After returning from the jungle and recouping in Trujillo for a day, Mike and I went for the other extreme: we headed into the mountains. We caught a bus to Huaraz, which is the trekking center of the Peruvian Andes. All of the serious mountaineers, trekkers, climbers, etc. find their way to Huaraz eventually. There are several impressive mountain ranges in the area, and the Cordillera Blanca is the area containing the tallest mountains in Peru.

We spent our first few days in Huaraz getting acclimated to the altitude of 3100 meters. We’d been higher in Ecuador, but that was a while ago. Plus, it’s best to get used to the thin air before strapping on a backpack and hiking even higher. Huaraz is a pretty nifty town with lots of good food and a general outdoorsy attitude. We did a bit of research while we were in town and decided that we wanted to do a self-supported trek nearby. We carry our tent, sleeping bags, water pump, and stove with us all the time anyway, so we rented some trekking poles and backpacks to supplement our gear. After grocery shopping, we were ready to start our trek.

Before I narrate our experience, I’ll supply you with a few fast facts. The trek we chose to do is called the Santa Cruz trek. Apparently it can be quite crowded in the high season, but the end of March is still smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season. Most people hire guides and donkeys to carry all their stuff. Many groups also hire cooks. The trek itself takes approximately 4 days. It covers 50 kilometers, ascends 2260 meters, and descends 1460 meters. The Punta Union pass is the highest point on the trek at 4760 meters (according to Mike’s GPS 15,700 feet). This point is higher than any peak in the continental U.S., but is lower than 8 peaks in Alaska.

Day 1

We tried to leave Huaraz nice and early, but it turned out that our map of the city was a bit outdated. By the time we made it to the actual bus stop, we were leaving an hour an a half later than intended. Ah well. We took a collectivo to Caraz and then a car/taxi to the trail head in Cashapampa. We finally started hiking at about noon.

It was nice and warm and sunny for most of the afternoon, which was rather deceptive since the rest of the trek was cold and rainy and foggy for the most part. Of all the days to be warm, this was probably the worst since the trail went steeply uphill. We climbed about 700 meters over 11 kilometers the first day. By the time sunset was nearing we hadn’t quite made it to the official “Day 1” campsite, probably because we started so late. It didn’t matter though, since there was plenty of running water nearby. We just found a grassy patch and set up camp. We pumped some water, purified it, and cooked pasta for dinner. Good night.

The first day started off sunny and bright. Mike took this picture during the car ride just before we got to the trail head.

This gateway stood fairly close to the trail head. “Rex” followed us up the path for a little while but gave up on us when the going got steep.

The first day was actually warm enough for a tank top!

When the clouds finally started rolling in, they sort of whooshed up the mountains.

Day 2

It rained during the night, so we woke up to donkeys licking the moisture off of our tent. Sure, there was a nice, clean, mountain stream nearby, but a few raindrops collecting on nylon is much tastier apparently.

The second day brought us about 13 kilometers and another 650 meters up. The climbing didn’t seem as steep, and we passed through some fields and near some pretty green lakes. We stopped near one of the lakes and ate some spicy chicken ramen for lunch. Unfortunately, for a good chunk of the day Mike wasn’t feeling well, perhaps because of the altitude. We took it slow and almost made it to the official night 2 campsite, nonetheless. Again we found a grassy area for the tent, pumped water, and ate pasta.

Although I had been feeling great for most of the day, about an hour after we crawled into the tent for the night I got sick to my stomach (not in the tent, thankfully). Perhaps that was due to the altitude as well; otherwise, something I ate or drank got to me. I immediately felt better though, so I was able to sleep some.

The donkey looks smug because he woke us up.

Trekking away…

This is close to the spot where we had lunch.

Day 3

On day 3 we both woke up feeling better, so we set off toward the Punta Union pass first thing. It was another 510 meters up to the pass, but the views just got better and better as we climbed. We got very near the snow-capped mountains, and we passed by a gorgeous mountain lake. I’ll let the pictures speak for this part, because I couldn’t possibly describe the color of the lake or the dramatic peaks. We also witnessed a few really awesome ice falls (like a glacial landslide). I think that the noise created by these avalanches is my new favorite noise ever — it’s a bit like thunder, but more prolonged and frightening. The sight is pretty darn cool too (provided you’re not beneath the slide, I presume).

