Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Part Three: Cedros Alpamayo - More High Passes and Snow

Continuing from yesterday:  On the seventh day of the trip, we hiked up to Lake Jancarurish, which is a bright, cloudy turquoise blue lake sitting beneath Alpamayo Mountain.  The hike up the valley from our campsite was easy.  The trail stayed just above the valley floor and was mostly flat until we reached the terminal moraine that formed the lake.  Once there, we climbed steeply up a path to the top of it for a good view of the lake.  We took a break there and speculated on where the loud rockslide had been the night before. 

From there, we hiked up to an overlook with a view of Alpamayo, Santa Cruz Mountain, and the large waterfall on the river below us.  We took another break here for pictures.  There was a large boulder (a glacial erratic) that made a perfect chair on top.  The only sounds were the waterfall and the wind.  The plan was to return down the valley from there and hike to the next campsite.  Our guide asked if we wanted to continue up to another viewpoint and that sounded good to us, so he set off across the flat spot to the river.  He found a safe place to cross and then we continued up the slope on the other side.  There was no trail, so we were just following him.  The slope was steep and fell away a long distance below us, but there were plenty of safe places to step.  We stopped on the nose of a large ridge with a great view of Alpamayo and the lake below.  After a short break, we continued up to another flattish spot and then began working our way back down to the valley.  We finally picked up the trail again near the bottom of the valley, where we took a break for lunch.  While we were sitting there, we noticed two backpackers coming down from the pass we crossed the day before.

The trail from there to Ruinapampas, our next campsite, was gently sloping downhill and easy.  We took a break at the last view of Alpamayo and arrived at the campsite in the early afternoon.  Storm clouds rolled in on Jancarurish campsite, where we had stayed the night before.   It sleeted for a little while in camp, but then it stopped and we were treated to a rainbow up the valley.  Jesus (the burromaster) commented that we must be lucky, because the weather had been so good so far.  Late September and early October is the beginning of the rainy season in Peru in the high country and Jesus said it would not be unusual for it to rain for a little while every day.

Day 8:  All three of our Peruvian counterparts warned us about the passes on day 8.  All of them said it was going to be a long, hard day, since we had two really high passes to cross.  We got up early and ate breakfast.  We started hiking down the valley, which felt unfortunate, since we would only have to climb further to get to the top of the first pass.  After an hour of hiking, SSW Spouse asked Edgar (our guide) if we were about half way to the top of the pass.  Edgar sort of laughed and said, "I think not."  We finally made the top of the pass about an hour later.  We stopped and ate and the donkeys passed us while we were sitting there.  One of the donkeys laid down when he got to the top, while Jesus was adjusting the loads for the others.  As soon as Jesus came to adjust his load, he jumped up.  Apparently, he just likes to lay down when they stop (he was not mistreated or overworked). 

We could see the trail ahead of us across the valley.  We had to descend a long way before switchbacking up to what looked like the next pass.  Edgar quickly dispelled the notion that it was the next pass.  We worked our way down to bottom of a very high valley with a pretty campsite and began the climb up the other side.  At what looked like the top, the trail turned left and continued to climb.  There were three or four more false summits before we finally reached the top of the pass.  Finally, we reached the top and had a brief view of Santa Cruz Mountain.  Since we had eaten lunch after the last false summit, we didn't linger long on top of the pass.  We were also conscious of the looming dark clouds over the mountains near us.  Sure enough, within 100 yards of beginning our descent, it started snowing.  Just a little at first.  By the time we reached the overlook over Lake Cuillacocha, it was snowing pretty hard.  The good thing was, nothing was accumulating where we were.  The bad thing was, it was getting pretty cold and it was very windy.

Lake Cuillacocha was beautiful.  It is a deep cobalt blue in the deep areas and turquoise in the shallow areas.  The water is very clear.  Half of the lake was in the sun since it was only snowing closer to the mountains (and on us).  As we continued down, the snow moved further into the valley and followed us around the lake.  We stopped briefly near the outlet for the lake, but kept moving after a few minutes to stay warm. 

From the outlet, we had to climb high up over the other side of the valley.  All of a sudden, we were in the sun again and had to stop to take off our coats.  As we were climbing along the cliff face, we noticed a condor riding thermals below us.  It made lazy loops in the air, looking for food below.  We stood watching it for a while and it rewarded us by soaring right in front of us on its way out of the canyon.  When we finally reached the top of the hill we were climbing, Edgar pointed out rock art on the cliff face.  Someone, before the Incas, had painted small red human figures on the rocks.  They were about 12 inches tall and scattered about the cliff face. 

At this point, Edgar said we had about 30 minutes left for the day.  I have to say that I was skeptical about that.  He can hike so much faster than we can at that attitude, that I figured we must have about an hour.  We continued around the corner and there was the dining tent on the slope below us at Huishcash.  Twenty-five minutes later, we were taking our boots off outside our tent.  It took us 8 hours to hike 12 km (8 miles).  We took a lot of pictures, but climbing the passes just took us a long time.  The trail up the passes was steep and the altitude slowed us down a lot.

Day 9:  Our last day was all downhill.  We had seven kilometers (about 4.3 miles) to hike to get to the village of Hualcallan, where we would be picked up by the van.  We made it in about two hours.  The trail just zig-zagged back and forth down the mountain before it finally took us into the village.  There must have been 30 switchbacks. About 30 minutes after we arrived, the van arrived and about ten minutes later, the donkeys arrived.  Within ten minutes, everything had been loaded into the van, goodbyes had been said, and we were on the road.  Jesus still had a two day walk back to his village, Colcabamba.  The rest of us went back to Huaraz.

All in all, it was a great trip.  We would definitely do it again (and hope to someday).  The scenery was absolutely spectacular.  The thing that really made the trip great, though, was the professionalism of our guide, cook, and burromaster .  We learned so much about the area from them, were well-fed, and enjoyed their company.  It was a great opportunity for me to practice Spanish and learn a few Quechua words as a bonus. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):

 Alpamayo Mountain

 Climbing up above Lake Jancarurish and the river below.

 Lake Jancarurish.

 Bootshot over Lake Jancarurish.

 Alpamayo from the Jancarurish Valley.

 Castilleja sp.  (Quechua:  Yawar taico, English:  Indian Paintbrush)

 Cactus flower.

 Rainbow from Ruinapampas campsite.

 The second pass on day 8. 

 One of the donkeys.

 Ruins below Ruinapampas. 

 Loasa grandiflora (Spanish:  Ortiga macho, Quechua:  Shinua)

 Muillacohca mountain (in an earlier post, I mentioned that cocha means "lake" in Quechua.  I'm not sure why this mountain has "cocha" in the name).

 Lake Cuillacocha in the snow.

 A large waterfall on the outlet stream from Cuillacohca. 

 Sunset at Huishcash.

 Looking down on the village of Hualcallan on the last day.

Lupinus sp (Lupine).

1 comment:

  1. I was thinkin maybe you shoulda brought back one of those donkeys to have back in MD. We could all use it to bring our csa shares up the front steps. Gorgeous updates, neighbor! Can't wait for the full Peru night!