Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Photos & Notes

Just in the nick of time – I’m off to Nepal on Friday – I’ve finished Flickering and writing up my notes from last summer’s Cordillera Blanca Traverse with Val Pitkethly.

My photos are all in my Peru – June/July 2015 album on Flickr. Annoyingly they’ve removed the ability to link to a day’s photos, which breaks all the links in my photos & notes for previous trips. Goodness only knows why it’s deemed unworthy. [Jan 2017: I’ve added date-specific tags to my Flickr photos, and links to them here.]

But I digress. Here’s my day by day account of what we did:

Monday 29 June 2015: London – Amsterdam – Lima (photos)

Rendezvoused with Barney (and Tom and Jo) at London City Airport, then all aboard our KLM flights from LCY to Lima via Amsterdam. We were on a brand new plane for the main flight.

Once landed in Lima, Alphonso and Lydia met us at the airport and drove us to the familiar Faraona Grand Hotel in Miraflores. The unusually empty streets were due to football – Peru were playing Chile in the Copa América.

Dinner courtesy of Metro supermercardo on Calle Schell.

Tuesday 30 June 2015: Lima (79m) – Huaraz (3052m) (photos)

9.30am Cruz del Sur bus from Lima to Huaraz. Alphonso ferried us from the Faraona to the bus station in Lima, and sorted tickets and bag check.

Val and Patty met us in Huaraz. Our bags took a taxi and we walked to the Hotel Colomba – where the old dining room is no more, and a new set of rooms is being built. The land to the back is being built on too, but not for the hotel.

Dinner at El Rinconcito Minero with Brian & Mia, Jim & Donna – four Canadians who’d just completed the Alpamayo Circuit with Val.

In bed by 9.30pm.

Wednesday 1 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 1, Huaraz (3052m) (photos)

Breakfast in the Hotel Colomba’s old gym rooms then out and about in town: coffee and farewells to the Canadians at Café Andino, shopping for postcards and stamps for Barney, shopping with Val for supplies at Daniella’s shop and a mooch around the market. To Melky and Antonia’s, where we were given lunch, then back to the hotel for kit check and digging in the stores for crampons, ice axes, harnesses and helmets.

Later in the afternoon Barney and I took a taxi ride with Ebel up to the cross and Mirador at Rataquenua for a beautiful sunset over the Blanca, including crystal clear views of Huascarán‘s summits – Sur (6768 m / 22205 ft) & Norte (6654 m / 21831 ft).

Dinner at Bistro de los Andes, a great view out over the Plaza where people were paying a chap to let them look at the full moon through his telescope.

Thursday 2 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 2, Huaraz (3052m) (photos)

A smashing morning out, doing the Cordillera Negra descent from Shecta back to Huaraz. Clear blue skies, gorgeous views of the Cordillera Blanca on the far side of the Callejón de Huaylas. Crops in the fields and flowers in bloom. Magic.

A quick drink at Cafe Andino then back to El Rinconcito Minero for their set lunch followed an afternoon pottering around and packing – daypack for a couple of nights at the Lazy Dog Inn, and main kit bag for the main traverse.

Dinner at Creperie Patrick (with the complimentary Pisco Sour). Cash from the BCP.

Friday 3 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 3, The Lazy Dog Inn (3650m) (photos)

Farewell to Hotel Colomba (for a while at least) and Ebel’s taxi up to The Lazy Dog Inn (3650m) where we settled into the tee pee.

Hiked up towards Quebrada Llaca as far as the familiar Parque Nacional Huascarán sign at 3965m. More fierce dog encounters en route. Hot but breezy.

Back for lunch and knitted souvenirs at Cafe Yurac Yacu, where we met Viriginie. Getting cloudy and grey overhead, so back to the Lazy Dog to chill out in the lounge with cups of tea, and our first game of scrabble for the trip – on a Spanish board – and, later, the log fire and chatting with other guests. It’s the Independence Day long weekend to those that get US holidays.

Good dinner then off to sleep in the tee pee. Comfy but restless.

Saturday 4 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 4: Quebrada Achiqua day hike (4600m) (photos)

We woke to clear skies and lovely views out across the Callejón de Huaylas to the Cordillera Negra.

Big breakfast, packed lunches assembled then off for a hike over and into the Quebrada Achiqua. More “up” than yesterday, and over rougher terrain to get to the valley. Quenual trees lined the path and we lunched looking down onto horses grazing below, with the foothills of the Nevados Wallunraju and Janyaraju above. On through Quenual woods and “just round the corner” (and up!!) following the stream to a combe at 4600m, although we didn’t get to Laguna Ahuac that’s marked on the map (Alpenvereinskarte 0/3b – Cordillera Blanca – Süd).

Our return route featured more tussock grass traverses and fierce dogs, pine plantations and prickles. Hot and thirsty work, and tea on our return to The Lazy Dog Inn was very welcome. About half an hour after we’d got back, the clouds that had been gathering all afternoon burst – bringing rain and hail, and a stunning double rainbow.

Spent most of the afternoon trying to get rid of a headache – think it was brought on by the heat rather than height. Many cups of coca tea and hot water didn’t work, but a magic green pill from Val did.

Dinner and night 2 in the tee pee.

Sunday 5 July 2015: The Lazy Dog Inn (3650m) to Cruz Cayesh / Quilcayhuanca (4060m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 1.

After another fine breakfast at the Lazy Dog Inn, Claus and the minibus arrived and we drove to Pitec passing Melky and the burros en route.

The Portada de Quilcayhuanca, just past Pitec, was our entry point into the Parque Nacional Huascarán (UNESCO World Heritage Site no 333), and after unpacking the minibus we donned daypacks, paid our park fees and set off on foot along the beautiful Quebrada Quilcayhuanca.

The skies were clearing and the path along the valley floor made for easy walking. Lots of birds – yellow finches and Andean Flickers and Andean Geese – plus a sick calf on the path (Val suspected it had been tempted by the poisonous berries).

A stop for apples, juice and an exploration of the Inca ruins at Nuevo Tambo, with fab views of Nevado Chopíraju at the head of the valley, then onward to the junction of Quebradas Cayesh and Quilcayhuanca, where we planned to camp for the night.

Melky, Claus and the donkeys were following, but only after lengthy negotiations over the increased village payment at the gate, so we got to our camp site well ahead of them. Val sent Barney and me off to walk up the conical, terraced hill at the junction of the valleys. It’s another Inca site, albeit with not so many stone remains, with clear views along the valleys and up to the Nevados Cayesh, Chinchey and Pucaranra. Plenty of photo opportunities.

Spotting two yellow tents going up in the valley below us, we headed back – taking the easier rock bridge back across the river this time. We’d used a fallen tree first time round.

Back at base we sorted out tents – Val and I are in Yerupajá, Barney in El Toro. It had become overcast and with high mountains all around it soon got chilly down in the Quebrada, so our late lunch at 3.30pm segued into tea and Oreos in the dining tent, then dinner. Evening loo trips revealed that our rock-sheltered camp site was also a popular overnight stop for the local horses.

Monday 6 July 2015: Cruz Cayesh / Quilcayhuanca (4060m) to Cayesh Base Camp (4400m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 2.

Frost on the tent first thing heralded clear skies.

Bed tea at 7.15am then breakfast of porridge and an omelette bap, with lots more tea. Camp struck, we retraced our route across the river and up towards the Inca lookout hill, leaving Quebrada Quilcayhuanca and continuing up Quebrada Cayesh.

Fab views – Nevado Cayesh a snow topped needle at the far end of the valley, and behind us Ranrapalca. On the south side of the valley, high waterfalls. A bushy tailed Viscacha on the rocks.

Reaching camp 2, we crossed the river and climbed up the glacial moraine between Chopíraju and Cayesh – to acclimatise and to practice walking up/across scree (still not my strong point, it turns out). A steep ascent over wet scree, cho cho covered slopes and slippery sandy paths, but worth it – we emerged on the moraine wall high above the technicoloured mineral lakes, with stunning views of Cayesh, its snowfield and glacier to the south east and across the Irn Bru orange, mineral-rich river valley below to the vertical rock strata pointing up towards Nevado San Juan to the south west.

Back down at the river, Melky and Claus had set up camp, and two climbers were packing for their attempt on Cayesh. Barney, Val and I tucked into a very welcome late lunch followed by some RnR until Virginie arrived c4pm, bringing chocolate brownies – perfect for afternoon tea.

Lots of photos as the afternoon wore on – blue skies and snow looking spectacular – and as night fell we picked out planets, satellites and stars, and gathered wood for a bonfire before dinner and bed.

Tuesday 7 July 2015: Cayesh Base Camp (4400m) to Pampa Tullpacocha (4270m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 3.

Another day of blue skies.

Breakfast then up the other side of Quebrada Cayesh for more acclimatisation, this time carrying crampon-kit (crampons, Scarpa boots, harness and helmet). Easier underfoot than yesterday, albeit with some exposed rock sections to climb across. Our path took us up the lower slopes of Nevado San Juan to 5000m, just below the Punta Villon / Maparaju glacier.

Magic views back across the valley and over to Nevados Cayesh and Chopíraju and their glaciers, and Ranrapalca to the north west. Beautiful.

A steep descent with a final bush-bash back to camp, where we were welcomed by Claus’s dog, Olly – his eye sight clearly not so good!

Soup and toasted sarnies for lunch then all the way back down the Quebrada Cayesh, across the river and turning right into Quebrada Quilcayhuanca.

Camp 3 was at Pampa Tullpacocha (4270m), a lovely riverside field edged with boulders and Quenual trees. Fab views up the valley to Tullparaju and the moraine walls of Tullpacocha, Chopíraju to the east and the sun lit slopes of Nevado San Juan to the south east.

A lazy afternoon.

Dinner. Stars. Bed.

Wednesday 8 July 2015: Pampa Tullpacocha (4270m) to Cuchilla Pampa camp (4572m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 4.

Morning walk up to Laguna Tullpacocha (4395m) – glacial blue with Tullparaju (5787m) backdrop, then back to our Pampa Tullpacocha camp to pack up and head north out of Quebrada Quilcayhuanca.

We zigged zagged up out of the valley along an old Inca route to Cuchilla Pampa, saying farewell to Virginie en route and arrived at our Cuchilla Pampa camp which we shared with the local herd of cows. Leaving our daypacks out of reach of cows’ tongues, we strolled up to the second lovely lake of the day – the glacial green Laguna Cuchillacocha (4695m). A lovely lounge against a rock, chatting with Val and taking in the scenery – Nevado Pucaranra (6156m) looming over the lake, sending glaciers down to feed the laguna. By the time we’d got back to camp, Melky, Claus and the donkeys had arrived and it was time for a late lunch.

