Les Trois Escargots

A growing family of snails.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca

The Cordillera Blanca is a range of mountains in the north of Peru and, with 35 peaks over 6000 metres, it is the highest range in the tropical world. Understandably, it is remote and tit ook us almost four hours in a minibus (crammed with 21 people when there was seating for 14) to reach Cashapampa, the start of our trek, where we ate fresh fried trout and chips that a local couple cooked over a wood fire for us.

On the first day, we trekked with heavy rucsacs to Laguna Ichiccocha and suffered the effects of the altitude (namely nose bleeds, high heart rates and laboured breathing - it sounds worse than it was, Mum) and lack of trekking (the last time was in the Pyrenees in 2004). The steep sides of the valley and the arid vegetation were slightly oppressive and it was a relief to reach the greenery of the lake. In the evening, we drank litres of coca tea which the packet told us was good for "diarrhea, altitude sickness and tiredness". Perfect.

The following morning, we reached Laguna Jatuncocha and, with big, snow-capped peaks all around, I taught Albane the basics of map and compass. After the lake, the path lead into a wide valley perfectly suited for a Lord of the Rinds battle scene. We were overtaken by a mule train, laden with the bags of a group of walkers who had passed us earlier, but were happy that we were carrying our own kit. We camped at a litter-strewn site nestled beneath the vast face of Nevado Tulliraju (5830m) - a classic jagged ridge with fluted snow, cracked glaciers and a petticoat of grey rock. We watched it until 4pm when a storm arrived and hammered the tent with rain until 9 am the next day. With darkness falling at 6pm, it was an early night!

The third day was the big one and the challenge was increased by the fact that the rain during the night had fallen as snow on our route. Undeterred, we started the 3 hour climb and settled into a pace that, at sea level on the flat, would not have challenged a snail. Still, slow and steady won the day and by midday we had reached Punta Union pass at 4760 metres. The views were stunning and we descended into a deep valley which reminded me of a Scottish valley on steroids. We had four hours of downhill in hot sun and we were both feeling the effect (despite my rather fetching hat and beard - both for sun protection and nothing to do with irritating Albane) by the time we reached camp below Nevado Paron.

Despite it being a full moon, we slept well and, in the morning descended quickly to a Qyechuan village with houses made from mud and thatched roofs. There was no running water, no electricity and conditions were primitive. Yet the children smiled and shouted "Hola!" as we passed - a stark contrast to Morocco where we had been continually asked for a "stylo" or a "bonbon". By lunchtime, we had reached a bridge over the river and, instead of heading left to finish the trek (like most sensible people), we turned right and headed in the Ramincuray valley. Steep, clad with thick forest, filled with the smell of foreign plants and a path that was not clear, we felt as though we were walking into Jurassic Park. For 3 hours we headed uphill and then, with darkness an hour away, the trail disappeared. The ensuing climb through needle-like grass and scrub and over loose boulders was a nightmare and we reached the lake to find that the "good camping" (promised by Lonely Planet) was non-existent. With no other option and too tired to be angry, we stumbled downhill until we found a spot to put up the tent. Right in the middle of the territory of a herd of horned bullocks. Big sticks kept them at bay while we were cooking, but we were then forced to adopt the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality and crawled into our sleeping bags. Albane slept badly.

The final day was a hot four hour walk to the road and a four hour minibus back to Huaraz for roast chicken and chips, a hot shower and the chance to put on fresh clothes for the first time in five days. In other words, all the rewards of a good, hard trek

1 Comments:

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