Quilcayhuanca Cojup Trek
Jun 10, 2011
|We arrived back in Huaraz late in the evening following our adventure in Hatun Machay, and scrambled to prepare for our trek the following day. We hoped we could get everything done and get to bed a a reasonable hour so that we would be well rested for the work ahead of us. Unfortunately, things took longer than we thought and we were in for yet another long day with little sleep.
We originally had planned on trekking the Santa Cruz Trail, which is by far the most fameouse route in the Cordillera Blanca. However, after talking to several locals and travelers, we decided to go for a slightly more remote and difficult trek that would bring us closer to the mountains without all the traffic associated with the very popular Santa Cruz Trek. We got all the maps, information and gear we neaded and headed out early in the morning on a short taxi ride to the start of the Quilcayhuanca Valley.
A couple of park rangers greeted us at the start of the trek, asked us to pay our entry fee, and bengan talking about something that was probably important, that neither one of us understood. All we could gleen was that there was some water somewhere we weren´t supposed to drink. Luckilly, a few minutes up the trail we ran into a couple of Americans with better Spanish skills who got us sorted out. Strangely, we had some mutual acuantences. We chatted for a while and continued on our way. These were the first and last trekkers we would see for the rest of the trip.
The trail began in a wide open valley where we walked adjacent to a river between the sheer rock cliffs of the glacial valley. Unlike most wilderness treks we go on in Washington, the valley was full of cows, horses, mules, and donkeys roaming freely. They were quite friendly, but is was still a bit unnerving walking close to some of the begger bulls.
Soon we got our first glimps at the snowcapped Cordilleras. These mountains are huge and impressively steep. It is easy to see why so many of them are coveted by climbers. The view became even more impressive as we continued our initially gradual ascent through fields of purple lupine and green grass.
Then came the elevation gain, and believe me, you can feel it at this altitude. You never feel like you can get quite enough oxygen in your lungs, and each step feals twice as hard compared to our ¨lowland¨ treks. The open valley with little or no distinct trail funneled into a contriscted valley, and we had dificulty finding the correct path. After crawling through some prickely bushes and over tallus fields, and after Soraya fell on a cactus, we found the trial and began climbing a series of switchbacks to our first camp.
Out of breath and tired, we arrived at our camp and were greated by a herd of cows that were verry intersted in everything we did. We set up our tent in a small rock shelter, and began cooking dinner. Soraya threw rocks as the cows every once and a while when they got a little too close to our food or tent. As the sun went down, the temperature dropped almost instantly from a relatively comfortable 60+ degrees to below freezing. We watched a alpine sunset turn to a purple glow, and then the stars popped out of the sky with the distinctive southern cross to let us know that we were on the wrong side of the equator. It was too cold to dilly dally, so we bundled up and went to bed in preperation for the hardest and highest day to come.
We woke up to find the ground and our tent covereed in frost. We has a quick breakfast, packed up our things and began the steep, indistinct trial upwards to our hugh point of the trek on a ridge between the Quilcayhuanca and Cojup Valleys. we followed Cairns, and ocassionally lost them, untill we reached a series of ponds and a large tallus field. Slow and steady, we kept ascending. Finally, we crossed a small snow field and reached the pass at 5,100 meters or a little less than 17,000 feet! The views into the Cojup valley were stunning, and we took shelter from the wind behind a rock to soak it all up.
From here on it was all down. Steep down! First tallus, then dirt, than grass, but all down. We were aiming for our second camp at the Cajup river on the other side of the pass. When we finally reached the bottom, we couldn´t find the correst camp. After some debate, we decided to camp in a small flat area on the other side of the river. We set up camp, made dinner, took a short walk, and enjoyed another beautiful evening with new mountain scenery before going to bed.
That night we were visited by horses that sounded slightly too close for comfort. we awoke without incident to more frost. We packed our things and continued down the valley through patches of Quenua tree forest along the river, getting lost a few times, and made it to the road at the end of the trek.
This wasn´t really the end however, because there is nothing at this road, so we had to continue. Ut wa hot, and sweaty and dusty, but eventually we walked past several small villages that were qute interesting. The people were verry friendly, and we talked with them the best we could. We finally made it to the village of llupa, and cought a collectivo (a kind of bus/taxi that is usally full to the brim) back to Huaraz to a welcome night in our favorite hostal.