Cordillera Huayhuash - PHENOMENAL
May 30, 2005
Day 1 - Huaraz to Pacllon
(DM) It was a dark and cold start as we woke at 4am to get organised for our bus at 5am. Pocho was waiting in the street as we stepped out and got us there just in time. The bus was again packed with Kim and I sharing the back seat with 3 others and a dog. This was also our first meeting with Esteban who was to be our guide / cook / arriero (donkey driver) for the next 5 days. We all instantly liked him.
We arrived in Chiquian at 7:30am and had a long wait until 5pm for our connecting bus to the small village of Pacllon. We spent the day exploring the rural area surrounding Chiquian with Esteban. The country side was again fantastic and life in this area has not changed much since the Incas.
Our favourite stop-over was the ghost town of Huasta that was completely empty when we were there in the morning. The only locals we saw were a heard of donkeys walking down the main street. Esteban said that everyone works the fields in the morning from dawn and then returns to the town in the afternoon when the main square is a buzz of activity. The buildings were also really cool.
After walking for 3-4 hours we return to Chiquian by colectivo and shared the ride with the local school teachers that had plenty of questions to ask the girls. Lets just leave it at that.
The afternoon was spent looking around Chiquian before the laughable events of the bus to Pacllon began at 5:30pm. If you didn`t laugh you would definately cry. The transport was a small mini-van that in Australia would legally sit 12 people uncomfortably. This is not the case in Peru. The bus pulled out of Chiquian with 29 people on-board which included 5 on the roof holding onto the ropes that tied down our backpacks. It was insane. I was squashed between 7 old ladies and was passed a baby to hold. Lucky for me the baby freaked out at the site of her smelly, hairy handler and screamed her lungs out. Kim was not so lucky and spent the trip nursing the baby.
The road was also very scary and was best not observed and to top it off the local Peruvian music being played at full boar could be compared to the sound of a suffocating pig squeling for it's last breath of air. It's basically crap and that is putting it lightly. The four Aussie passengers put it down to experience and laughed for most of the 2 hour trip.
The simple village of Pacllon is Esteban`s home village and we spent the night in one of his family members one bedroom house. We think it is where his father normally sleeps. The room was made of mud brick and consisted of a table, 2 chairs and a bed. The walls had a picture of Estebans brother and wife who were killed in the amazon by drug runners, an old fashioned tit pic. and 4 old Pepsi calenders, one from 1986. Bizarre.
No house in the village had a tiolet so it when Kim and I needed to do the business before going to bed it was off to the edge of town with torch in hand to find a spot. It was not clear where we were surrpossed to go so we walked into the first field we found and dug a hole. No more information required.
The night sky was probably the highlight because as there were practically no lights in the village, the number of stars that became visable were incredable. I saw 4 shooting stars while I waiting for Kim to finish.
Esteban cooked us dinner and then we bunked down on the hard floor. It wasn`t the most comfortable of sleeps, but we both enjoyed the experience of staying in a local village and getting an insight into their way of life.
Day 2 - Pacllon to the base of Punta Yuacha (4840m)
KtH) After a breakfast of porridge with cinnamon and cloves (very nice by the way), Nancy (Estebans' sister) showed us the way to the beginning of the walk.
We left Esteban behind to load the equipment and bags onto the donkeys. He assured us he would catch up with us later.......
We left the adobe huts of Pacllon behind and followed the Rio Achin through some small rural farms. After about 1.5 hours we came across a fork and decided to head up. At this stage Esteban had not yet caught up (I think he underestimated our walking speed).
We continued walking until we came across a man watching over his cattle. He told us we needed to walk down back to the river. Despite a more obvious path leading the other way, we followed his advice and headed down. We were really starting to get hungry now and decided that at the next shady spot we would perch ourselved beside the water and stop for lunch.
As we were finishing our lunch we finally spotted Esteban and his three donkeys (we quickly named them Jacko, Bluey and Rosco) coming around the bend. He told us we were good walkers. Later we learned that we shouldn't have gone back down to the river and kept going up above the river valley. He didn't tell us this at the time though and it wasn't until I started questioning why we were bush bashing through thorny bushes up a very indistinguashable path, that he told us we had walked too far, in the wrong direction, to turn back.
This became more obvious when we reached a river crossing that was too steep for the donkeys to pass. At first Esteban said he would turn back and meet us at the top of the other side of the valley, but after a minute changed his mind and decided it was better that we unload the donkeys and carry the equipement across the river and up the other side ourselves. He said the sides of the valley were too steep for the donkeys with equipment. It could cause them to tumble over.
