June 27, 2004

Huaraz, Peru

After spending a few days in the Jungle we flew to Lima. From Lima we headed to Huaraz which is a nice town in the middle of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, the highest in Peru. We did a nice hike here before continuing north. Click below to read more.

I was expecting to meet up with a buddy from rugby at UBC that lives in Lima but his girlfriend dragged him to Cusco by the time we arrived in Lima so no go there. We spent a couple of days in Miraflores, the main suburb of Lima, and didn't do much really. We saw a movie and walked around Miraflores but never made it to the old Lima. You'd expect a city in the tropics on the ocean to be nice and sunny, but that doesn't happen in Lima or anywhere north until Ecuador because of a fog that blankets the coast making it kind of cool and dark. After taking advantage of the cheap and fast internet in Lima we hopped on a bus to Huaraz, about 8 hours away.

We had a hostel recomended to us in Huaraz along the way that wasn't in our guide book called the Way Inn. It is a very nice hostel run by a British couple that have lived in Huaraz for the past 3 years. The hostel includes a sweet rooftop patio and bar, complete with sauna and steam room! We wanted to do a hike in the mountains around Huaraz and after talking to Alex, one of the owners of the hostel, we decided to do the Quilcayhuanca valley hike instead of the more popular Santa Cruz hike. They are both 4 day hikes but the Quilcayhuanca hike is much less busy because the trail isn't as well marked. We had enough of gringo hikers on the Inca trail.

So the next day we headed out with packs heavy from all the equipment we rented from the hostel and our food. We were told there wasn't any transportation to the start of the trail, just to a small town near the start. We went off to find a colectivo to said small town early on a sunday morning. Colectivos don't leave until they are full, 12 people, and there weren't many people that wanted to go to Llupa, or even better, Pitec this early on sunday morning. So we ended up paying quite a few soles to get the colectivo driver to leave with just us and take us all the way to Pitec. It was one bumpy ride and we even picked up a few locals that got a free ride thanks to us.

From Pitec it is about 45 minutes to the park entrance. There was nobody at the locked gate entrance but there was a nice stone staircase going over the wall next to the gate. Safely in the park we started getting used to the scenery and the weight of our packs. It is very easy going for the first couple of hours along the edges of swampy ground at the bottom of a beautiful valley. After an hour or so we saw our first gringos. Then a little while after that we saw another group of gringos taking a rest. We said Hola and were going to continue on our way but something about one of them looked familiar. Upon closer inspection and inquiry we determined that they were indeed the 3 Kiwis we hung out with on the roof of Milhouse in Buenos Aires and who we had tried to meet up with unsuccessfully in Cusco. We were a bit surprised to run into them on this somewhat unpopular hike especially when last we heard they were in Ecuador. After chatting for a bit we continued on our way since we wanted to get to the first camp site before the rain in the distance got to us.

A couple of hours after the start of the hike there are some gentle climbs and then flat parts and then more climbing and more flat parts. At the end of the valley there are two lakes that can be visited in one night and two days of hiking. Our first campsite was just below the lower of the two lakes. We were warned that it would be cold at night but it was colder than we expected. After a spaghetti dinner we called it a night around 6pm. I didn't sleep so well the first night because of the altitude but I felt fine in the morning.

The second day we had planned on visiting the lakes and going over the pass to the next valley. As I mentioned before the trail isn't well marked in places and we managed to lose the trail pretty early on on day 2. On the way to the first lake we somehow missed the main trail and made our own trail through the brush along cow trails (there are a lot of cows on this hike) and eventually made it to the lake. Well, kind of. We made it to a ridge that overlooked the lake by quite a bit. No big deal though, it wasn't like we were going to go swimming in the glacial lake with ice floating in it. I think we had a better view than from the bottom anyways. And we were higher up than we thought which was good since we still had a long ways to go up. So off to the second lake which is higher up.

We could see the main trail to the next lake from where we were but it was back down a bit and there was another trail closer to us that looked like it went to the same place but not used as frequently. So we took the closer trail. It was pretty steep but in good condition. We were pretty tired by the time we got to the second lake and had lunch there. Then we hiked up a ridge to a carin and found that the pass was still quite a ways away. So after some discussion we decided to setup camp just below the second lake. It was about 2pm when we set up camp and the sun was hot so we unrolled our sleeping mats and did a little sunbathing before the weather changed. It was a good thing that we didn't go for the pass because around 3pm a huge thunder storm filled the valley below us and blanket the pass in cloud. The storm just missed us, we thought. About 5pm the clouds came over us and started dumping hail on us, which is better than rain I would say. The cows that had surrounded our camp to eat grass and check us out were getting a nice blanket of hail on them while we were cooking dinner. We played some crib via headlamp after dinner and before bed and tried to figure out if the cows were going to take our tent out by listening to the sounds they were making. I was awoken early by the sounds of our pots being moved around which we left outside. Some cows decided it would be a good idea to lick our pots which I guess weren't as clean as we thought. They could only lick one pot though because all the others were frozen together to the bottom of the first pot (I did say it got cold at night). The creek by our camp had frozen over in the night and we had to smash the ice away to wash the cow spit off of our pots.

