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)

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)

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)

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)

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*)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

Back from Peru: Cordillera Blanca complete

Another fab three weeks trekking/climbing courtesy of Val, exploring some of the lesser known locations in the Cordillera Blanca after a humbling few days acclimatising in Quishuar where Val’s LED charity funds the school and the health post (Medics, volunteer!). On arrival in Quishuar, we were welcomed by dancing children strewing flower petals along our path and then serenaded by the young women of the village – everyone in their best traditional dress.

Peru 2014 - Val Pitkethly School, Quishuar
Peru 2014 – Val Pitkethly School, Quishuar

Once on the trek proper, vertiginous passes with gale force winds (I’m talking about you, Gara Gara / Cara Cara) led to plenty of wild campsites with stunning views – the one at the foot of the Nevados Pucahirca and the Safuna Lakes being a particular highlight.

Peru 2014 - Looking back at Pucahirca
Peru 2014 – Looking back at Pucahirca

Plenty of Inca ruins en route, culminating with the aqueduct and channels at laguna Cullicocha – with its stunning array of peaks.

Peru 2014 - Laguna Cullicocha and the Santa Cruz mountains
Peru 2014 – Laguna Cullicocha and the Santa Cruz mountains

Throughout, Val distributed solar lighting units to new recipients and checked that all was well with those who had received lights on previous trips. When you see just how basic life is here, you realise how big a difference having a light must make.

Peru 2014 - One of LED's Solar Light Units, in the Southern Blanca
Peru 2014 – One of LED’s Solar Light Units, in the Southern Blanca

On the upper slopes of Nevado Viscacha (aka Nevado Christina Vegetariana) in the Northern Blanca, Mike and I were trained in how to use crampons and ropes in readiness for our subsequent successful ascent of Nevado Pastoruri (5240m) via its glacier, as we rounded off the trip with three days in the Southern Blanca.

Peru 2014 - Crampons and ice axes, helmets and rope: Mike, Val and me on Nevado Viscacha
Peru 2014 – Crampons and ice axes, helmets and rope: Mike, Val and me on Nevado Viscacha
Peru 2014 - Dave and Melky crossing the Pastoruri glacier
Peru 2014 – Dave and Melky crossing the Pastoruri glacier

A super group – thank you Dottora Anna, Vegetarian Christine, Pirate Dave and Marathon Mike for your good company, conversation and scrabble / dice / card sharp skills. And muchas gracias to Val, Melky and Antonia, Amner, Augustin and Luis – I’m sure we’ll all forever share those memories of Aguaaaar paraaaaa lavaaaaargh.

February 2015 Update: Read about the trek day by day in Cordillera Blanca: photos and notes.

Where Next? Back to Peru….

Destination: Back to Peru to the Cordillera Blanca aka the section of the Peruvian Andes that stretches north from Huaraz; contiguous home to the Huáscarán National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site No 333).

Why: To trek and climb in some more high, snowy mountains.

When: July 2014.

How: A two week trek with Val Pitkethly at the helm, and hopefully a chance to try my hand (and balance) at non-technical winter climbing involving crampons and ice-axe.

Itinerary: Details from Val today! I name this trip, Val Pitkethly’s Cordillera Blanca.

Day 1: To Huaraz 3050m; acclimatisation.
Day 2: Depart for Chingli – 6 hour drive via Llanganuco pass 4760m and then descend to Colocabamba and on to Chingli; views Huascarán, Chopicalqui etc.
Day 3: Trek to Quisaur via Yanghirca pass 4500m with great views of Contrahierbas, Chopicalqui and Chacraraju peaks; descend to village at 3700m
Day 4: Day trip to Yaino pre Inca city and fantastic views of the whole Cord. Blanca range
Day 5: Trek to Tupa Tupa pass and down to Jancopampa 4500m and village camp 3950m
Day 6: Trek to camp below Safuna pass
Day 7: Trek over pass 4700m and descend to camp near Safuna lakes 4200m
Day 8: Exploration around this area
Day 9: Trek over Gara Pass 4850m and descend to Alpamayo BC 4350m
Day 10: Exploration around area
Day 11: Trek to camp below Cullicocha pass and Cedors pass 4200m
Day 12: Ascend to pass and maybe climb small peak if conditions are good
Day 13: Trek to camp at Wiscash
Day 14: Return to Huaraz
Day 15: Spare day
Day 16-19: Climbing in southern Blanca. No folks and beautiful area with lots of wildlife and birds – truly magical spot.
Day 20: Return to Lima.
Day 21: Depart and return home

Map, courtesy of ramblin’ boy:

Parque Nacional Huascarán

Getting there/back: I booked my flights back at the start of December, which made them a lot cheaper than last year! Hopefully KLM‘s London – Amsterdam – Lima (and back) will be a better long haul experience than last year‘s lack lustre London – Madrid – Lima courtesy of Iberia.

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit plus Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: photos and notes

I’ve started to upload my photos from our four weeks in Peru to my Peru, July/August 2013 set on Flickr. Hazel’s photos were online within days of our return.

Read the backstory here, but in summary we were booked on two trips with KE Adventure Travel, the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the first led by the fantastic Val Pitkethly.

Friday 19 / Saturday 20 July 2013 – Day 01 – London (25m) – Madrid (610m) – Lima (34m)

Our Peruvian adventures commenced with a few fits and starts: for some reason we’d been unable to do online check in for Iberia’s LHR-MAD and MAD-LIM flights, and at LHR T5 the check in machines told us to go to the Special Assistance desk, where the attendant blithely said it was probably because the flight was fully booked. URK! Fortunately that proved false, but hiccup No 2 was a delayed departure from LHR, which meant we only had an hour to make the connection with the onward flight to Peru. Luckily about half the plane were in a similar position, and so the Iberia team arranged for buses to meet us on the tarmac and take us to the South American departures terminal. We made the flight with about 20 mins to spare, and (I think) bypassed the ‘leaving Europe’ customs/passport control.

Our overnight flight to Lima featured an Iberia plane with amenities tailored for sleeping – old school TV screens that lower down from the ceiling, showing only one ‘family friendly’ film at a time. Not very engaging – but probably a good thing.

Landing on time at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport – 05:25 or there abouts – we were met by Val’s taxi driver, Alberto, who drove us to Miraflores along mainly silent streets – we were only to appreciate how unusual this is on our return to Lima at the end of our trek!

Val was at the Faraona Grand Hotel to meet us, and we sat and chatted for a while, hoping for early access to a room. Sadly no go, so around 8am, Val took us and fellow trekker Mike on a tour of Miraflores, which focused on finding a coffee to kick start the morning, and getting hold of some Peruvian Soles. Tricker than it sounds, (no) thanks to our UK banks.

