Mountains, Mountains and more Mountains - Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca's

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June 7th 2013
Published: June 7th 2013
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We have entered the last two weeks on our trip and we could think of no better way to end it than going into the second highest mountain range in the world, the Cordillera Blanca range. The town we were heading for was called Huaraz, by no means a beautiful place, but it is within a stones throw to all the major trails and mountains. It had taken us almost two full days to get here from Cuzco, with a stop off in Lima for half a day, before we finally arrived into Huaraz. We hadn't made any plans of what to do in the area, only read up on what is there and what there is to do.

After the 8 hour ride in from Lima we dedicated the arrival day to figuring out what exactly we were going to do for the next 2 weeks. It shouldn't be hard with some world class mountains on our doorstep. S once we'd arrived, had a bite of breakfast it was out in the town in search of adrenaline fuelled activities and awesome trekking routes. It doesn't take long to find a shop that will sell you all the information that you need. Luckily we took all the information we needed from a couple of agencies and just told them we would be back. We had our next week planned out: - Walking to Laguna 69 and continuing onto the Santa Cruz trek, then heading to Laguna Churup, the Chavin Ruins after, then a big ass mountain climb. We had gotten that much sorted.

With our new found plans we set about getting all the equipment we needed for the next 4 days. We found most of it at the hostel and only had a stove and pans left to find. A quick scout around town and we had got them too. It was now time to get all the food we needed for the trek; we filled our bags with porridge, wraps, tuna, cheese, pasta and sauce and a whopping stick of chorizo, the diet for champions. We were ready for the next day.

Most people set off for Lake 69 at 6am but we figured that seeing as we were camping there there was no need to set off so soon. Therefore we rolled out of bed at 7.30am, had a very laid back breakfast and a good old chat and then headed out at almost 10am. The Collectivo's (mini vans that act as buses) run frequently between Huaraz and Yungay so we had no problems there, 1 hour later and we had arrived in the small town. Next up was another 2 hour Collectivo to Cebolla Pampa, the starting point of the walk. Now this is why we should have got up with everyone else at 5. There are no buses until 1.30pm, which is when the next bout of buses depart and so we were left with no other choice than to sit and wait it out. A couple of hours later and we were off, and a few more after that we were at the gates to the Huascaran National Park where we paid our 65 soles for a ticket. Half an hour following that and we were at the start point to the walk, however it was knocking on 3.30pm and the walk itself takes a good 2 hours.

Already very delayed we started the walk, trying to make our legs move as fast as they could whilst at high altitude and with our 15k bags on. We skated over the flats quickly but when we hit the first hill it was when we realised it might take a long time. The first hill is a solid 150m ascent which means a lot of zigzagging on the way up. The view on either side however is phenomenal, towering mountains and a massive waterfall, as adding down the 150m. 40 minutes of climbing later we made it to the top to be greeted by a small lake. Hopefully this isn't the lake 69, as that would be a massive letdown. However the path continued on and we had an hour of day light left, we weren't sure if it was enough to get to the proper lake. Our next sight was the hill up to the lake and that answered our question, we had no chance of getting up there in the daylight and absolutely no chance of getting back. Instead of hitting the hill we set up camp for the night.

With the tent up and the light still good I thought there might be time to run up and back before dark, so with the camera in hand I made out as fast as I could to the hill. By the time I'd reached the bottom I was knacked and I resorted to walking rather than running. 20 minutes later up the hill I was out of energy and the light had slowly faded away. With no torch and no food I gave in and went back to camp.

Laura had tried to make a fire by putting a load of wood in a pile and then tried to get it going to no avail. She clearly hadn't watched Ray or Bear on how to make a fire. Using a good old teepee technique we had a fire going and tea on the boil, the making of a good night. With every good there is a bad, well two in our case. The first being some huge grey clouds building up behind us and the second was the fire had attracted every cow in the Valley. The clouds quickly turned to snow and later rain and the cows were showing no sign of dispersing, so tea was shared with 20 cows. Once we'd finished the tea the rain had got heavier and we didn't like the idea of sitting in the rain trying to make the most of the fire. We left the fire going and went to bed at 6.30!