Our Cuchilla Pampa camp was in a beautiful spot – a clear stream flowing nearby (and time to do a little bit of laundry), rolling hills and high plateaus providing superb views back down into the Quebradas we’d come from and up to the Nevados above – an old Inca look out hill nearby.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring before preparing for our lightweight section of the traverse, and meeting Freddy and Beto who were to be portering for us for the next 3 days. Scarpas, crampons, harness, helmet and ice axe took up almost all of the space in my daypack. We divvied up the kit that we didn’t need into two more piles – stuff that could go back to Huaraz, stuff that we’d want again once we’d got to Ishinca Base Camp. Like clean underwear….

Packing done, and crazy cattle antics avoided (cows in heat pursued by bulls careered close to our tents) I headed up the nearby Inca hill where horses and cows were grazing. A condor swooped overhead. Calves played. Magic views from East to West: N. Jatunmontepuncu (aka Huapi, 5421m), N. Pucaranra (6156m), N. Chinchey (6309m)(just) and the ridge across to N. Tullparaju (5787m) and another to N. Chopíraju (5518m) with its multicoloured lower slopes and then round to N. San Juan (5843m) to our South, now missing a large chunk of snow/glacier that forms the main ascent route – the loud boom we’d heard this morning had been that avalanching off.

As the early evening light faded, Barney and I headed back to camp via a small pond, which provided beautiful reflections of Pucaranra.

A bonfire to roast a chicken or two, dinner (pollo y papas fritas) and then bed.

Thursday 9 July 2015: Cuchilla Pampa camp (4572m) to Quebrada Cojup camp (4387m) via the Cho Cho Pass (5100m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 5.

A slow start, getting all the kit allocated.

Once that was all sorted to Val’s satisfaction, the three of us headed across the grassy plateau and then up a steep incline, up, up, up, out of the Cuchilla Pampa and onto rockier terrain. A short break at a shallow pool provided the first photo opportunity. Later on, the shadow of a hummingbird (this high?).

Magical mountain vistas continued as we climbed – slower going than usual for me, and not just because of the views.

Val got Barney and me to try out our snow skills on the first patch of snow we got to, and a little later we arrived at the Cho Cho (Choco?) Pass (5100m) where Claus, Bertho, Freddie and Olly-the-dog caught up with us. Melky was taking the donkeys back out along the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca and meeting us at Ishinca Base Camp in a couple of days time.

Absolutely amazing views of Ranrapalca (6162m) and the Ranrapalca-Ishinca col we’d be crossing on Saturday as we left the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca and moved into the Quebrada Cojup. Lots of photos. Helmets on as the rock hopping descent began.

A long, steep and tiring descent to lunch at 4660m – I got a pounding headache and really slowed down. Val stayed with me, chatting, as Barney and the chaps powered ahead. A fox provided entertainment as we tucked into lunch, admiring the views down into the valley.

More descent, over grass and dirt track to a pampa for a short break and and then more zig zagging down to the river, and camp 5. A gorgeous spot with a fabulous view up towards Laguna Palcacocha and the twin peaks of Nevados Pucaranra (6156m) and Palcaraju (6274m). I was too shattered to appreciate it, crashing out in the tent and sleeping until Val called me for dinner.

Bonfire No 3. Early to bed.

Friday 10 July 2015: Quebrada Cojup camp (4387m) to Ishinca High Camp (5082m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 6.

My diary stopped on 9th July (and that entry was written on the bus back to Lima), so from here on in I’m reliant on my initial blogpost (Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Complete) supplemented by memories jogged by my photos.

Our start up the northwestern slopes of Quebrada Cojup coincided with the sun reaching our part of the valley.

A lot of up, a lot of bush bashing, rewarded with hidden lakes and stunning views of Pucaranra and Palcaraju massifs – but I still wasn’t on form, slow going and hardly any photos (now, that’s a sign that all is not well!).

High camp was on the shores of a small lake, deserted but for a handful of nesting water birds. Beautiful but harsh – set in the rock field, with frozen waterfalls falling from Ishinca‘s snowfields into the north side of the lake. After lunch I went for a potter along the lakeside, practising with my Scarpas for tomorrow’s crossing of the col. Here and there, alpine flowers and strange, prehistoric-looking plants grew amidst the boulders.

Wonderful light on the lake and mountains as the afternoon turned into evening. Cold once the sun had gone, so speedy dinner of veg spag bol, then bed.

Saturday 11 July 2015: Ishinca High Camp (5082m) – Ishinca / Ranrapalca col (5380m) – Ishinca Base Camp (4385m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 7.

4am alarm for our crossing of the col and Nevado Ishinca summit attempt. Val made tea and porridge in the tent and by 5am we were off, crossing the rock fields by the light of our head torches.

Beautiful dawn over the mountains behind us and we reached the snowline around 7.45am. This is where I had my first proper experience of soroche – spending 5 minutes trying to put on Barney’s crampons (size 11, blue straps) – I only realised that they weren’t mine when I started to do up the straps… definitely out of it.

Still, I made it up to the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col, with blue skies and stunning views out over the Cordillera Blanca – incredibly photogenic. Patrick Runggaldier’s annotated panorama of from the summit of Ishinca has been very handy in helping me name what we saw.

Freddie and Bertho (and Olly) continued on down from the pass leaving Val, Claus, Barney and me to set off across the snowfield towards Ishinca. Faced with the steeper slopes I decided today wasn’t the day for my first Nevado, and Val stayed with me leaving Barney and Claus to continued on to summit. After taking lots of photos of Barney and Claus on their ascent (and worrying, just a little, whenever they were out of sight), Val and I headed down across the snowfield to the path where Freddie and Bertho (and Olly) were waiting. Time for sandwiches and more photos. Lovely.

Once Claus and Barney returned and photos and food were dealt with, we set off down the path into the Quebrada Ishinca. Even that was exhausting (I got another headache) and I was very happy to get to Ishinca Base Camp – even if the final stream crossing almost finished me off!

Lots of tents at camp 7, a beautiful setting and a rather fine refugio – reminiscent of the ones on the Mont Blanc Circuit. Nice to see Melky and the dining tent again!

I think we had beers bought from the local ladies to celebrate the Ishinca summit.

Sunday 12 July 2015: Ishinca Base Camp (4385m) – Rest day (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 8.

Everyone was happy with a rest day. After a late breakfast, Val, Barney, Bertho and I headed back up the Quebrada Ishinca to lovely Laguna Milluacocha with its cairns and Nevado Tocllaraju (6032m) backdrop.

Lots of birds, including an Andean Flicker, plus a viscacha on the way back.

Afternoon scrabble and coffee in Refugio Ishinca. Lots of people eating in.

Monday 13 July 2015: Ishinca Base Camp (4385m): Urus Oeste ascent (5350m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 9.

An early start for our ascent of Urus. We followed a clear path from behind the refugio and up the northern flanks of the Quebrada Ishinca, watching the sun rise over the Cordillera Negra to the west and the three peaks of Ranrapalca, Ocshapalca and Janyaraju to the south.

Barney wasn’t feeling too good, so he turned back with Claus and Freddie leaving me with Val and Bertho. Not 100% myself, but feeling more energetic and positive after a rest day. No problems with crampons today, and crossing the rock fields in Scarpas went OK. I cheated a bit – Bertho carried my heavier boots up to the rock/snow so I could wear my Salomons while we were on the path.

I still found it hard going though and the rope regularly tightened as I sank to a slower pace than Val wanted.

Amazing views from our stop at the col between Urus Este and Urus Oeste, and all the more jaw dropping from the top – which I *think* was Urus Oeste (Val’s circled it on the map and fits my memories of the col), which the map gives as 5350m.

Clear views back to the Ranrapalca / Ishinca col and the adjacent peaks, plus Tocllaraju (6032m) and Palcaraju (6274m) and Laguna Milluacocha just peeking out. New views to our north and east, with Nevado Akilpo and its laguna coming into view to the east and Nevado Copa (6188m) not quite managing to hide Huascarán Sur (6768m) – the highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca and the whole of Peru – to the north. Patrick Runggaldier’s annotated panorama of from the summit of Ishinca helping here again!

Lots of photos, and then a speedy descent as the day was warming up and the snow getting softer. We didn’t meet a single soul all day – contrasting with the lines of climbers we’d seen descending yesterday.

The descent was a real slog, particularly once we were back on the path. I slipped three times, every muscle in my neck and shoulders tensed, and the refugio stayed a resolutely tiny speck in the distance – there were times when I thought I’d never be back in the valley again, let alone our camp.

Lunch at soon as we got back, and beers to celebrate our respective summits before dinner. I think I probably slept between the two…

Tuesday 14 July 2015: Ishinca Base Camp (4385m) – Akilpo Pass (5062m) – Quebrada Aquillpo camp (4220m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 10.

Another day of up-and-over, heading back up the northern slopes of Quebrada Ishinca to cross into the Quebrada Akilpo (Akillpo, Aquillpo) via the Akilpo Pass. Scarpas and crampons again, rope, harness and helmets for the final section over lose rocks. Tiring.

Cloudier than yesterday, and colder too. Grey views back towards Ranrapalca, Ocshapalca and Janyaraju, and once we reached the pass we found cloud covering the peaks to the north, hiding Copa and Huascarán Sur. Akilpo was close and clear though, Tocllaraju too.

Another long descent down into and out along the Quebrada Akilpo, returning to grassland. As we followed the stream, bushes and trees reappeared too.

Camp 8 – our last night’s camping on the Traverse – came with a large boulder that served as a kitchen, a bridge across the stream and great views of Nevado Akilpo. Lovely evening light lit up the skies and the snow. We dined by the light of our final bonfire.

Wednesday 15 July 2015: Quebrada Akilpo camp (4220m) – Honco Pampa (3515m) – Huaraz (3052m) (photos)

Cordillera Blanca Traverse day 11.

Frost on the tents at our Quebrada Akilpo camp, but beautiful clear views back to Nevados Akilpo and a lovely walk out from the Cordillera Blanca along the Quebrada Akilpo. Woods, water, flowers – and farms as we approached the roadhead and Inca ruins at Honco Pampa (Joncopampa on the map). It felt like we were suddenly in a different world.

Birthday present given and received, then back to Huaraz and the Hotel Colomba for a shower and thank you / farewell / birthday beers, then a birthday dinner, complete with chocolate cake and sparkler, back at Bistro de los Andes.