As others on the trip were arriving through out the day we had the whole day in Lima, which we spent pottering along Miraflores’ promenade (which felt very Bournemouth-like at times – I don’t think it was purely jet lag!), watching the surfers and the huge flock of sea birds diving into the bay. After lunch in pure vegetarian style at Bircher Benner (recommended), we made our way back to the hotel, happy to find we could get into our rooms. Time for a shower, a repack, and some trashy TV in an attempt to stay awake until the 6pm group meeting and reviving Pisco Sour.

Dinner at Les Tejas, a short stroll from the hotel, provided a chance to chat with our fellow trekkers as we dined al fresco with grills of various kinds all round. Not surprisingly, a good night’s sleep.

Sunday 21 July 2013 – Day 02 – Lima (34m) – Huaraz (3,052m)

A long day’s drive to Huaraz, our base in the Andes (Ancash Region).

The first leg took us north along the coast, on Peru Highway 1 aka the Carretera Panamericana as far as Barranca where we stopped for lunch at Cheto’s before driving a little further north and turning east/inland and starting the slow ascent along the valley of the Rio Santa and up to Huaraz, which would take us from from sea level to just over 3,000m (~10,000 ft).

En route we passed corn cobs and chillies drying in the sun as the heavy banks of grey cloud that loom over Lima and the coast gave way to blue skies. A couple of hours before arriving in Huaraz we drove over the Punta Conococha (Punta Quñuqqucha), which at 4,100m was our high point of the day – literally and physically. Beautiful views of the mountains (albeit not the Huayhuash, which were shrouded in cloud – I think Qiwllarahu the main one we could see), the river and reflections of Conococha lake, and shortly after we stopped at the San Francisco statue to make the most of photo opportunity, and to discover how short of breath we all were at altitude. I took a lot of photos.

Our base in Huaraz, the Hotel Colomba, was a lovely old colonial building, only a block or two from the town centre. Having settled ourselves into our spacious rooms with views out over the gardens, most of us opted to relax in the gardens with copious cups of tea until it was time to head into town for dinner, which saw us struggle to keep up with Val as she led the way (not at high speed!) to El Rinconcito Minero – definitely my favourite of the places we ate in Huaraz; tonight’s choice for me was a very tasty veg fried rice (which I think Marian and Yvonne dreamt about most nights thereafter).

Monday 22 July 2013 – Day 03 – Acclimatisation day 1, Huaraz (3,052m)

After a fine breakfast at the Hotel Colomba, we set out on foot to take in the sights of central Huaraz, and then started a slow climb up towards the swimming pool and adjacent cemetery and thence out into the fields and pastures above the town to Mirador Rataquenua.

From the Mirador’s giant bright yellow and blue cross we had crystal clear views out over the town and the Rio Santa valley, to the snow clad peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, including Huascarán (Peru’s highest peak at 6,768 m / 22,205 ft), Huandoy / Wantuy, Alpamayo / Allpamayu / Shuyturahu and more.

After lunch at Café Andino (VG for herbal teas, proper coffees, carafes of home made lemonade, tasty paninis and irresistible chips), we had the afternoon to potter around town, and to relax in the gardens back at the hotel. Many more polystyrene cups of coca tea were consumed to assist our ongoing acclimatisation.

For dinner, Val led us to the Bistro de Los Andes, with its lovely first floor views out over the main square, the Cathedral and the souvenir market (very good value – I should have spent some Soles there!). My thai green (veggie) curry was tasty, but somehow not as good as last night’s veg fried rice….

Tuesday 23 July 2013 – Day 04 – Acclimatisation day 2, Huaraz (3,052m)

Our second day’s acclimatisation in Huaraz saw us head out of town, past the smart residential district built for the people working for the mines, onto unpaved roads and out through the older villages and farmland beyond. Our minibus coped brilliantly with the ever narrowing, winding route, until we approached our drop off just past the last village, when we stalled on an uphill section and rolled back, almost into a drainage ditch. Much excitement (of varying kinds) ensued. Eventually it was agreed that the ladies should start off on the morning’s walk, heading east towards the Quebrada Llaca, a gap in the Cordillera Blanca that lies within the Parque Nacional Huascarán. Having walked back to the village to get planks and successfully getting the minibus out of its hole, Val and the chaps followed in our footsteps.

A lovely morning’s walk, rising to over 4000m, with beautiful landscape all around us: luring us ahead were the imposing snow tops of Ranrapalca / Ranrapallqa (6,162 m) to our right and Ocshapalca / Uqshapallqa (5,881 m) to our left, on the lower slopes sheep were grazing and to our east rose an imposing ridge. All around us we could find colourful examples of High Andean flora (including lupins!), and as we rejoined the road for a short stretch we walked between Queñuales / Polylepis (paperbark) trees.

Yesterday evening en route to dinner we’d bought bread rolls from a local lady outside one of the town’s supermarkets which had supplied a block of cheese and some oranges, and stopping for our picnic lunch today we were rewarded with fantastic views from our gorge/ous location – looking back the way we’d come we could see Huaraz down the valley and the high mines cutting into the hill tops above, and head of us loomed the snowy, fluted ridges of Ocshapalca / Uqshapallqa with Ranrapalca / Ranrapallqa and its thick duvets of bright, white snow peaking snuggling up from the south.

After our picnic, we didn’t continue on to Laguna Churup but instead retraced our steps back to the minibus. Back at base, after a kit check by Val, we packed and then headed into town for a mooch and to (at last!) withdraw some funds from the bank. In the town square, we had our first encounter with the build up of festivities in anticipation of 28 July when Peru celebrates its Independence day (Día de la Independencia) in great style, with the additional excitement of Huaraz’s own 156th birthday celebrations. The town was holding its first Battle of the (Brass) Bands, with three groups facing off, literally, two at a time at either end of the stretch of the main street by the main square. Amongst the town residents we saw an occasional visiting villager in more traditional dress – including high hats and full skirts. The music brought back memories of Bolivia.

We rendezvoused for dinner at Crêperie Patrick, where Val treated us to a Coca Pisco Sour – no wonder sleep proved elusive that night!

Wednesday 24 July 2013 – Day 05 – Huaraz (3,052m) – Conococha / Quñuqqucha (4,100m) – Chiquián / Chiqllan (3,374m) – Quero (2,700m) – Marhuay (3,700m)

An early morning, but we managed to fit in all the tasks – breakfasting, stacking rucksacks in the ‘left luggage’ store to await our return, carrying kitbags and tents to the Hotel Colomba‘s ‘car park’ – by 7am to allow us to get on the road before striking hospital workers potentially blocked the streets. A good plan in any event as the day’s journey started with a 5 hour coach drive to get us closer to the Huayhuash.

The first stretch was the familiar road back to Conococha / Quñuqqucha, where we stopped for a lakeside leg stretch and loo break before heading onwards towards the mountains…. with a fantastic photo opportunity as we started our descent towards Chiquián / Chiqllan – in the valley below, a proverbial patchwork of terraced fields cultivated out of the hillsides, ahead and above the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash, Yerupajá standing clear.

