Two-legged donkeys...

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August 9th 2012
Published: August 9th 2012
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There are enough lagoons, glaciers, peaks and valleys to keep us in the Cordillera Blanca for far, far longer than we have. Choosing which trails to walk is not an easy task, but choose we must.

Hot off the Santa Cruz trek, we first opt for a day walk to Laguna 69, a glacial lake located at the foot of Pisco, one of the Cordillera's most climbed mountains and part of the same larger massif we circled in the Santa Cruz trek. Much of the trail is in the shadow of HuascarĂ¡n, and despite being a relatively easy six-hour-or-so walk, the trip to the lagoon is one of the most gorgeous day-walks we've undertaken so far on the trip. It's sublime: frozen waterfalls, soaring mountains, water so painfully blue it wouldn't look out of place in the Caribbean (such a shame the temperature doesn't match...). Nobody seems entirely sure why Laguna 69 is so called; even the smallest of lagoons in the Cordillera seems to have a Quechua name - Querococha, Arguaycocha, Taullicocha, but not this one. Surrounded on all sides by hulking mountains, it's quite a sight.

With only a few days remaining before we need to continue southwards to Lima, our final excursion was a three-day trek linking two valleys immediately to the north of Huaraz, the quebradas Quilcayhuanca and Cojup. Arranging treks outside the "usual" Santa Cruz is surprisingly difficult, even with the relatively large number of walkers and climbers who descend on Huaraz every high season. Eager to explore some quieter parts of the Cordillera, we decide to independently hire a porter-cook, who will guide us as well, an option which proves far easier and cheaper than going via one of Huaraz's trekking agencies. Going it alone around here isn't really a very sensible option, with trailheads very difficult to access, poorly-marked trails and the inevitable personal safety concerns. The downside of the Quilcayhuanca-Cojup trek is that the 5,100 metre high pass which links the two valleys makes taking donkeys an impossibility. The donkeys would have to be of the two-legged!

This was yet another astoundingly beautiful walk, made all the more awe-inspiring by the complete absence of any other human being. To be sure, hauling a large pack - complete with tent, sleeping bags and clothes - over a nearly 17,000-foot mountain pass is not easy task, but the self-sufficient satisfaction of setting up camp knowing you've carried everything with you is something quite special. The walk offered some particularly unusual sights, the strangest an extraordinary vivid ochre-and-red iron-rich river tumbling down the side of the Quebrada Cayesh. Every hour brought superb new vistas. The second night, spent perched just beneath the Huapi pass on the upper slopes of the Cojup valley, was livened up by the arrival of a dozen or so evil-looking cows. Our guide Marcos explained that local villagers tempt the cows to them - presumably with the aim of herding them - with salt, and the cows have, in their infinite cleverness, come to associate humans with salt - which they adore. "We won't have a minute's peace all night", predicted Marcos optimistically. Indeed, we spent much of the evening chasing the cows away from the camp, only for them to slowly approach again, their eyes shining in the dark - it was like a nightmarish Gary Larson cartoon. Alex doesn't much like cows and was terrified they would come near the tent as we were sleeping - and so hauled large stones to surround the tent with "so the cows wouldn't trip over the guy lines". On waking the following morning - with the tent absolutely covered in thick, hard frost - we indeed found cow prints neatly circling the tent...spooky! Still, we were more fortunate than Marcos who - thanks to a large hole in his tent - awoke to find a cow licking his sleeping bag.

A pleasant morning's walk down the Quebrada Cojup and we were back in Huaraz for our final evening. Next stop: Lima, so-called gastronomic capital of South America. I predict yet more good times...

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10th August 2012

Just wanted to say I'm enjoying following your Peru entries - somewhere I very much hope to return to one day!

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