Churup, Peru: Bejeweled landscape

The climb starts up a fairly steep slope. We reach a ‘flat’ traverse to a giant rock which we must scale in order to reach the second leg of the climb, which is steeper than the first. After that, we arrive at a small grassy plain with a river running through it and a thinly wooded forest. This is where the last and most interesting part of the trek starts.

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Women sheep herders somewhere between Llupa and Pitec.

Facing the river, which drops into a waterfall, you need to veer slightly to the left in order to ascend a very steep slope. Although there are steps, you will need to use some basic rock-climbing techniques. The climb is not very complex, demanding basic common sense and training, and no more adrenaline than your body would normally generate in such situations. It is more difficult if you are carrying camping equipment.

It is not very obvious which route to take because there are several alternatives, some trickier than others. However, all are marked by footprints. I have seen photographs of groups roped together, which is probably a good idea if you are an inexperienced climber. It all adds to the satisfaction though, because after about four complicated maneuvers you reach the top and suddenly you’re faced with a stunning view of the Churup lake and mountain.

A Captivating Spot

At the entrance to the lake there is a massive granite block, which diverts the waters from the river we had seen from our earlier vantage point. The absolute transparency of the water, its unimaginable shades and mirror-like reflection –when the wind drops– are altogether spectacular.

Once you get over your first impression, you can climb to the top of the granite block to see the whole panorama spread out before you. The lake is anchored in a kind of hole enclosed by great granite walls that partially protect it from the wind, creating a feeling of intimacy and peace. Dense stands of trees have managed to grow in the less steep parts and there are even some beaches.

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A young sheepherder along the way.

Continuing along the right hand side there is a small bay that looks straight out of a picture postcard: small, bonsai-like trees, shining granite (steely grey during the day and silver by moonlight), surreal shadows on the lake, and gold-colored lichens that offset the coldness of the rock and the water.

There was an area on the beach where there was enough room to pitch a small tent. It is the most beautiful spot I have ever camped in.

Just as I began to think that this landscape had no more surprises up its sleeve, the sun set and a huge moon appeared, creating its own spectacle. In the stillness of the lakeside night wreathed in welcoming silence, the suggestive profiles of the mountain landscape reflected off the diaphanous lake surface. Ignoring the intensifying cold, I watched as the moon rose and the display reached new heights, with the shadows seeming to move in rhythm, like a Beethoven sonata. At last, flirting with hypothermia, I reluctantly retreated into my tent, still feeling the intense pull of the place. (Now I know where to take my girlfriend the next time we go camping!).

A Spectacle of Color

The next day, after a much appreciated breakfast, I continued along the right side overlooking the lake. The spectacle of color was repeated. The route crosses a small forest and ascends directly towards the snow-capped mountain. Within an hour you reach the next lake (which is smaller and emerald in color, its waters much less transparent).

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The perfect clarity and indescribable nuances of the water give this lake a unique personality.

From here you can see the routes to the summit in detail. The routes are technically challenging, which is why no guide will agree to take you up. There is the American (eleven joints) and the most radical (Not a Single Joint), which was established by the Peruvian climber, Guillermo Mejía.

The mountaineer who pioneers a route earns the right to name it. With that in mind, I studied a new route that I intended to try a few days later with my climbing companion, Felipe Villanueva.

From the base of the glacier I could see Huaraz, reminding me that it was time to come back to earth and begin the trek back to Pitec, Llupa and Huaraz, where I would pay a mandatory call on El Tambo bar after supper.

If you love nature, are fit enough and, more importantly, have the determination to try climbing, bear this spot in mind. No photograph or description can do justice to the experience of arriving at the lake, contemplating its beauty and spending a night under the moon and stars.