Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mountain Porn : Hiking the Cordillera Huayhuash Peru

Most people who hike in the Cordillera Huayhuash have a guide, a cook and a donkey train to carry their gear. We decided to do it self-guided, which is generally our preference and better suits our budget.

Initially we thought our packs felt pretty good loaded up with 10 days worth of food and gear, that is, until we started to climb. The first day began with a hot and sweaty, up-mountain slog. A local man kindly directed us off course onto a less traveled route. We soon lost the trail, got stabbed by cactuses and eaten alive by massive flies. The morning was not going well, but there is nothing quite like snow covered mountains and phenomenal glaciers to brighten my mood. Laguna Jahuacocha was a beautiful, although crowded, place to spend our first night.

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Every day we hiked for between 5-9hrs, roughly 150 km in total and over 11 mountain passes between 4,000 and 5,000 m in elevation. The circuit passes through picturesque pastural land, dotted with beautiful alpine lakes and follows one of the most magnificent mountain ranges I’ve ever seen. My lasting impression of these mountains is their incredible size and just how close we were able to get to them. I felt completely insignificant, but in a good way.

The farmland is governed by local communities, who we had to pay at intervals throughout the hike. Our fees totalled 145 soles each, but we heard of people paying more. It seems to be a fairly mismanaged system, and unfortunately if you are not on the ball you might get ripped off, like we did once. In one community we were sold two tickets for the price of one, so they were able to pocket half. The worst part is, that these individuals end up short changing their communities.  Overall though, the locals were very welcoming, friendly and happy to help. Coming from hiking in the National Parks of North America, there is an obvious lack of wildlife which we found a bit sad. The land has been well and truly taken over by domesticated animals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuayhuash 06 IMG_2201 newSearching for Cuartelhuain campground, where we spent our second night. 

Huayhuash 10 The stone fences in the background could have been built a week ago, or hundreds of years ago.

Huayhuash 11 Huayhuash 12 Huayhuash 13 The view on our third night. At Laguna Carhuacocha

Domingo writes mountain poetry. We gave him way too much money for his book, and thought we might run out of cash before the end of the hike. A lovely fellow hiker kindly lent us some money, just to make sure that we made it. Huayhuash 15

Living in Canada for nearly five years has left us with pretty high standards when it comes to mountain lakes. The Cordillera Huayhuash however, has produced some serious beauties. One of the reasons we love to hike is the amazing views at the top. In that moment it’s possible to forget our heavy bags and aching bodies, if only for a while.

Huayhuash 16 Huayhuash 17 Huayhuash 18Huayhuash 20The weather cleared momentarily on the pass (Siula Punta). Also, which end of this dog is which? 

This the longest hike that either of us have ever done, and we definitely experienced all the moods of the mountain. We got it all… rain, hail, snow, wind and sun. Still, there is nothing quite like mornings in the mountains, even when it’s miserably cold and everything has frozen. We tried to hit the trail early each day and would celebrate when the shadows finally receded and we could thaw out in the sun.

Huayhuash 22 Huayhuash 21Huayhuash 23Huayhuash 34Huayhuash 24 Huayhuash 25 Huayhuash 26 Shaking the ice off at Huayhuash campground, after night 4.

Our morning at the Huayhuash campground was brightened by a group of Canadians, who coincidently live in Edmonton. They warmed us up with hot milo, jam rolls and friendly conversation.

That day we pushed on quickly, arrived at our campsite for lunch and then had plenty of time to relax and soak in the hot springs.

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Finally the hard miles and altitude started to take a toll and by day six we were absolutely wiped. We made seriously slow progress, and finally set up camp in the Cuyoc Valley late in the afternoon. The stars were phenomenal that night. All we wanted to do was lie on our backs on the grass and stare at the sky, but it was way too cold and the grass was frozen.

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Now for my favourite couple of days on the hike. We hiked up to the San Antonio pass to be confronted once again by Siula Grande, the mountain made famous by Joe Simpson’s harrowing mountaineering story “Touching the Void”.

Huayhuash 35 Huayhuash 36 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We loved having a detailed topographical map, purchased in Huaraz before the hike.