By the time we got to the pass it was snowing and quite chilly, which, I suppose, ought to be expected at 15,700 feet! We paused long enough for pictures and then started heading down the other side. After hiking down about 800 meters in on-again-off-again snow/hail/rain, we found a campsite for the night between two ponds. This proved to be a less than ideal spot, since we spent a lot of time chasing some bulls away from our tent. Mike even got out once in the middle of the night in his underwear to scare them off. Obscenities and trekking poles were flying everywhere!

Despite the cows, I think Mike would agree that this was the best day of the hike. The views were gorgeous, and we felt like we accomplished something by getting over the the pass (which is the highest elevation either of us has ever been at).

A view of one of the lakes that we passed on day 2.

Getting higher, getting colder, “I miss Phoenix.”

We didn’t actually walk in this snow, it just loomed in the mountains above us. Brrr!

Look at the color of that lake! Can you believe it?! Wow…

We have proof! (Mike’s GPS says we’re at 15,700 feet.)

My “summit” shot at the Punta Union pass.

Mike’s is better, but he almost fell to his death.

Pretty mountains at the top.

This one has a sweet cloud halo!

Our night 3 campsite would have been ideal, if it hadn’t been for…

Pesky cows!

Day 4

After a rotten night’s sleep (too much rain and mooing), we woke up to a gorgeous morning and started heading down. The hiking was easy and we walked at a brisk pace for most of the day. We descended about 600 kilometers until we came to a village called Huaripampa. This was the first settlement we passed, although we did see a number of other trekkers going in the opposite direction over the past few days (only 4 out of 30 or so were carrying their own gear like us, but even they were going what is considered the easier direction).

Anyway, we intended to go all the way to the end town of Vaqueria (just a little farther) that day until a local boy told us it was futile. He claimed that the remaining few kilometers would take us 4 hours because of the steep, rocky terrain. He said that even if we managed to do it quicker there wouldn’t be anymore transportation for the day. He said that his family would be happy to put us up in their house for a small fee. Although I didn’t exactly trust his take on the road ahead, Mike liked the idea of staying with a local family for the night. I kind of wanted a shower, but he talked me into staying.

We put up our tent inside the house in what seemed to be a living room/pantry. There were lots of potatoes in the corners. The tiny kitchen was connected, and the family made us fried potatoes with hot milk for our dinner. Sadly, I caught only a few names. Manuel is the boy who found us. His older brother, Marco, sometimes works as an arriero, driving donkeys along the trail. He says that he makes about $7 a day when he joins trekkers. There were also 2 younger siblings (a boy and a girl) and a mother. We were told that their father had died a while ago. Mike and I felt like zoo animals in our tent with the kids constantly peeking in, but we had a nice stay.

Mike went for the “mountain reflection” pictures in the morning since we were right next to some ponds.

It was gorgeous out….for a little while.

These are the kinds of mountains you draw when you’re a kid: super pointy and covered in snow.

Mike poses in the morning mountain air.

I think this should be on the cover of an REI or Mountain Hardware catalogue.

Mike had a good time poking at these trees we passed. Their bark was like tissue paper.

We got the impression that the family we stayed with eats a lot of potatoes.

Here’s the family (minus Mom) in the kitchen. Manuel is laddling our hot milk drink for us.

The youngest poses outside.

Here’s the house from the outside: mostly mud, rocks, and sticks. We ended up paying 20 soles, 2 batteries, and a can of tuna to stay here.

Day 4+

I refuse to call this day 5 because we finished the hike in about 2 hours, by 9:00 in the morning. Technically, this means that we completed the hike in less than 4 days. We went down about 100 meters and then climbed back up about 400. I guess I was right to doubt Manuel, but it didn’t really matter. He may have been right about the transportation, because when we did get to Vaqueria we had to wait hours for anything to go by. The few vehicles that do pass are often full to the brim. We made it back to Huaraz by dinner time, though.

We stayed in Huaraz a few more days, recovering and enjoying the views, but the Santa Cruz trek was definitely the best part of our stay in the area!

That’s it for now, but check out my sister’s new blog; it’s linked on the right! She and Josh recently bought their first house and are posting pictures and details until we can visit.

2 Responses to “Huaraz”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome pictures! Beautiful country. Love the reflection picture. Mike, Rose and family

  2. Dr_Omega says:

    Truly amazing & magnificent views!Hope you are getting rid of some of your energy before the oldsters arrive!🙂 Mom

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