Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Part Two: Cedros Alpamayo - High Passes and a Rest Day

Continuing from yesterday: Day four promised a long climb over Llanajanca Pass (4,700 m, 15,400 ft).  After resting the previous afternoon, SSW Spouse felt much better.  The previous evening, Jesus (the burromaster) had expressed a little concern about the rain and the final climb over the pass with the donkeys, but the rain had stopped overnight and we woke up to a good view of the mountains.

We started up the steep slope leading out of Jancapampa Valley by 7 a.m.  We climbed for a while before the trail flattened and we had a good view of the high valley ahead of us.  We were quickly passed by two small boys going up to tend livestock. After a break, we started hearing a flute behind us.   It kept getting closer and finally, Edgar (our guide) said he thought it was our cook playing and that they must be getting close.  It continued to get louder and was pleasant listening.  Pretty soon, we saw a teenage boy on horseback playing to pass the time on his ride up to the highest valley to tend livestock.  He likely saw us ahead of him, but he was clearly just playing for his own interest.  When he got close to us, he stopped playing and then started up again after he was beyond us.

Jesus, Marco, and the pack stock soon passed us.  We took a break for lunch on a large glacial terminal moraine.  A small bull took a strong interest in SSW Spouse's lunch, pacing back and forth in front of him, eyeing his sandwich.  He did not act aggressive, just hungry for salt.  After we left the lunch spot, he sniffed around the area where we sat like a dog sniffing around the kitchen floor after everyone has eaten dinner. 

The pass was amazing, crazy, and beautiful, all at the same time.  No vegetation grows on the final 100 m of the ascent, so it is covered in fine gravel.  That wouldn't be a problem, except the slope falls steeply away from the top of the pass and the "trail" is little more than a goat path barely etched into it.  One wrong step would send a hiker several hundred feet down into the valley below.  I found myself trying to figure out if one can use trekking poles to self-arrest on gravel and I am not afraid of heights.  Fortunately, I did not have to try to find out.

The top was windy and cold, but someone had built a stone wall across part of the pass, which provided the perfect shelter for a break.  All in all, it took us five hours to reach the top.  The way down was more of the same in terms of steep, precarious trail, but it soon leveled out some and we made quick progress towards camp at Huillca.  Along the way, we passed through a small village and saw herds of alpaca (they are really funny runners).

Day 5 was a rest day with an optional day hike to the Safruna Lakes.  SSW Spouse opted for rest since he was feeling a bit unwell again.  Edgar and I hiked up to the lakes.  The first challenge involved crossing the river as there was no bridge at the head of the valley.  Foolishly, I left my sandals at the tent.  I was prepared to cross barefoot, but Edgar did not like any of the crossings.  He eventually found one that was narrow enough for me to jump across, but had I missed, it was very, very deep.  And fast.  I just jumped before I could think too much about it.

Andean Gulls were fishing on the lower lake, so we took a break and watched them for a little bit before continuing on to the upper lake.  Upper Safruna Lake is deep cobalt blue, which means it must be very deep.  It was overcast, so there was a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains and glaciers on the surface of the lake.  We sat up on the terminal moraine that formed the lake, a few hundred feet above the water.  A small avalanche crashed down the mountain across the lake from us.  On the way back, we saw an Andean Condor soaring low across the valley, looking for food.  These birds are huge, with wingspans up to 3 m.  This time, I opted to cross the river barefoot at a really wide spot with no large rocks - a much safer option than trying to jump.  

Back at camp, Edgar broke out a deck of cards and I had the opportunity to learn a whole new set of Spanish vocabulary words.  He taught Jesus, Marco, and I a game called El Presidente.  I taught them Hearts, with Edgar's help translating some of the more complex rules. It was a great way to pass the afternoon and learn more Spanish.  

Day 6 was our first two-pass day.  We had a pass that was not too far above camp and then one of our highest of the entire trip, Cara Cara Pass at 4,830 m (15,850 ft).  The first pass did not take us long to cross and it was not a very dramatic pass.  After crossing it, we dropped into a valley and began gradually ascending to the head of it.  The trail was about as easy as we would find on the whole trip, the ascent was so gradual that it felt like we were hardly climbing at all.  The donkeys passed us while we were having lunch and we watched them make the very steep climb at the end of the valley.  Then they disappeared over an edge that we thought was the top.  We reached that edge after much effort, only to find ourselves on a wide bench with 150 meters of climbing still above us.

We finally reached the top, though, and it was windy and cold.  Unlike the previous high pass, there was no place to really escape the wind, so we did not linger long at the top.  We could see Alpamayo and the Santa  Cruz Mountains ahead of us and, as we descended, we were able to see Lake Jancarurish.  It was one of the more spectacular views of the trip so far. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Sunrise at Jancapampa

Brachyotum rostratum (Quechua:  Chinchi)

 The small bull that wanted SSW Spouse's lunch.

 Climbing up to the top of Llanajanca Pass.

Another view of the trail on the way up.  The faint line extending from the lower right diagonally up toward the middle of the photograph is the trail.

 Sitting on top of a small spine of rock at the top of Llanajanca Pass.

 Folded rocks at from the top of the pass.

 Looking toward Huillca from Llanajanca Pass.

Unidentified white flowers.

The river on day 4 in the rain.  This is the river I crossed on day 5 by jumping over a narrow spot.  I did cross upstream, but it was still a decent sized river.

An alpaca herd in the Huillca area.

 Day 5 - Bootshot over Safruna Alta Lake.

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

 Day 6 - Santa Cruz Mountain from Cara Cara Pass.

 Gentianella nitida (No common name found)

Day 6 - Sunset over Pucajirca Mountain. 

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