Thursday 16 July 2015: Huaraz (3052m) & Hatun Machay (4290m) (photos)

We left Huaraz and the Hotel Colomba to spend our last couple of days at Hatun Machay. The taxi there with Val and Melky took us back along the main road south. Dark clouds over the southern Blanca – Hatun Machay was looking a much better option than our alternate plan, Pastoruri. A large Dragoman-type group of climbers staying at the refugio included a bunch of Brits, some more annoying than others.

Tents pitched in the grounds of the refugio, we lunched and then spent the afternoon exploring the Wari caves and rock climbing. Well, Barney, Val and Melky did – I took photos.

Tea and biscuits, and later dinner, back at the refugio.

Friday 17 July 2015: Hatun Machay (4290m) & Huaraz (3052m) (photos)

A morning stroll up the hill between the refugio and the road for fab views of the Cordillera Blanca and the Huayhuash. Cloud accumulating on the peaks as we watched.

A couple of hours’ rock climbing, returning to the refugio just in time to beat the rain. A rainy taxi ride back to Huaraz and our last night at the Hotel Colomba.

Pottering and packing at the hotel, then beers bought by Barney at the Café Andino followed by a final slap up meal in El Rinconcito Minero.

Saturday 18 July 2015: Huaraz (3052m) to Lima (photos)

Stage 1 of the journey back to reality on the Cruz del Sur. Final coffee Café Andino then farewells at the bus station.

Usual slow crawl back into Lima, where Alphonso was waiting patiently to drive us to the Faraona Grand Hotel, although arriving too late for the complimentary Pisco Sour. Dinner à la supermercardo.

Sunday 19 July 2015: Lima – Amsterdam (no photos)

Morning in Miraflores. Barney chilled out at the hotel, I walked down to the seafront and strolled along the prom.

Once again my return stopover in Lima coincided with El Corso de Wong, so Alphonso recommended an early transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to Amsterdam with KLM. We whiled away the hours before check in watching the world / people go by and reading.

Monday 20 July 2015: Amsterdam – London (no photos)

Final hop back across the channel to London – me to Heathrow, Barney to City. With our rucksacks doing the reverse.

Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Complete

Trip No. 3 to the Peruvian Andes with Val Pitkethly, and definitely the toughest so far: ten nights over 4000m, seven valleys, three passes over 5000m, and a peak: Urus / Yanarahu, at 5495m. A lot of up and down, two stretches with daypacks plus portered kit only, and several stints in harness and helmet, rope, crampons and ice axe.

The trek / traverse was made harder by a flu-type bug/virus that we all picked up, which meant I had my first proper experience of altitude sickness – as we prepared to cross the first snow covered pass at ~5300m and I tried to put on Barney’s crampons (size 11, blue straps) and only realised that they weren’t mine when I started to do up the straps… Definitely out of it. Exhausted too, coming down from that pass, and it meant I didn’t do Ishinca, the first of our main peaks. Barney and Claus summited that on their own, but sadly sans camera.

We finished off the trip with a couple of days rock climbing and exploring the Wari caves at Hatun Machay – very luckily avoiding the downpours that were by then covering the Blanca in snow and rain. We’d spent a couple of acclimatisation days at the Lazy Dog Inn before starting our trek and had hail there… so very lucky having good weather for the 11 days of our Cordillera Blanca Traverse.

Here’s what we did:

Monday 29 June 2015: London to Lima via Amsterdam, with KLM. Overnight at the Faraona Grand Hotel, Miraflores.
Tuesday 30 June 2015: Cruz del Sur bus from Lima to Huaraz (3052m). Dinner at El Rinconcito Minero, with Brian & Mia, Jim & Donna – four Canadians who’d just completed the Alpamayo Circuit with Val. Overnight at the Hotel Colomba.
Wednesday 1 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 1, Huaraz (3052m): Out and about in town, with a taxi ride with Ebel up to the cross and Mirador at Rataquenua for sunset over the Blanca. Dinner at Bistro de los Andes, overnight at the Hotel Colomba.
Thursday 2 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 2, Huaraz (3052m): Cordillera Negra descent, from Shecta back to Huaraz. Dinner at Creperie Patrick (with the complimentary Pisco Sour), overnight at the Hotel Colomba.
Friday 3 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 3: Taxi to The Lazy Dog Inn (3650m) and hike up to the Parque Nacional Huascarán sign at 3965m. Lunch and knitted souvenirs at Cafe Yurac Yacu. Dinner and overnight at The Lazy Dog Inn – in the teepee!
Saturday 4 July 2015: Acclimatisation day 4: Day hike up to Quebrada Achiqua ( Q. “Ahuac” on the map) and “just round the corner” (and up!!) to 4600m. Dinner and overnight at The Lazy Dog Inn, night 2 in the teepee. Hail and a headache.
Sunday 5 July 2015: The Lazy Dog Inn (3650m) to Cruz Cayesh / Quilcayhuanca (4060m), by minibus to the entrance to the Parque Nacional Huascarán at Pitec, then on foot along the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca. Donkeys, Melky and Claus following, after lengthy negotiations over the increased village payment at the gate. Acclimatisation walk up the Inca lookout hill at the junction of Quebradas Cayesh and Quilcayhuanca.
Monday 6 July 2015: Cruz Cayesh / Quilcayhuanca (4060m) to Cayesh Base Camp (4400m). Afternoon hike up the glacial moraine to see the peaks, the glacier and the mineral lakes – and to acclimatise and to practice walking up/across scree (still not my strong point, it turns out).
Tuesday 7 July 2015: Cayesh Base Camp (4400m) to Pampa Tullpacocha (4270m): Morning hike up to the Punta Villon / Maparaju Glacier (5000m), afternoon stroll back down the Quebrada Cayesh and further up the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca to our camp at Pampa Tullpacocha.
Wednesday 8 July 2015: Pampa Tullpacocha (4270m) to Cuchilla Pampa camp (4572m): Morning walk up to Laguna Tullpacocha (4395m) – glacial blue with Tullparahu backdrop, then zig zag up along an old Inca route to Cuchilla Pampa, and a stroll to Laguna Cuchillacocha (4695m) before a late lunch back at camp. Traverse prep and packing in the afternoon, and meeting Freddy and Beto, our porters.
Thursday 9 July 2015: Cuchilla Pampa camp (4572m) over the Cho Cho Pass (5100m) and down-down-down to our Quebrada Cojup Camp (4387m)
Friday 10 July 2015: Quebrada Cojup Camp (4387m) to Ishinca High Camp (5082m). A lot of up, a lot of bush bashing, rewarded with hidden lakes and stunning views of Pukaranra and Pallqarahu massifs – and “our” lake, deserted but for nesting water birds.
Saturday 11 July 2015: Ishinca High Camp (5082m) over the Ishinca / Ranrapalca Col (5380m) and down to Ishinca Base Camp (4385m). Soroche for me, Nevado Ishinca summit (5530m) for Barney and Claus.
Sunday 12 July 2015: Ishinca Base Camp (4385m): Rest day with a walk to Laguna Milluacocha and its cairns, and Nevado Tocllaraju / Tuqllarahu (6032m) backdrop. Afternoon scrabble and coffee in Refugio Ishinca.
Monday 13 July 2015: Ishinca Base Camp (4385m): Nevado Urus Este summit (5423m). A slog, especially the descent.
Tuesday 14 July 2015: Ishinca Base Camp (4385m) over the Aquillpo / Akilpo Pass (5062m) and down into the Quebrada Aquillpo (4220m) for our last night’s camping on the Traverse.
Wednesday 15 July 2015: Quebrada Aquillpo (4220m) to the roadhead and Inca ruins at Honco Pampa (3515m). Back to Huaraz (3052m) for a shower, thank you / farewell / birthday beers and birthday dinner at Bistro de los Andes, complete with chocolate cake and sparkler. Overnight at Hotel Colomba.
Thursday 16 July 2015: Huaraz (3052m) to Hatun Machay (4290m) by taxi with Val and Melky for an afternoon of Wari caves and rock climbing.
Friday 17 July 2015: Hatun Machay (4290m) to Huaraz (3052m): a morning’s rock climbing, then a rainy ride back to Huaraz for beers bought by Barney at the Café Andino followed by a final slap up meal in El Rinconcito Minero and our last night at the Hotel Colomba.
Saturday 18 July 2015: Huaraz (3052m) to Lima via Cruz del Sur. Overnight at the Faraona Grand Hotel, Miraflores.
Sunday 19 July 2015: Morning in Miraflores – once again coinciding with El Corso de Wong, so an early transfer to the airport for our overnight flight to Amsterdam with KLM.
Monday 20 July 2015: Final hop back across the channel to London – Heathrow and City respectively. With our rucksacks doing the reverse.

I’ll be adding photos to Flickr as usual (Peru, June/July 2015), but in the meantime here are some highlights:

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: The Blanca and Huaraz in the late afternoon light
The Blanca and Huaraz in the late afternoon light © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: The Blanca and Huaraz in the early evening light
The Blanca and Huaraz in the early evening light © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Lunch at Cafe Yurac Yacu
Lunch at Cafe Yurac Yacu © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
Quebrada Quilcayhuanca © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Quebrada Cayesh, terminus
Quebrada Cayesh, terminus © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Twilight, Quebrada Cayesh, looking towards Ranrapallca
Twilight, Quebrada Cayesh, looking towards Ranrapallca © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Bonfire light, Quebrada Cayesh
Bonfire light, Quebrada Cayesh © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Cayesh peaks and glacier
Cayesh peaks and glacier © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Cuchilla Pampa camp - not a bad spot!
Cuchilla Pampa camp – not a bad spot! © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Huapi, Pukaranra, Chinchey (?) and Tullparahu
Huapi, Pukaranra, Chinchey (?) and Tullparahu © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: our first stretch of now, en route to the Cho Cho Pass
Our first stretch of snow, en route to the Cho Cho Pass © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Ranrapallca and Ishinca, from the Cho Cho Pass
Ranrapallca and Ishinca, from the Cho Cho Pass © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Ishinca High Camp - lake and mountain
Ishinca High Camp – lake and mountain © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Val on Ishinca-Ranrapallca Col
Val on Ishinca-Ranrapallca Col © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Freddy, Beto, Claus, Barney & me at the Ishinca-Ranrapallca Col
Freddy, Beto, Claus, Barney & me on the Ishinca-Ranrapallca Col © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Barney & Claus starting their Ishinca ascent
Barney & Claus starting their Ishinca ascent © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Barney & Claus on the final stretch up to the summit of Ishinca
Barney & Claus on the final stretch up to the summit of Ishinca © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Barney & Claus summit Ishinca

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: me at Laguna Milluacocha
Me at Laguna Milluacocha © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Urus Este panorama
Urus Este panorama © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Val and Beto, Urus Este summit
Val and Beto, Urus Este summit © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Roped up for the Aquillpo pass
Roped up for the Aquillpo pass © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Quebrada Aquillpo camp
Quebrada Aquillpo camp © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Honco Pampa
Honco Pampa © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Hatun Machay
Hatun Machay © Mary Loosemore

Highlights of the Cordillera Blanca Traverse: Bye bye boots
Bye bye boots © Mary Loosemore

Cordillera Blanca Traverse: People & Prep

Barney’s going to be joining me in Peru this summer for Val Pitkethly’s Cordillera Blanca Traverse – w00t w00t!!

