Sunday, 28 September 2014

High Altitude meanders

The name of this trek is probably one of the two you’ll hear the most around Huaraz, the other being the 8-9 day Huayhuash trek through the Cordillera Huayhuash.  The Santa Cruz is very popular especially among the  travellers who don’t have much time when visiting Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca as it’s a 51km 4-day trek that can also be done in 3 days.

Be warned though, don’t try and do this within 24 hours of arriving in Huaraz, the altitude will hurt you with giving yourself time to acclimatise. Do yourself a favour and go on a short-ish one day trek followed by the very popular and well-known Laguna 69 trek (also one day). The latter is a good test of how your body will deal with a good deal of trekking up to higher altitudes. It’s not an easy trek (we don’t do them because they’re easy, do we?) and starts at 3,900m altitude and peaks at 4,625m at the azure blue waters of Laguna 69 . (see post on Laguna 69 trek)

The general recommendation for this trek between Cashapampa (near the town of Caraz) and Vaqueria (on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Blanca) is to start from Cashapampa which is at 2,970m and offers longer time to acclimatise into the trek and higher altitudes. The highest point at Punta Union pass is 4,760m that you’ll pass through on day 3 from Cashapampa. On the return trip after the trek from Vaqueria, the vehicle will go over/through the Portochuelo Pass which is at 4,775m. This is also the reason why the start from this end would only be recommended if everybody in the group is well acclimatised - you don’t want to end up ill with altitude illness (or at best, headaches and nausea) before you’ve even taken your first step.
The road leading up to Portochuelo Pass out of the Llanganuco Sector, Huascaran National Park

The views along this trek are just gorgeous and some just more jaw-dropping than others. Ranging from spectacular views at high altitudes to long distance views of valleys and gorges between virtually vertical walls on both sides. Thus, make sure your camera is in an easy-to-reach place as you’ll find yourself wanting to take shots with every breather and longer rest you take.
And I'm ready to hit the trail from the village of Vaqueria
This is a brief description of the trek I did which was from Vaqueria to Cashapampa that the group wanted to do in 3 days. In a further post I will detail the itinerary for the more “normal” 4 day trek from Cashapampa to Vaqueria.

Camping near Taulliraju mountains (1st night)
Day 1 (August 2014)
We  left Huaraz around 3:30am so the bus trip was fairly quiet for a long time till we started going through the switchbacks up to Portochuelo Pass at 4,750m in Huascaran National Park. After enjoying jaw-dropping (and freezing cold) views, we then started to drop down via more switchbacks and a variety of lakes to the little village of Vaqueria. It was time for a light breakfast and some tea and coffee, pack the donkeys and head down into the valley.
Huascaran National Park office at Huaripampa
This is quite a long drop before the gradual ascent to Huaripampa area where the entrance to Huascaran National Park is again. A long almost level area followed and we passed Paria campsite to start the ascent to see how far we get for camping on of the small pampas. This was at 4,300m with great views of Taulliraju mountain and the valley we’d just come from.
Final ascent to Punta Union pass (4,760m)

Day 2
Breakfast was at 6:30 and we headed off around 8am (bit late) to make our way to the pass at Punta Union at 4.760m. This was going to be a pretty big day’s walking (about 18km) as we had to get as far as we could so the 3rd day was not a major trek to get to Cashapampa and the transport back to Huaraz.
On top of the world! Punta Union Pass
The views from Punta Union were so worth it!! Seeing the valley toward Cashapampa on the one side and a large part of the route we’d covered that morning on the other. The snow-covered peaks of Taulliraju seemed to be at eye-level with a stunning blue Taullicocha lake at the bottom.
The rest of the day was spent descending, rapidly at first, then more gradual and level as we passed Jatuncocha lake and on to the camping are at Ichic Cocha, the site of an ancient lake. Along the way, we were treated to great views of the better known Alpamayo peaks, albeit from a different angle than most photos are taken from.

Descending to Cashapampa
Day 3
Once again up early and heading off around 7:30am this time, we passed Llamacorral campsite within an hour - good going for 3,7km! Some people slowed down from here as there was still another 9km till we reached Cashapampa. But nonetheless, another day with great walks along the river and views back to all the snow-covered peaks.
Llamacorral to Cashapampa (looking back - east)
At the ‘bottom’, there’s another control point for Huascaran National Park before the final 10min walk into the village of Cashapampa. As some people had been so quick and passed the planned lunch spot, we had lunch in the village before heading off for the 3 hour drive to Huaraz via the town of Caraz.

Would I recommend trekking in this area? You bet I would!! This is just great (and big) panoramas all day and everyday! If you don’t do any other long trek in this region, at least do the Santa Cruz Trek!

(My trip organised through Akilpo Backpackers (their Facebook page) and Landtrek Andino who also provided the guide and looked after the logistics.)


Saturday, 6 September 2014

How Blue is Blue?!

The azure blue waters of Laguna 69 at 4,625m
Describing a colour is often just an exercise in relativity as each individual’s definition/perception of a specific colour varies quite a bit. In Peru though, I’ve come across a colour where most people agree on it being the best, and most beautiful, example of blue. A lake that goes by the name of “Laguna 69” is the subject - ’69’ get’s most peoples attention for reasons probably not specifically related to trekking in mountains at high altitude but a view of this lake will have you speechless, temporarily anyway!

Your trip will start with an early
View of Huascaran (right) and Huandoy (left)
en-route from Huaraz to Yungay
(c.5:30-6am) departure from Huaraz to the Llanganuco Sector of Huascaran National Park. The route will take you through some picturesque villages and eventually leaving the tar road in Yungay, turning east towards the national park. During this drive, if you’re not sleeping still on the bus like most, you’ll be enjoying gorgeous views of the snow-covered peaks of Huascaran and Huandoy mountains. The south peak of Huascaran is the highest in Peru at 6,768m - on the right as you ‘face’ the mountain on this road trip.