We thought that if we went around the the other side of the San Antonio peak, we’d get a better look at Lake Jurau. We’d also spoken to a guide who said that the descent from that side would be easier. Unfortunately we lost a lot of elevation and then had to climb AGAIN to make it back. I was not a happy camper, but the view was worth it when we finally made it back to the top. It was a long way down to the lake, which just looked so inviting in the warm sunshine. We braved the chilly glacial water for a quick dip and once the shock wore off, definitely felt better for it.

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We saw a bunch of tents and set up nearby thinking and that it must be the official campground. Lucky for us it wasn’t, but rather the base camp for a group of five Italian mountain climbers. They were on a three week trip attempting a number of climbs in the area, including Siula Grande. They were super nice guys and kept inviting us over for tea in their nice warm cook tent and gave us lots of tips for the remainder of our hike.

Huayhuash 42 Base camp.

Huayhuash 43 Quinoa curry, with fresh peas and soy protein. One of our staple dinners using supplies from the Huaraz markets.

Huayhuash 44 Sunset – day 7.

On the advice of the Italians, we hiked without our packs up to Laguna Sarapococha, the “Touching the Void” base camp. It really was an idyllic morning. The lake was sheltered from the howling wind, and we watched as the early morning sun gradually illuminated the magnificent colour of the water.

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From this point on, it was all about getting out. It was home time, but we still had two and a half days to go. Arrrgggh! We had a long valley walk to get to the little village of Huayllapa, where we caved and booked into a cute little hostal, Bodega de Yerupajá, also recommended by the Italian climbers. We had warm beds, almost hot showers and the Peruvian classic lomo saltado (stir fried beef) for dinner. It was just what we needed.

Huayhuash 48 Huayhuash 49Jack Kerouac was right. Salami, cheese and crackers is the only hiking lunch. After 10 days, we weren’t sick of it.

Huayhuash 50 Huayhuash 51 Rest stop on the long valley walk.  

Huayhuash 52Luxury.

We saw a lot of different birds on the hike, and also Viscachas, which look like a cross between a rabbit and a possum. On our second last day we saw lots of these guys bounding around the rocks, however for the most part, everything was just a blur of changing colours and landscapes.

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On our last day we were pretty down and out. That is, until Berta and her sons invited us over to their casa for some fresh milk (warm and straight from the cow) and some of the best fresh cheese that we’ve had since Mexico.

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We rolled into Llamac late on the final day, toes screaming from the last brutal descent. The family who has the secure parking lot in town were still out in the cornfields, and we couldn’t bare the thought of walking any further to find them. So we just collapsed at their door, cracked a celebratory beer and waited for them to return. In case there were any doubts, I carried my pack the entire way, even resisting the offers of a very nice German man who wanted to carry it for me.

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One Year On The Road

Today marks our one year anniversary of life on the road.

Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that we set off from Edmonton and other times it seems a word away with so many miles and experiences in between.  We’re still loving life everyday.

We had big plans of choosing a photo from each month to put into a celebratory post, but making that choice turned out to be too hard for us.

So we chose just two:

Then:Anniversary 1June 2013, near Fort St John, BC, Canada.  

And now:Anniversary 2June 2014, near Huaraz, Ancash, Peru

Desert Drifting : Northern Peru

I love those fortuitous little meetings that happen every now and then on the road.  We pulled into a random driveway in Zorritos and found Casa de Diego. This chance meeting worked out really well for us. We had only planned to stay a night before moving on… but Diego found plenty of reasons for us to hang around. North Peru 01North Peru 02Casa de Diego. If you are ever in Zorritos, you should try to to stay here. 

We had a great time at his amazing beachfront house/hostel, hanging out in the evenings with music and beers and getting some good tips for our route through Peru.  But the best part was having Diego as our personal tour guide.  He took us to the best surf spots, introduced us to all the locals and took us to the best bakery in town. North Peru 03North Peru 04North Peru 05North Peru 06North Peru 07

He left the best surprise until our last night when he took us to the hot springs on the edge of town. “It will be perfect for your aching muscles after all that surfing” he assured us, as if we needed convincing. “And this hot spring is really special at night time.” We couldn’t help asking why. “You’ll see.”

Four of us jumped in the van and Diego directed us through town and onto a random dirt road that we would never have found on our own. When we got there it was completely dark, not even a moon to light the way. “Should I leave the headlights on?” I asked him. “No we don’t need them. I have a natural light here.” All he was holding was a cigarette lighter and a rolled up piece of paper. I was confused.