This was by far the worst night of sleep that we had in our entire time in the mountains. We quickly found out the tent wasn't waterproof and let in water at the lowest point where the poles cross over. We solved this by tying our coats over the outside of our sleeping bags which worked a little and kept the majority of the water off. But the real reason for the abysmal sleep was the bloody cows. Every 5 minutes we had a rustle on the tent and so we'd poke out our heads to see 1 of the 20 cows getting comfortable on the shell of the tent. A good shoo sent them on their way for 10 minutes. 20 minutes later and we head some rocks moving around and so out went the heads again, this time we caught the cows eating the embers of the fire! They really loved that fire. Hours and hours went by with the cows only growing in number and getting less scared by the shooing, it was inevitable that we had to sleep with the cows inches from the tent.

The next morning and we had to be up and off early to get back to the road for a lift to the start of the Santa Cruz trek. The tent was frozen and our spirits weren't at an all time high. With a lot of profanities thrown at the cows along with the odd stick here and there, we packed away our wet gear and headed back down the path to the start point. Going back only took us an hour so we had enough time at the road to make up some porridge and partially dry the tent. At 8.30 the Collectivo rolled in, we packed away our gear for the second time and hopped aboard the very crowded van. Laura managed to get a back seat in between 3 guys who were all asleep, and therefore her shoulders became pillows. I was sat at the back of one of the front seats with my knees comfortably squeezed between the legs of a man and a woman. The next 2 hours wasn't to be the comfiest.

It may not have been comfortable but the views were incredible. We made our way over a mountain pass at 4 900m, the road turning back on itself every 1/2km. With each turn we scaled the mountain and were greeted with views of 6000m + mountains. The weather couldn't have been better, not a single cloud in the sky which made for the most scenic ride of the entire trip.

2 hours later and we pulled up in Vaqueria, the start of the Santa Cruz trek. We hobbled out of the van and laura brushed off the sleeping mans saliva and set off in search of the start. Nothing is easy in Peru and finding the start was another prime example. However once we had found it it was plain sailing. Down a hill into a valley bottom, nip over a river, through some small villages and then into the national park. The first days walking was up a very green and wet valley, and by 2pm we were getting rained on. Luckily for us it subsided within an hour and by the time we reached camp for the night it had dried up. Up went the wet tent and seconds later the rain came in again, we were set up for another wet night. For a good 2 hours we laid in the tent and watched the drips of water trickle in through the hole, however we were better prepared this time and already had the coats tied over our legs. We made one massive error though and that was the location of the camp. We'd parked ourselves on a bog, which at the time of setting up was dry, but as the rain came down the bog started to prevail and crept its way towards the tent. I nipped out and tried to make a barrier around the tent, however it wouldn't of made a difference. All we can say is thank The Lord it stopped raining by 6pm before it hit us. We fell asleep that night to water coming in through the bottom of the tent, it wasn't the best but at least we had no cows.

The rain didn't start again all night and so we woke up relatively dry in comparison to the previous night. As Laura made breakfast I tried my best to get the tent, sleeping bags and roll mats dried out, but with a huge lack of sun due to the looming mountains it didn't work. Porridge consumed we set off again by 8am. We had the tent on the outside of our bags trying to get it dry and at every possible stop unhooked it to get some air in, we didn't fancy a third nights sleep in a wet tent.

This day saw us going over the pass. For 2 hours we trudged up a gradual slope and saw a cliff face that couldn't possibly hide the pass. The path seemed to veer off to the left up through the valley but as we got closer we could see that the path indeed went over the cliff face. So for another hour and a half we plodded up and over the steepest section of the track we had seen. Once we reached the top though at 4700m, every bit of the pain was worth it. As you make your way through the pass a huge mountain reveals itself to the left. Everything we had seen the previous day had just been swept aside by this massive snow capped beauty. We had a good half an hour at the top, taking panoramic videos, loads of photos and in general gawping at the mountain.