After an early lunch (elevenses really) of soup and steamed potatoes in Chiquián / Chiqllan, we left the tarmac and zigzagged on for a couple of hours to Quero, where, on the banks of the Río Quero we unloaded our coach and lorry and met our donkey train. We walked up through the village, and on upwards following the river’s route. Pausing on a shady bridge to lunch on cheese and tomato sandwiches, we then continued our ascent on paths running along the river valley. As we approached Marhuay, hillsides turned into stone walled fields, and crossing the river below the village we made for the school playing fields where we’d be camping.

Our trek crew and donkey train, led by Melky and Antonia, arrived a little later, and after helping to put up the tents and settling in, most folk grabbed wash things and made for the local washing ponds, fed by the freezing cold waters of the stream, cleaning off the day’s sweat and suncream just before the sun disappeared below the hill tops – at which point the temperature dropped a noticeable notch or two.

Tea and biscuits in the dining tent at 5 o’clock segued into dinner at 7pm and we were in our sleeping bags not long after 8 o’clock, setting the timetable for the rest of the trek. Not even the traditional fiesta tunes could keep me awake.

Thursday 25 July 2013 – Day 06 – Marhuay (3,700m) – Quebrada Parlash (4,170m)

Having survived our first of 14 nights under canvas, we breakfasted in the dining tent then started out under grey clouds and a few spots of rain. Crossing the stream we walked through a still sleepy Marhuay and then on along a path between dry stone walls that surround the village fields. Leaving the village behind us, we made a slow but steady ascent towards the cloud-cloaked Quebrada Parlash (or Quebrada Radiash as the trip notes would have it).

It was still only mid-morning when we arrived at our campsite – the villagers get to decide which of the possible sites we can use, and this time we’d been given the closer of the two, set amidst the shallow meanders of the Río Parlash. With the skies resolutely grey, Val sent us with Juan on an acclimatisation climb up one side of the valley. It was very much a “straight up” route, paths picked out by the sheep that graze the hillsides. Hard going. Still, I eventually made it to the pass – I can’t remember how high it was (4,600m maybe?) and I clung to the dry stone wall lining the narrow notch in the ridge, steep drops down either side, vertigo in full effect. Technicolour scenery though – a taste of things to come.

A speedier descent, with sunshine and showers generating a rainbow down in the valley below, and we found lunch waiting for us – soup and sandwiches proving very welcome.

We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves – the cloud kept it cool and I suspect Hazel, Val and I may have played the first of many games of dice, cards or scrabble to while away the time until tea / dinner / bed.

Friday 26 July 2013 – Day 07 – Quebrada Parlash (4,170m) – Laguna Sacracocha – Punta Milau / Milu de Mahuay (4,660m) – Quebrada Milu – Punta Sacsa / Paso Pasapa Shimin (4,750m) – Quartlehuin / Quartelhuain / Cuartelhuain (4,200m)

A long, but lovely day, in which we got some smashing views of the Cordillera Huayhuash and covered some steep terrain directly (up and over Punta Sacsa – or Sacra or even, looking at the map, Paso Pasapa Shimin?!) and indirectly (contouring along the steep slopes of Quebrada Milu valley between the day’s two passes).

A chilly start as we continued up the Quebrada Parlash, following the Río Parlash to the head of the valley. Out in the upland pastures, our path was decorated with woolly white cactus sporting bright red flowers, and on the sides of the valley dry stone walls enclosed sheep and cattle pens. At the end of the valley we swung to our right, and after a breather (and a round of Jelly Squirms) we started the first steep ascent, which eventually flattened out amidst fossilised coral rocks, and on weird slightly squashy but very tough star shaped green ground cover. As our donkeys took a different route (we saw why as we climbed up to Punta Sacsa / Paso Pasapa Shimin!), we posed for photos by the lovely Laguna Sacracocha and very shortly after at the Punta Milau / Milu de Mahuay (4,660m) with its stunning vista of snow capped peaks and technicolour open cast mining.

After dropping down a little into the Quebrada Milu valley, the next couple of hours were spent contouring along the hill side towards Punta Sacsa / Paso Pasapa Shimin, with the final ascent requiring hands as well as feet. Tiring terrain, but we were rewarded with fabulous views from the pass, albeit blustery ones. The mountains were getting closer….

We picnicked in a sheltered spot on the other side of the pass, and then did a few steep downhill sections to drop into the Quebrada Asiac. A long walk through the green grassland of the valley eventually brought us out into the Quebrada Cuncush which is home to a rough mining road. Here, again, we reaped the rewards of local knowledge as Val and Melky’s route meant that we simply crossed the road …. and then climbed again (Val had forewarned us, but it still hurt!) to the campsite at Quartelhuain (4,200m)… and a little further up to a small cwm/corrie where we were were sheltered from the sight and sound of the 24 hour mining trucks.

Probably the hardest day of the trek for me – nothing technically challenging, just our first day with lots of ‘up’ at altitude and a lot of ground to cover. No problems with altitude sickness itself though.

A note on names: I found the KE trip notes not altogether reliable when it came to place names (eg Radiash / Parlash), and I didn’t always remember to make the most of Val’s local knowledge. Transliteration accounts for some of the variations, eg Quartlehuin / Quartelhuain / Cuartelhuain, but others – for example the names of the passes today – seem way out when compared with the map (I was using Alpenvereinskarte map 0/3c: Cordillera Huayhuash (Perú)) and other accounts.

Saturday 27 July 2013 – Day 08 – Quartlehuin / Quartelhuain / Cuartelhuain (4,200m) – Cacananpunta / Cacanampunta (4,700m) – Quebrada Caliente – Janca / Laguna Mitucocha (4,200m)

A tough start to the day: emotionally, saying farewell to John and Mike; and physically, with the path climbing steeply from our Quartelhuain campsite and up 500m to the Cacananpunta / Cacanampunta at 4,700m. We were rewarded with long views up the Quebrada Cuncush towards Huallanca and down into the Quebrada Caliente on the other side of the rocky ridge which also forms the continental divide: Cuncush is on the Pacific side, Caliente the Atlantic.

A steep descent into the aptly named valley of the hot springs, and we made the most of the chance to take a dip in the beautifully warm waters of the stream. After drying off with a cup of coca tea, it was back on the trail again crossing more of the weird, springy, green ground cover on either side of the stream. Better than the prickly, spiky grass mind you!

As the Quebrada Caliente neared the valley of the Río Janca, blue skies gave way to cloud which made for limited views of the Cordillera Huayhuash once we arrived at the campsite, which came complete with a toilet block, albeit on the other side of the river… luckily there was a bridge.

After lunch, Melky and Stefanie led us through the marshland to the shores of the Laguna Mitacocha (Mitococha / Mituqucha). Some birdlife – mainly black ibis and the local Andrean Wachwa geese – and glimpses of the glaciers and peaks as the cloud lifted a little. Melky told us that a plane had crashed into the massif in similar conditions many years ago.

