highest mountain range outside the Himalayas
12.08.2008 - 21.08.2008 20 °C
We've been lugging around most of our trekking gear for the past two months with one destination in mind, the Cordillera Blanca. In an area 150km long and only 20km wide it contains 22 6,000m peaks and 50-something peaks over 5,700m. In comparison only three peaks in North America are over 5,700m--Mt. McKinley (6,194m), Mt. Logan (5,956m), and Mt. Orizaba, Mexico (5700m). The area attracts serious mountaineers (think ice axes and crampons) along with trekkers who spend anywhere from a few days to several weeks in the valleys and up and over passes ranging from 4,600 to 5,000m.
We arrived in Huaraz on the night bus from Lima and spent two days acclimatizing in town drinking french press fair-trade, organic coffee by the litre, and eating apple pie and reading magazines at the lovely Cafe Andino. The third day we headed up to The Way Inn at 3700m to further acclimatize and do a couple day treks before heading out for the 4-day, 50-km Santa Cruz trek. After catching the local minibus (combi) to the closest town, we walked for about 2-hrs to the lodge and set up our tent. With some daylight hours still remaining, we made a dash up to Laguna Churup--a 5 hr return trip and most popular day hike from Huaraz. Unfortunately we weren't fully acclimatized and got headaches on the way up to the lake at 4450m. After returning to the lodge Eden vomited and started shivering and we took a taxi back down to Huaraz.
Altitude sickness is a serious danger in the mountains so we spent two more days deliberating whether we wanted to do the Santa Cruz trek while acclimatizing at our favourite cafe.
Deciding to do the trek, we set out early in the morning catching a combi to Caraz, 90 minutes away. From there we got a shared taxi to the trailhead at Cashabamba and were on the trail by 10AM. The first day of the trek was relatively unimpressive. The trail was quite degraded from organized trekking parties and their donkey trains (we counted 15 donkeys and 1 horse for one group of 8 trekkers. I don't know why people would need so much equipment and are so lazy that most don't even carry a day pack.) Because of the steep valley walls, only brown/black dry mountains were visible until we arrived at the first campsite, Llamacorral, at 2PM. This is where the trekking agency groups camp and was full of donkey poop so we decided to go onto the next camp an hour away.
The second day we woke up reasonably early but didn't leave camp until 9:30. It was an easy hour and a half to a river junction where we had some snacks before climbing up the steep switchbacks on the way to the Alpamayo base camp. The views from here were stunning. We then turned around and cut across a traverse to the second campsite at Taulipampa. This site was beautiful. Surrounded by glaciated peaks. Again, however, there was lots of mess from the organized trekking groups.
The third day we climbed up to the Punta Union pass at 4760m with relative ease. It wasn't nearly as difficult for me as our 5000m passes on the Ausangate trek and I was carrying far more for this trek. We then continued down the trail for 5 hours to the campsite at Huaripampa.
The following morning we woke up early, walked for 3.5 hours to Vaqueria and caught one of the minibuses back to Yungay.