For the next hour an a half it was all down hill to our dinner spot. This valley was definitely more scenic than the first. Once we'd consumed our wraps we set out again, this time in the direction of another valley, one which looks up at the Alpamayo mountain. At first we thought we had time to go up and down the valley and then make camp further down the path. By the time we had walked up to the start of the valley we were both shattered and had no chance of going any further. So instead of walking we sat down and watched the world go by for an hour. It was here where we found out about two guides who died on the mountain a few days before whilst trying to put bolts in an ice wall. They had attempted to do it in the middle of the day and got caught out by an avalanche. At the same time as hearing this a squadron of mountain police came past carrying one of their fellow men on a stretcher with a broken leg, all from looking for one of the buried guides.

Back down the valley we went and an hour later we got to our campsite, right beside a river with awesome views up and down the valley. At one end a huge mountain and the other the view of the Cordillera Negras. It was the first time we had no rain on an evening and were able to make tea in the sunlight. Whilst we ate our tea the sun set on the mountains, it was a perfect way to have the last night on the Santa Cruz trek. We slept in a dry tent that evening.

The last day was a 2 hour down hill stint to the end of the walk. The climate got a lot drier and the surface a lot slippier. With numerous near misses we made our way down, hearing the lizards shuffle off into the bushes and seeing many a tourist heading up the valley with a heard of donkeys before them. By 11.30 we were at the end of the walk washing our feet in a freezing cold stream and having a sigh of relief that we no longer had to carry our bags. My shoulder had gone and Laura's back was a wee achy. Once we'd checked out of the park we made our way to the town where we had a taxi ready and waiting. Time to go back to Huaraz.

Later that day we pulled into the town, extremely ready for a shower and a good bit of substantial food. For the rest of the day we ate and ate, trying to get back all the lost calories. We gorged ourselves in pizza and beer. Perfect way to finish the trek.

Our next day was filled with nothingness, which was what we thought we wanted. By midday we were bored and wishing we had bpdone something with the day. In order to cure our slight boredom we found the California Cafe, home to a good coffee and a piece of cake. We skyped home, played chess and drank way too much coffee. I guess it was good to do nothing, its just not what we are good at.

Back to normal the next day with plans of going up to another lake, this time Churup lake. Once we'd had our brekkie we were off, this time with a fellow Brit, Nadine. She had just come into the town that morning and from sea level too. It was going to be a hard day for her! It took us an hour and a half to get to the stat of the walk by Collectivo. The driver had ripped us all off good and proper, changing the price every five minutes. Reluctantly we paid and made our way to the start of the walk. The hill wasn't hidden by anything and we could see from the off it was steep.

We had a 2 hour uphill slog before we hit the lake. The scenery though was stunning, hills that dwarf the likes of Snowdon and Scarfell, and a river running through the bottom of the valley. Before us stood a rocky cliff face, which we had to get over in order to make it to the lake. As we made it to the bottom we could see a load of ropes, placed nicely to help us get over the mound. You would never have this at home! We all pulled ourselves to the top of the hill, scrambling up some very dodgy loose rock and eventually we caught sight of the lake.

Sat right at the bottom of the mountains was lake Churup. We'd ascended around 900m in the 2 hours, in what was called an acclimatisation walk. I don't think that is what Nadine called it and neither would we, after being at high altitude for a few months. The lake was incredible, a very clear and inviting blue, but swimming will have to wait! We stopped up there for a while, ate some snacks and then headed back down via a different route in order to miss out the loose rock. The track we took though went up further before going back down!

Once we'd hit the bottom the same guy was there to take us back to the town. This time we made a deal, paid and gave him no more than what was expected. A bumpy hour later and we were back, ready to go and get a good meal. We settled on a huge steak, perfect for replenishing some protein and curing some sore muscles. Peru did the steak as well as the Argentinians.

