April 2001

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This is a Trip Log of a trip to the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. Two of my childhood chums (John and Chad) were able to join me. The following are excerpts from e mails sent to family and friends.

After leaving the comforts of airplane travel, we arrived in the smoggy pit of Peru - Lima. The city seems like a smaller and poorer version of Mexico City. We spent the night, left our "airplane clothes" with the helpful owner of the hotel we stayed at, and hopped on a bus to Huaraz the next morning. 

The bus ride was scenic and the views spectacular!. At several points the road seemed precariously close to danger laden cliffs. We arrived in the unofficial trekking and climbing capitol of Peru, Huaraz, in the evening.

A friend of a friend, Holly, lived in Huaraz, and recommended a great hotel to stay at. She was also a wonderful source of information during our visit, and provided us with unique insights into the local culture. As it turned out, Holly had grown up about two hours from where John, Chad, and I had. Proving once again what a small world we live in.

The next morning we spent breathlessly wandering town unable to look at where we were walking, because our eyes were transfixed on the amazing mountain range around the city. The market was especially enjoyable, with all of the exciting sights and sounds of the third world. We shared a wonderful potluck dinner with Zarela, the owner of our hotel (Casa Zarela), Holly, and some of their friends. They told us of their plans to rent a collectivo to Ocshapalca base camp the next day, and asked if we would like to join them as it would be good for our acclimatization. Naturally we couldn't refuse. 

The following day we had even better views of the mountains from the base camp at the top of the Llaca drainage. The road leading up to the terminal moraine was a narrow "V" valley with gigantic cliffs on either side. Once we arrived it was a short hike to a Llaca lake which was a whitish turquoise because of the silt from the surrounding glaciers. The views of the mountain were unbelievable, I almost had to pinch myself to know what I was seeing wasn't a dream. The West face of Ocshapalca - 19312 feet - was fluted with hanging glaciers for the upper 4000 feet. Also visible was the Northwest face of Ranrapalca - 20211 feet - which had a huge mass of jumbled glaciers. It was stunning.

We left our new friends at base camp (they were planning on a three day climb of Ocshapalca) and started the long walk back to town. The views of Huaraz Valley were nice as we past several small farming villages. The people were extremely friendly. The small path ways, stone walls separating the fields, and general beauty reminded me of Nepal.

Back in town we made our final preparations for our pre - climb acclimatization trek. Five days of food and fuel was bought at the local market. We sorted gear, leaving the heavy climbing stuff at the hotel for the time being, and anxiously turned in early.

The trek ended up being amazing. It took us 45km through beautiful valleys with snow covered ridge line mountains as a backdrop!

The first day started great with John, Chad and I getting an early start and carrying our overloaded packs up out of the town of Cashapampa. Between the horse flies taking chunks of skin out with every bite, and the intense rays of the sun at nine degrees south of the equator, it was a long day, although it felt good to be hiking. We set up camp just as the rain started.

The next morning started by drying our gear from the previous nights rain, which turned out to be a daily ritual. (Because it was the "off season", and of the rain, we only shared our camping meadows on two of the nine nights we camped out!) Then we ate breakfast and proceeded to hike further up the Santa Cruz. The valley started to flatten out, and snow capped peaks slowly revealed themselves above the granite walls of the canyon. There were waterfalls, alpine meadows, and lakes through out the day. It was gorgeous.

We took a lunch break at a cut off trail to Alpamayo base camp, enjoyed the views, and discussed the hike up to get better views of Alpamayo - 19,506 feet. A half our up the trail at a view point, Alpamayo was amazing. Knife point ridges with gigantic overhanging cornices, fluted runnels into tumbling glaciers, and granite scoured into a "U" shaped valley seemingly from the last ice age, all in a beautiful cirque.

We walked back down to the split in the trail and then up to our spectacular camp site. It was circled by 270 degrees of mountains, only the view down the valley was not part of an interesting linkages of ridges. Taulliraju - 19,122 feet - was the closest mountain, and therefore the most imposing, but there were several others, all draining towards our beautiful alpine meadow camp at 13,940 feet. It was so beautiful that we stayed an extra day to enjoy the views, much to our delight.