I also spotted that last summer Mark Horrell did a pretty similar route to our planned one – which he wrote up on his blog, Exploring the Cordillera Blanca’s high altitude playground.

Tom phoned me as Phil and I were walking home from Covent Garden, where I’d purchased a pair of Scarpa Women’s Rebel Lite GTX. The spec says they can cope with the kind of crampons we used in the Blanca last summer, and they are a much better/lighter/more sensitive fit than my

But pink??? (Calling it ‘dahlia’ doesn’t make the gender stereotyping design any more palatable.) Am I supposed to dress up as a sugar plum fairy before I don crampons for the Cordillera Blanca Traverse? And ‘Rebel’ – really? How do you square that with the messaging sent by the pink and silver colours?

Yes – just add matching boots and crampons!

Actually, I’ve just spotted that the Men’s equivalent starts at size 41. That’s the size I bought, so I’m going to see if I can exchange my pair of Women’s Rebel Lite GTXPrincess Barbie Mariposa Gender Stereotyped‘ GTX boots for the petrol/orange version. If that’s not possible, it’ll be time to get the black permanent marker pen out….

Where Next: Back to Peru, for the Cordillera Blanca Traverse

Not strictly ‘next’ as I’ve not been on the Tsum Valley Trek yet, but I’ve just confirmed these as my summer plans…

Destination: Back to Peru with Val, to do the Cordillera Blanca Traverse.

Why: To trek and climb in the high, snowy mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. It’ll be non-technical winter climbing involving ropes, crampons and ice-axe, and “[Ishinka / Ishinca (5550m/18204ft) would be] a good one up from last year’s climb” Val tells me. I expect we’ll also be delivering / repairing some of LED‘s solar lights.

Ishinca area map, from MadTeam

When: July 2015.

How: On a private trek with Val Pitkethly. Flights booked with KLM today.

What: What happens once I’m in Huaraz is up to Val! We’ll be in the the Parque Nacional Huascarán (Huascaran National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site No 333) again, this time the section to the north of Huaraz.

Here’s Val’s outline:

  • Acclimatisation in Huaraz (3050m) – probably 1 night at Lazy Dog again
  • Up the Quillcaywanka valley (Quebrada Quilcayhuanca) to Pass Villion (Punta Villón / Abra Villón, 5000m)
  • Into Quebrada Cayash and up to Culliacocha lakes (Laguna Cuchillacocha, 4650m) and over Cho Cho pass (Choko / Choco, 5030m).
  • Up to Cojup (4250m) and over Ishinka / Ranrapalca col with optional climb of Ishinka / Ishinca (5550m/18204ft) then option of Urus (Urus Este, 5420m).
  • Depending on conditions we might go over the Aquillpo pass (Akilpo pass, 4800m) before descending Quebrada Aquillpo and back to Huaraz.
  • We might fit in a quick trip to the Southern Blanca again if there’s time.

Trek Itineraries & Reports:

Cordillera Blanca: photos and notes

Embarrassingly tardy this, given that my trek in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca with Val took place last summer. Although I did a short post with photos when I got back (Back from Peru: Cordillera Blanca complete), sometimes I just need longer to be ready to revisit the trip in detail, adding photos to Flickr and writing up here.

But now at least I’ve started… spurred on by having just booked flights to Kathmandu for me and Hazel to join Val on a trek in Nepal’s Tsum Valley over Easter.

Photos are accumulating in my Peru, June/July 2014 album.

Monday 30 June 2014 – Day 01 – London (25m) – Amsterdam (Schipol airport) (-3m,<- yes, minus three; below sea level!) – Lima (Jorge Chávez International Airport) (34m) (photos)

Early start to get to LHR to check in on KLM flights KL 1002 (LHR-AMS) and KL 0743 (AMS-LIM). I’m getting better at flying solo, although I did have a small wobble as we circled back out over the Channel to kill some time before touching down at Schipol. Daytime flights worked much better than last year’s overnight with Iberia, and I landed in Lima just after 6pm, accompanied by a beautiful sunset.

Alfonso was there to meet me and to drive me to Miraflores for a return visit to the Faraona Grand Hotel. Before relaxing too much, I nipped out to the Metro supermercardo on Calle Schell for supplies and some bits and pieces for dinner. Back to base for a shower, then dinner under the duvet with the TV and wifi for company. Alarm set for 7am.

Tuesday 01 July 2014 – Day 02 – Lima (79m) – Huaraz (3,052m) (photos)

Lima to Huaraz courtesy of Cruz del Sur. Alfonso collected me from the Faraona and drove me to the bus station, looking after luggage check in and picking up my ticket.

A long drive north along the Peru Highway 1 past the familiarly frightening super sand dunes of the coast, and then drying chillies and sweetcorn cobs once we had turned east and followed the river valleys up into the Peruvian Andes, passing over Punta Conococha (Punta Quñuqqucha, 4,100 m / 13,451 ft) in the rain. Free wifi, for so long as the coach was in range of a signal, and lunch on board. A very comfortable journey – better than last year’s.

We arrived early in Huaraz (which I didn’t realise) and there was no Val to meet me at the bus station. Handily, it was only a short walk to our home from home in Huaraz, the lovely Hotel Colomba, which I took at a slow and steady pace given my rucksack had weighed in at 16kg and I was at just over 10,000ft above sea level… Just as I was checking in, Val and Patty rushed up – having discovered my early arrival once they’d got to the bus station, they’d run all the way back along the streets they thought I’d take.

Once I’d settled into my garden room, it was straight out for dinner at the Bistro de los Andes, with Val and CB trekmates-to-be Dave and Mike plus Jono, one half of a Kiwi couple Val was sorting out “proper climbing” for. Tasty food – I went for Thai again – then back to base and to bed not long after 9.30pm. Jet lagged despite the ‘doing nothing’ day.

Wednesday 02 July 2014 – Day 03 – Huaraz (3,052m) (photos)

Acclimatisation day 1….. but first the a long awaited return to the Hotel Colomba‘s breakfast room… YUM.

Minibus via Melky’s to collect a guide for Jono and Clare, over the Río Santa and then up, up, up into the foothills of the Cordillera Negra, passing the municipal rubbish dump at the aptly named Pongo Alto en route.

From our starting point near Shecta we had fantastic views over towards the Cordillera Blanca, but the clouds were covering them fast. A lovely walk, downhill all the way, through fields and farmland, until we reached the ever expanding urban sprawl of Huaraz.

Early lunch at the Cafe Andino, then off to shop with Val and Mike for supplies to take to the LED health post in Quishuar – which included a chest of drawers and pillows for the volunteer medics’ bedroom. Afternoon tea in the gardens of the Colomba, then back out again to purchase school supplies.

Our pre dinner trip briefing took place on the veranda, by which time Christine, the final member of the initial trek team, had arrived. At 6.30pm it was out for dinner at my favourite, El Rinconcito Minero or as I prefer to call it, El Minero Rincón. I don’t know why. Between ordering and eating (Chaufa vegetariano again), Val took Mike and me to get money – this year, thankfully, the BCP bank provided 500 soles cash no problem (300/S for tips, 200/S spends; ~GBP110).

Another early night – I was in bed about 9pm for another good night’s sleep.

Thursday 03 July 2014 – Day 04 – Huaraz (3,052m) – The Lazy Dog Inn (3,650m) (photos)

Acclimatisation day 2 saw us leave the Hostal Colomba for a night, driving higher up into the foothills of the Cordillera Blanca to stay at the lovely Lazy Dog Inn, 600m higher up than Huaraz – lugging our kit bags uphill to the main lodge you could feel it. A stunning setting – superb views over Huaraz and to the Cordillera Negra in one direction, and up into the Blanca in the other.

After teas and coffees with our hosts Diana and Wayne we headed off towards the Quebrada Llaca, walking up as far as the signpost that marks the edge of the Parque Nacional Huascarán (3,965m). Familiar from last year, we got the same smashing walking, lovely flowers and good views.

We lunched at Café Yurac Yacu, a community cafe staffed by local Quechua ladies, just down the hill from the LDI. Fabulous food with a great view…. I opted for Quinoa salad (with sultanas, mango, satsuma, almonds, diced carrot and broccoli bits, all in a citrus dressing) followed by fruit crumble with yoghurt / chocolate brownie and ice cream (going halvies with Val), My only regret is that I didn’t buy one of the knitted hats!

A leisurely afternoon, then pre dinner beers and chats by the open log fire with the other guests at the LDI before an excellent three course meal culminating in banana pancakes – delicious. But absentmindedly drinking the spring water was to result in The Return of Giardia during the night….

Friday 04 July 2014 – Day 05 – The Lazy Dog Inn (3,650m) – Huaraz (3,052m) – Yungay (2,500m) – Llanganuco / Llankanuku Lakes (3,850m) – Paso Portachuelo / Llanganuco Pass (4,767m) – Chingli (3,477m*) (photos)

Having been denied the delights of fruit salad, granola, yoghurt, and fresh OJ and Cafe Andino coffee at breakfast due to my giardia guts, we said our farewells to the team at The Lazy Dog, and took taxis back down into Huaraz where Melky, Amner and our minibus awaited us at the Hotel Colomba.

A day driving – initially north along the Callejón de Huaylas as far as Yungay, where we spent 45 minutes in the new town market and purchased hats from a very happy stallholder.