As dusk fell, the clouds cleared completely and we got a wonderful monochrome view of the mountains on the northern side of the massif, arrayed above Laguna Mitucocha from west to east as follows:

Clear skies overnight made for starlit trips to the loo over a frosty field and bridge.

Sunday 28 July 2013 – Day 09 – Laguna Mitucocha (4,200m) – Quebrada Wayac – Carhuac Pass / Yanapunta (4,650m) – Cerro Yanayana (4,740m) – Quebrada Yanayana – Incahuain / Laguna Carhuacocha / Qarwaqucha (4,200m)

Clear skies overnight made for a frosty morning at our Laguna Mitucocha campsite, and superb conditions for seeing the mountains of Cordillera Huayhuash from the north: Ninashanca (5,607 m), Rondoy Chico, Rondoy / Runtuy (5,870m), Mituraju (5,750m), Jirishanca (6,094m) and Jirishanca Chico (5,446m). The kind of clear blue skies you dream of, setting off the bright white snow on the peaks and ridges.

A stiff climb took us out of the campsite and into the gentler inclines of the Quebrada Wayac which was the setting for a lovely morning’s walk, and as we approached the Carhuac pass (Yanapunta on my map) (4,650m) we got fabulous views of Jirishanca (Grande and Chico) from the east.

After a photo opportunity at the pass, another, steeper, climb up the slopes of the Cerro Yanayana brought us out on the rim of a gully at 4,740m. Vertigo struck again, but the 360° panorama, mountains, glaciers and lakes were worth it.

The rest of the day’s route was mainly downhill as we descended the length of the Quebrada Yanayana, passing ammonite cliffs, sheep pens and waterfowl en route to Incahuain (4,200m), where our tents awaited. Our campsite was perched above beautiful Laguna Carhuacocha / Qarwaqucha with Jirishanca Chico (5,446m), Jirishanca (6,126 m / 20,098 ft), Yerupajá Chico (6,089m), Yerupajá (6,635 m / 21,768 ft) and Siula Grande (6,344 m / 20,814 ft) looming above. Glaciers galore – sound as well as vision.

A fantastic setting for a lunch of soup and toasted sarnies, and an afternoon to relax and recharge in the sunshine.

Monday 29 July 2013 – Day 10 – Incahuain / Laguna Carhuacocha (4,200m) – rest day

Val adjusted the itinerary to make this a much appreciated rest day at lovely Laguna Carhuacocha / Qarwaqucha. We woke to blue skies and breakfasted al fresco with a fantastic view of Siula Grande (6,344 m / 20,814 ft), Yerupajá (6,635 m / 21,768 ft), Yerupajá Chico (6,089 m / 19,977 ft), Jirishanca (6,126 m / 20,098 ft) and Jirishanca Chico (5,446m / 17,867 ft) – snow topped peaks and fluted ridges, with glaciers reaching down into the valley below.

Not that the morning was that restful as we headed off down into the valley to deliver solar lights funded by Val’s charity, Light Education Development, to a local elderly lady who still lives in her smallholding, raising sheep, chickens and cows at the base of the Cordillera. Amazing to see.

Leaving Juan to explain the solar lights, we avoided Petronella’s bull and headed off south getting closer to the mountains and crossing the river and climbing up the steep glacial rim of Laguna Gangrajanca, the first of the three glacial lakes that gather at the feet of Siula Grande and Yerupajá.

With Juan and Val’s flasks supplying tea (BYO mug), we took in the great views of the lake to the soundtrack of the bangs and roars of occasional avalanches before heading back to lunch at our Incahuain camp. Reaching the river, we spotted Melky, John and Omar tickling trout – Val joined in and we returned with quite a haul. That was dinner sorted!

A leisurely afternoon with the sun high above allowed time for washing (clothes and hair), lamb rescue, avalanche watching, reading and snoozing. Once the sun dropped below the ridge though the temperature plummeted and we were back in down jackets for dinner – fresh fried trout and chips.

Tuesday 30 July 2013 – Day 11 – Incahuain / Laguna Carhuacocha (4,200m) – Siula Punta (4,800m) – Huayhuash (4,300m)

As the trip notes promised, a long but fab day.

After breakfast, again with stunning views of Siula Grande (6,344 m / 20,814 ft), Yerupajá (6,635 m / 21,768 ft), Yerupajá Chico (6,089 m / 19,977 ft), Jirishanca (6,126 m / 20,098 ft) and Jirishanca Chico (5,446m / 17,867 ft), we retraced our steps down into the valley of Laguna Carhuacocha / Qarwaqucha and back towards Laguna Gangrajanca.

This time, we skirted the glacial moraine and continued south, coming out into the valley alongside Laguna Siula (4,290m), and a little later, Laguna Quesillococha (4,332m). The path then took us up a stiff 500m ascent to Punta Suila (4,800 m / 15,748 ft) where we were rewarded by fabulous views of the east side of the Cordillera Huayhuash – the peaks of Siula Grande et al joined by Nevado Sarapo (6,127 m / 20,102 ft) and Nevado Carnicero (5,960 m / 19,553 ft), with the three lakes nestling below – and a mum and son selling fizzy drinks!

After a breather on the pass we dropped down into the Quebrada Atocshayco, bouncing over the weird island cushions of Plantago rigida and occasionally passing/being passed by the Fair Isle-d trekker from Laguna Mitucocha, who turned out to be Austrian.

A fast pace brought us round to the south side of the Cordillera Huayhuash, and then to the shores of (a second) Laguna Quesillococha. Soon after we rendezvoused with Hazel and Gayble who, with Melky, Blackie and Co had taken the alternative route along the north side of Laguna Carhuacocha and the south through the Quebrada Atocshayco, getting some fabulous photos en route.

Then it was downhill all the way to reach the small hamlet of Huayhuash (4,300m), crossing the stream by way of a stone bridge to reach our campsite. That evening we vicariously celebrated a local lady’s birthday with camp made, chocolate coated Panettone…. more Val magic!

Wednesday 31 July 2013 – Day 12 – Huayhuash (4,300m) – Portachuelo de Huayhuash (4,750m) – Laguna Barrosococha below Trapecio (4,500m)

An easy morning, following the path from Huayhuash hamlet to the Portachuelo de Huayhuash (4,750 m / 15,584 ft), chatting with Marian all the way. After taking in the views of the Cordillera Raura (C. Rawra) further south we veered back north west and up along the northern buttresses of Nevado Sueroraju for photos and fantastic ammonite fossils. Hazel, Gayble and I then accompanied Juan and Blackie to our camp below the pyramid of Nevado Trapecio (5,653 m / 18,546 ft), in familiar Juan-style, taking the ‘scenic route’, while the others took the longer route with Val ‘over the top’.

After a warming lunch (the morning has turned cloudy and cold) we had a relaxing afternoon pottering around camp and later in the afternoon I enjoyed a tranquil twenty minutes or so sitting on the shores of sparkling Laguna Barrosococha watching Trapecio’s shadow fall slowly but surely across the landscape.