We'd walked for the last 5 days and so thought we'd go and see some ruins, named Chavin de Huantar. Do not go or ever think about it!!! After a 4 hour bus ride, a tour around a very boring museum and detour via a commissioned restaurant we got to the ruins. I'm not being negative or biased here when I say they are shocking. We pottered around some ancient ruins from 3000 years ago, which is the only interesting bit. I think it was mainly because of the guide we disliked it, he wouldn't let us read the signs which were in English, instead he insisted on us listening to him and not understand a word. His Spanish was quicker than a Scousers English so we had no chance. A very disappointing and long day.

We'd intentionally taken it easy on the ruins day because the following day we were up early and ready to ascend Vallunaraju. The highlight of the trip for me and probably Laura too. We had booked the trip through Andean Summit and couldn't have picked a better agency. Every little detail was taken care of. At 7.30am we were in the office, packing up our bags with all the equipment; ice axes, crampons, sleeping bags, tents and food. Laura had paid for a porter who took the majority of her things and left her with just her clothes to carry and our water. By 8am we were in the van and on our way.

Along with us in the van were a couple of English girls, both doctors who had just come similarly to Nadine from sea level........ The driver was their guide and guess who the guide was...the same guy who ripped us off a few days before in the taxi ride to lake Churup. They didn't stand much of a chance from the start.

A couple of hours later and we were at the base of the climb up to the summit. We had 900m to climb the first day and then another 800m the following morning. The first day was a breeze, steadily making our way up to the base camp and taking in many of the awesome views on the way up. It wasn't a gentle hill so after 2 hours we had climbed the 900m. It was a different case for Laura's porter, Orlando! He wasn't exactly a porter, in fact he had never been up to the top of a mountain in 5 years. Instead he was a friend of the shop owner who had assigned him to us because he was learning the ropes and had amazing English. We ended up carrying the majority of the gear up ourselves, leaving Orlando with a reasonable weight in his bag. He couldn't have been a nicer guy, but he was definitely not a porter. Whilst we had been at the base camp for an hour, he emerged over the lip of the hill and very out of breathe.

We had set up camp when it started to snow, and continued to do so right up until 5pm. The camp was fairly busy with another group of people from Russia who were up there for some other walking. Along with them was another 2 people attempting the summit climb. The 2 English girls had also made it to camp, however struggling a lot because of the altitude. Whilst the snow fell down our guide set about making an awesome chicken spaghetti Bolognese. Orlando was his helper and together they rustled up a mountainous masterpiece. It was around 4pm when we had our tea and all we had to do after that was try and get sme sleep as we were to wake up at 1.30am to start the climb.

By 7pm we were asleep or partially so and the next 6 hours were on and off, mainly due to the excitement of what was to come. 1.30am soon arrived and we had a quick breakfast of bread for me and wraps for the bread allergic Laura. At 2am we started the ascent.

The first 100m was all on rock and we made our way up it, head torches leading the way, easily. It was then when we hit the snow line and so it was crampons on, ice axes out and rearing to go. We couldn't see the mountain up above us because of the dark but we could see the very steep hills directly in front. It was one after the other and no zigzagging done. We made our way directly up them and this had a massive toll on Orlando in particular. The poor guy was stopping every 20m, gasping for air and trying hard to not pass out from dizziness. Another hour later and Orlando gave in, knowing that if we kept on at that pace we wouldn't make it to the top. It was around 5am when we left him and set about a new pace, one with less stops and one that killed me.

Laura seemed to be fine the whole ascent, handing my ass to me, but I was in a world I hadn't experienced. Every 20m or so I'd be feeling sick, maybe because of too much bread but more likely the altitude. As we went above 5500m it was when it hit me. The hardest of the climb had been done in the previous 2 hours however this was where it got hard. Slowly but surely though we crawled up in the dark and by 6am we were 200m away from the top.