On our rest day we met a guided group of sixteen kids from England on a grand tour of South America. The tour they were on was called a "gap tour", which catered to kids between high school and college (They were all between eighteen and nineteen years old). As one of them put it, they were "taking a year break from the riggers of school". I guess a three month guided tour (@ US$10,000 per person) of South America isn't a bad way to go to escape the "riggers of school". . . Come to think of it, I wish I would have done the same thing when I was nineteen.

We also experienced a thunderstorm on our rest day. There was a tremendous hail bombardment, and lightning was flashing on the ridge lines above us. The thunder would roll across the valley and explode on the mountain faces. It was great.

Anyway, the next day (day four) we crossed the pass (Punta Union 15,580 feet), which separates the Santa Cruz drainage from the Huaripampa. It was a great view looking down the Santa Cruz valley with all of the mountains that had taken us days to hike by layed out on either side of the valley. The decent was hard on wary knees, although not as breathless as hike up to Punta Union. We meandered our way down to camp, enjoying the views, and the joy of camping.

The next morning we tore down camp, and shouldered our packs for the two and a half hour walk up to the town Vaqueria. It was a grunt that nearly saw Chad pass out from exertion.

As John and I approached Vaqueria, slowly slogging our way up hill, our bus went by. It was a bummer to be within five minutes and miss it. We consoled ourselves with cold beer and muffins from the one store in a two building town. The big entertainment while waiting one and a half hours for the next bus was watching Chad huff it up the hill.

As luck turned out, the bus was going directly to Huaraz (no cumbersome layovers waiting for a transfer bus). The views from the ride were as spectacular as the Santa Cruz trek without the work, although the road down the west side of the pass was a bit sketchy. There were literally hundreds of switchbacks, each with inches to spare as our mini van rounded them. No guard rails, no emergency brake failure ramps, no passing lanes. It was a one lane road, and sometimes just barely. John threatened to jump from the bus on several of the more exposed switchbacks, saying that it would be safer to walk.

Back in the relative comforts of Huaraz we had much needed food and good tasting drink. We stayed for two nights. It gave us the first night to whoop it up, the next day to run errands and wash stinky hiking clothes, and the second night for organizing gear for the next leg of our journey, which started early the next morning.

After seeing Pisco (our proposed summit) on the ride from Vaqueria to Huaraz, and realizing how deep the snow was (all of the rain showers on our Santa Cruz trek was snow high in the mountains), we decided to scale back our original plans and climb a different mountain. Urus - 17,787 feet - was recommended by Holly, and being close to Huaraz and easy to arrange transport, we thought it a good alternative. Holly also decided to join us for this leg of or journey.

The hike up the Ishinca valley towards Urus base camp was a slow steady climb, although not quite a beautiful as the Santa Cruz. We ambled our way to base camp, arriving at the beautiful meadow around two in the afternoon. After lazing around the meadow for most of the afternoon, we prepared an early dinner for the following mornings summit bid.

The next morning we started hiking up the moraine around six AM, unsure of the weather. As we hiked up we were enveloped in snow flurries several times. Just before the glacier, John, Holly, and I decided to head back down the mountain (Chad had turned around about a half hour into the climb up the moraine because of stomach problems), seeing the weather deteriorate and not wanting to get stuck in a storm. Naturally, later in the day the mountain cleared, giving us a slap in the face for turning around. Although there was some satisfaction in knowing that John and I had reached new personal height records, 16,000 feet. We lazed around the rest of the day, bouldering, playing cards and chess, and enjoying the beautiful alpine meadow.

The next morning, even before sunrise we could tell the weather was going to be crystal clear all day. John, Holly, Chad, and I hiked up the moraine, donned our climbing gear, and slowly made our way to the summit of Urus. It was an easy glacier walk, similar to Mt. Hood. The view was fantastic! It felt as if we were on top of the world!

Once back at camp, and giddy from our summit, we enjoyed fine boxed wine into the night, planning our next trip to the mountain lovers paradise of the Cordillera Blanca of Peru!

Peru photos 1       Peru photos 2


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