A friend and I left Thursday night from Lima at 10 p.m. to arrive in the city of Huaraz at six a.m. We strolled around the city looking for a place to eat some breakfast and watch the World Cup match. As I am half Dutch it was imperative to watch the Brazil vs. Holland match that morning. After a continental breakfast, a bowl of fresh yogurt with granola, mate de coca and a surprising Dutch triumph over the favored Brazilians, we left the restaurant in front of the Plaza de Armas in search of our trekking tour guide, Quechua Explorers.
|Click to see a map of trekking routes along the Huayhuash range.|
We walked into the office to be amazed by all the trekking and mountain climbing equipment, maps, and hiking paraphernalia on the wall of the small office. We spoke to the owner about the hike and what we had brought, even though he had sent us by email our trekking itinerary and what clothes and things to bring for the trek. To our relief we had brought the right type clothes and the right amount of them. Then, he introduced us to our guide, Nilton, who showed us our daily routes on a detailed map of the Huayhuash area. We got excited knowing that we would be circling the entire Huayhuash range, passing several mountain passes above 4,700 meters (15,400 feet) to descend to the areas pristine mountain lakes and even make it to a thermal hot springs. The trek looked great on the map and we figured in real life it would be better.
We spent the day getting some more previsions, such as coca leafs, granola bars, bananas, oranges, candy, and a poncho. We watched the Uruguay vs. Ghana match in a local bar with some beers and finally headed to our hotel to rest.
At five a.m. Saturday morning, just the two of us and our guide left Huaraz. (Two people were going to join us but they had ignored the Trekking Office’s advice about coming a day before the hike to acclimatize and got altitude sickness when they arrived Friday night.) The bus took us to Chiquian, better known as the El Despejito del Cielo, three hours from Huaraz, where we had each a quick breakfast of two delicious cheese sandwiches and a quinoa drink for only four Soles. I was amazed that 6 sandwiches and three drinks could be so cheap. We then took another smaller bus, similar to the famous Limeño combis, to the village of Pocpa, but first stopped in Llamac where we paid 15 Soles a person for the right to camp and hike in the community lands. Once in Pocpa, we handed over our bags to the arriero, or muleteer, Elmer, and his two donkeys, Campion and Zoro, and changed to more comfortable walking clothes. It would be the first day and last day that I wore my shorts. There, at midday, we began our eight-day hike.
This first stage was light with gradual inclines —the trail was a dirt road for a mining company. With no breathing issues or head problems we passed a police check point, (where we were informed of other World Cup matches) and made it to our first camp site at Matacancha. At the site we were disappointed to see two other trekking groups arrive by bus. We felt cheated, but our guide, Nilton, informed us that it is important to begin with this simple trail in order to acclimatize our bodies and prepare for the next seven days to the altitude. He then clarified that one of the groups was doing a trek of 14 days, which included scaling a snowcapped mountain. The other group of 12, Nilton assured us, would have altitude issues.
|Ending day of trekking with the donkeys. (Photos by Maarten Warnaars)|
We watched the sun cast a shadow in the valley and eventually disappear, leaving a darkness and cold. I changed from my shorts to thermal pants, trekking pants and then eventually another thicker pants on top. I began to question whether I brought enough clothes, but I realized that if it got really cold I would just have to put everything I had. That night it was not necessary. We had dinner in a separate tent than our sleeping one, where our guide Nilton cooked a delicious soup and served us rice, chicken and potatoes for dinner. We finished our first dinner with mate de coca and some light conversation. After dinner it was time to sleep, which was weird considering it was 7 pm at night and dark. It took awhile before my body could adjust to sleeping in a sleeping bag with almost all my clothes on inside an enclosed tent above 4,000 meters in altitude. I ended up tossing and turning the entire night while listen to the cacophonic melodies of my friend’s snoring and the donkeys whining in the night.
We woke the next morning with the sun not even breaking the horizon, however shining its warmth to a distant snow capped mountains. I walked back from the established toilet facilities in the fridge cold to be greeted by Nilton in the camp tent with hot tea, bread, cheese and marmalade. Nilton showed us again what our trail was for the day. After breakfast and packing up our things for the donkeys, we headed to the first pass of Cacanan. I was excited and wanted to run up the hill, but the altitude and its thin air slowed me down, so I chewed some coca leaves and headed up slowly always looking backwards to appreciate the view I was in. I was the first to make it to the pass at 4,700 meters where an astonishing view opened up before me. The view from the other side was amazing. The valley opened up beneath my feet presenting the infinite valley, hills and mountains ahead. I turned around and appreciated the valley from where we came from, but returned my gaze towards the new view presented to me.