The last leg of the climb included some proper climbing, the first time up a snow shelf and the second up a steep ridge. The first wasn't too bad, more of a steep staircase but the second was much narrower and a lot closer to the edge. Our guide went ahead, very briskly and hammered in a stake and then Laura and I made our way up to meet him. It was axe in the ice stuff as we climbed up on all fours. For me this was he hardest bit and it took all I had not to be sick. Once we made it to the stake we had a steady 100m to the summit. This was the longest and slowest 100m of my life, Laura was tied in in front of me so she set the pace, I felt like a dog refusing to walk being dragged along.

10 minutes later and we summited the mountain, right before the sun rose. As we caught our breath and the sickness subsided, the sun came up from the horizon. The clouds just above the mountains reflected the orange light into the Cordilleras and was one of the most breathtaking sights of the trip. Beams of light hit the mountain range on the opposite side if the valley in a horizontal way. All I can say is the top of the 5685m beast was the best thing I've done in my life, not only getting to the top but seeing what was around us. It was absolutely incredible.

The return journey was in the sunlight and we had the chance to take some awesome photos, some of the highest snowy ridge and others of the glaciers on the way down. We met Orlando where we left him along with another girl who was happy to have gotten there. It was 4 hours up and only 1 down. I'm glad we did it in the dark because the hills we went up would not have been as doable if we saw what was ahead first. One of the major advantages of going in the dark. Back at the camp we packed up, saw the 2 English girls who instead of submitting the mountain had been ice climbing and loved it, we all started to make our way back down to the pick up point.

The way down was slippy and took many a man along the way. Almost everyone fell at one point or another and luckily no one got hurt. We'd have been better in the crampons on the mud! At the bottom we were met by a couple of taxi drivers and next thing we were on our way back to the town of Huaraz.

We were back by 2 and ready again for a shower and a rest. We handed the things back into agency and got offered a Pisco sour later that evening, an offer we happily took up. That afternoon we rested and later that night we went for our Pisco sour with Orlando and Mila, the shop owner. Once we left there it was tea time and for the second time we had our fill on a few pizzas and beer. Two days I'll never forget. Whilst we were Pisco souring away we booked onto a trip for the next day, horseback riding in the Cordillera Negras.

It was easy getting to sleep that night and the next morning we woke early ready to go and ride a horse. Laura had ridden before on the trip and I hadn't ridden since I was about 11 on Mums horse. When we got to the shop we met a Peruvian woman who to be honest couldn't have been less enthusiastic. We thought she was going to help us get to the start point of the trek but we later found out after the bus ride that she was our guide. She spoke no English and didn't even attempt to talk to us in Spanish, which by now we are at that bad at! The only thing she asked was our names, the rest of the trip she was silent.

We saddled up onto our horses, and she lead the way. For two hours we made our way up through small villages to the turning point. The ride itself was stunning and it was great to see some of the very small rural villages and their way of life. Completely different to town life. Everything was much more traditional and a lot more laid back. On every doorstep was the corn drying out in the sun and in every field were cows and sheep all tied up by the leg. The Peruvians don't seem to believe in fences and instead tie the animals on a long piece of rope giving them a circle of grass each to graze! Different to back home and I'm sure animal welfare doesn't exist here.

The horses were on auto pilot. We couldn't make them move any faster or change direction easily. Where ever the guide went, they went and it was like that for the entire 3 1/2 hours. It was probably for the best as I had no idea what I was doing and if I had a horse that needed controlling I'd have been going in circles for hours. The whole trek was at a steady pace which allowed us to look out over the Cordillera Blancas and the small villages.

Once we were back where we started we dismounted and awaited a Collectivo to take us back towards town. It doesn't take long until a Collectivo passes by and within 2 minutes of waiting, one had showed up. There was at least 20 people inside this one and getting a seat wasn't promising. Lucky for us we were only on for 10 minutes. We were going to Monterrey for the thermal baths.

