The curious incident of the bull in the night time

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May 13th 2008
Published: May 27th 2008
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Nevado AlpamayoNevado AlpamayoNevado Alpamayo

Often described as the world's most beautiful mountain.
Isn't the rainy season supposed to be over?
One of the joys of camping is the escape from everyday life: no email, no mobile phone, no TV, no cafe lattes! The luxuries of city life are quickly forgotten and, instead, what occupies your mind is finding shelter, making a home, stopping for the the next break, reaching the next pass or sometimes even just completing the next 20 yards! There are often nice views to divert your attention but in general camping is all about getting back to basics: survival, food, shelter. Nowhere was this more true than on our recent Santa Cruz hike in the Cordillera Blanca. We didn't see the sun until the third and final day, and what's supposed to be one of South America's finest hikes turned into a difficult trudge through wind, snow, rain and sleet.

Getting lost in the rain in Huaraz
Huaraz is the gateway town to three sets of mountain ranges: the Cordillera Blanca, Coredillera Huayhuash and Cordillera Negra. The town has about 80,000 inhabitants and is located about halfway up a long valley between the Blanco and Negro ranges. It's a very popular stop with travellers in northern Peru and hence
Trying to stay warm at 4250 metresTrying to stay warm at 4250 metresTrying to stay warm at 4250 metres

Despite wearing 4 layers of clothes inside a -10 degree rated sleeping bag, I was still feeling the cold at night.
there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from. We stayed in Caroline Lodging, a guest house run by a very friendly local family, and a place I would highly recommend. We arrived late in the evening from Lima, and were picked up by Teo from the hostel. We spent the next day in the town, mulling over the various treks and planning itineraires. Plenty of agencies offer the most popular treks as guided multiday tours with food, mules, etc included, but having done this type of tour twice in Cusco, we were determined to go it alone this time: carrying everything ourselves and doing all our cooking - only time would tell if we were mad or not! So we arranged tent hire with a guy in the hostel and went shopping in town for enough food to last us 3 or 4 days. The trek we chose was the Santa Cruz Trail, a 3 or 4 day trail in the Cordillera Blanca, and probably the best known and most hiked of all the Huaraz treks.

The Santa Cruz Trail
Day 1: Vaqueria to Paria: 13km - 550 m ascent - 400m descent
We caught the 6.30
Ruth at VaqueriaRuth at VaqueriaRuth at Vaqueria

Ruth gets ready to begin the Santa Cruz trek in rainy Vaqueria.
am bus from Huaraz to Yanama, which would pass by our starting point, Vaqueria, after about 4 hours. It was a long, slow journey, especially when we left the good road at Yungay and went along the steep, winding road to the Portachuelo pass. The scenery before the pass was impressive, with some fine views of the Llanganuco lakes, and snow-capped 6000 plus peaks, including Huascaran (6768 m), Peru's highest summit. The bright skies before the pass became grey and cloudy after we crossed it and we could barely see 20 metres from the bus window with all the fog. An early indication of just how volatile the weather could be here!

The bus left us off at Vaqueria, which is little more than one street with about 5 or 6 houses. After waiting around in Vaqueria for an hour the rain still hadn't cleared and we were seriously thinking about abandoning it as the skies looked terrible in all directions, and, more importantly, a local women told us it would probably rain all day. Furthermore, all we had to guide us was a Lonely Planet rough map of the area and a compass, which might not be sufficient
Huaripampa LocalsHuaripampa LocalsHuaripampa Locals

These friendly kids were very happy to pose for pictures in Huaripampa, a tiny village, on day 1 of the hike. L-R: Pedro, Maria, Julio & Marita.
in bad weather. But then a collectivo showed up with two tour groups from Huaraz, also planning to do the same trek, and this set our minds at ease! One group included 3 girls from our hostel and an Irish guy, Simon, from Dublin. We set off behind them, but soon passed them out as they made plenty of stops to look at plants along the trail. The path was fairly easy to follow and there were signposts at the junctions so we couldn't go wrong. After 3.5 hours we arrived at Paria, the first night's campsite. There were no facilities here, but it was in a good location close to the river. One of the guides warned us to stay away from the wild bulls who hung about in the area - a warning we'd have to ignore later that night!

Having our meals cooked for us was something we had become accustomed to on recent treks, but there was no such luxury here. We made our standard trekking meal: instant soup, pasta with tomato sauce, followed by tea and crackers for desert. At the last minute I had added a jar of peanut butter to our supplies
Huaripampa ValleyHuaripampa ValleyHuaripampa Valley

This is the valley we hiked up on day 1. As you can see, it's pretty muddy and the weather is awful.
and it was a real god send here. Over the next few days I used to think about it while we trekked through the snow and rain during the day and savour it in the evenings! The rain we had all day continued into the night and some of it even seeped into the tent. We had gone to bed early, at 8pm, but we were awoken suddenly at midnight by something brushing against our tent. It was one of the wild bulls, and I think he was attracted by what we had left in the porch. Both our pairs of hiking boots, plus our rubbish bag and a another bag of food should have been there but when we looked in the porch there was nothing! The bull had taken them all. So we put on the head torches and went out into the freezing night (it was 3750 m altitude), and luckily found our things not far from the tent. I spent the rest of the night having nightmares about the bull returning and poking his horns through the tent!!

