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Peru’s Cordillera Blanca Trek

Author: Jeffrey W.S.
Date of Trip: June 2009

Peru’s Cordillera Blanca Trek

Peru’s Cordillera Blanca is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world; a stunning glacial wilderness beyond compare. Its enormous ice-fluted peaks, surreal turquoise glacial lakes and flowering alpine meadows are a phenomenal arena for trekking. Here, more than 70 summits top 18,000 feet, including mighty Huascarán (22,204′), Peru’s highest peak, and Alpamayo (19,506′), a classic pyramid that has been called the most beautiful mountain in the world. Our 18-day trek is a challenging one, but well rewarded with spectacular campsites exhilarating days on the trail, and views of ice-draped summits at every turn.

I am including our itinerary and my personal comments regarding the trip:

Days 1-2 Lima / Huaraz
We met in Lima for introductions. There were eight of us on this trek, two couples and three single men. Early the next morning we headed north along Peru’s unusual desert coast, then turned inland to the mountain city of Huaraz (10,000′), the center for trekking and mountaineering expeditions into the Cordillera Blanca.

Days 3 -4 Huaraz
A visit to the pre-Inca temple complex at Chavin de Huantar and a hike in the nearby Cordillera Negra helped us acclimatize to the heady altitude.

Days 5-17 Cordillera Blanca Trek
We meet our trekking crew and pack animals at Hualcayan (10,500′). Each day begans with a wake up call at 5:30 a.m. One of the guides then brings a basin of hot water (our only bath water for eighteen days) to our tent. I did not shave for the entire eighteen days of the trek.

A half hour later at 6 a.m. we were served hot coffee or coca tea, a local favorite at our tents. We then packed up our gear and had a sit-down breakfast in the cooking tent. Breakfast was plentiful and delicious, eggs, bacon, ham, cereal, potatoes, pancakes…something different each day. Seconds were encouraged. I needed the energy because I lost fifteen pounds of weight during the trip.

After breakfast, we set out for the day and the guides took down our tents and loaded them on the horses and burrows to meet us at the next campsite. We hiked from six to eight hours daily meeting up with our guides in the late afternoon and staying at different camps each night in our tents. We never stayed at the same place more than one night. We ate a hot lunch on the trail and had dinner each night in the cooking tent. Dinner was excellent. Always a hot bowl of soup followed by a hearty meat, pasta, fish or chicken dish and potatoes and vegetables. A bottle of rum was always available on the table. After dinner it was straight to our tents.

Our first goal on this trek was Laguna Cullicocha (15,100′), an incredible glacial lake with outstanding views of the peaks of the Santa Cruz massif. Crossing two more passes, we continued through Quebrada (canyon) de los Cedros to a camp near Laguna Jancacurish, from where we took an optional hike to the base camp of Alpamayo, a pyramid-shaped peak of astonishing beauty.

Camping at the base of Alpamayo provided the only frightening time of the entire trip. Around one a.m. that night a large piece of the glacier mountain broke off and slid down the side causing an enormous rumble that shook the earth for a full minute. We were all out of tents with our flashlights, not knowing which direction to run. Our guides quickly took charge and told to stay in place that would be safe; nevertheless, it was very scary!

The highest we got in terms of elevation was 16,000 feet. I did not take any attitude pills and felt fine. I trained for the trip by doing a lot of winter and spring hiking, cross county skiing and snowshoeing in New Hampshire. Physically I was more than able to keep the pace of the trip with little to no problems.

The trip was more mentally demanding to me then anything for which I had prepared. The major problems that I had were the long nights. It was pitch dark by six PM each night and since I traveled, alone it made for a long night in the tent. I brought several books with me but I read them very quickly. The temperatures dipped into the teens on some nights and there was ice on our tents when we woke up early the next morning. Twelve hours alone in a tent with no hot showers for eighteen days seemed like an eternity.

During the trek, we sighted numerous giant condors soaring hundreds of feet over head. We also saw many limas and alpacas grazing at the high attitudes. Aside from that and the cattle that were set free to graze in the high mountains, we did not see any other wildlife.

Crossing the Caracara Pass (15,846′), we descended into a lush grassy valley leading to a high pass with great views of the multiple peaks of Pucahirca. Continuing through the village of Huilca into Quebrada Jancapampa, we hiked cross-country via the side valley of Quebrada Tingopampa, right below knife-edged Taulliraju (19,127′). Steady panoramas of awesome peaks abound, especially from Alto del Pucaraju (15,256′), where Taulliraju seems to tower over the pass. Our trek ended with a hike past valley settlements with breathtaking views of Chacraraju (20,052′) to a campsite at Vaqueria.

Days 18-20
We met our vehicles and return to Huaraz, enjoying the views of Huascarán along the way. The next day we drove back to Lima to spend the day and night sightseeing before flying back home. I would recommend this hike only if you were in top physical shape and have no aversion to “roughing it” for eighteen days.

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