To Magical Lake Carhuacocha!

31 07 2017

Janca coffee

Days on trek start like this one – with a call for “Coffee/Tea”? From outside my tent. Unzipping the fly, I’m greeted with a warm beverage, smiles and grand views! This is camping at its best.

Today’s hike over 15,092′ Carhuac Pass won’t be as steep as yesterday’s. To me, that means that, instead of breaking down my leg muscles again, it’ll give them just enough stimulation that hopefully some muscle will grow…making following days more manageable.

Once we finish breakfast it’s time to hit the trail. The cooks lay out snacks for the day, which usually include fruit, hard candy and some chocolate bars. Those lemon/lime hard candies really help with my dry throat! We start out. Up and up we go. As before, Roger leads, setting the pace, and Anna sweeps with Manuel and emergency horses following. We typically stop about every 90 minutes to rest, grab a candy, re-hydrate, and change layers. Hydration is critical when exerting at altitude. I would force down as much water as possible. But on these rest stops, one of my main duties was to remove layers! While it might be 25 degrees at 6 a.m., by mid morning it’s already 50 degrees and with the exertion from hiking these climbing trails, I need to lose lots of layers!

Our itinerary says tonight’s campsite will be a feast for the eyes! We’ll be at a lake with an arc of 20,000′ peaks at one end! As we climb this morning, some of the sights come into view.

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We see a hanging glacier cascading into a valley – but right now, we cannot see the top as there are clouds drifting over.

Soon we reach our pass! We stop to rest.

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Jane, Diane and Jill celebrate!

Roger explains that this spot has lots of fossils. The Andes were in the sea some 70 million years ago. Anna goes off to collect some fossil clams for us.

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A fossilized coral fan

There is a very striking example of a fossilized coral fan here. In this section of the Andes, active geology is very evident. Everywhere you look, you can see twisted sedimentary layers in the mountainsides.

Back to hiking. We will descend to a lunch spot, as our chef staff has passed us and is already down there setting up. We keep going, and as we progress, the mountains reveal themselves. Then, around a bend, a flat spot with a lake view and to DIE FOR mountains up above. But wait there’s more! Our lunch table is right there waiting for us!

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No only that, but our kitchen crew is making something delightful. And dressed to suit!

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Fancy lunch chefs!

I really don’t know how it can get any better than this!

Just looking at the view might be enough.

But we get lunch too! In this video, I say “Touching the Void” happened here. Well, not exactly. It was on the other side of these peaks. We’ll be over there in a few days.

Our camp is about an hour from here.

I’ve been thinking about riding one of our horses. Not so much to help me get over a pass, but more to just ride!

So, I ride down to camp with Manuel guiding me along. I have forgotten how, for the novice horseman like me, going downhill whilst the horse navigates some tricky twists and turns can be a tad unsettling. A couple of times I felt like I was “going to go over the handlebars!”

We reach the side of the lake opposite camp. On this side, other groups are lodged. We pass by the French group. And our friends the trio of girls from Australia and Holland.

My horse route takes me behind a hill, skirting a farm. Coming round that hill the full impact of the eye candy of our campsite fills the sky. OMG! I am pretty much speechless. This is incredible!

What a day! Life is worth living! I can’t say this one was a waste! This is what coming here really is all about! From here, I can see 21,7591 Yerupaja, the 2nd tallest mountain in Peru. Also right here is Siula Grande, notorious for its role in the film “Touching the Void.”

 





Trekking Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash: To the Continental Divide

29 07 2017

Today’s plan starts at 13,776′ Cuartelhuain, climbs over our first 15,000’+ pass at 15,387′, and then we’ll descend to our camp at Janca at 13,940′. So today is the test I must pass if my conditioning and our acclimatization days have prepared me. I know I’ll see vistas indescribable to people back home, and experience physical and emotional feelings both excruciating and exquisite. And beyond today, there will be more 15,000′ passes and a 16,000+’ pass coming up.

So, what’s starting and ending the day like on the trail? Well, unzipping your tent you are likely to be greeted with eye popping views. And then, staff comes with warm beverages! After that, staff delivers hot water for washing. At day’s end, you arrive in camp with your tent set up and duffel bag inside. Staff brings warm wash water. And then about an hour later there’s “happy hour” in the mess tent, at which snacks and coffee/tea are served.

It chilled off last night to about 30 degrees. Ice crystals formed on the underside of my tent fly. The stars were incredible, with the Milky Way and Southern Cross right on top of us. But as the sun rose, it bathed our valley in motivating warmth this morning. With breakfast done, we are on the trail by 8:00 a.m. We are all dressed in removable layers – because we know we’ll be working hard climbing and the temperatures are going to rise.

