Cordillera Blanca

Peru part 2 | cordillera blanca | Day 490

The Cordillera Blanca and the Huayhuash are a high altitude mountainous region of Central Peru. A region densely populated with grandiose peaks, altiplanos, and mythical treks, the stuff of legends. Only to be rivaled by certain parts of the Himalaya, but much lesser known and easier to access. This region is practically the whole reason we came to South America. Big hitters on the horizon such as: Huascaran, Alpamayo, Santa Cruz, and Artesonraju aka. “The Paramount Mountain.” We ended up spending three weeks trekking in the area. Utilizing the buzzing little Andean town of Huaraz as our base camp. These three weeks were not without obstacles: battling sickness, injury and rain that chased us over every pass and hide around every valley.

Santa Cruz

Tightening the laces on our Brooks, hope we remember how to do this! Santa Cruz: A four day trek to get up and over Punta Union Pass (15,600ft) walking in the shadow of colossal mountains and stunning lagunas. Dislodging ourselves from the over-crowded van, we were dropped off on the side of a gravel road in the pouring rain and to top it off Olivia walked the last miles of the trek hobbling as she descended thousands of feet with a bum hip. This just about sets the tone for our time in the Blanca. Can’t say what caused caused the hip problem; we assume a combo of too much climbing  too fast and too much weight for her frameless pack. Despite the obstacles we survived, we got breaks in the weather at just the right times (except the pass). We ended up hiking most of Santa Cruz with Lelia and Sean, an amazing power couple who have been traveling around Central and South America for the last year or so. Some people you just really click with and it was great to have some company on this trek.


Laguna Churup

While Olivia was recovering from her hip and newly acquired cold, some good weather opened up and I skipped out for the day to hitch a ride up to the nearest trailhead. Within 45 minutes ride from Huaraz lies Laguna Churup trek. A classic day hike up to a high altitude Laguna, usually used to get acclimatized for the higher passes of the Huayhuash or Santa Cruz.


Laguna 69 & Pisco Base Camp

Laguna 69 is a three hour “collectivo hop” north of Huaraz, and people are practically lining up for it. Probably the most frequented trek in the Blanca, and for a good reason. It’s the most beautiful lake I have seen in my life. At five in the morning, little “collectivo” vans zip around town snatching up people for the journey north. The vans are mostly full of locals heading towards Caraz, the other large town in the region. When there are no more “seats” left, including the makeshift seats jammed in the front row, people are stuffed in the isle, standing room. The van originally created for ten now holds 20+. Things get interesting to say the least, but hell, it costs less than $1. Most people doing this trek do an out and back, as a day trek. We decided to stay the night and scramble over a higher pass to the east on our way to Pisco Base Camp, a little mountain refuigo built by an Italian church to help serve the impoverished surrounding areas. People stay in the hut before their midnight wakeup call to summit  Pisco. Despite a few sketchy scree scrambles, the views of Huascaran north and south were jaw-dropping. 


Ishinka Valley

I had not even heard of the Ishinca Valley until Mark had mentioned it to me. “Its a valley that runs just west of Huaraz, there are some ruins on the far side of the pass, and the scramble down should not be attempted in bad weather” he told me. “I’m down,” I replied. Olivia sat this one out due to some projectile food poising, still working on that South America belly. 

Mark is a Financial advisor who spends half of his year in the Canadian Rockies, and the other half in Bariloche, Chile, in the northern half of Patagonia. He has been tramping all over this world for the last who knows how long. Spending the last three months just in the Cordillera Blanca riding bikes and trekking passes. Once upon a time he was a professional caver, and has crawled through and repelled down some of the craziest caves the world has to offer. I imagine his plan is to continue adventuring anywhere and everywhere for as long as possible. 

Sasja is a Dutchman who started traveling ten months ago. He flew down to Patagonia to help in an awesome hostel and trek around for six months while learning Spanish. Then started trekking and spreading good vibes all over the rest of South America. He speaks four languages, and has an infectious energetic spirit. His plans to continue roaming around Oceana and Asia for the next couple years.


Walking around town, out of the corner of our eye we noticed a handful of bikepackers on plus sized bikes weaving in and out of traffic. I shout out … “Cass?!,” and he turns his head with a big smile. What are the chances that we would run into someone we recognize in Peru? Let alone the person who’s photos and writing were probably our biggest inspiration for this trip.  Cass Gilbert from While Out Riding, Daniel from Tumbleweed Bikes, Pepper from @bookbikebrew, and Jay from Jaybird films were literally just peddling their last strokes of an epic month long ride across Peru. Hopefully in the coming months we’ll all get to see what the group filmed. We felt honored to share a couple beers with such an inspirational and hilarious crew. 

"What are the chances that we would run into someone we recognize in Peru? Let alone the person who’s photos and writing were probably our biggest inspiration for this trip."

I guess Huarez is just a place where things like that happen. A city of about 80,000 people that have an extensive language through horn-honking, crowded sidewalks full of venders selling random trinkets and entire cooked pigs, and a small parade about every other day celebrating this or that. The entire town seems haphazardly thrown together with leftover bricks and mortar. It seems this way because it was. In the 70’s a devastating earthquake/flood/avalanche ruined most of the town and now what’s been rebuilt is not quite as visually pleasing as say…Cusco. But we truly enjoyed our time in this lovely little pueblo. It harnesses a certain kind of spirit, and draws a more adventurous traveler. A traveller who craves mountains, and one who came for a reason: to explore the great outdoors. Many people come and stay for a long time, sometimes spending the entire season there and returning for the next. There is always the bustle of organizing gear, shopping for food, and some climber getting beta for their next assent. Huaraz is a little more rough around the edges, but If I were to return to any part of South America it would probably be Huaraz. Plus they have fresh trout ceviche for hella cheap. There is much to be done and the energy is great. 



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