. After heading back to camp, I was able to get a good sunset shot of Alpamayo that evening.
We got up to bit of drizzle and fog, ate a good breakfast, got packed up and headed across the stream toward the Caracara Pass on the other side of the valley. As we headed up toward the pass the drizzle let up, then changed to snow and sleet. The pass didn't look too high up at the start, but as we got higher we could see that the real pass was around a slight bend and higher up still. As we got near the pass the trail got rocky, the ground had patches of ice, the sleet picked up, and the wind really started to blow. By the time we got to the pass itself at 4830 m (15,850 ft.), the wind was blowing about 50 mph and felt like it might take you over the side. Fortunately there were some good rocks get a bit of shelter in and get a picture. Once we got down the other side a bit, the wind let up and the weather started to clear. When we got down to the valley below we had to take our boots off and wade a knee-deep stream before heading up to the Mesapata Pass at only 4460 m (14,600 ft.) and then down to our camp near Huilca. Our camp was in nice meadow with alpacas grazing nearby at about 4,000 m (13,000 ft.).
The sixth day took us up to Paso Yanajanca at 4610 m (15,100 ft.) and then down to a beautiful lake, Laguna Sactaycocha, at 4056 m (13,300 ft.) that had a quenual forest growing right up to the lake shore. We ate lunch at the lake and explored the mysterious looking quenual forest – it had bromeliads, Andean mistletoe, and hanging mosses along with other exotic looking plants growing everywhere. From the lake we had a bit more up and some more down, over rocks, through bushes and such, and finally down to a meadow where we had another stream to wade before getting to our camp near Pishgopampa – at about 3560 m. (11,700 ft.). When we got to camp, there were local women there who had come out to sell us beer – Crystal is not the greatest beer, but it was certainly enjoyed and the lovely ladies who sold it were definitely nice to look at as well. I woke up that night at about 5 AM to what sounded like thunder in the distance, but when I went out of the tent the sky was clear with stars everywhere – must have been an avalanche or rockfall up on Rinrijirka.
In the morning we hiked back out the valley we had camped in, passing small farms and grazing animals and then headed up a side ravine toward our next pass. As we hiked up the ravine we passed a flock of sheep attended by two young boys to some tunes played on a wooden flute by a young boy who was hiking our way – a little way he was selling wooden flutes that he had made. At the pass - Tupatupa, elevation only 4360 m (14,300 ft.) – we had great 360 views of the northern Cordillera Blanca we and could even see the pass we had gone through the day before. Definitely a great place for lunch. Amazingly, Gladys was able to get cell phone coverage and reported our progress to Jenn, back at the Skyline office in Huaraz. From there it was a long downhill with a couple of streams to wade and we turned up another valley to a lake with our next camp at the end of it – at about 4,000 m. (13,000 ft.).
The eighth day took us up to the Alto de Pucaraju at 4640 m. (15,200 ft.), which was a steady long uphill that rewarded us with fabulous views. We saw caracaras (a large falcon-like bird) on the way up. At the pass we had great views of Taulliraju, Rinrijirca, Quitaraju, Pyramide de Garcilaso, and Chacraraju – a stunning panorama of snow-clad peaks. We could also see the trail of the Santa Cruz trek coming down from Punta Union, which I had hiked a few years ago. From there it was downhill to the trail in Quebrada Huaripampa that led us to our camp near Colcabamba. Because our trail had joined that of the Santa Cruz trek, there were many other groups camped in that valley. There were also local people who had come up the valley to gather firewood – a reminder of how fortunate we are to live as comfortably as we do.
On the last day, we slept a bit later and then packed up for the final day of the trek. It was a pleasant hike past the village of Colcabamba and then one last uphill to Vaqueria where the van was waiting to take us back to Huaraz. We tipped the arrieros and enjoyed a beer with them before setting off for one more pass – this time riding instead of walking. We stopped at a lake below the Portachuelo de Llanganuco for lunch and I was able to get some photos of the back side of Yanapaccha, which I had climbed a few years ago. On the way back we stopped in Carhuaz for ice cream – three exotic flavors for about a dollar – a great treat.
Back in Huaraz
Once back we cleaned up and then went to Jenn and Ted's for a barbecue dinner. Gladys was there and Humberto also came and brought his lovely wife, so it provided us an opportunity to thank (and of course tip) those who had made the trek so enjoyable. After the barbecue, Gladys went out with the four of us to a local hotspot for Pisco sours and some attempts at foosball, followed by dancing at a local club. The music was loud, continuous, and great for dancing – I think it was 2 AM when we rolled back into Olaza's. Next trip I've definitely got to allow more time for dancing!
The following morning it was time to do some last minute shopping and pack everything up for the trip home. The bus trip was its usual scenic pleasure, complete with movies and bingo game, and Fernando met me at the bus station and drove me through Lima rush-hour traffic to the airport. After getting checked in and buying a few more goodies at the airport shop, I headed to the restaurant in the international waiting area for their great ceviche and a cold Cusquena Malta. The flights back were uneventful and relaxing and I arrived home happy but tired, but still missing Peru.