On 31 May 1970 an earthquake obliterated the old town, killing almost all the inhabitants:

“The silence following the tremor at 15.23 had been immediately interrupted by what someone likened to the sound of a hundred low-flying jets. The tremor had dislodged 9 million square meters of snow from the summit of Huascarán, which in turn had taken with them 5 million square metres of rock face, 6 million square metres of glacier and 33 square metre of earth and mud. The combined avalanche and landslide had formed a wall between eighty and a hundred metres high. Moving at a speed of up to four hundred kilometres per hour this had covered the fourteen kilometres between the summit and Yungay in three minutes. By 15.26 there was nothing let of the town except its hill-top cemetery.”
Andes by Michael Jacobs, p 352

We turned off the 3N and onto the 106 and started to climb up into the Cordillera Blanca, stopping to pay our entrance fee for the Huascarán National Park / Parque Nacional Huascarán at Llanganuco, before driving alongside the lovely milky blue-green waters of the Llankanuku Lakes. En route we had picked up two of our arrieros, Luis and Augustin who would be our trek crew in the Blanca.

As we zig zagged up to the Paso Portachuelo / Llanganuco Pass (4,767m / 15,640 ft), Luis pointed out the local landmarks: Chinanqucha (the mother lake) and Urqunqucha (the father lake) and their ‘son’ between them, the peaks of Huascarán (6,768 m / 22,205 ft), Chopicalqui (6,354 m / 20,846 ft), Pisco (5,752 m / 18,871 ft), Huandoy (6,395 m / 20,980 ft), Chacraraju (6,108 m / 20,039 ft) and Yanapaccha (5,460 m / 17,910 ft), and the camp sites and refugios used by climbers. I was a slow learner.

After a chilly photo stop in the clouds at the pass, we squeezed through the road-wide gap in the rocks and across the continental divide. A less hair raising descent through a gentler, greener landscape came complete with viscacha and (for me, Christine and Val) a lovely downhill leg stretch on a section of old Inca Road. Fabulous.

There followed another long spell sitting in the minibus until we finally pulled up in Chingli’s playing fields around 4pm where we unloaded, pitched tents and settled into camp life. Fine views of Contrahierbas / Yanarahu (5,954 m / 19,534 ft), and of local villagers tending their flocks (of pigs?!) and the younger ones playing football. Coca tea in the dining tent segued into dinner: veg and quinoa soup, lomo saltado (sans beef for me), fruit salad. Then bed. My first taste of sharing a tent with Val….

* I’ve just realised that my camera captures GPS in 3D – height above sea level as well as longitude and latitude. So, despite Chingli being invisible on the web, I’m able to give its height. Very pleasing.

Saturday 05 July 2014 – Day 06 – Chingli (3,477m) – Yangahirca Pass (4,450m) – Quishuar (3,700m) (photos)

A good day – our first day of proper trekking, and an amazing welcome into Quishuar where LED provide a clinic and local health worker, medical and school supplies, and solar lights.

After breakfast of porridge, we made sandwiches and headed off up hill, climbing into the upland pastures and swopping great views of Contrahierbas / Yanarahu (5,954 m / 19,534 ft) for cloudier ones of ‘Toblerone Peak’. We shared our path with girls with sheep, boys with cows and ploughs – although they soon overtook us.

Yanghirca Pass was a smashing spot for a picnic lunch, complete with Inca ruins set on a conical hill reached by the old Inca Road we’d been walking along, with clear lines of sight to other prominent hills, also with Inca remains. The pass also provided our first view of a condor and a smaller busy bird hopping from tussock to tussock which Val told me was a Cinclodes.

A down hill run provided views of the green blue waters of Huecrococha / Wiqruqucha, but our destination was the village of Quishuar, further down hill on the banks of the river flowing from the lake.

As we approached the gate into the village, we could see ladies in blue dresses and a small band which included a huge harp. As we entered the gateway, a group of children in brightly embroidered outfits started making their way towards us singing and sashaying to a folk tune played on pipe and drum. The girls carried crooks, one boy a short piece of rope. We were given an amazing welcome to the village, flower petals strewn before us, flowers presented to us. We stopped in front of the school, for the women and children to sing and dance in Val’s honour, and in due course we were invited to join in and lent hankies to flourish in the dance. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Wonderful.

We also got to meet Anne and Michael, who had been volunteering at the health post that LED donors funded. Anne, who had been included in the welcome dance group, was joining us on our trek; Michael was returning to Lima for a second, more urban, placement.

After a visit to the health post, we returned to the playing fields where a volley ball match was in full swing involving several of the singing ladies (now changed out of their blue dresses and floral head dresses!). There were lots of children around, all wanting photos taken and to take photos… and the girls ended up having hours of fun plaiting my hair. I loved it 🙂

After tea in one of the school buildings (doubling up as our dining room for the duration of our stay, and a handy source of electricity for battery recharging – filming our welcome had used up a whole battery) we put up our tents in the playing fields before returning to the dining room for scrabble, dinner, two games of Ten Thousand and then bed.

Sunday 06 July 2014 – Day 07 – Quishuar (3,740m) – Huecrococha / Wiqruqucha – Orgoncocha / Urququcha (4,272m) – Quishuar (3,740m) (photos)

Our first acclimatisation day in Quishuar started off with 7.30am bed tea followed by a breakfast of quinoa enriched porridge in the kindergarten school room where we were joined by Anne and Michael. Our morning was spent on a great walk up the valley to the beautiful Huecrococha / Wiqruqucha lake with old Huayhuash friend Juan and puppy Jacob for company, although with overcast skies.

Dave and Melky settled in for a morning’s fishing, while the rest of us continued up along the trail that climbed up behind the lake until we reached a rocky outcrop high above it. With a welcome thermos of mate de coca doing the rounds, we took in the panoramic sweep from the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca, down to the lake and on down the valley to Quishuar and beyond.

Val, Anne and I continued up to Laguna Orgoncocha / Urququcha, the upper lake whose waters fall into and feed Huecrococha / Wiqruqucha, and then returned to Quishuar for a late lunch of veg noodle soup, toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches (always a winner!) and lots of mate.

A lazy afternoon – as the heavens opened, Val, Anne and I settled in for some scrabble, after which I took my turn in the new shower at the health post. The water was cold, but at least I got clean – and was prompted to do a spot of washing at the sink in the school grounds. Back inside, I caught up with diary (hence all this detail) and more tea, biscuits and scrabble ensued as the others materialised, including Michael from yesterday’s welcome party who’d come to collect his new school book, pencil and rubber.

Soup, beef steak/egg omelette, potatoes and sweet potatoes followed by the sweet purple maize sauce pudding for dinner (aka Mazamorra morada), then a few rowdy games of Ten Thousand before turning in to the tent at 9.15pm – a late night!

Monday 07 July 2014 – Day 08 – Quishuar (3,740m) – Yaino / Yaynu (4,168m) – Quishuar (3,740m) (photos)

Our second day acclimatising in Quishuar involved a day walk to the Inca ruins at Yaino / Yaynu, leaving Val to focus on LED activities. Fuelled by a porridge and pancake (yum) breakfast complete with freshly brewed coffee, we set off under clear blue skies for a smashing walk. Amner and Augustin led the way, following the river downstream, crossing via an earth and branch bridge and continuing on along a clear path contouring on the north side of the valley – great views of the farms, senior school and churches scattered along its length.

After climbing up away from the valley, we paused for a breather by a stream and a while later at a rocky outcrop with our first views east towards our destination. More contouring, then a steep climb over fallen stonework to the fine stone ruins.

Perched on top of Pañahirka / Pañajirca, Yaino / Yaynu provided 360° panoramic views – to the west the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca were resolutely covered in cloud (although we could see their glaciers hanging down), to the east the rooftops of Pomabamba glinted in the sun down in the valley below. We sat on the fine stonework and tucked into lunch before taking lots of photos.

Leaving the ruins at 12.15pm, a speedy descent (Hazel’s poles did a good job) and a hot slog brought us back to base just before 3pm, whereupon we prevailed on Melky to brew us some tea and to break open a packet of Oreos. Aided and abetted by Christine’s South American Spanish phrase book, the pirate-style request for Aguaaaaar paraaaaa lavarrrrrrrr made its first appearance…. the first of many.

We whiled away the rest of the afternoon pottering – watching the football and volleyball matches on the playing field (dodging our tents), writing up diaries, and trying out more Spanish phrases on Melky, Augustin, Luis and Amner as they were hard at work preparing dinner, to great hilarity all round.

We marked Dottora Anna’s last day at the health post with a mug of mulled wine (special ingredient: pisco), soup, spag bol (grated carrot, peas and tinned toms version for me), Michael’s orange jelly and Augustin’s fruit salad. A lovely evening, but I retired early to bed – to read and to listen to the rain on the tent roof….

Tuesday 08 July 2014 – Day 09 – Quishuar (3,740m / 12,270ft) – Tupatupa Pass (4,374m / 14,350ft) – Pishgopampa / Jancapampa (3,673m / 12,050ft) (photos)

Bed tea was scheduled for 7am, but I was up and about (packing) half an hour earlier. Today we were moving on from Quishuar to pastures and vistas new.

Granola and Gloria strawberry yoghurt made another tasty breakfast, followed by sandwich making and a visit from the old lady who’d been brought to the clinic yesterday, bent double by arthritis but still living in a farmhouse high up in the hills above Quishuar.

Luis and Augustin packed up the tents and we piled up kit bags, watched by the village school children who were slowly congregating in the playing fields…. with the natural consequence that more photos were taken. With a bit of a delay due to transport complications (aka the promised donkeys and medical horse didn’t turn up) and farewells to Juan and Michael who were walking the old lady home, we set off.

Beautiful blue skies above as we crossed the Rio Huercrococha and walked upstream towards the Blanca, before taking a last look at the Lucma valley and turning right into the wider valley we’d seen yesterday, with its own winding stream and scattering of farms. Kiswar bushes (after which the village of Quishuar is named) lined sections of the path, and occasionally we found ourselves strolling through woods of Queñua (paperbark) trees.

Easy walking up the valley, trying to beat the clouds to the snowy peaks of Nevado Pukahirka / Pucajirca Sur (6,039 m / 19,813ft) – we managed it, just. Wonderful views. Lots of photos.

As the clouds gathered, we turn away from the Cordillera Blanca, for a tougher stretch walking uphill over grassland to the Tupatupa Pass (4,374m / 14,350ft). Lovely views over rolling hills and long valleys, but under gloomy skies. We lunched at the pass and waited for Melky, Augustin, Luis, Amner and the donkeys. Melky arrived first, carrying his new fishing rod – a present from Dave. Christine and I headed uphill (getting to about 4,400m / 14 440ft) to see if we could get a better view of Pukahirka – which we did, together with more peaks and ridges, snow and glaciers, glacier-scoured rocks and glacier-fed waterfalls. Definitely a pass to return to under cloudless skies.

