The high Andes

So long, Starbucks, and thanks for all the WIFI.

Our day in Lima was well-spent taking advantage of modern comforts, but we need to catch our bus. We throw our backpacks into the luggage hold, and climb aboard. We’re used to this now. Vroom.

Pulling into the bus terminal of Huaraz is reminiscent of Chachapoyas: this is a mountain town. But here the peaks surrounding the city are much higher, many over 6000 meters tall. Fellow Americans, that’s about 20,000 feet.

Epic, snow-capped scenery.

Plaza de Armas, Huaraz

 

View from hotel

The main street that runs through the center of Huaraz has narrow sidewalks packed with people. They move at a frustratingly slow pace, but we figure this serves them well in high altitudes. Nonetheless, Léa and I are constantly jumping into the street to move past the locals, many of whom are cheerful students in school uniforms and women wearing their fantastic traditional dress of wide-brimmed, somewhat masculine hats and large, colorful fabric satchels.

We make our way around town to find accommodation and a hearty breakfast. We visit the local tourist office who recommends a hike to nearby Laguna 69 as a way for us to acclimate to the high altitude before we embark on our five day trek through Huayhuash. It is a very full day of hiking, which requires getting up at sunrise and taking several forms of transport to the trailhead.

Though very tiring, this hike was well worth the effort, as the views of neighboring peaks were spectacular and arriving at the lake was unexpectedly breathtaking.

All of a sudden a patch of color appears on the horizon above.

The lake slowly reveals itself during the last stretch. Unreal, turquoise water cradled by snow-covered mountainside, fed by a waterfall. Precious.

We’re a bit dizzy up here at 4,600 meters, but I suppose that’s the point. We survive this, and we’ll survive the upcoming trek.

Back in Huaraz. Yummy pizza warms our bellies during the chilly mountain evening while we plan potential routes for our trip through Huayhuash looking at a topographical map. We rent hiking poles, a stove and some cold-weather sleeping bags to complement the gear we already have. We buy five days of backpacking food at a local supermarket. The town is well-equipped for trekking, and we’re set to go on our trip.

The trek through Huayhuash is a wonderful adventure. The whole time we are short of breath, surrounded by enormous mountains.

Campsite Day 1

Every now and then you hear the echoing BOOM of an avalanche, some of which we can see: cascading rivers of snow high on the mountainside. And one which took down the entire snowy face of the nearest peak in an epic rumbling cloud of white.

Campsite Day 2

As we hike up steep passes and through beautiful rolling valleys we encounter locals who live in remote villages with two to five inhabitants. Half the year they take care of the sheep, donkeys, cows and other livestock that roam the hills. The other half of the year it seems most move to bigger towns to wait for the rainy season to pass.

They seem impressed that we’re hiking on our own with just backpacks, without a tour or mules to carry our things. “Pura mochila?” they say. While their surprise makes us feel like mountain warriors slowly trudging through challenging territory, we’re quickly humbled once we see them run up and down the steep mountainside like it’s nothing.

During an off-trail ascent we stop to chat with one local, Liberata, who lives alone with her husband in a valley at the base of the tallest peaks. She has twelve children who have all since moved away to a variety of cities throughout Peru. Léa and I imagine what it’s like for her children to explain where they’re from, and wonder if they ever come home for the holidays.

Liberata appears on the horizon

 

Liberata with her home in the background

As we bid Liberata farewell, she ensures our safety by intimidating the numerous and aggressive sheep dogs by throwing dried cow poop at them. I throw a few pieces myself, and she approves. They keep their distance.

Liberata heading home

The weather was constantly changing. Climbing up to one of the passes just under 5,000 meters, we were sweating in our T-shirts. Thirty minutes later, we put on our jackets as dark clouds form overhead. Ten minutes later we see a flurry of snow approach us. Ten seconds later it’s winter and we’re confused and worried about getting over the pass. Twenty minutes later it’s sunny again, our smiles restored.

Surprised by snow

 

Sun again!

 

Campsite Day 3, in stone ruins

Eventually it’s time for us to make our way back to civilization. As we start to climb our last pass, it begins to hail pea-sized balls of ice. We figure it will pass soon, so we keep climbing. But no, it hails for a while, and covers the mountain and neighboring valley in white. Thankfully, we have snickers bars and are in good spirits. A little hail can’t hurt us!

It’s our last day on the trail and, after spending a few hours in a tiny stone hut with a kind man that invited us in to wait out the afternoon rain, we venture out to set up our tent for the fourth night. His curious puppy pops his head in to see what we’re up to, then runs away. We laugh at the cuteness, then pass out.

With tired legs we stumble down the last bit of trail, spend a morning in a tiny town with lots of drunk men, and arrive back in Huaraz in time for hot showers and fondue. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that one of my favorite things about backpacking is the first meal you eat afterwards. So good.

Bonus puppy picture, Llamac

These mountains are so beautiful, I really hope to come back some day to explore some more!

We make sure to visit Huaraz’s nearby hot springs before catching a night bus back to Starbucks.

I mean back to Lima.

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Categories: Posts in English

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