Monday, October 11, 2010

Part One: Cedros Alpamayo Trek - 9 Days in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

We spent 9 days walking approximately 80 miles in the Cordillera Blanca in the Ancash region of Peru.  It was one of the more amazing hikes I have ever done.  It was also completely different than anything I've ever done.  I'm going to take a few blog entries to write about it because there was so much to see.  A note on names:  Cocha is the Quechua word for lake.  Pampa is the Quechua word for floodplain.  I've tried to use the map and remember what our guide told us for the geographic names, but I am sure I don't remember all of them correctly.

We started out by taking a van with our guide, Edgar, and cook, Marco, for 5 hours from Huaraz, Peru to Vaqueria, a little village on gravel road just over the spine of the Andes.  Along the way, we stopped at the Huascaran National Park entrance, where I bought two pieces of fry bread from a woman selling that and a drink made from quinoa.  We also stopped at some lakes and near the top of the pass.

We were met by our burromaster, Jesus, in Vaqueria along with five donkeys and a horse.  That's right, our party would consist of the two of us, guide, cook, and burromaster and we would have 5 donkeys and a horse to carry gear.  We were handed our lunches and just like that, we were off.  We carried day packs and trekking poles, but most of our gear would be transported by the donkeys.  We made our way down to the river on the hot, dusty trail from Vaqueria and then back up through a couple of villages.  It was a Wednesday, and elections were being held on Sunday, so we met several campaign workers along the way.  Soon, we left the villages behind and entered the national park. Right about that time, the donkeys, Marco, and Jesus passed us.

We turned north and passed the tents for a large party hiking the Santa Cruz Trek.  Shortly after than, we began passing the trekkers in that party, including one guy who was seriously suffering from the altitude.  That made us grateful that we had spent time in southern Peru acclimatizing.  About an hour before we arrived in camp, it got cold and started to rain.  The temperature must have dropped by 25 degrees (F).  By the time we arrived in camp, I was freezing and hungry.  We arrived to our tents already set up and hot tea waiting for us in the dining tent.  Since we started in the afternoon, a three-course dinner followed shortly after that.  The food was very good. By the time dinner was over, it was really cold, since it had mostly cleared off. 

We woke up the next morning to a breakfast of pancakes and hot coffee.  It just doesn't get any better.  We had 4,725 m (15,500 ft) Pucaraju Pass to tackle first think in the morning (our campsite was at 3,800 m [12,400 ft]).  We started up the pass at 7 a.m.and made our way up the switchbacks very slowly.  We broke out into the sun right at the top of the pass, which made a perfect opportunity to take a break.  We had a great view of Huascaran and Taulliraju mountains.  From there, we slowly descended into the valley.  We were soon passed by the donkeys, cook, and burromaster.  We saw a number of flowers and Andean Geese.  As the valley turned east, we came Lake Huercucocha.  When we reached the east end of the lake, we climbed a goat path high above the valley floor.  The path was about the width of one of our boots and took us into the next valley.  We reached camp by about 1:30 in the afternoon and our burromaster commented that we had made good time.  Considering he had made it at least an hour before us (having left more than an hour after us), I took that as a complement.

They valley where we were camped that night was full of sheep, cattle, goats, and horses in addition to our pack stock.  Grazing is allowed in the national park and we would see animals every day we were out.  We spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun.  They only insects that would bother us on the trip, tiny flies, made a feast of my feet and ankles.  In the evening, villagers from further down the valley drove their sheep past our camp on their way home.  A large thunderstorm blew threw just after we went to bed and it rained for part of the night.

In the morning, the sky had cleared and it was cool.  SSW Spouse woke up feeling under the weather, so we were a bit late in getting started.  We only had one pass to cross and it was a bit lower, so he felt like he could rally and get through the day.  Our guide assured us that it would be a relatively easy day.  We made it up to the top of the pass just ahead of the donkeys.  From there, it was a long walk down to the Pishgopampa Valley.  We passed through the village of Pishgopampa on the way down.  The valley is very pretty and green, much wetter than the previous valleys in which we had camped.  The water table was so high that in places, the ground squished underfoot.  Our campsite, at the end of the valley, had a great view of the Pucajirca Mountain, its glaciers, and the waterfalls below them. 

A quick note on human waste disposal:  At each campsite, a toilet tent would be set up over a pit.  When we were leaving camp, the hole would be filled in.  Basically, this is the same thing as digging a cathole in the backcountry (the most common practice for dealing with solid waste while backpacking), just on a slightly bigger scale.  At this particular campsite, since the water table was just inches below the ground, the pit filled with water to about six inches below ground level. 

SSW Spouse spent the afternoon in the tent resting.  In the meantime, a parade of villagers from Pishgopampa came by to sell things:  Two boys with beer, a girl with leaves for tea, and an older boy with two large bags of hay for the donkeys.  Marco bought the leaves and Jesus bought the hay.  Jesus also put the younger boys to work helping with the toilet tent and the older boy to work retrieving the horse, which had wandered far away.  No one was in the mood for beer, though, so the younger boys would have to wait for the next party to sell it.

Cold rain came in by dinner time and SSW Spouse felt quite a bit better, which was good since we had a really high pass on day 4.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 The river below the village of Vaqueria.

The river in the Huaripampa valley.

The trail beneath Polylepsis trees. 

The mountains and storm clouds on the first day. 

The peaks south of our trek in our first afternoon on trail.

 Sunrise on the second day.

Glaciers at the top of the pass on the second day.

Lake Huercucocha on the second day.

Lupinus sp.  (Eniglish:  Lupine, Quechua:  Tallwish, Taulli, Spanish:  Chocho Silvestre)

 I'm not sure what this flower is, but it was pretty.

Gentiana sedifolia (Quechua:  Penqa Penqa, Spanish:  Vergonzosa)

The donkeys coming over the pass on Day 3.

One of the donkeys at the top of the pass on day 3.

Gentianella tristicha (Quechua:  Oqi Maqa)

Mountains on Day 3.

Oputina flocossa (Quechua:  Warqu).  This is a small, extremely spiny cactus.  The fruit is, apparently sweet and edible.

1 comment:

  1. for ALpamayo Circit Charity Trekking, trust and try with and cooperate on local community projects