So off we went with backpacks, mattresses and other equipmant in hand. The way down was definately very hairy and I dropped a bag of pots and pans that didn't stop tumbling until it reached the river below. Damien and Nick did most of the work carrying the large backpacks and sacks. They were hammered by the end of it. Esteban however, remained fit as a fiddle, even after going up and down at least twice as many times as Damien and Nick. It was amazing how quickly he could go up and down the valley with a huge box of food in his hands.
At the end of our `side track' my right arm was marked with at least a dozen scratches. Ouch! My ankles didn't come away unmarked either. It had definately been an adventure and hard work but good to be actually walking in the mountains.
We arrived at camp around 4.30pm. The camp site was situated at the base of Punta Yuacha (to the East) and Punta Tapuish (to the South). However, we couldn't see any white-capped mountains at this point as they were hidden by the ridge line of the passes.
Nick and Damien helped Esteban with dinner as the temperature dropped and light disappeared. Dinner was a great Lomo Saltado. We definately deserved it. Unfortunately it was really cold so we couldn't stay out to long to enjoy the amazing sky. Without a full moon (like at Santa Cruz), the stars were amazingly bright and abundant.
Day 3 - Over Punta Tapuish (4880m), Punta Yaucha (4840m) to Laguna Yahuacocha
After a cold night, we all woke to find ice on our tents and Esteban and the donkeys missing. He had told us we would start walking at around 9am. There was no way we could have breakfast, and pack our bags, ready to start walking at that time. We started dismantling the tents (including Estebans'), thawing out the flys on the rock walls. We'd almost packed up when Esteban appeared on one of the hills nearby......without donkeys.
Apparantely the donkeys had become too cold during the night and walked really far to keep warm. Esteban had been up since 5.30am looking for them. The only possibility was that they were somewhere on the way up to Punta Yaucha, although he couldn't be sure.
It was decided that after some breakfast, we would head up to Punta Tapuish (not originally part of the 5 day trip), while Esteban found the donkeys. This would avoid the risk of having to climb Punta Yaucha twice, if the donkeys could not be found.
Once we had walkded over the first ridge towards the pass, Diablo Mudo (5223m) became visible. It was our first real snow-peak on this trek! The scenery is so different here to Santa Cruz. It is much dryer and the mountains have much more colour in their stone and sand. There are shades of maroone, green, yellow, black and many others. It's really beautiful.
We bumped into an Israeli trekking group on their 8th day of trekking. They looked like they'd had enough. We reached the top of the pass after about an hour and a half of walking. we spent a moment to admire the southern mountain range before quickly heading back to our camp site. We hoped that Esteban had found the donkeys!
We returned to find Esteban with the donkeys almost ready to head off. After a small break it was time to start our ascent of the second pass of the day. We were pretty tired going up and the altitude really effected our breathing. Nick and Faye were having the same problems. Once at the top though we were inspired by the view and headed up further to another mirador before heading down a steep descend towards our next camp.
The views and the walk were amazing. The mountains really have so much colour in them here. After gazing at the snow caped mountain range, the walk down thrilled us with the a huge number of wild flowers and plants. In the foreground you could see the blues, purples and yellows of the wild flowers, while in the background there was always the snow capped mountain range. Really lovely.
After hours of walking we finally saw our destination, Laguna Yahuacocha. We could see that the Israeli crew had set up camp and after a while we were able to spot Esteban setting up our camp about 200 metres away.
It still took a while to get down to the laguna as there were some very long switchbacks down the steep slope. We managed to get back just in time though to set up camp before the sun went down for a great sunset. The campsite really is on a beautifull setting. We had snow capped peaks in the background with the lagoon beside us. We watched a local lady fish for trout in the lagoon, which turned out to be our dinner! We couldn't get it better than that!
Again, the temperature dropped quickly after the sun was down. It was a long day of walking but definately worth it.
Day 4 - Nevado Yerpaja (6617m) mirador (5000m), Punta Sambunya (4750m) to Rondoy
(DM) Today was the toughest and most rewarding trekking day that Kim and I have completed. Almost 10 hours in the saddle, our highest altitude reached, looking straight at the 2nd highest tropical peak in the world, being lost on the ridge at nearly 5000m and then crossing the most spectacular pass that we have been lucky enough to see. Simply a phenomenal day that will not be forgotten.