Lamb chops for dinner for the meat-eaters – we’d watched our trek team arrive with the carcass fresh from Huayhuash….

Thursday 01 August 2013 – Day 13 – Laguna Barrosococha below Trapecio (4,500m) – Punta Trapecio (5,000m) – Quebrada Huanacpatay below Puscanturpa Sur (4,500m)

A steep, zig zag ascent brought us to Punta Trapecio (5,000 m / 16,404 ft), overtaken by our donkey train en route. At the pass we were rewarded by fabulous views of snowy Trapecio and the Cordillera Raura (C. Rawra), and Puscanturpa, the beautiful blue lakes contrasting with the beige and grey buttresses of Nevado Cuyoc (aka Puscanturpa Sur, 5,550 m / 18,209 ft).

A scramble up over the rocks and snow to our west brought us up close and personal with the Cordillera Huayhuash – amazing even with the peaks shrouded in cloud.

With the wind picking up, we scooted back down to the pass and on down towards Puscanturpa, lunching in a sheltered spot down at lake level and then continuing on downhill, eventually reaching the flat lands alongside the Quebrada Huanacpatay / Quanacpatay. Camping at the head of the valley at 4,500m in the company of a lone French alpiniste, we had to tackle a tricky ascent whenever we felt the need to make use of the two loos perched on a ledge at the valley’s end ….

Friday 02 August 2013 – Day 14 – Quebrada Huanacpatay below Puscanturpa Sur (4,500m) – no name pass in the Cerro San Antonio (5,020m) – Cutatambo / Cototambo (4,230m)

A fantastic day, trekking from our campsite at the head of the Quebrada Huanacpatay / Quanacpatay to our next camp at Cototambo (Cutatambo on my map) (4,230m) the hard way…..

A faint zig zagging path over scree and then straight up alongside a narrow watercourse brought us into an upland valley, and then it was up and over a no name, 5,080 m / 16,666 ft dip in the ridgeline of Cerro San Antonio.

From the ridge pass we had amazing views of the south western side of the Cordillera Huayhuash, including Rasac / Rasaq (6,017 m / 19,741 ft) and Sarapo / Sarapu (6,127 m / 20,102 ft), the glaciers of the Nevado Jurau and the lakes of the Quebrada Sarapococha (Lagunas Sarapococha / Sarapuqucha / Sarapaqucha and Santa Rosa / Rurigollay), Laguna Juraucocha (4,343 m / 14,248 ft) and the colourful, mineral rich rocks high above.

The route down from the pass to our lunch spot at Laguna Juraucocha featured steep scree slopes, steep hill side, large boulders and a family of vicuñas.

After a late lunch in the lee of a boulder by Laguna Juraucocha, we split forces with Hazel, Gayble and I continuing on with Val to our Cototambo camp whilst the others headed off to explore the Quebrada Sarapococha with the plan of reaching Siula Grande base camp.

Cloudy skies made for a cold afternoon, some of which I suspect Hazel, Val and I spent in the dining tent playing dice. Today’s obstacle course betwixt tent and toilets started with a hop across the stream followed a zig zag path back across the rock strewn and potholed valley floor. We were rewarded with a pair of plumbed, pedestal loos though …

Saturday 03 August 2013 – Day 15 – Cutatambo / Cototambo (4,230m) – Whatia / Huatiaq (4,250m)

I found today tough – paying for yesterday’s exuberance I suspect.

The morning began with what should have been an easy trek due west from Cutatambo / Cototambo (4,230m / 13,877 ft) along the valley of the Rio Calinca to the village of Huyapplla / Huayllapa (3,490 m / (11,450 ft), but it tired me out even though it was relatively level to begin with and then dropped steadily down toward the village. We met lots of other trekkers for the first time too, and later on a family out on a weekend stroll up to Huatiaq.

Leaving Val, Yvonne and Marian to go into the village – definitely prosperous given the bright corrugated metal roofing – the rest of us started the ascent up alongside the Quebrada Milo. Even with Blackie carrying my daypack I found the climb exhausting, and I was very glad to see the tents at our streamside campsite at Whatia / Huatiaq (4,250 m / (13,943 ft) with views up to the snowtopped peak of Diablo Mudo (aka Raju Collota, 5,350 m / 17,552 ft) ahead.

Sunday 04 August 2013 – Day 16 – Whatia / Huatiaq (4,250m) – Punta Tarpush (4,800m) – Cerro Jyamy (5,000m) – Gashpapampa (4,500m)

We woke in Whatia / Huatiaq (4,250 m / (13,943 ft) with clear (and cold) views up to Diablo Mudo (aka Raju Collota, 5,350 m / 17,552 ft) and beautiful iridescent clouds.

Another relatively hard going day for me, although our route wasn’t tricky at all – I’d just legs like lead, despite all the food! That said, the route up to the Punta Tarpush (4,800 m / 15,748 ft) (Tapush Punta on my map) was more straightforward than I’d expected from the view up the Quebrada Huatiaq.

The 360° view from Cerro Jyamy (5,000 m /16,404 ft) was stunning; not just the magnificent snowy peaked range of the Cordillera Huayhuash from the west – from Raju Collota (Diablo Mudo) in the south to a new view of the mighty peaks of Yerupajá (6,635 m / 21,768 ft), Yerupajá Chico (6,089m) and Jirishanca (6,126 m / 20,098 ft) to the north, via Huacrish (5,622 m / 18,444 ft), Tsacra Grande (5,774 m / 18,943 ft) and Tsacra Chico (5,548 m / 18,202 ft), Rasac / Rasaq (6,040 m / 19,816 ft) – but Huascarán (6,768 m / 22,205 ft) and in the distance, the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca (next year!).

It wasn’t surprising I’d not found the mountain on the map (it’s part of the Cerro Patococha Grande on the Alpenvereinskarte map 0/3c: Cordillera Huayhuash (Perú)) nor any mention of it online before leaving London as Val named the peak after Omar’s dad Jyamy as they’d scouted the route together. Contrary to the trip notes which talk about crossing “easy scree slopes [true] to reach the snow line and then … follow an easy-angled snow slope to the top“, Cerro Jyamy hasn’t seen snow for a while. No ice axes or crampons required here.

After we’d made the most of the photo opportunities, we descended along the ridgeline and then steeply down rendezvous with Juan, Gayble and Hazel. After a breather and a song from Juan, we continued on down across the hillsides to Gashpapampa camp. Popular with groups doing an ascent of Diablo Mudo, there were a trio of colourful harlequin tents set up a fair distance away, and our lone French trekker was there too.

Monday 05 August 2013 – Day 17 – Gashpapampa (4,500m) – Punta Jahuacocha / Llaucha Punta (4,850m) – Whacrish (4,350m)

Oops, my memory’s got my mornings muddled: today was the morning with the beautiful iridescent clouds.