I took it slow on the steep downhill section from the pass, partly for the knees, partly for the views – the clouds were starting to lift and the snow shone brightly in the sunlight.

Our destination was one of the farms on the hills above Jancapampa (Pishgopampa), and from high above we could see our tents being put up, and dark clouds gathering over the ridges on the far side of the valley and the glaciers rolling down from Nevado Pukahirka (maybe Pucajirca Central (6,014m / 19,731ft)?). Strolling through farmland we passed fields of beautiful blue flowers and the familiar ‘lupins’, which turn out to be chocho beans.

Arriving in camp about 2.30pm, we settled into our tents – after three nights in Quishuar I’d got my camp craft down to a fine art – and pottered around the campsite, watching the flocks of sheep and goats being herded home for the day, shepherdesses spinning as they went. The farmhouses we were camping near had gardens of colourful flowers enclosed in stone walls.

Tea and popcorn in the tent, with diary writing and Scrabble accompanied by the sound of an occasional patter of raindrops on the canvas, and the long low rumble of avalanches from above. Later in the afternoon we were visited by the family from the farm and a local trained nurse who looks after a disabled orphan.

Superb dinner: soup (always!), squash curry (surprise ingredient: strawberry jam to temper the chilli), tinned peaches. I’m afraid I wimped out of joining Val and the crew at the fiesta held at the farmhouse in honour of Val’s visit. The music played on pipe, harp and drum provided the soundtrack to sleep after a satisfying day of proper peaks. Not so sure what tomorrow will bring weatherwise….

Not so many barking dogs tonight, but heavy rain and a rooster at 4am instead.

Wednesday 09 July 2014 – Day 10 – Pishgopampa (3,673m / 12,050ft) – Quebrada Jancapampa (3,535 m / 11,600ft) – Wild camp below Yanacon Pass / near Laguna Sactaycocha (4,189m / 13,743ft) (photos)

Another fab day.

Awake early, and all packed by the time bed tea was delivered on schedule at 7am by Luis and Amner, along with the news that they’d had a fine time at last night’s fiesta. I regretted not going.

Breakfast in the big tent, together with the nurse and the young boy. Anne and Val held an impromptu health clinic outside, tending an old lady with infected cuts on her hands, and working out some basic physio exercises for the boy.

At 8.20am-ish we set off downhill past scattered farms with girls feeding pigs and men leading out cattle, and into the Quebrada Jancapampa proper. High above the glaciers remained shrouded in cloud. A fine walk along the flat, working around the streams and boggy bits, and meeting a couple and a solo man who’d come down from their farms in search of LED solar lights – duly distributed.

We climbed out of the valley through woodland – hard work, but satisfying when we emerged by a babbling brook for a drink and sweets in the sunshine.

A slow and steady walk – sometimes flat, sometimes steep, sometimes in the open, sometimes in sparse woodland, at other times scrambling up dry waterfall gullies – brought us to a wide open upland valley where the donkeys were being unloaded. The farmers at Jancapampa had rented us some more donkeys and a medical horse. En route, wild flowers galore, and a hummingbird sighting.

Anne, Mike and I mucked in to pitch our still damp tents on neatly grazed grass sprinkled with flowers and took photos of the super scenic setting while lunch was prepared – a feast of veg noodle soup, toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches with pimento stuffed olives, gherkins, tuna and guacamole adornment options. Lots of tea.

Revitalised, Christine, Anne and I put our boots back on and clambered over rock slabs above the camp to explore – fabulous views of the ridge coming down from the pass and the valley wed’ walked up, a hidden loch and the rare red shongo shongo plant. A lovely stroll back to camp for a wash (with Aguaaaaar paraaaaa lavarrrrrrrr, naturally) and a read – The Guardian Book of Mountains, appropriately.

The rest of the afternoon was whiled away in our now familiar routine – tea, diary, Scrabble/Yahtzee/Ten Thousand. All very sociable, but easily so.

Another gem of an evening meal – Bean soup with egg drop and spring onion garnish, BBQ chicken and chips (BBQ-sauced champignons for me), broccoli and carrots. All rounded off with panettone and custard. The camp fire kept us warm as the chickens roasted and we star gazed…. the daytime cloud cover breaking up to reveal a sparkling night sky. A cold night ahead. Feeling truly away from it all for the first time.

Thursday 10 July 2014 – Day 11 – Wild camp below Yanacon Pass / near Laguna Sactaycocha (4,189m / 13,743ft) – Yanacon Pass ( 4,610m / 15,124ft) – Huillca (4,058m / 13,314ft) – Safuna Lakes (4,417m / 14,491ft) – Wild camp below Safuna Lakes (4,183m / 13,724ft) (photos)

The best day of the trip, with beautiful blue skies, gorgeous green valleys and stunning views of the Pukahirka peaks.

We woke to frost on the tent, clear skies above. Setting off slowly, after the usual breakfast and packed lunch preparations, we spent the first 40 minutes in cold shadow climbing up one of the many valleys coming down from Nevado Pukahirka / Pucajirca Norte (6,046 m / 19,836ft). Emerging into the sun and above the vegetation line we had a breather to take in the view back down ‘our’ valley and then started towards the Yanacon pass zig zagging up on a path through the scree. Very windy – I almost lost my Yungay hat, and my hair flying around my face proved disorienting as well as annoying. Silly not to have put it into plaits.

The pass provided both a windbreak and superb views: south west and behind us loomed Nevado Pukahirka / Pucajirca Norte, multi coloured rock strata giving way to glaciers and snow; ahead to the north east we had Champara (5,750m / 18,865ft) on the skyline and the lush green Huillca valley below us. Mobile reception too 🙂

The descent was hard – the path dropping steeply away from the pass, loose earth and small stones underfoot. Definitely hiking pole terrain – I was glad of Val’s advice on the way up but even so I lagged some way behind the others.

After a rest at a rock in the middle of the valley, we continued on over the grassland, making for the farm at the end of the Quebrada Huillca where three valleys meet and alpacas graze. So green.

The next stretch, across the valley junction, looked easy …. until we realised there was a river running through it. Boots off, poles engaged, water COLD. Worth it though, as we looped back round towards the Cordillera Blanca‘s northern section and entered the Quebrada Safuna. A beautiful wide valley, the river running lively and clear over rocks and stones, two majestic mountains ahead of us (the peak of Rinrihirka / Rinrijirca on the left, the ridge of Tayapampa to the right), powerful rock ridges either side. A perfect place to pause for lunch. Just stunning.

We spent the next hour or so each walking at our own pace, naturally separating out to enjoy this place in solitude. As we walked up the valley, the two peaks we’d been admiring from afar drew closer… only to be dwarfed by the peaks of Pukahirka was they came into view from the west.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

As our campsite came into view far down in the valley below, Val suggested continuing on along the contours, towards the Safuna lakes. Pukahirka just got bigger and better as we walked on – solid ridges of snow, glacier blue through sunglasses. Snow covered peaks galore, from elegant spires to bulky mushrooms. Our contour path moved onto a ridge, which was home to with lupins, shrubs and lots of small birds. Down below us, the waters of Laguna Safuna baja sparkled blue and brown, separated from the upper lake by a vast moraine wall.

Anne, Mike and Dave opted to stay there and admire the view before making their own way down to the camp, while Val, Christine and I continued up the grassy ridge towards Laguna Safuna alta, passing the ruins of buildings dating from the work done to repair/reinforce the moraine wall after the 1970 earthquake. More stunning views of the Blanca ranged above us, from Nevado Pukahirka / Pucajirca Norte on our left, to Nevado Pukahirka / Pucajirca Central, then (I think) Rinrihirka / Rinrijirca and (I think… not sure!) Nevado Jancarurish, their slopes and glaciers dropping down into the teal blue waters of the Laguna Safuna far below the huge rich chestnut red boulders that formed the moraine wall at the end of our ridge. Definitely a photo stop.

A speedy descent brought to the shores of the lower lake and then back to camp where popcorn and scrabble awaited. A magical riverside location, with mountains on three sides and the Quebrada Safuna / Tayapampa falling away on the fourth. Condors coasting on thermals overhead. Sunset turned the clouds and snowy mountains pink then blue, as a big bright moon rose above.

A really amazing day.

Friday 11 July 2014 – Day 12 – Wild camp below Safuna Lakes (4,183m / 13,724ft) – Safuna / Mesapata Pass (4,486m / 14,717ft ) – Gara Gara / Caracara Pass (4,850m / 15,910ft) – Alpamayo Base Camp (4,200m / 13,780ft) (photos)

Another great day. A cold night meant frost on the tent’s plastic window pane again, and the condensation on my sleeping bag, left out to dry off, froze in the open air.

More clear skies, more beautiful views. Fuelled by a pancake, peanut butter and honey breakfast, with proper coffee, we set off across the wide bowl of the Quebrada Safuna / Tayapampa, heading for Mesapata Pass. Our first hurdle – crossing the cold and fast flowing waters of the river. Once accomplished, we enjoyed a lovely traverse over gently rising grassland, with wonderful views back to Nevado Pukahirka / Pucajirca, before a final zig zag brought us to Safuna / Mesapata Pass and smashing views down into the Quebrada Mayobamba.

Walking up the valley, we met another donkey train and crew going in the opposite direction, and a little later their New Zealand tramping clients. We encountered more humans on the climb up to the Gara Gara / Caracara Pass, an american couple about to start an early lunch at a flat section part way up the path. We took out breather by the (drying up) lakes at the foot of the pass, which is when our donkeys and the guys caught us up.

A stiff climb up on a path through the rocks and scree brought us to the Gara Gara / Caracara Pass, and stunning views out over the entire Santa Cruz range – Tayapampa (5,657m / 18,560ft), Jancarurish (5,578m / 18,300ft), Allpamayu / Alpamayo (5,947m / 19,511ft), Kitarahu / Quitaraju (6,040m/ 19,816ft), Pumapampa (5,300m / 17,388ft) and Santa Cruz Grande (6,259m / 20,535ft) – and down into the valley below.

Wonderful, and very, very windy.

A seriously steep path down and stunning views, but too steep/slippery/windy to look anywhere but at my feet until we got low enough to be sheltered from the wind.

The scenery was still awesome – an amphitheatre in the Andes, grouped around the teal blue waters of Laguna Jancarurish.

We lunched on a rocky outcrop a short yomp from the path across thigh high tussock grass, and then tackled the steep descent into the Quebrada Alpamayo, spying our tents, and the Americans’, at Alpamayo BC (North).