It started again with the donkeys missing lead by Jacko. Poor old Esteban was not having much luck on this trip. He explained to us the route to the mirador on top of a mountain ridge that gave a perfect view of Nevado Yerpaja, the second tallest tropical mountain in the world and the dominant peak within the cordillera. He said that the trek was steep and tough and should take about 4 - 5 hours to complete. We had to start the crossing of the next pass by 1pm so we headed off with the instruction fresh in our minds at 8am.
The main difference between Huayhuash and Santa Cruz is the route finding. It is sometimes impossible to find your way at Huayhuash while blind Freddy could complete SC. After only half an hour of climbing we were already off course, but luckily Esteban was in the hills looking for the donkeys close by and helped out by guiding us for about 70% of the climb.
The altitude and the gradient made things really tough near the top and it wasn't clear which ridge we were surposed to finish on. We made it to 5000m but a small ridge line was still blocking a complete view of the range. The others were spent, but I was still feeling good so I pushed on by myself up the last ridge. I reached about 5200m and was certainly feeling the height. It was an amazing feeling sitting on that ridge by myself and looking at the mountains right infront on me. I could have sat there all day but I knew Kim was worrying so I headed back down to meet the others after 10 minutes or so.
The way down from the mirador to Laguna Rasac was a huge mission. We were all tired from the altitude and found the route down very difficult to find. We were at 5000m and walking across loose scree (small rocks) with a big drop down the mountain side if we fell. It was getting hairy and we all felt nervous. The trail that we were following was not leading to the valley floor.
Time was getting on and we needed to get back to Esteban at the campsite before 1pm. We made the decision to get of the scee and make our way vertically down following a small waterfall that had vegetation growing around it. The vegetation was much better for grip then the scee and we made good time led by Kim. We were all very glad to reach the shores of the laguna after an exhusting 3 hour descent. We were late so we didn't have time to enjoy the scenery. By the time we reach the laguna at the opposite end of the campsite it was 1:30pm and we could see Esteban and the donkeys heading in our direction.
We met up and explained that we lost the trail then quickly started the tough climb to yet another pass almost immediately. The 4 of us were very tired and the 2 hours of climbing infront of us was going to stretch us to the limit. Kim got straight into the zone and quickly left the rest of us behind. After about an hour I caught up and we completed the rest of the climb together.
We often use the words fantastic, amazing, great and so on to try and explain the places that we have visited. Punta Sambunya is one place that cannot be explained by any words. The mountains of Rondoy, Jirishanca and Yerupaja were right there and the 360 degree view had us smiling from ear to ear.
The views as we descended into the valley were also great as Rondoy came into full view. We reached the campsite late at about 6pm and quickly set the tents up and got the thermals on. The temperature during the night was again freezing, but the dinner of popcorn, soup and spagetti helped fight it off as did the carton of red wine which we all drank after waiting for the right moment to crack it. Today was certainly worth drinking to.
Day 5 - Rondoy to Huaraz
(KtH) We woke at 5.45am this morning to a very cold frosty morning. It really is surprising how the temperature drops to below freezing in the evening when it is too warm for a jumper during the day. But I digress......We woke early to make sure we could get to Pocpa in time for the 11am bus. We had 3 hours of walking to do to get there.
We had to pack our tents with ice still covering the flies. Our sleeping bags also had to be packed, still wet from condensation. It was very cold going and we all felt sorry for oursleves when we had to return the puffy jackets for packing.
We decided to start walking, before Estaban was ready, to keep warm. It didn't take long before the walking track led us to a road. We followed the road all the way to Pocpa. The sun had fully risen by this stage and we were soon removing our extra layers. A lady along the road had told us to hurry for the bus. I thought this meant we must be still far away and therefore I hurried the others along. I was misled as it didn't take long before we saw Estaban loading the gear onto the roof of a bus (he had passed us by this stage) and we were in Pocpa 1.5hrs early.
With an hour and a half to spare, we sat by the river and enjoyed the sun while having a snack. Estaban told us he was going to walk to Llamac, the next town, to organise the return of his donkeys to Pacllon. The bus would leave at 11.30am (ok half an hour late) and he would meet us on the bus at Llamac. No problem. Famous last words when it comes to Peruvian transport........
Anyway, while we sat along the river the bus driver came to talk to us. He was waiting for another group of walkers to arrive.