Leaving Gashpapampa campsite (4,500 m / 14,763 ft) long after the other group (who’d left in the wee small hours to make their ascent of Diablo Mudo / Raju Collota (5,350 m / 17,552 ft)) we headed downhill, north along the Quebrada Gashpapampa / Gashpampa before turning due east to trek up the Quebrada Angocaucha to the Llaucha Punta / Paso Yaucha (4,850 m / 15,912 ft). Goodness knows how the trip notes call it Punta Jahuacocha. A zig-zagging ascent that proved a hard slog for my leaden legs, but – yet again – the blue sky views of the western flank of the Cordillera Huayhuash were worth it.

Naturally, most of us did the “optional scramble takes us to a small peak with magical views of the Huayhuash” and indeed they were…. Yerupajá (6,635 m / 21,768 ft), Yerupajá Chico (6,089m) and Jirishanca (6,126 m / 20,098 ft). I think we may even have even have included Siula Grande in that list.

(And here again I realise I’ve muddled up yesterday and today, because this was the day we rendezvoused with Hazel and were serenaded by Juan…)

The trip notes don’t lie when they say it’s “A steep descent” from the pass to the camp in the Quebrada Whacrish / Huacrish (4,350 m / 14,271 ft) – for a lot of those 500m down the downhill slope wasn’t far off vertical. They make no mention of the plethora of cow pats though….

After a lovely lunch, Hazel and I took advantage of the (ice cold) stream and the afternoon sun to do a spot of laundry. The temperature plummeted once the sun dropped below the high ridges around us, and as night fell the last of the day’s sun turned the snows above a rosy pink.

Tuesday 06 August 2013 – Day 18 – Whacrish / Huacrish (4,350m) – Rasacqcocha – Laguna Jahuacocha / Hawaqucha (4,050m) – Incahuain (4,050m)

Another day of hard, high altitude trekking, rewarded with magical views of the Cordillera Huayhuash, getting close up and personal with Yerupajá (6,635 m / 21,768 ft) and Rasac / Rasaq (6,017 m / 19,741 ft), and ending up on the shores of Laguna Jahuacocha / Hawaqucha (4,050 m / 13,287 ft).

We woke to frost on our tent, and frozen waterbottles in the porch. Leaving our Whacrish / Huacrish campsite we followed along the stream up into a side valley (possibly the Quebrada Tsacra, although Val’s annotation on my map say otherwise), and were soon climbing up, up, up, eventually emerging on a stony plateau which suggested the surface of Mars.

After photos of the views of Tsacra Chico and/or Tsacra Grande, we turned north, passing a shallow pool and then zig zagging up the side of a steep scree slope…. emerging to fabulous views of Yerupajá and Rasac / Rasaq, and a crystal clear view of the ridge connecting Jirishanca (6,126 m / 20,098 ft), Ninashanca (5,607 m / 18,395 ft) and Rondoy / Runtuy (5,870 m / 19,258 ft). To the west, a swathe of deep rose pink rock cut across the mouth of a col opening out onto the Quebrada Whacrish / Huacrish.

Leaving our packs at the pass, Val led us to an even more spectacular viewpoint. Wonderful. More photos, including my favourite of the whole trek:

Yerupajá and the scree ridge, returning from Val's viewpoint above the Quebrada Rasac

Our long descent to lunch at Rasaqcocha started with a speedy scree ski (which Hazel most definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed) and continued at a fast pace over/down steep grassy hillsides to bring us into the Quebrada Rasac.

After our sandwiches the descent continued, initially over rock, then paddling across the freezing stream and then on down a dusty path which brought us to the Gocha Cutan (4,066m), the marshland between the lakes of Solteracocha and Jahuacocha, and Hazel and the boys, armed with sticks in anticipation of a spot of trout tickling for supper….

A lovely, level walk along the south bank of the Jahuacocha, past waterfalls cascading down from the upland valleys above, led to the camp at Incahuain. At the campsite our tents awaited, looking back east along the valley across the clear waters of the Rio Jahuacocha and its laguna and on up towards Jirishanca and Rondoy / Runtuy, horses grazing in the rich pastures below. Beautiful.

An evening tinged with sadness as we paid our thanks to the trek crew – tomorrow would see us complete the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit and say farewell to our lovely team.

Wednesday 07 August 2013 – Day 19 – Laguna Jahuacocha / Hawaqucha / Incahuain (4,050m) – Pampa Llamac Pass (4,300m) – Llamac / Llamaq (3,250m) – Huaraz (3,052m)

Val’s spidey senses predicted rain in last night’s red sky clouds, so we were up and away early walking along the wide valley of the Rio Jahuacocha before the sun rose above the Huayhuash.

Climbing up out of the valley, through clusters of twisted queñuale (paperbark) trees, we gained views as well as height: behind us the crisp, snowy peaks of the Cordillera; below and ahead, the narrow gorge of the Rio Achin.

After a final photostop at Pampa Llamac Pass (4,300 m / 14,107 ft) we dropped over 1,000m down to the roadhead at Llamac (3,250 m / 10,662 ft). Today was tough on the knees, as well as our spirits – Llamac brought us back to civilisation (of sorts), and the end of a fabulous trek. After a few farewell beers / fizzy drinks at a village shop we boarded the bus and – after a lengthy stand off at the road barrier – started the 5 hour drive back to Huaraz. Sad, even with the prospect of a shower back at the Hotel Colomba.

Back in Huaraz, we washed off the accumulated grime (the colour of the bath was something to behold) and headed into town with Val to get some laundry done. We had no trouble keeping up this time. Foiled by the fiesta, we adjourned to Café Andino for a celebratory Sierra Andina cerveza (me), coffee (Hazel and Val) and nachos.

For dinner we returned to the lovely El Rinconcito Minero, where I went for a repeat serving of very tasty veg fried rice, which Marian and Yvonne had indeed been dreaming of since our first meal there 17 days earlier.

Thursday 08 August 2013 – Day 20 – Huaraz (3,052m) – Lima (34m)

After a final breakfast feast at the Hotel Colomba we said a heartfelt au revoir to Val, who was staying on in Huaraz to prepare for her next circuit….

The drive back to Lima was day 02 in reverse, complete with lunchtime stop at Cheto’s. After checking back in at the Faraona Grand Hotel we ended up strolling down the road for a final group meal at a fancy Italian restaurant. Expensive pizza!

Friday 09 August 2013 – Day 21 – Lima (34m) – Cusco (3,399m)

Early morning taxi from the Faraona Grand Hotel to the airport, arranged by Val who phoned for a catch up en route.

Luckily we were able to bring forward our scheduled flight to Cusco, arriving there before we were even due to have left Lima. I think our comfort with Cusco’s relatively low (!) altitude (3,399 m / 11,152 ft) threw our transfer taxi driver, whose standard patter relied on arrivals feeling the effects of the thin air. We did find it relatively chilly though.

