Santa Cruz Trek/Huascarán Parque Nacional
Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
59Trip End Feb 02, 2009
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If you´re a stickler for statistics (and I know I am), Nathan and I hiked about 31 miles from noon on sunday to 1pm on wednesday. Our highest point reached was 4760 meters, at the Punta Union Pass (that´s about 14280 feet, or about 1500 feet short of three miles, whichever unit of measure brings it home to you the best.)
Huaraz, where we´ve been staying, is somewhat of a hiking/trekking mecca in Peru. Santa Cruz is probably the most popular hike for visitors, due to the beauty of the National Park (Huascaràn) in which it is located, and it´s ease in comparison to the other circuits the region has to offer. A note on the supposed "ease" of this trek (here´s where the whining starts): Nathan and I have done a few backcountry circuits in the southeast that were rated "difficult-strenuous", so we thought this "easy" trek would be a piece of cake. Or I did, at least. Perhaps it would have been, in good weather, but I can say for myself that the hardest hiking days I´ve ever had are included here, and I think Nathan would agree that summiting Punta Union was the most difficult task either of us have ever accomplished.
Despite our best efforts to acclimatize (get used to the altitude) by staying in Huaraz (elevation 3052 m or 10,013 feet), the altitude got the best of me on the first day. The best way I can describe hiking with altitude sickness is being strapped to a stairmaster for 6 hours while you have pneumonia. But you guys know my propensity to exaggerate. I was having a hard time. Nathan ran around like he had been training for this all his life (except for the last hour up to the summit, then we were both having a hard time.) I had a prescription for altitude sickness, which I finally took after Nathan´s advice. All the effort was absolutely worth it, though.
Some of my favorite parts of the trek were getting up close and personal with all of the livestock. While I greatly resented the various cowpies, horseapples and donkeycakes (I dunno, I´m winging it) that littered the trail and every campsite and anyplace I ever wanted to set my bag down, animals are cute, aren´t they? Most of them were pack animals that were carrying kitchen, tents, equipment, and other supplies for guided expeditions. Apparently, most folks hire a personal guide, a cook, a porter, five or six burros (mules/donkeys), and two or three mule drivers when they want to get away from it all and relax. We just had this silly idea of doing it on our own and carrying our own belongings. Geez. We saw a couple of other independent hikers, a guy from Israel, and couple of folks from France. Of course, I think our method is the way to go. (Especially to cut down on the poop factor.)
Another highlight for both Nathan and I was walking through a traditional Quechua (the idigenous people of the area) village. It was nearly untouched by time, save for an odd piece of plastic here or there. Women wove fabric on small handlooms, and the fields were tilled with oxen and a wooden plow. The people could not have been more friendly and helpful (I had to ask directions a couple of times, thank goodness they spoke spanish), and on the whole it was a really wonderful experience. Slowly, we started to see powerlines and the tracks of wheeled vehicles again, and after a final push up a steep road, we found a driver to take us back to civilization (Yungay, a nearby town.) I had an Inka cola (local competitor to coke that was recently bought by coca-cola, it´s bright yellow, supposedly brewed with lemongrass, and tastes like bubblegum) at the summit. Definitely the best drink I´ve ever had. We then had a gorgeous 3-4 hour ride down from the mountain we climbed, where we were able to see the rest of the National Park, including Lago Llanganuco, an incredible turquoise lake nestled in the middle of the mountains. Nathan got a few shots from the window of our van to capture the hue.
So now we´re back in Huaraz again, heading south tomorrow morning for Arequipa. We won´t arrive until the 13th, though, pretty much on the bus all day and all night. But whenever or however we get there, we´ll talk to you then.
Many more good pictures to come...