|Packing up to start day three.|
As we descended into the valley, to my right I could finally see the snow capped mountains I saw from our camp site the night before. It was beautiful to see such a majestic site; I filled up with energy and continued to the next pass with excitement. As we went along, more of the Huayhuash range was gradually revealing to us. It was awe inspiring to see such a powerful mountain range appear in my sight and have it expose more of its beauty with each step I took. We were the first group to the pass and into the valley, giving us a sense of open air freedom. I felt like a pioneer walking in the open wilderness searching for adventure.
|The snow capped mountains of the Huayhuash range begin to reveal themselves.|
We made it over the 4,650-meter Carhuac pass, where we had lunch and a quick 30-minute siesta, even though Nilton told us we could only get a 10 minute rest. When I came around after 25 minutes or so, I turned my gaze at him and Roberto, I saw them both sleeping. It was the best lunch we had. We finally got to rest and recuperate for our incompletey sleeps the past three nights. The best part was that each time we would open an eye we could appreciate the beautiful view of five majestic snow capped mountains (Carnicero, Siula, Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico, and Jirishanca). After a couple of hours hiking we could see our camping site at 4,100 meters off the shores of Carhuacocha (Carhuac Lake) which lied at the foot the five grand mountains. As we descended to the emerald colored lake the five mountains greeted us with their awe. The view and feeling was unbelievable. We made a short admiration stop by a ridge overlooking the lake before reaching the campsite.
We immediately ran down toward the lake and took pictures from every angle possible. As soon as we were tired of stretching our bodies to capture a Kodak moment, we threw our stuff down and decided to have a quick bath in the lake. With the sun beating down upon us with its heat we decided the lake could not be so cold. It was so clear and inviting, we could not say no. I made it in with my underwear and Hojotas (Peruvian sandals made of car tires), baring the freezing water and wind and decided I had to go all the way in. I thrust my entire body in the freezing emerald water and was shocked back to the shore. I sat on the bank of the lake, letting the sun and cold wind dry my shivering body within minutes. My friend, Roberto, was not as adventurous (nor as stupid) as I, and only got his feet wet and washed himself, more civilized than I could do so. I spent the rest of the day, not only clothed, but admiring the awe inspiring view of the lake and its snowcapped mountain protectors. There was nothing else to do but admire the view. Other people in the campsite were reading their books, resting, talking, playing cards or using the outhouse on the other side of the campsite. Being locked up in my Limeñen bubble I had to absorb the view, the fresh air, the open space, the silence and tranquility that surrounded me. I was happy. That night I slept terribly. I had a headache that began from the right side of my neck. I could not concentrate on sleeping and felt asphyxiated. I finally got out of the tent, walked around and went back into the tent and decided listened to my MP3 to wait for sleep to hit me.
The third day we woke up to a magnificent morning view. The sun had not reached our campsite but it had already touched the potent five snowcapped mountains. A perfect Kodak moment presented itself.
|A morning view.|
We had breakfast, packed our daily rucksack and headed to the three lakes at the foot of the snowcapped mountains around the corner from our campsite. Leaving the lake behind us we turned left upwards were our guide pointed out local indigenous rodents – vizcachas, which are closely related to chinchillas. We stared at this funy little creature for awhile until some other hikers arrived
After observing the vizcachas, we continued until we ran into another community collector. We paid our daily 15 soles and then made a slight detour to a small ridge that over looked a frozen lake at the foot of Siula Mountain. The closeness of the mountains was magical. We could clearly see the avalanches that occurred in front of us and it seems as if we could touch the glaciers.
We headed down the ridge and around one of the lakes where I saw a beautiful range of colors coming up from the ground. As a geologist’s son, I should know what I saw, but unfortunately I was a terrible listener to my father’s geological explanations. The alkaline water that sprung from the earth was creating a white and yellow field where different colored algae or bacteria would grow.
|Earth’s amazing colors.|
After a little while of ascending we made it to a slight clearing on the mountain near the pass, where we could sit and appreciate the view of the five mountains and the three lakes. It was one of the most beautiful views I have seen in my life. Words cannot express what the view was. Five majestic beauties and three lakes, each a different color, kept all the viewers in awe. There we were accompanied by other trekkers who stopped for the awe inspiring view just like we did. We all took photos and videos of the awesome view. The beauty was mindboggling. After a short period of appreciation, water and a granola bar, we finally headed to Siula pass at an altitude of 4,835 meters.
We made it to the pass stunned by the 360-degree view and ate our packed lunch of two sandwiches, cookies, an orange, a chocolate bar and two little sweet candies. It was completely breathtaking. It seems that the mountains and valleys continued forever. The view was overwhelming on each side of the pass. We rested by releasing our feet from the confines of our shoes so to indulge in the mountain air and sun.
Stay tuned next week for the rest of Maarten’s and Roberto’s journey.