Amaru Hostal proved delightful and a great base to explore the cobbled streets and for scoffing pastries from the Panadería El Buen Pastor; the hassle of getting cash out to fund our Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu less so. Cheers Lloyds TSB (as was).

On the plus side for us and our future trek mates, we did manage to find a lavandería that would do an express wash – otherwise we would have faced the prospect of spending another 7 days in our well worn Huayhuash kit…..

Our dinner at a mexican restaurant across the road from the hotel proved to be Hazel’s last meal from many days – last night’s meat pizza gets the blame.

Saturday 10 August 2013 – Day 22 – Cusco (3,399m) – Sacred ValleyPísac (2,972m) – Ollantaytambo (2,792 m)

A disappointing day, which in some ways set the tone for all our non-trek days on KE’s Inca Trail and Machu Picchu trip (I wrote more on this when we first got back).

Our trek leader, Julia, had met us at the Amaru Hostal yesterday to give us a briefing and to hand over our 8kg max kit bags. Packing light was not a problem, but finding out we were the only people booked on the KE trip had been, and today the “full day of sightseeing [in the Sacred Valley] visiting Inca sites with a local guide” promised in the trip notes turned out to be a day trip on a big coach largely full of day trippers from Cusco. As a result, the morning featured a series of tourist-geared shopping stops (not a true local market to be seen). Seeing Julia giving a guided tour to a party of four (the gents were to turn out to be our Inca Trail co-trekkers John and Lonnie) at the Inca ruins at Písac really rubbed salt into the wound. If Hazel and I had wanted this kind of experience, we would have booked directly with an operator in Cusco, and paid a lot less. The local operator for our trip was ExploreAndes, so if you like the sound of it you can book direct.

Still, looking on the bright side, the Inca terraces and village ruin at Písac were impressive even under cloudy skies, and things picked up once we got to Ollantaytambo where we had a guided tour of the Inca old town and ruins before being deposited at the lovely Tunupa Lodge. To be honest, it did feel a bit like being abandoned… all we knew was that Julia would pick us up at 8am the following morning.

After a stroll around the town and buying water supplies, we ate at Hearts Café – highly recommended.

Sunday 11 August 2013 – Day 23 – Ollantaytambo (2,792 m) – Piscacucho (Km. 82) – Q’oriwayrachina (2,500 m) – Patallaqta / Llactapata(2,840 m)

Our first day proper on the Inca Trail started with a minibus pick up from the Tunupa Lodge, and our first meeting with John and Lonnie – two lovely American gents who were doing the trek while their wives headed down to the Amazon.

At Piscacucho (Km. 82) we met our trek crew and started walking. Unlike the other groups we saw during the day, our route kept to the right of the Urubamba River. This extra half day section meant that we were out of sync with those walking the standard route, and for the whole trek up until our final camp at Phuyapatamarca (3,650m) we only saw one other trekker, and she was heading back to Ollantaytambo having given up the trek.

Our morning route took us through fields and villages following the railway (and sometimes walking on it), pausing for a snack at the small scale Inca ruins at Qanabamba and, a little later, lunching in our private dining tent. I have to say the food on the trek was fabulous – probably better than it needs to be. We had a hot lunch, freshly prepared, every day, and a hearty afternoon snack (tasty guacamole and fresh fried corn chips were a favourite, and freshly made each time).

At Q’oriwayrachina we cross the river and entered the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the El Santuario Histórico de Machupicchu, getting the first of our official SERNANP checkpoint stamps en route. Not long after we reached the end of the day’s trek (more of a stroll really – but it was easy to forget we’d had 3 weeks acclimatising and getting fitter), arriving at the village of Patallaqta / Llactapata. After settling into our new tent, I explored Patallaqta’s impressive Inca ruins in lovely late afternoon light, and returned to camp to find Julia and Lonnie playing kickabout football with twin girls from the family in whose field we camped.

A starlit night.

Monday 12 August 2013 – Day 24 – Patallaqta / Llactapata (2,840 m) – Wayllabamba / Huayllabamba (2,912m) – Ayapata – Llulluch’apampa / Llulluchapampa (3,650m)

Day 2 on the Camino Inka brought beautiful blue skies. Leaving Patallaqta / Llactapata we walked up the increasingly narrow valley of the Cusichaca / Kusichaka River. Early sections took us between farmland and villages, with views back down the valley to Nevado Verónica (5,860m/19,225ft) aka W’akay Willca or Willka Wiqi, and were relatively easy going – ie not too steep.

After a breather in Wayllabamba / Huayllabamba (2,912m), the last inhabited place on the trail and home to another SERNANP checkpoint, we turned away from the valley of the Cusichaca / Kusichaka and started following the route of the Llulluch’a / Llulluchayoc river …. and the climb began in earnest, the path varying from packed earth track, to dusty trail, to (possibly Inca) stone steps.

After another hot lunch (both food and dining tent) at Ayapata (another SERNANP campsite), we continued upwards through cloud forest and past llamas before arriving at our at Llulluch’apampa / Llulluchapampa campsite (3,650m). Clear views down the valley, and a smashing wash / loo block at short stroll away. We were the only people there. Noticeably colder up this high.

Tuesday 13 August 2013 – Day 25 – Llulluch’apampa / Llulluchapampa (3,650m) – Abra de Huarmiwanusca / Warmiwañusca / Dead Woman’s Pass (4,200m) – Pacaymayo Alto campsite (3,595m) – Runkurakay / Runccuracay (3,760 m) – Runkuraqay / Runccuracay Pass (3,985m) – Chaquiqocha (3,576m) – Phuyupatamarka / Phuyupatamarca (3,650m)

Day 3 on the Camino Inka features the (in)famous Abra de Huarmiwanusca / Warmiwañusca (4,200 m / 13,780 ft) aka Dead Woman’s Pass – the highest point of the trek. The condition of the trail and our Huayhuash acclimatisation made the 550 m ascent from the Llulluch’apampa / Llulluchapampa campsite easy going.

Great views from the pass, both back down the valley we’d ascended and also ahead into the Pacaymayo valley, which featured a LOT of stone steps….. These were to prove hard going on the knees as we dropped 800 m to the Pacaymayo Alto campsite (3,595 m). After coffee and an early sandwich at the Pacaymayo checkpoint it was time to start climbing again, with the small circular Inca tambo (inn) at Runkurakay / Runccuracay (3,760 m) providing a beacon to aim for, and then more up to reach the Runkuraqay / Runccuracay Pass (3,985 m) by which time the views were a little less good, as cloud clung to the peaks of the Vilcabamba range.

According to the trip notes the post-Runkuraqay / Runccuracay Pass section of the path is “paved with the original Inca stones” – my main memory is of our first Inca tunnel, yet more steps, colourful flowers and – in time – the Inca ruins at Sayaqmarka / Sayacmarca (3,625m) “the place with a dominant view”, which we didn’t visit. Not long after Sayaqmarka / Sayacmarca the path entered beautiful bamboo forests. Very zen.

