Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash – Whoop Ass! To 16,404′ Cuyoc Pass!

13 08 2017

 

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At Cuyoc Pass, with the Andes stretching away behind me!

With soothing natural hot springs mending our muscles yesterday, this morning it’s time to put up or shut up. Today we must make it to the highest pass of our trek. And then, manage a steep scree-covered descent without injury or accident. As it would turn out, this day would be filled with physical tests, mental challenges, crazy views, lifetime accomplishments, and Olympic worthy feats. And not without some llama entertainment!

Fueled up with breakfast we were on our way early. I was definitely pumped up. But also trepidation was creeping in. This was what all that training was all about. We had the usual chilly start with a gradually warming morning. We take a break to rest, de-layer and hydrate.

We head off again, and it’s not long before we are made aware we need to make way. Looking back we see periscope necks, big eyes and radar ears rounding the bend! Llamas! The camp crew and their llama/donkey train pass us. Always a highlight!

It Took Everything To Reach The Pass

But beauty aside, we’re focused on making this pass. Lots of oxygen needs to feed our legs if they are to get us up and over. My belly seems to swell to bizarre balloonish size on the way up these passes. Cathy Ann tells me it’s normal, the body is gathering as much oxygen as it can to make it. Today the pain of the climb is really getting to me. I am wondering if I’ll need to call in one of our “just in case” horses! One more step. One. More. Step.

There comes a point where I am telling myself that I don’t belong here. I am no match for this. What was I thinking I could do this? I am so involved in the struggle that I ask for The Powers Above for help. I have never done this before, and I am not Catholic. But I start making signs of the Cross and saying Hail Mary prayers to get me over! Then Karla, in front of me, nearly collapses in shortness of breath. And from behind, I hear Chris calling for the emergency horse. WOW. Somehow this makes some adrenaline kick in. With 20 more minutes to go, I manage to make it. SLOWLY. But I make it.

 

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Gen and Jan on the pass!

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From here, the Andes roll away in two directions (see 1st photo above at beginning of the post too)

 

This GoPro video says all! What a spectacular accomplishment! We are all giddy of course, and take lots of photos for our memories.

About Trekking Poles

I learned some things about using my trekking poles on this trip. The first couple of days, I kept them extended all day. Toward the afternoon, I was suffering aching shoulders, which was really annoying. I attributed this to my backpack – I figured I was incorrectly packing or adjusting the straps. But fiddling with the backpack was to no avail. On trail, because I had the poles extended, it meant when it got steeper I was picking them up too much – over and over. Someone suggested I shorten the poles to make things more comfortable. Voila! I could now do a whole day without discomfort.

I also observed “trekking pole behavior” of my trek mates. Some used their poles all the time. But others seemed to only use the poles for tricky trail stretches or uphills. I found myself using them for tricky sections and on the uphill parts. But on flatter sections they just seemed to get in the way – so I’d just carry them on one side. So I guess whatever works best is the right way! No matter what, trekking poles are a big help on these trips.

They are also terrifically handy when crossing streams – especially streams gray with glacial minerals. You can feel how deep a proposed crossing is.

I Think The Descent Is Even Harder

Now that we’ve made it to the top, the perhaps most challenging part – or riskiest – comes. The descent off this peak is steep and filled with “mines” which are small scree-like rocks. These can be incredibly troublesome. With a misstep they roll like ball bearings under your feet.

One by one we start off – Cathy Ann asks that we give each other a good distance in case of a spill. I start down and for the first part it reminds me a little of skiing. This requires a kind of bent-knee stance. And, we DO have poles, like skiing. You’ve got to be able to recover if you slide. At first, I’m doing pretty good with this. Then I see Jan take a good spill! But she is Okay, gets back up and keeps going. Then I hear that Sandy had a mighty slip but managed an Olympic judged 9 on a recovery on the go. Then it happens to me. My left foot hits some of these ball bearings and hyperextends. It extends and then stops just as fast. I don’t fall. But I know it’s one of those situations where while I might make it to camp, the knee could swell up and become a pretty serious problem on a trek like this! No way to know now. I just need to keep going.

I don’t have photos of this descent as it was too taxing – I was just focused on making it down! Some of our group are medical professionals, so I ask if there are any suggestions about my knee. Jan suggests I take lots of Ibuprofen and keep it elevated as much as I can. And, if there is a river nearby and I can stand the cold, dunk it in there! She gives me some ibuprofen – I had acetaminophen but no ibuprofen.

We hear about a mountain here called Diablo Mudo. In Spanish that means Mute Devil. I kept wondering if there were any stories about Diablo Mudo. With a name like that, there have got to be some stories!

We reach Cuyoc, our 14,436′ high camp, with a gorgeous backdrop of 19,000ft peaks and vertical cliff faces behind.

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Terrible weather, huh?

We’re greeted with beautiful sun at camp. I decide I’m  not braving the icy river next to us to treat my left knee. I hang out in my tent and do my best to elevate my left. Leg – I even skip happy hour. I hope it helps! Well, when dinner comes, I don’t seem horribly worse – so I’m optimistic. Then afterward, I go to bed right away with the leg on top of my duffel bag.

Another chilly night of bright stars tonight. So, what did I bring for the 25-degree evenings? How did I manage? I brought an 800-fill down zero-degree sleeping bag. At bed time, I’d wear thermal underwear leggings, with a long sleeved merino wool top and a light fleece shirt over. Up top, I wore a ski hat and a sleeping mask. On my hands, I wore lightweight fleece gloves. I found this arrangement most toasty! I’d also ensure my sleeping bag hood was over the top. The sleeping pad and a (yay) pillow were provided for us!