Bus Driver: ¿De que pais? (Where do you come from?)
Bus Driver: Aaaahh Kang-a-roo
It's almost eerie how many times this conversation has occurred with different people in all the places we have been in Peru.
He continued with numerous questions.... (the Spanish is not perfect but I'm trying....)
Bus Driver: ¿Cuanto custa para billeta de Australia para Peru? (How much does it cost for a ticket from Australia to Peru)
¿Cuanto custa tu ganas en Australia? (How much do you earn in Australia?
¿Cuanto custa tu 'walking stick'? (the walking stick wasn't ours so we had no idea)
¿Que precio esta de libro? (What is the price of the book? - referring to our Spanish phrase book) and it continued. He wanted to know the price of everything, but he wasn't the first to ask these type of question and I'm sure will not the last. Peruvians have absolutely no problem asking about the cost of everything and how much money we have.
Another typical conversation we've experienced goes as follows.
Peruvian: ¿Cuanto tienes años? (How old are you? - this is often the second question asked after meeting)
Peruvian: ¿Esta ella/el tu esposa/o? (Is she/he your wife/husband?
Us: Si (for reasons of simplicity we answer yes)
Peruvian: ¿Cuanto tienes hijos? (they don't ask IF we have children just how many)
Peruvian: ¿Porque no?! (a very surprised, Why not?)
We then spend the next 10 minutes trying to explain the reasons why.
After a while the bus driver got bored of asking questions and getting wishy washy answers. He asked to borrow our pen and then headed of promising to return it.
By this time it was almost 11.30am. We got on the bus to get a good seat and waited. It was 11.45am when I got off and asked the driver if we were leaving. He assured us we would leave in 20 minutes.
Another hour later we were still on the bus and the bus driver was nowhere to be found. We were getting a little worried by this stage and I started shouting at the bus drivers mate asking him where the driver was and that we should go. I also told them this was a little crazy. Esta loco!, I cried. I heard locals mimicking me and laughing but soon afterwards another bloke approached us with an alternative bus. The time was now 1pm. It didn't go to Huaraz but could take us as far as Chiquan and would go past Llamac (where Estaban was still waiting).
We transferred all the equipment from the bus to the other and headed off, hoping we would find Estaban still waiting for us. Llamac was only 10 minutes away and luckily he was there. He got on the bus, hoping we would catch the 2.30pm bus from Chiquan to Huaraz.
As fate would have it, we ended up with a flat tyre and spent another half an hour standing still as the tire got changed. We arrived in Chiquan at 3pm. The strange thing was just before we got off the bus, the bus driver from Pocpa got on the bus. We have no idea how he got there as we thought we'd left him behind in Pocpa. He still had our pen in his hand which we demanded back. He didn't want to give it back so Damien just snatched it out of his hand. It turns out the tourists he was waiting for were in Llamac the whole time, and not in Pocpa. We had waited for nothing.
No bus in Peru leaves unless it is full. It doesn't matter if you specially woke up in the freezing cold to catch the bus on time, it won't leave until it is completely full and, most of the time, becomes way over full, squashed like sardines. We have learned that in Peru there is always room for one more!
We ended up getting back to Huaraz by catching a lift with a few of history teachers driving to Yungay in a ute. Estaban made a deal with them, while they stopped for fuel. Estaban and the boys were in the back of the ute with the gear and 2 other Peruvians, freezing their bums off, while Faye and I had a sing-a-long with the 2 guys and a lady inside the ute. It was actually quite funny and we got to practise our Spanish.
Poor Damien and Nick really came out of it looking worse for wear. Especially Damien....he was very very grumpy after the almost 3 hours holding onto a rope in the freezing cold air while sitting on a bag of tent pegs. I guess you couldn't blame him.
Luckily the celebratory beer and pizza dinner went down well and it didn't take too long to get him smiling again. Esteban joined us and we all grew very fond of him over the days. I think Damien was his favourite because he generally looked at him when he spoke to us as a group.
It was the first time we had taken a tour to do a trek and although a little wary at first we were glad we did. I don't think we could have carried our back packs over 2 passes a day and having a great hot meal at the end of a tiring day was fantastic. It was also great to be able to share the experience with Nick and Faye. Thanks guys!
In the end, something went wrong every single day, but we had a great time and saw some absolutely stunning scenery. Huayhuash is truly phenomenal..and the rest we can put down to experiencing the Peruvian way of life. WOW.