A leisurely lunch at Chaquiqocha (3,576m) looking out over the Aobamba Valley, and then onwards through forests, Inca tunnels and – eventually – our final campsite, Phuyupatamarka / Phuyupatamarca (3,650m). En route, a few flashes of bright green as packs of parakeets wooshed by, beautiful flowers and a stunning section of colourful moss covering the cliffside. The clouds gathered too.

The aptly named ‘Town in the Clouds’ camp proved to be packed, understandably so once we saw the views further south, not just the Inca ruins just below the campsite, but ridge upon forested ridge, snow sprinkled to our east, dramatic sunlight streaked clouds, rain and rainbows, and the first mobile phone signal since Ollantaytambo (probably – I didn’t have my phone with me) courtesy of Aguas Calientes nestling in the Urubamba Valley 1,610 m (1 vertical mile) below.

All in all the best day of the trek by some margin. According to my calculations we climbed (and descended) over 1,000m / 3280 ft over the course of the day despite there being no net change in altitude.

Wednesday 14 August 2013 – Day 26 – Phuyupatamarka / Phuyupatamarca (3,650m) – Intipata (2,840m) – Wiñay Wayna (2,650m) – Inti Punku (2,720m) – Machu Picchu (2,400m) – Aguas Calientes) (2,040m)

Our last day on the Inca Trail turned out to feature a lot of Inca site sightseeing en route to Inti Punku – the Sun Gate – and Machu Picchu (2,400m) itself.

After breakfast we said farewell to our porters and kitchen crew and tackled the 3000+ stone steps down through the jungly-forest to Intipata, aka Sunny Slope. There we sat on one of the terraces enjoying the view out over the Willkanuta /Urubamba River and, to a lesser extent, the over-zealous attentions of the local llamas.

Next up, the Inca ruins at Wiñay Wayna followed by an early lunch at the adjacent camp before a long, winding section hugging the forested mountain slopes and providing plenty of opportunities to photograph some of the many species of the Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) orchid, and lots of other flowers too.

A final set of steep stairs brought us to Inti Punku where John and Lonnie were reunited with their wives, and we were all rewarded with the classic views out over the ruins of Machu Picchu.

After making the most of the multiple photo opportunities, we boarded one of the steady stream of buses back to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly, and universally still called, Aguas Calientes) (2,040m) – I think the person who wrote KE’s trip notes must had one too many cerveza when s/he wrote “This little town has a very special atmosphere…”, or perhaps they mean ‘special’ in the Belgian sense…

Leaving John, Lonnie and Co at their hotel (H and I concluded we were definitely on a second rate package compared to theirs!), Julia led us to (and left us at) our hotel – Inka Town – which turned out to be located right next to the train station. This meant we heard every train horn blast and every PeruRail departure warming up (the last is at 9.30pm, the first at 5.35am) – not ideal after a 4 day trek (coming on top of the Huayhuash too, we were both tired). The hotel staff were lovely, and the room itself fine – but all we really wanted was an undisturbed night’s sleep. The complimentary ear plugs in the room weren’t reassuring.

Whilst we’d see John and Lonnie tomorrow for our guided tour of Machu Picchu, it was weird being back to the two of us again so abruptly, and not having had celebratory drinks or a group meal to mark the end of the trek.

After a good shower (other than location, Inka Town gets most things right!), Hazel and I headed out to explore the mean streets of Aguas Calientes. Lots of tourists, lots of people wanting you to come into their restaurant/bar/shop. Later on that evening I had a celebratory beer, although Hazel stuck to tea; and our dinner venue proved a poor choice, somewhat lacking in terms of value for money and ambiance… All in all Aguas Calientes proved a bit of a let down.

Thursday 15 August 2013 – Day 27 – Machu Picchu (2,400m) – Aguas Calientes) (2,040m) – Poroy – Cusco (3,399m)

[I’m running out of room, so it’s highlights only from now on. See the notes on my Flickr photos for the detail.]

Guided tour of Machu Picchu – bus back to Aguas Calientes – lunch and loitering – late afternoon train back to Poroy (not Ollantaytambo) – taxi transfer back to the lovely Amaru Hostal in Cusco.

Friday 16 August 2013 – Day 27 – Cusco – Lima – Madrid / Saturday 17 August 2013 – Day 28 – Madrid – London

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit plus Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: we’re back

…. belatedly, as Hazel and I actually landed on Saturday evening, but first thing on Sunday Phil and I headed over to Bristol for Cam and Dave’s wedding and I’ve only just got on top of unpacking and washing, and downloading my 1862 photos.

The Huayhuash Circuit was great – a fab group, plenty of good food from Antonia and Melky (and the occasional mulled wine, freshly brewed coffee, home baked panettone by Val!), interesting routes, nice big snowy mountains and good weather (a bit cloudy at times, but that provided good sunscreen – and we missed the stair rod rainstorms that bookended our trek). Physically harder than the Everest Circuit, primarily because once we’d acclimatised Val set a faster pace and took us on routes that weren’t well trodden paths (no complaints there at all), and partly because the camping means you don’t always sleep so well, get rested etc. But we got some fabulous views and hardly saw a soul other than Quechua villagers/homesteaders for 16 days… Highly recommended, although probably not as your first experience of trekking at altitude and/or camping. I’d trek with Val again like a shot.

The Inca Trail / Machu Picchu was easy in comparison – big paths, slow pace, but mainly because we were reaping the benefits of having acclimatised to higher altitudes so thoroughly in the Huayhuash. The trail itself and campsites were surprisingly people-free and we saw no other trekkers until the last campsite and the following (final) day’s walk to the Sun Gate. The routing on the first day essentially ensured we were half a day out of synch with the traditional route/timings. Totally unexpected, and fantastic. That said, I did feel rather let down by this trip, and in particular the fact that Hazel and I turned out to be the only people booked on it. As a result we didn’t have a true group trip experience, which is why we’d booked via KE rather than directly with a local agent. Whilst the trekking days (3, 4, 5 and 6) were spent in the company of two American gents whose travel agent had also booked them on the Inca Trail with the same local agent, on day 2 we were simply part of a large day trip coach tour, and on day 7 after the guided tour at Machu Picchu we were left with tickets and instructions as to getting the bus back to Aguas Calientes, the late afternoon train back to Poroy and a taxi transfer to our Cusco hotel, and our airport transfer pick up on day 8. Hazel and I are well travelled enough not to have been worried by this – but we did feel somewhat abandoned.

Hazel has put her photos onto Flickr already, in this Peru 2013 set. Some highlights:

Above the snowline!
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Laguna Carhuacocha campsite
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The Gals
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Mountains and lakes
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Steeper than it looks!
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Ridges
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Final campsite on the Huayhuash – Laguna Jahuacocha
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On the Inca Trail
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Me and H at Wiñay Wayna
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Arriving at Machu Picchu with Claudia, our guide
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See Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit plus Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: we’re booked! for the background.