On a trip of this length it’s very easy to make plans only to break them later due to a variety of reasons, including anything from loving a place and wanting to stay longer or even sometimes hating a place and wanting to move on as soon as possible. So we decided early on that our plan was not to have a plan, but instead to choose countries or sections of a continent to visit and figure out the specifics as we traveled. One of the ways we decide where to go is by talking to other travelers. They’ve either done better research than we have or have already been to a place and can give you the thumbs up or down. That’s exactly how we decided to visit Huaraz, Peru. We came across more than a couple travelers that told us Huaraz, and more specifically the mountains surrounding it, were a must see.
Huaraz is considered a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Near the city are the mountain ranges of the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra. These ranges have some of the highest mountains in the Andes, treks that rank in the top 5 or so in the Andes (maybe even the world), great rock climbing and ice climbing, mountain biking, and a myriad of other activities offered by the many guide agencies in town. So it’s easy to see why we were attracted to this area. An interesting little fact about the Cordillera Blanca mountains is that it’s home to the mountain featured in the movie Touching the Void, which is a true story about a climber that had to crawl down much a mountain with a broken leg after his partner cut their climbing rope and left him behind. You’ll have to watch the movie to get the full story.
So, without much planned we made our way to Huaraz. Unfortunately, during our day layover between Chachapoyas and Huaraz, in the beach town of Huanchaco, Sarah picked up a not so friendly bacteria from a plate of ceviche—a dish consisting of fish cooked only by the acidity of a lime. So the first few days in Huaraz were spent resting and recovering. The downside to that time was that cabin fever started to set in for me, but the upside was that our Canadian friends, Jon and Ariane, made their way to Huaraz, allowing us to hang out with them once again.
Our original plan was to do a well known trek called the “Huayhuash” trek. It ranges from 8-14 days in length, depending on the route you take and how much you’re willing to pay a guide agency. After asking around we found out that we missed the best season to do the Huayhuash trek. It was now the rainy season and that section of the Cordillera Blanca range is especially susceptible to the seasonal rain due to it’s location. Other sections, and consequently other treks, are better protected from the rain and were therefore a better option. One of the most popular treks is the Santa Cruz trek, 4 days and 3 nights in length. We opted for this trek due to the amount of time we’d already spent in Huaraz, the lower cost, the need for less technical gear, and the fact that Jon and Ariane were up for doing this trek as well.
We spent a couple more days acclimating to the higher elevation and taking in all that was the city of Huaraz. And due to nationwide teacher protests in Peru our trek was delayed one more day. The jury is out on whether the trek was really delayed as a result of the protests. We found out that our guide agency wasn’t completely honest with us on a few accounts. This seems to be a common practice in Huaraz, likely due to the low profit margins and abundance of guide agencies competing for clients. Sarah and I made the best of the added day and took a guided rock climbing trip.
Below our many photos from out time there.
Photos in and around Huaraz:
Climbing near Huaraz:
Santa Cruz Trek:
Day one of the trek started with a 5 hour colectivo ride from Huaraz to the trail head near a small town high in the mountains. We’ve ridden buses through a large portion of the Andes Mountains and I’m still fascinated by the farming that I see in this environment. All of the planting and harvesting is done by hand and cows are used for tilling. Some of the farms are located on very steep hillsides. There are usually grazing sheep scattered about as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t capture any photos along the way so you’ll have to use your imagination. We did manage to capture a couple photos had the highest point of the drive.
After a long drive we finally arrived at the start of the trek in the Huascaran National Park. The last half of the day we hiked approximately 9 km to the first campsite. Even though we’d been in Huaraz for about a week at that point, we still found it difficult to catch our breath at the slightly higher elevations. I found myself having to catch my breath even when sitting. After the first day that wasn’t a problem.
We woke early on the second day to get a jump on the longest day of the trek, at 18 km. The whole crew performed pretty well but I’m proud to say that Sarah and I seemed to be in the best shape of the bunch. It helps that we hand donkeys carrying nearly all of of the gear and the fact that we were sucking on coca leaves the entire time. This day saw the highest point of the trek at 4,750 meters. That’s the highest Sarah and I have ever been. It was very rewarding to reach the top, especially given that the good weather allowed for spectacular views. Over the next two days the weather degraded, so we were lucky to have good weather on the leg of the trek that offered the best views.
The third day was a bit shorter than the previous day, coming in at round 12km. Most of the hike was down hill and flat, which was a welcome change from almost entirely uphill the day before. Our guide informed us that in February of this year a lake broke loose creating a landslide that traveled several miles down the valley we were hiking that day and deposited material in some areas up to 7 meters deep. It turned what used to be a lush, green valley floor, into a brown, dry, rock covered desert. We saw clear evidence of the extreme changes made to the environment by the landslide near our campsite and along much of the hike that day. Luckily no hikers were in the area at the time. Sadly, many horses, cows and donkeys were killed.
With the poor weather and swarms of biting insects at our campsite, everyone was in a hurry to get back to civilization. The last leg of the trek went by pretty quickly, only taking about 2 hours to finish. The trail followed the river that we had been following since the end of the second day. It was really cool to see the river grow to become larger and faster as we moved down stream. Much of the river is fed by glacier melt-water, and over the last two days of the trek, rain water. We ended the trek at the point that most tour companies start the trek. I’m not sure why we went the opposite way. Maybe to do more downhill than up.
This section of the Andes is amazing and by far my favorite of what we’ve experienced thus far. We hope to return to the Cordillera Blanca region in the future to do follow through on our original plan to do the longer Huayhuash trek.
Along the way we took several panoramic shots. All but one of them stitched together well in Photoshop.