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.

Cuartelhuain wakeup1

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!

Janca shave

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.

Janca Llamas2

The light made for some sweet photo taking opportunities.

Janca Andrew M

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.

 

 

 

 





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.

CAT shows map

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

Rod and Anna

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.