After helping to pitch tents as the wind picked up we spent the rest of the afternoon in familiar pottering style – diary writing, tea drinking, game playing – with a bit of washing and yoga thrown in. Lots and lots of photos of Alpamayo’s Toblerone peak, particularly as it turned golden in the evening light.

In bed by 8.45pm!

Saturday 12 July 2014 – Day 13 – Alpamayo Base Camp (4,200m / 13,780ft) – Wild camp above Ruina Pampa (4,245m / 13,927ft) (photos)

An easier (lower altitude) day today. Back in Blighty it was Cat and Mark’s wedding day.

After a lie in to give the sun time to make it to the Quebrada Alpamayo, we started with a morning stroll up to Laguna Jancarurish (4,386m), with morning sunlit views of Allpamayu / Alpamayo (5,947m / 19,511ft) and Santa Cruz Grande (6,259m / 20,535ft). The hardest parts were the three stream / river crossings – I am not renowned my gazelle-like leaping abilities…. but I didn’t get wet this time.

The rest of the morning was spent with our backs to the Blanca, following the Rio Alpamayo as it flowed downstream. Lots of Inca ruins dotted along the valley, and ‘modern’ farms and fields which must trace back to those times.

We lunched amidst the ruins of Ruina Pampa (~ 4,000m / 13,123ft ) – a vast complex, with terraces covering the sunnier hillside on the other side of the river – and watched horses being rounded up way down in the valley below. A little later Melky bought one to replace Blackie, our medical horse on last year’s Huayhuash Circuit. Many happy hours were spent thinking up names for the new horse – Cappuccino coming a close second to Toffee (I think….).

We left the ruins by an old Inca staircase, which provided a steady ascent all the way up to our camp for the night, tucked away in a corrie with views of snowy Cerro Milluacocha (5,244m / 17,206ft) on the far side of the valley. Melky and team had a mid-afternoon snack of veg noodle soup (and lots of tea) waiting for us, after which Val gave Mike and I a run through the kit we’d need for tomorrow’s snow/ice training for novices (gulp): Scarpa boots, crampons, helmet, harness, ice axe and warm gloves – that’s half my kit bag!

Kit check, diary writing and scrabble were accompanied this afternoon by Peruvian pop – Melky had got his transistor radio working in anticipation of the final games in the 2014 Football World Cup. Third place play off today and The Final tomorrow. Even in the mountains you can’t escape….

As dusk fell, a large local family materialised to collect the Light Education Development (LED) solar lights we’d brought for them, and bringing an old ram and a large sack of potatoes to show their gratitude.

Sunday 13 July 2014 – Day 14 – Wild camp above Ruina Pampa (4,245m / 13,927ft) – Pass (4,771m / 15,652ft) – Nevado training (~5,200m / 17,060ft) – Wild camp below the pass (4,660m / 15,289ft) (photos)

Vivid, ghostly dreams overnight, which I suspect stemmed from nerves about today’s Nevado training. After breakfast Dave helped me fit my crampons to my Scarpas – which I should have done back in Huaraz – more subliminal messaging? Anyway… too late now to back out!

A lovely morning’s walk climbing high above the Quebrada Alpamayo (aka Quebrada de los Cedros at this point), to the pass below which we’d spend the night. Anne, Christine and Dave were to have a leisurely afternoon there, but Val, Amner, Mike and I were heading off to learn how to use crampons, rope and harnesses for walking on snow – training for the planned ascent of Pastoruri in the Southern Blanca later this week.

Carrying my Scarpas in my daypack didn’t leave a lot of room for much else, but I managed to squeeze in the necessaries – my Goretex jacket, gloves, harness, water and lunch – strapped the ice axe on the back and wore my helmet… we’d a long walk across a boulder field and up/down granite rock slabs to reach the snowline, and I wanted to wear my more familiar, flexible Salomons for that.

A tough walk up/in, but superb views from the snowline where we had a speedy (nervous) lunch before Val sorted us all out, fitting harnesses and crampons. A trial walk up/down a small snow slope, then a crampon clad climb over rocks (tricky) to the main snow. Here Val roped us up and we practised walking/climbing the slope with ice axes and crampons, without snarling up the rope – or one another.

Exhilarating in the silence. Mike and I finished on an adrenaline high.

In no time at all (it felt), we were heading back down to the snowline to don daypacks (and to swop boots). Smiling photos, then a speedy descent with a tricky final section through tussock grass and bog, reaching camp around 3pm tired but elated. Tea and popcorn awaited – smashing.

A lovely campsite, complete with radio reception for Melky to follow the 2014 Football World Cup final – Germany v Argentina. Dinner at 7.15pm had had to wait until the final score… 1-0 to Germany in extra time. Bean soup, Aji de Gallina / Hongos and rice, dark chocolate sauce for dessert. Very windy outside.

Bed at 8pm – it’s a 5am start for Val and Christine tomorrow for their ascent of Nevado Viscacha (so called because it looks like a Viscacha’s ear).

Monday 14 July 2014 – Day 15 – Wild camp below the pass (4,660m / 15,289ft) – Los Cedros / Vientunan pass (4,797m / 15,740ft) – Osoruri pass (4,860m /15,945ft) – Laguna Cullicocha / Hatunqucha / Pirqarumi (4,625 m / 15,174 ft) – Huishcash (4,320m / 14,173ft) (photos)

More breathtaking scenery on our final full day in this part of the Cordillera Blanca.

Val and Christine were up and off to climb Nevado Viscacha, which meant Anne, Dave, Mike and I had a leisurely breakfast before setting off on the path to the first of the day’s two passes. Clear again, and cold at 4660m / 15290 ft, puddles frozen solid in the shade.

At the Los Cedros pass the Cordillera Negra came back into view, and we waited for Melky and Toffee to catch us up. Then on to the next pass, Osoruri, not far off but with a steeper ascent over bare rock, emerging in to a very barren environment of shattered rocks and boulders. Beautiful but bare, with a glimpse of the snow capped peaks of the Santa Cruz peaks.

After a breather, we continued down to the mirador… where we were rewarded with a stunning view of the Santa Cruz range grouped around the beautiful teal blue expanses of Laguna Cullicocha / Hatunqucha / Pirqarumi and Rahuqucha / Rajucocha, the glacial lakes which Mike and I had spied from yesterday’s nevado training vantage point.

Melky spotted Val, Amner and Christine, far off on the left hand side of the lake, still high up on their descent, and we followed their progress round to rendezvous and lunch with us at the mirador. Mission accomplished; Viscacha vanquished.

Lots of photos….

A speedy descent brought us to the natural / Inca-assisted rock dam at the foot of the lake, plus the 20th century hydro electric plant, and we lazed on the warm rocks by the water’s edge for more photos – and an inelegant attempt at rock hopping/topping on my part.

Then, downhill all the way (with one stretch of up) to our campsite. To begin with our route clung to the contours of the cliffs, generally following the Inca water channels on our right, a sheer drop into the deep dark valley where cascading melt water from the lagunas had hewn its route through the rocks. As the rock cut path transformed into a hillside track, we exchanged views behind us of Nevado Viscacha (aka Monte Christina Vegetariana) for vistas of the Cordillera Negra and villages and valleys below. Still steep going in places.

As our tents came into view below, Val pointed out Inca ruins perched on a ridge far away on the other side of the Quebrada Alpamayo / Quebrada de los Cedros. Closer by, Queñua trees with bright red brush-like flowers decorating their branches like tinsel. Beautiful.

Ours were the only tents at Huishcash campsite. At a ‘mere’ 4,320m / 14,173ft it occupies a lovely location, looking out over the Callejón de Huaylas and with a stream chuckling its was along one side of the site, providing water for cooking and washing.

Sorted out the tent, sorted out tips and thank you postcards, then adjourned to the dining tent for scrabble and dice and to escape the cool breeze…. which meant I also missed the most of the sunset.

After dinner it was time for heart felt, end of trek Thank Yous to Melky and Amner (who we’ll see in part 2 of the trip down in Pastoruri), Augustin and Luis – with Christina’s LP phrasebook proving invaluable once more.

Outside, a stunning starscape with (for those that knew) Taurus clearly identifiable above the Llama’s Eyes.

Tuesday 15 July 2014 – Day 16 – Huishcash (4,320m / 14,173ft) – Hualcallán (3,156m / 10,354ft) – Huaraz (3,052m / 10,013ft) (photos)

Twenty years ago today I was in Bolivia with Tom and Matt – Potosí I think – and 17 years ago I became an auntie.

A leisurely late bed tea at 7.30am, breakfast, sandwich making and headed south, on a speedy downhill hike to Hualcallán, the ‘new’ village that doubles up the entrance into this part of the Parque Nacional Huascarán. Looking down at patchworks of fields covering what looked like every inch of reasonably flat terrain on the escarpment below, we talked bucket lists and travels.

We were in the village by 10.20am and our coach materialised about half an hour later, soon followed by our trek crew, kit and donkeys. Bags were bundled in the boot of the coach, together with “No Balls” (aka our gift ram) and after fond farewells with Luis and Augustin, we settled into our seats for the journey back to Huaraz. A switchback dirt road eventually brought us to the Río Santa deep down in the Callejón de Huaylas, and the tarmac road (the 3N).

A little after 2pm we were drawing up outside the Hotel Colomba, and I for one was dreaming of hot showers and a hairwash. My decision to hand wash my MK fleece proved ill judged….. the wringing water was still coming out dirt brown on the third rinse.

Rendezvousing in reception at 3pm, Val speed walked us to Cafe Andino where we tucked into coffee, cake, fresh fruit juice. Refreshed, we went our separate ways – my mission was accomplished with postcards from the shop on the floor below Cafe Andino (s/2 each) and stamps (s/6 each!) from the Post Office on the Plaza de Armas.

Back at the Colomba, my room looked like a jumble sale, as I unpacked everything from my trek bag and sorted it into piles – one of things to leave at the hotel and one of things to take on our three day excursion south to climb Pastoruri. As I packed, ESPN was showing a documentary about Hillsborough.

At 6pm, we convened for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles on the veranda, where we were joined by Val, Antiona and Patty – the perfect (engineered) opportunity for me to hand over the photobook I’d made of last year’s Huayhuash Circuit trek for the family.

A return to El Rinconcito Minero for dinner – veggie lasagne and chips to share for me and Christina, red wine/beers all round.

Back in room 14, the TV remote lured into channel hopping until 10.30pm. A restless night which might have been due to the beers, or, possibly, worrying about Pastoruri….