The weather looked excellent on day 3 so we decided we would go for the pass. We were told that there wasn't much of a worn trail but carins would mark the trail. From our campsite, which we knew was a bit off the main path we couldn't see any carins but we could see some switch backs on the hillside across from us. We decided that was a good place to start and got going around 9am (had to wait for the sun to come up to warm us up or else we would have gotten an earlier start). The ascent to the pass is a series of steep climbs with short flat bits inbetween. We were making good progress and managed to find some carins at the top of the scree field we were climbing. There were multiple large carins so we thought that we had to be going the right way. And by looking at our topo map we could tell that we were almost at the right altitude for the pass, which we were beginning to think would be just around the corner. Well at the ridge the carins were on we could see the pass but it was a bit further away than we thought but almost at the same altitude that we were at. So we thought it would be an easy traverse following the carins to the pass.

We were on solid stone now at the foot of the mountain on the right side of the pass and there were plenty of carins to follow. I stayed a bit lower than sarah since I figured it would be easier. She stayed with the carins. I got to the edge of a gorge and saw where the carins led to, a glacier and the gorge, not exactly what we had expected. We didn't give up yet because we knew we were close. We went down into the gorge and tried to climb up a sketchy bit of snow and ice covered rocks but quickly gave up on that idea. We went down a bit further and tried to climb up a near vertical slope of loose rocks. This wasn't such a hot idea either. Doing both of these things with our heavy packs on at around 5100 meters of elevation tired us out and we decided to give up and go back to where we camped the night before. We took a different way back to the campsite and saw a few other carins that might have marked the correct trail but we decided to keep heading back towards camp. On the way down (which was much easier than going up) we saw two other hikers heading up to the pass in the distance. They were the first people we had seen in a day and a half. They were taking a trail that we skipped because it looked to soggy, which I still think was the right idea because there was a huge swamp in the direction they were heading.

We got back to our old campsite pretty quickly but we were exhausted. Hiking at altitudes over 4500 meters just isn't the same as hiking in Vancouver. I had some quick peanut butter and jam sandwiches while some cows watched me do this. It was a quite afternoon with nice weather, although not sunbathing warm this time. More spaghetti for dinner and some more crib before we called it a night. This time with the pots stashed in a small cave so the cows couldn't get to them.

We slept in until almost sunrise time on the 4th day to avoid freezing in the pre dawn shade while making breakfast. We got on the trail around 9:45 and tried to follow the main path out of the valley. It wasn't too hard finding the main trail and it seemed like a much easier way to go than the way we took on day 2. But we didn't regret taking the trail we did. Then at the bottom of hill at the start of the valley where we camped the first night we found the main trail to the first lake as well. We had just missed it by crossing a small river via some boards instead of some rocks. So we built a carin marking the correct path and set off down the valley. It was easy going and we were in the flat marshy part of the valley before too long. On the way out we ran into a guide and a woman heading into the valley and a group of gringos that were on the wrong trail. They were trying to do a day hike to Lago Churup but missed that trail somehow. We also saw a few locals that must tend the cows or something because there aren't any settlements up the valley.

The hike to pitec from the end of the park was longer than we remembered from the way in. We were hoping that a cab might be waiting at Pitec (which is really only about 7 houses as far as I could tell) for people finishing the Churup hike, and there was but he was already booked. So we had to do the hour walk down to Llupa and catch a collectivo or cab back to Huaraz. A smart cabbie had driven up further than anybody else to catch people walking back down first. After some negotiation we got a ride with him and one other gringo back to Huaraz. For part of the ride a buddie of his rode on the roofrack of his aging toyota cab. It must have been quite the ride because I think most of the logging roads in BC are in better shape than the road from Llupa to Huaraz.

Back in Huaraz we showered and had a nice hot and relaxing steam bath followed by a cold beer. We crashed pretty early and the next morning had a delicious breakfast at the California Cafe. This is an incredible place with the best breakfasts we have had since Brazil. They also have fresh roasted coffee (not Nescafe!) that they serve in bodums. I noticed that one of the owners, Tim, was using a powerbook to play music. I thought this was a good sign since we were having some problems with the iPod. It appears that the 3000 meter altitude limit specification for the ipod is actually closer to 4500 meters. It basically didn't work so well up there, but it did successfully download one full compact flash card of pictures thankfully. But this messed up future picture uploads because it thought it was the first roll of pictures when really we had about 37 previous rolls. So when we were back down to Huaraz's more hospitible 3000 meters and tried to dump our pictures onto the ipod it wouldn't work. It took me a day or so with Tim's computers to fix the problem and in return for the free computer time I dumped all of our 20 gigs of music onto his drive (I also snagged 5 gigs of his 40 gigs of music).

After breakfast we headed back to the Way Inn and found Jon Major there chilling out with some friends. We had been trying to organize meeting up with Jon at some point and it was good to see somebody from home again. Unfortunately it was still feeling the effects of the civiche he had in Trujillo that laid him out for a few days with food poisoning. It turned out that the food poisoning was a good thing with respect to their hike since on the day they had planned to leave it was pouring down rain in the mountains. This was also the day that we left Huaraz for Trujillo. We had an excellent time in Huaraz and it was sad to leave without having done more hiking and climbing there. It is definitely some place that I would like to go back to.

Posted by bforsyth at June 27, 2004 10:56 AM

I used to live in Miraflores. There's a good ice-cream store there that sells my favourite flavour: lucuma (a relative of the avocado). Try it if you get the chance.

Posted by: tedmunds at July 1, 2004 06:54 PM