We leave as a group. I stick behind local guide Roger, who, I discover, has this amazing slow pace so that we can make it over these passes. He keeps looking back, checking to see how the group is coming along. The other local guide, Anna, plays “sweeper,” going last, ensuring everyone makes it. Right behind Anna is Manuel – who is managing our “just in case” horses. About 90 minutes into our hike, the camp crew comes through with our parade of llamas, horses and donkeys! It is quite a show. This, plus the view, has me giddy. But then something happens. I am exerting so much I can’t remember the name of the trek I am on. YIKES! I realize the altitude is getting to me. And, the urgent breaths, plus the dry air, are making my throat sore. So, I start sucking on one of the hard lemon/lime candies I took for snacks. And I play a game in my head remembering the other treks, the Cordillera Blanca for example. Then it comes back, I am on the Cordillera Huayhuash. Well, that was alarming. But at least I was cognizant enough to be alarmed!

After a rest stop, Cathy Ann reminded us to pay attention to our steps and our breathing. Remember, the breathing gives oxygen to our legs! Sometimes, too much talking or socializing takes a toll. So right now, I pay strict attention to breathing and to matching Roger’s footsteps. Then I notice way up ahead – WAY UP – our crew hiking with the llamas! OMG. That means WE have to hike up there. Then somebody calls out, “Condors!” Just glimpsing these incredible creatures gliding up above made me temporarily forget my challenges. And then, Roger points to the pass. I will make it!

We make this 1st pass! This is the continental divide of South America. To one side, all rainwater goes to the Pacific. The other – to the greatest river on Planet Earth – the Amazon. We’d linger up here some 15 – 20 minutes, and then, time to descend to our next camp, at Janca. The hike to Janca was much more relaxing. Once off the pass, it was a long gradual descent.

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Janca, from my tent!

A well deserved relaxation at Janca would be in store. There, we’d be treated to views of 19,000′ plus peaks of the Cordillera. I’d get my hot wash water, and then a nice hot beverage social hour after that. Trekking is good!

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That hot water is most welcome. Time to wash up and heck, why not have a shave!

Our llamas are a bunch of characters. They hang out together, and once in a while, local “folk” greet them and ask how things are going.

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The light made for some sweet photo taking opportunities.

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With dinner finished, it’s time to bed down because tomorrow promises a day packed with adventure! We are told tomorrow’s lunch, and camp, offer unsurpassed views.

 

 

 

 





Peru: Cordillera Huayhuash Trek – To Cuartelhuain

20 07 2017

Last night’s dinner at the Club Andino Huaraz was simply exquisite! With the exception of dessert, which was apple pie, I feasted on Peruvian delights. The starter was a Causa, which is layers of magically whipped and seasoned potato separated by choice of chicken, shrimp, or perhaps trout, kicked with Aji Amarillo – a type of chile. If is absolutely to DIE for if you ever get to Peru. Did you know Peru has more than 4,000 types of Potatoes? Next a bit more emotionally difficult choice – Alpaca. It was thinly sliced and kind of like a combination of steak, lamb and maybe a bit of bacon. Good!

 

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A Causa featuring shrimp.

 

OK, then dessert, and of course some Peruvian Malbec, made me ready for bedtime. Tomorrow, it would be a 5-hour drive to 13,776′ camp at Cuartelhuain! This would be camp #1 from which we’d be trekking. The drive, plus today’s hike to 12,650′, and spending the evening in camp, would aid our acclimatization. So, back in the hotel room, it was time to sort thru stuff I’d leave at the hotel, and the stuff I’d take on the trek.

I brought an extra light duffel and lock for the hotel storage part. I’d leave stuff like wall electronics chargers, my passport, tips for my guide, city clothes, some tourist booklets, and most importantly as it was going to turn out, an end-of-trip change of FRESH clothes!

After a 6:30 a.m. breakfast, it was time to board the bus, which would take us on the long and windy road to camp.

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The road left Huaraz, paved, but would eventually become rock and dirt, descending and climbing steep canyons. Sometimes the bus would scrawl underneath overhanging boulders!

All along the way we’d glimpse numerous what I’d call ranches at river bottoms, where cattle gathered to eat the grasses.

This was a one-way road. Coming round a bend, we’d sometimes encounter a vehicle going the other way. We’d stop. Back up, and find a “shoulder” so the other vehicle could pass. Everyone was OK.

 

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Like the Himalayas, the Andes lifted ocean crust, resulting in unimaginable twists in once horizontal rock layers.

 

The Andes rose some 70 million years ago due to plate tectonics. The Pacific Plate came into “combat” with the Nazca Plate. And from that point on, the sea floor rose, which was to become the 20,000+ ft Andes, the longest mountain chain on Planet Earth. We’d find ocean fossils on our trek.

This drive took us to our first views of the steepness of Andean Valleys.

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The heights of the peaks, the depth of the valleys, and the amazing clinging villages in between are images we’d glimpse for the next two weeks. Ha! And, oh yes. We’d be trekking/climbing those very same places with our own two legs, lungs, and hearts!

