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.