We'd seen some photos and read a couple of reviews about them; they seemed like they were good online! Our guide had stuck with us and escorted us to the baths, for a second I thought she was coming in with us. Luckily though she didn't and had taken this opportunity to try and get a tip out of us. If she thinks though she can get a tip from walking us to a bath and not speaking to us for 4 hours she had another thing coming. It seemed to be the way though here, when the trip is coming to an end, no matter how terrible it may have been they out in a shed load more effort in order to try and change people's perception of them and get a good bit of extra cash. We didn't fall for it! Anyway, back to the baths! As we went in we saw the bath approaching, a mud brown colour and supposedly ram packed with minerals. The water at first was warm but after ten minutes gave you the feeling of being in a bath for a good hour to the extent the water is a luke warm. 20 minutes later and the novelty wore off, we made our sandwiches by the poolside and then grabbed a van back to Huaraz. We had a better idea of how to spend the afternoon.......chess!

It was our penultimate day in Huaraz and there was one thing that we really wanted to do; get up to the lake 69. Our first efforts had been a failure due to the light and tiredness so this time failure was not an option. As the dogs started to bark we were awake, the alarm was going off at the jolly old time of 5am. Breakfast was at half past and by 6am we were on the bus ready and waiting to set off to the lake, again. The 3 hour ride few by as we spent the vast majority of it asleep. We'd gone through the border control, had a stop at the Llanganuco lakes and eventually arrived at the start point of Cebolla Pampa. Round 2, lets go!

There was absolutely no rush on this walk, we had to be back by 3pm each gave us 6 hours to walk 12km. By 12pm we had made it to the lake, quickly skating past all the scenery we had seen on the trip before. Fr us it was all about getting to the lake. As we slowly crept over the lip of the hill an electric blue splodge grew bigger at the upper end of the river, it was the lake we had heard so much about. We knew it was going to be blue but this was a blue like we've never before seen. It looked like someone had gone mad on photoshop, going way past sky blue to an indescribable blue. It sat right at the bottom of the mountains to the extent that it was almost impossible to get both lake and mountain top in one photo.

We were one of the first ones to the top, along with an Israeli guy and two chaps from France. The French, as we arrived, were stripping down to their boxers ready for a dip in the lake. 10 seconds later and they had dived in. A second later and they came back up screaming and shouting! I wasn't going to be beaten by the French! So within a matter of minutes, I'd got my trousers and t shirt off and then thought I'd take it just slightly further to the level of skinny dipping. It was, well untruly, the coldest water I've ever been in and as the French did I did, coming out screaming. It was well worth it and took a trip to the top of a hill to warm me back up again. We soaked up the view for an hour or two and then set off back down the hill to get to the Collectivo for 3pm. It was 100%!w(MISSING)orth the second trip to the top!

It was a perfect way to finish off our time in Huaraz. The next day we dedicated to a bit of rest, doing nothing more than a spot of shopping for souvenirs, eating cake, drinking coffee and watching a film or two. We had a surprise later that night too, we got a message from Rich, the guy who we'd been in the jungle for a week with, saying that he was in Huaraz. We ended up spending the rest of the night with him in the cafe, giving him the low down on the mountain range and things to do and not to! It was an awesome way to spend the last night. By 10pm we were at the Cruz del Sur bus station and ready for a short overnight ride into Lima.

In the sweltering heat of the bus we barely got a wink of sleep and at 5.30 in the morning we pulled into Lima. We found ourselves a hostel in the popular Miraflores, a place to leave our stuff, have a shower and rest a little, and then set off for the day walking around the district. Lima still hadn't grown on us and we were more than glad to only spend a day there. 3pm soon came around and we were in a taxi and on our way to the airport.

Time to fly back home on a 12 hour flight with no inflight entertainment, what an anti climax! No matter how crap the flight is though, neither if us can wait to get back off the trip of a lifetime, one that we will never forget and one where we met some absolutely incredible people. Next stop......Manchester, where the water is drinkable and the toilets flushable,


9th June 2013

Does this work
Just a tester to see if you can submit the comment, 1 year late.

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