Cuartelhuain arrival

OK arrival at Cuartelhuain – our tents all set up and our duffel bags inside, ready for our first night’s camp. As you can see, all is SUNNY, I am still in shorts, regardless of the 13,776′ elevation. Snow? Not at this level. This is pretty as it would be the rest of the trek. Late afternoon, warm. But once the sun falls below the mtns in the valley, a BIG CHILL starts. Time to layer up. Tomorrow, it’s up to the Continental Divide at Cacanampunta Pass which is our 1st big one at 15,387′!!!!

When it comes to dinner, Cathy Ann Taylor’s mantra is “Eaters are Succeeders,” so no problemo asking for 2nds!

 

 





Trekking Peru: The Cordillera Huayhuash – Acclimatization Days 1-2: Huaraz

10 07 2017

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Here we go! This the first of about a dozen blog posts covering my June 2017 trek in Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash! This was a big deal. Back in 2007 I did a Himalayan trek of Bhutan’s Chomolhari with Cathy Ann Taylor, and it stuck prominently in my mind. I watched her Cattara website for an Andean trek and when this one popped up I jumped at it!

These treks are simply the “bee’s knees” of hiking/camping trips. They involve undertaking the “ultimate challenge” level of athletic perseverance and mental toughness. Hiking 8 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. day after day at altitudes ranging from 13,500 – 16,404. All that effort is rewarded with beautiful, dry weather, flowers along the way, and views so spectacular as to literally defy description. But there is more: You don’t have to carry a big pack. Or cook. Or set up your tent. Staff brings coffee/tea to your tent to awaken you in the morning. And, they bring you hot wash water morning and after your hike. On this trek, we even had a portable shower – and one of our stops was at a thermal bath!

Why do these treks? I’m sure everybody has their own reasons. For me, it’s the chance to see mountains so big they are unimaginable at home. To conquer the athletic challenge. To completely disconnect from the snowglobe of distractive thoughts and temptations that are the Internet, e-mail, news, and ties to home. To peel off layer after layer of that routine, getting to the core and reconnecting with natural rhythms once again. For it is only then, free of the pull of those “can’t waits,” that things start to get back into perspective.

 

Huascaran from Airport

22,205ft Huascaran towers over the airport at Huaraz, Peru

 

There would be 13 trekkers on this trip. We all flew into Huaraz to meet Cathy Ann (CAT). Our first two days would be acclimatization days, staying at the Hotel Club Andino. Huaraz, with a population over 100,000 sits at 10,150ft. At this altitude even climbing the hotel stairs was a struggle! But we’d have to do more – for our very first camp would be at 13,776ft!

Hotel Andino is a Swiss-owned Euro-style hotel perched on a hillside street at the top of town. Rooms have a mountain view and the restaurant is 1st rate.

 

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View from my room!

 

 

 

On day two, the plan was a 4-mile hike at Huillcachocha Lake, up to 12,650 feet. We hiked to a rock where Inca sacrifices were performed. From this hike, we had horizon to horizon views of the entire Cordillera Blanca Range! And we encountered some local families going out for the day.

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To me, the thin air and exertion of this “warm up” hike seemed like the max. But I knew in the next two days we’d be hiking to over 15,387′ and yikes. Can I do this? Will I make it?

The staff was excellent, making a slow, do-able pace. And they let us take breaks to get water, snacks, and adjust our clothing. The views would be one thing that would keep me going!

 

Cordillera Blanca Pano

View of the entire Cordillera Blanca! It’s the range next to the Cordillera Huayhuash.

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CAT and our local lead guide, Roger (pronounced “Roher”) of ExplorAndes, show us a map of the area

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Myself with Anna, local Assistant Guide

So, how much equipment, staff and stuff did this 12-day expedition take? 10 Llamas, 16 donkeys, 2 “emergency” horses, 13 staff, kitchen tent, meal tent, a dozen or so Eureka! tents for guests, plus food and emergency gear. Yes, we had supplemental oxygen just in case. Quite the production!

 

The day’s acclimatization hike complete, we enjoyed a terrific welcome dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow, we’d be off on a 5-hour drive to our first trek-camp!

So, you may ask, “How do I prepare for such a trip?” Answer: 4 months of preparation. Lots of cardio. Running is fine, but about six weeks before the trip, switch to hour long hikes/walks. Four times a week. Hikes with elevation gain are the best preparation because instead of static roads, you’ll get the benefit of walking amongst rocks and such. Even better, hike with a 20 pound day pack. Because on the trek, you’ll be carrying a day pack with rain gear and layers, plus two liters of water.

OK, upcoming are a series of posts from the trail! Passes, 20,000 foot peaks, avalanches, glaciers, emerald lakes, Llamas, and flowers galore! Stay tuned.