Wednesday 16 July 2014 – Day 17 – Huaraz (3,052m / 10,013ft) – Recuay (3,422m / 11,227ft) – Quebrada Pastoruri campsite (4,597m / 15,082ft) (photos)

The ice cream van-like jingle of one of Huaraz’s dustbin lorries woke me at 6am, which allowed for half an hour checking email at one of the Hotel Columba’s three computers before breakfast at 8 am. A speedy trip into town with Val for final supplies for our foray into the Southern Blanca before returning to the hotel to say our goodbyes and farewells to Anne who was heading back to Lima, and then home.

Around 10am-ish we boarded our minibus, picked up Amner, Melky and Antonia, and took the 3N south out of Huaraz, following the Río Santa as it worked its way through the Callejón de Huaylas.

We paused in Recuay for some more supplies, and a while later we turned off the main road and into the Quebrada de Pumapampa / Pachacoto, following the aptly named Carretera a Pastoruri back into the Parque Nacional Huascarán. This part of the park is a a popular day trip from Huaraz and we encountered lots of minibuses and an occasional coach as we drove up the valley, pausing only for a photo stop at a roadside Puya Raimondii.

Our campsite was at the point where Quebrada Pastoruri peels off out of the Quebrada de Pumapampa. We set up tents, had lunch and then Mike and I went with Amner for a trek up the valley lured towards Nevado Tuco. We hiked up to ~4,785m and were rewarded with views into a valley of colourful ridges and vertical rock strata that veered off to the left of the main valley we’d come up, and down to the farm – a thatched house surrounded by stone enclosures – at the river crossing below. Cows and sheep scattered across the hillsides. On the final stretch back towards camp, Amner pointed out a brown bird of prey (possibly a Puma Hawk) that had just made a kill, and I stayed behind taking lots of photos.

Back at base the rest of the afternoon featured the usual amusements of scrabble and dice, and some rain. Another fine dinner, and the sky had cleared by the time we went to bed at 8pm – we’re up early tomorrow for Pastoruri.

Thursday 17 July 2014 – Day 18 – Quebrada Pastoruri campsite (4,597m / 15,082ft) – Nevado Pastoruri (5,240m / 17,192ft) – Quebrada Pastoruri campsite (4,597m / 15,082ft) (photos)

Quite literally the high point of the holiday – cramponing over the Pastoruri glacier and up to the top of Nevado Pastoruri.

Bed tea at 5.15am. Clear skies. Cold.

I’d packed yesterday – a tight squeeze fitting my Scarpa boots plus harness, crampons and water into my Lowe Alpine daypack again – and wore Val’s PHD down jacket, my hat, scarf and gloves, and helmet. Ice axe strapped to the back of my pack.

We followed yesterday’s route back up the Quebrada Pastoruri towards the farm, where we crossed the stream and headed up a left hand valley passing some frozen lakes. Hard going over tussock grass ad then moraine – sighting three vicuña provided a highlight.

We were at the glacier by 8am, and in the sun. We donned boots and crampons, harnesses and helmets, and then Val roped us up. Amner, Christina, Mike and I were with her; Dave was with Melky. As you’ll see from the “before” photos, I was very apprehensive. The pace and the steepness tested us all I think, as did keeping the rope taut and clear of our crampons, but getting up close to the glacier face, dripping with icicles, was amazing. We traversed the snow cover and then side stepped the final steep section to the summit.

A short stay at the top perched on prickly rocks to take in the fantastic views of the Cordillera Huayhuash, and back down into the Quebrada Pastoruri, then a careful descent.

Exhilarating, but I was glad to be back on (relative) terra firma, even with the tricky leap from the snowline onto the side of the moraine.

Tired legs and wearing too many layers plus helmet (due to lack of room in my dayback) made for a tough trek back to camp, and prickles in the grass didn’t help my mood either.

Back in camp we soon perked up with the help of veg noodle soup and a late lunch, but when my one and only headache of the trip kicked in a little later I retired to Lobo y Zorro with a couple of Ibuprofen for a bit of reading/snoozing (mainly the latter, snug in Val’s down jacket and under my sleeping bag).

Pre dinner scrabble with very strong hot choc, then our final Melky meal – mulled wine, soup, veg spaghetti, hot fruit salad, coca tea. Back in bed by 8pm.

Friday 18 July 2014 – Day 19 – Quebrada Pastoruri campsite (4,597m / 15,082ft) – Laguna Tuco (4,880m / 16,010ft) – Quebrada Pastoruri campsite (4,597m / 15,082ft) – Huaraz (3,052m / 10,013ft) (photos)

Not a great night’s sleep – so I was up and out in the frosty morning soon after Val. Last night’s teeth cleaning water was frozen in my camp mug. I crunched across the frost cover to the dining tent, early but proper coffee was already brewing and my favourite breakfast combo awaited: granola followed b a Melky-special fried egg.

I thought I’d overdone breakfast seeing as the morning activity plan was to walk back up the Quebrada Pastoruri to the farm to check on the LED supplied solar light Val had given the farmer there last year. I should have known better… Mike and Dave opted for R&R in camp, and Christine and I set off at with Val, Melky and Amner at their ‘usual’ pace, aka fast. As we approached the farm, a large dog appeared to check us out, closely followed by a jolly white dancing dog we christened Mr Crufts. As Val chattered with the farmer, a fat chicken, a large cat and two cute puppies kept court in the farm yard. The doors of the stone store hut were made from dried Puya Raimondii, and the solar light was recharging on the thatched roof, alongside an old pair of metal binoculars.

Having heard that the lakes we’d passed yesterday were empty of fish, Melky turned back to camp leaving the four of us to continue up the main valley…. always one more ridge or rock to reach…. worth it though when we reached Laguna Tuco. Beautiful colours in the surrounding landscape, a condor and a pair of vicuña. The clouds were closing in and a cold wind had sprung up so after photos and a restorative Cañonazo chocolate bar shared by Christine, we headed back down the valley.

Back at the campsite we warmed up with hot chocolate made with fresh milk from the farming couple who’d collected solar lights yesterday, followed by a lunch of pitta pockets filled with guacamole, cucumber and tomato.

Our minibus arrived early, at 12.15pm ish, so it was a speedy pack up of bags, tents and camp kit – all done in 15 minutes or so. We drove through the Quebrada Pumapampa / Pachacoto and out of the Parque Nacional Huascarán, with just a couple of stops – at the petroglyphs and to check on more LED lights distributed last year. Then the high road back to Huaraz.

Another shower in room 14, and the final set of clean(ish) clothes (the ones I’d travelled out in) and I was ready for our trip into town – Mike to collect laundry from Lavandería Liz, Christine to deposit some, and various pills from the Medifarma including Albendazole Giardia worm-blitzing pills for me. Cafe Andino was our ultimate objective, where we met up with Dave and sat out on the terrace indulging in coffee and apple pie.

Next up: beer and nibbles for this evening’s farewell gathering back on the Hotel Columba‘s veranda. Christina and I were in charge. Sierra Andina proved impossible to come by – it’s fiesta time – so we settled for Cristal.

A lovely early evening drink, snack and chat with Amner, Antonia and Melky, then a slightly tipsy walk to El Rinconcito Minero for more beers and another great meal – Christine and I sharing a veg chaufa and chips.

Back at the hotel, I managed to get everything back into my rucksack, just about. It required a fair amount of brute force!

Stupidly succumbed to the TV again, flicking through the channels until almost 11pm and pick up more news about the increased Israeli shelling of Gaza and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 over the Ukraine.

Saturday 19 July 2014 – Day 20 – Huaraz (3,052m) – Lima (79m) (photos)

6am fireworks. 7am up. 7.30am check email. 8am breakfast, the last at the lovely Hotel Columba.

Finished packing and lugged my rucksack and daypack, both bursting at the seams (no idea why or how, given everything I’m taking home travelled out with me), to the front garden. 9.30am Val and Antonia sorted out luggage transfer and check in with Cruz del Sur at Huaraz bus station, while Dave, Christine, Mike and I headed off to Cafe Andino for coffees, juices and end of trip chat until it was time for Mike and I to say our farewells – we were on the 11am departure for Lima.

Upstairs seats, so a better view but (slightly) less plush. Two movies provided on board entertainment as we climbed back to the Punta Conococha / Quñuqqucha (4,100 m / 13,451 ft) and then descended all the way to sea level on coast. Grey cloud had replaced the blue skies of the Cordillera Blanca.

The traffic made for a painfully slow journey through the outskirts of Lima, and we drew up at the bus station around 6.30pm. Alfonso was there ready and waiting to drive us speedily back to the Hotel Faraona. En route, a slightly unclear conversation about parades in Miraflores tomorrow and their possible impact on our airport transfer pick up, which continued with the man at the check in desk. In the end it was agreed that the Repsol petrol station at the turn off from the dual carriageway would be our Plan B Rendezvous.

After our complimentary Pisco Sour at the bar (and checking in for tomorrow’s KLM flight), we headed off to the supermarket for sustenance, and water – Mike and I agreed we were too tired for dinner at Las Tejas. Back in my room, my Metro dinner was consumed alongside email (courtesy of the hotel wifi) and TV. Lights off at 10pm.

Sunday 20 July 2014 – Day 21 – Lima (79m) – Amsterdam (Schiphol airport) (-3m) (photos)

Mike and I were on the overnight KLM flight back to Schiphol, so we had until early afternoon to amuse ourselves in Miraflores. We decided to stroll down to the waterfront, and to lunch at Les Tejas. The main road was lined with crush barriers and people setting themselves up with picnics and blankets, ready for the Corso de Wong parade, getting in early for Peru’s Fiestas Patrias. In the cliff top gardens by the lighthouse, pet dogs were being put through their paces on a canine obstacle course – some were keener on it than others…..

After checking out of our rooms at the Hotel Faraona, we visited the indoor ‘market’ for some souvenir shopping and then headed down to Las Tejas for a leisurely early lunch. Back at the hotel by 1.30pm, Alfonso materialised and whisked us out of Miraflores before the road closures began. A speedy journey to the airport meant Mike and I had plenty of time sat by the KLM check in desks – tulips were the clue.

Slept some on the overnight flight, with a wake up call as we approached Ireland on Monday afternoon.

Monday 21 July 2014 – Day 22 – Amsterdam (Schiphol airport) (-3m) – London (25m) (photos)

We landed on time in Schiphol – rainy Amsterdam looked a lot like gloomy Lima. Mike and I headed on for our connecting hops home – mine handily to London City Airport. Plenty of time for a final catch up on diary, sat at the tables and chairs with sockets in the departure area. They know their market.

Best of all, finding Phil waiting for me at LCY.