After a short breakfast stop near the park entrance, the bus will head into the park and follow the winding road up to an altitude of 3,850m where you’ll get the first big colour treat of the day, the emerald waters of Lake Chinancocha.
Emerald waters of Chinancocha
Right above the lake as you’re taking photos, will be the north face of Huascaran mountain. This is just a taster so don’t hang around too long here, there’s another 15min drive to Cebollapampa where the trek to Laguna 69 starts off. Along the way the bus will pass another lake; Lake Orconcocha. 
View of Lake Orconcocha from Cebollapampa

The names of these two lakes are Quechua and “cocha” means ‘lake’. “orcon” is ‘man/male’ and “chinan” is a ‘woman/female’. These names originate from a story relating to the daughter of the Inca chief Huascar after whom Huascaran mountain is named.

Heading north on Cebollapampa.
Peaks of Chacraraju visible.
Cebollapampa is located at 3,900m and this is where you’ll start your c.7km trek to the famous Laguna 69 whilst also ascending 725m. The name of this area, also used as base camp for the Santa Cruz trek and Pisco trek/climbs comes from plants growing on the plains that look like onions (cebolla = onion). Enjoy the views from here of Chacraraju and later Yanapaccha mountains high above you. 

This first section is about 3km long and ascends 200m, a reasonably easy walk but also where you could taste the first affects of high altitude trekking. Enjoy this section though along the river where you will encounter some cattle, donkeys and horse - all part of trekking in a biosphere. This isn’t distracting from the beauty of the area at all so include them in your photos. Culminating at waterfalls, the walk would’ve taken you around 45-55min depending on how your body is dealing with the altitude and exercise. Don’t forget to look back now and then to get some photos of the imposing beauty of Huascaran mountain.

(Remember, if you get headaches, nausea and/or dizziness anywhere during this trek - stop! At higher altitude this will only get worse and could become life threatening. The only proper remedy is to return to a lower altitude!)

Walking along the zig-zag ascent of the 2nd section.
The following section is a short 2km but certainly more strenuous as it zig-zags up the mountain and crosses to the nearby saddle north of the waterfalls you just passed. Once again stop now and then and enjoy the views over Cebollapampa that you’ve just ascended from; there’s some stunning photos to be had. Above you on this section, the peaks of Yanapaccha tower. Into the saddle is the last little bit of a climb, for now, and you’ll get to a little lake unofficially referred to as “Laguna 68”.
"Lake 68" at the end of the 2nd section with
views of the imposing peaks of Chacrarju.
Good time for a 5min break but the wind might be chilling you to the bone so move around to the far end of the lake where you’ll be a bit more sheltered from the icy wind. In front you will be the massive shape and peaks of Chacraraju mountain. 5km completed now and you’re at an altitude of 4,400m. 

The final section of 2km has two parts; the first is a 15-20min flat walk to bottom of what will be the final ascent to Laguna 69. The walk across this little pampas is a good time to make up some time. At the start of the ascent there are some large rocks where you can take a final 5min break before the last push up to 200m higher. By now you’ll have seen another mountain to the left of Chacraraju, those are the peaks of Pisco - yes, named after the famous Peruvian drink. 

Ascending now will go even slower, for many anyway, the air is getting much thinner. Get yourself a steady pace with some short stops - as they say in East Africa, “Pole Pole” …slowly slowly! This is not all slogging as the views are drop-dead stunning all around you. Another mountain to the left of Huascaran will come into view, this is the beautiful mountain Chopicalqui - the famous logo of Paramount Pictures. In the direction you’ve come from you’ll see another couple of lakes, Lagos de Brogi which are also glacial lakes of Chacraraju. 
On the final ascent to Laguna 69

This breath-taking (pun intended) final section can take you anything from 30-60min depending on how much/little your body’s liking it.
The final ridge with stunning views of the Pisco peaks.
Once you get over the last little ridge, there’s a 2min flat walk before you get your first view of the bluest blue of lakes; these are the azure waters of Laguna 69. Down at the shoreline, relax and have a drink and bite to eat. Your options for photos are multitude here; over and above the standard selfies, there are some higher areas for the more energetic to get more panoramic shots from. 

The waterfall might have some pieces of ice coming down now and then, or like we saw the other day, a ‘small’ avalanche from one of the peaks of Chacraraju. Try not to stay later than 2pm at the most as there’s usually some weather moving in later in the afternoon plus a later walk means longer sections on the return trek in the shade, a considerably cooler experience. 
The final minute to the shores of Laguna 69.

All along the trek you’ll encounter a variety of flowers and plants and hopefully at least get a glimpse of the shy but quick Northern Viscacha, a relative of the chincilla family resembling a large rabbit. There is no shortage of birds around for the avid birder with a good supply of humming birds and sierra-finches plus the seemingly omni-present blue-grey Tit-like Dacnis. Keep an eye on the sky too as there is of course a small chance of a condor but more likely some vultures. (Keep an eye out for further posts on the fauna & flora of Llanganuco Sector)

The crystal clear azure waters of Laguna 69.
Feeling brave? Have a refreshing (very) dip - if you have dry clothes and towel with you!

The trek back to Cebollapampa takes an average of 2 hours.  Take care though so you don’t end up sliding down too much on the loose rocks on the trail. Once back in Huaraz, or probably on the bus already, you’ll be having a good sleep after the 14km trek to find out how blue is blue! 
Back at Cebollapampa
Please note that times mentioned are an average only and is dependant on your personal physical condition and ability to adapt to the high altitudes.

(my trip was organised through Akilpo Backpackers {their Facebook page} in Huaraz)