Day 2: Over the Punta Union pass
Paria to Taulipampa - 13km - 900 m ascent -
Arriving in PariaArriving in PariaArriving in Paria

After four hours hiking we reached Paria, campsite on day 1.
500 m descent
We awoke at first light to views of the mountains but still cloudy skies so it looked like another questionable day weather wise. The guide from the other group told us there would most likely be snow on the pass as it had been raining all night. Nothing like bad news to start the day! After a filling breakfast of porridge, crackers, peanut butter and tea, we set off towards the Punta Union pass. Initially there was no rain, the path was easy to follow, we had good views of the glaciers ahead, and in general all was going grand.

However, after ascending the first set of switchbacks we ran into a snow storm blowing down from the pass. The path became muddy and slippy, and progress was slow, and we again wondered if we should have turned back as we and all our pags were getting very wet. The other group caught up with us after about 3.5 hours at a laguna below the pass. The weather was awful here and we couldn't even see the path any more so we had to follow the guide from Simon's group. We probably would have found the pass ourselves in the end but it was nice of the guide to let us tag along with him.

At 4750 metres, the Punta Union pass is the highest point on the Santa Cruz trek, and it's quite a tough proposition on a clear day, never mind in the wet and snow with a very heavy backpack! We had a 10 minute rest at the top and tried to imagine the good views that we were missing in the fog. The rain wasn't so bad on the other side of the pass, but the descent was tracherous and we all slipped a few times. We reached camp at about 3pm and quickly set up our tent in the rain. This was the highest altitude I've ever slept at (4250 m) but the bad weather was more noticeable than the altitude. The rain continued into the evening and we didn't stray far from the relative warmth of our sleeping bags.

Day 3: The weather gods finally smile on us
Taulipampa to Cashapampa - 24km - 1450 m descent
We were up at 5am as we faced a long day's hike back to Cashapampa, the ascent of which is usually
Typical trek mealTypical trek mealTypical trek meal

It tastes worse than it looks!
done in two days, but which we felt could be done in one going downhill. There's nothing like the sun to lift your spirits, especially having endured such miserable weather on the first two days. It may have taken long enough for the skies to clear but it was worth the wait: before us we had views of the many snow capped peaks surrounding the Santa Cruz Valley, and it was a stunning sight. Simon from the other group had no warm clothes left and was walking around in shorts and flipflops - quite brave at 6am in the morning at 4250 altitude!

Ruth and I quickly ate breakfast, packed up the tent and set off down the valley. It wasn't long until we had a view of Navado Alpamayo (5947m), one of Peru's best known mountains, famously described as "the world's most beautiful mountain" by the German Alpine Club. We had 24 km to hike that day, but it was a lovely hike, nearly all downhill, in fine weather with beautiful views. That's what hiking should be all about!! We made it back to Cashapampa at 3pm, and from there we travelled in colectivo to Caraz and by
I think it's looking better....I think it's looking better....I think it's looking better....

Snow on day 2 on the way to the Punta Union pass.
bus to Huaraz. We went straight to dinner in Piccola, where a huge pizza and a litre of wine helped us forget the trailfood. Certainly the first two days of the trek were very hard going, but overall we enjoyed it, though had the sun not appeared on day 3 I might be saying something different.

Our final day in Huaraz was spent mostly in cafes and restaurants, of which Huaraz has plenty. I'd recommend any visitor to Huaraz go to Cafe Andino and Cafe California, both run by expat Americans, and both full of useful information on trekking in the area. The guy in Cafe Calfornia almost persuaded us into doing another trek, but our time in Peru was running short and we had to move on. I could easily have spent weeks in Huaraz and my advice to anyone coming here is to allow yourself as much time as possible to explore it properly!

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Ruth at Punta Union PassRuth at Punta Union Pass
Ruth at Punta Union Pass

The highest point, the coldest point and the rainiest point: Punto Union Pass, 4750 metres altitude.
Punta Union PassPunta Union Pass
Punta Union Pass

Sporting a very fashionable blue poncho!
Day 3 looks more promisingDay 3 looks more promising
Day 3 looks more promising

First proper view of the mountains, at 6am on the third day.
Snow covered peaksSnow covered peaks
Snow covered peaks

The peaks in the picture are (I think) Paria and Artesonraju (6025m).
Laguna JatuncochaLaguna Jatuncocha
Laguna Jatuncocha

In the beautiful Santa Cruz Valley.

Towering above Laguna Jatuncocha is another beautiful, snow capped paek, Cerro Quitaraju.
Inquisitive MulesInquisitive Mules
Inquisitive Mules

After sitting down to lunch on day 3, a large group of mules appeared from nowhere.
Cerro Taulliraju & Punta Union PassCerro Taulliraju & Punta Union Pass
Cerro Taulliraju & Punta Union Pass

The pass is again covered in clouds but we could finally see some mountains! The high peak on the left is Taulliraju (5830m).
Quebrada Santa CruzQuebrada Santa Cruz
Quebrada Santa Cruz

Leaving the mountains behind as we hike down the valley on the final day.
Back to civilisationBack to civilisation
Back to civilisation

As soon as we arrived back in Huaraz from the trek we went for our usual end-of-trek celebration pizza and wine.
Central HuarazCentral Huaraz
Central Huaraz

Huaraz isn't Peru's most beautiful city, but it does have a few nice squares and churches.

28th May 2008

Not for me
I admire you both for taking this on but I confess this type of travelling isn't for me - I don't mind some rain during the day but I DO like a warm bed at night ;) Fantastic mountain scenery though so I can see why you felt it was worthwhile in the end. Keep up the excellent blogging :))
6th January 2009

Looks like great fun, thanks for sharing this.

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