Past the Emerald Lakes to Huayhuash

7 08 2017

 

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Morning mist casts a moody tone…

 

Today’s agenda begins with a bang and continues! We’re all up before dawn to catch sunrise on this lake and Andes peaks! Once again ice covers the tent fly, and I stretch my body out to loosen those muscles. All our tents are aligned to catch the soon-to-be sun bathed peaks! This daybreak, a mysterious freezing fog shrouds camp, and partially obscures the view up above. Our llamas take it all in stride. But it burns off quickly!

 

It was worth awakening pre-dawn to get the pictures! We are so lucky. Beautiful sky and no wind. Today’s hike will pass by this lake, take a left and climb a valley just opposite these peaks. It will be a gradual rise at first then steepening toward 15,748′ Siula Pass.

It was pretty chilly at dawn. But as the sun warmed camp, it became nice enough to get rid of our breakfast tent! Aha! Breakfast with THIS VIEW!

 

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WOW! Time for coffee tea and orange pancakes!

 

 

Lake Breakfast

Anna ensures each place setting is perfecto!

OK, it’s 8:00 time to hoist our packs and hike! Out we go, following the lake, up up, and then to the left. We start tracing a valley filled with terminal glacial moraines and sapphire lakes beneath, all under the incredible towering Andes peaks.

 

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Roger checks back to ensure the group’s coming along

 

We take a rest stop at one of theses lakes, above which there is another truly colorful lake. This time I decided to stick around and catch up with myself. The whole area is so peaceful, except for loud thunderous noise which goes on for 15 – 20 seconds. Avalanche!

 

Avalanche

That’s not fog, that’s an avalanche!

 

This was the 2nd of this day. A previous avalanche made it all the way to one of the lakes.

Past the lakes, the climb steepens, and I want to groan, but I didn’t. I kept on going, and then, Roger announces we are 15 minutes from lunch! This was good, because it broke up the steep, scree covered hike to the pass.

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Today’s hike is a long one – over 7 hours total! I was so glad to see the yellow tents of camp!

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Our Llamas at Camp Huayhuash, at 14,268′. Always ready!

 





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: 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.