He lit the paper and held it over the hot spring which lit up with a huge whoompf.  The hot spring is actually an old drill well for oil and gas exploration.  Now, hot water bubbles up from the earth below bringing a bit of natural gas with it.  And this provided our mood lighting for the evening. We had a good hot soak and I don’t know how many times we looked at each other in amazement and said “This is so cool.” North Peru 08North Peru 09North Peru 10

Next stop was Lobitos.  This is an odd little town with loads of good surf spots. It was first settled by British oil company workers and most of the old townsite was abandoned around the early 1900s. So now it is sort of like a ghost town reborn. There are oil wells everywhere, on and offshore. And much of the area is now a military zone. All of this made for a really interesting place to explore. We free camped at the beach for a few days and tried to make the most of the consistent surf. This section of coast is like a wave machine, they just keep coming all day. North Peru 11North Peru 12North Peru 13North Peru 14North Peru 15North Peru 16North Peru 17North Peru 18North Peru 19North Peru 20North Peru 21North Peru  22North Peru 23North Peru 24North Peru 25

The coastal desert of this region has been a real surprise for us. It just stretches on and on. We were driving through bare rock and sand for days, not a tree or shrub in sight.  But, every now and then we would pass through a town, offering a splash of colour and a chance to people watch as we drove by. North Peru 26North Peru 27North Peru 28North Peru 29North Peru 30Kicking rice.  

We eventually made it to Chicama.  More desert and more surf. No complaints from us, we love this style of van life.  We spent the afternoon cruising the dunes outside of town, watching the waves and checking out the amazing bird colony at an empty beach around the point. North Peru 31North Peru 32North Peru 33North Peru 34North Peru 35Boobies

North Peru 36Blue-footed booby

Later in the day it was time to hit the water.  This place is renowned for having the longest left hand wave in the world. Not sure if this is actually true, but regardless it’s a good spot. The swell wasn’t quite big enough for those famously long rides, but we had a lot of fun trading waves with the local grommets during the sunset session. And in the morning I had the place all to myself. North Peru 37 facebookNorth Peru 38North Peru 39North Peru 40North Peru 41North Peru 42

After an incredible sunset we headed into the dunes to find a camp spot with some protection from the relentless wind.  The ground looks firm and rocky, but venture from the well worn path and the soft sand underneath gives way easily.  We know from experience. After getting bogged good and proper we spent a couple of hours jacking up the car digging out the rear wheels and driving forward a few feet on scraps of carpet and planks of wood. On the third try (our lucky number in stuck van situations) we slowly crept up and out of the hole, eventually finding solid ground again… and had the most peaceful sleep we could have hoped for. North Peru 43North Peru 44Dusty but triumphant

North Peru 45Home is where you park it

Driving along the highway we could see what we thought were sand dunes stretching far into the distance. Turns out that they are the crumbled old adobe walls of the ancient city of Chan Chan. We were taken aback by the immensity of it all. It was built around 850 AD and was in use until the 1400s and apparently around 30,000 people lived here at one time. This makes it the largest known city in South America prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

We visited just one small area of the city which has survived the years in pretty good shape. Many of the walls are carved with patterns depicting fish and fishnets which were really important to the survival of the people that lived here.  They also had some form of irrigation and the remnants of an old well are visible still filled with water and full of greenery. North Peru 46North Peru 47North Peru 50North Peru 49North Peru 51North Peru 52North Peru 54The sacred well 

Sechin is another ruin just off the pan-american highway. The old temple found here might be the oldest ruins in South America… maybe more than 3000 years old. The stone walls were covered in carvings and in the museum they had a bunch of artefacts from the area, including a really well preserved mummy, and some mummified tattooed hands. North Peru 56North Peru 55

We had been in the desert for over a week, so as we turned left and headed up the river valley towards the mountains, the green valley filled with fruit trees was a welcomed sight.

As usual, we’re a bit sad to be leaving this area behind. The great surf, the interesting and odd places, the wide open spaces and eating the best ceviche everyday will be missed. But it’s time again for the mountains.

Posted from: Huaraz, Peru