Huaraz & The Cordillera Blanca

Huaraz Travel Blog

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At 3052m Huaraz is we think the highest place we've arrived in.  It's surrounded by lots of other even higher places in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range, not to mention Huayhash just down the road.  It's a mecca for climbers, trekkers, mountaineers and the like.  It's also quite a nice place just to hang out.  Below is our account of our little adventure.  If you don't want to read it all; in summary we went up a mountain and came back down again and it was very hard. We then spent several days recovering.

Starting point of the climb - Just to the left of the road.

 

 

We got to Huaraz where there is endless tour companies selling any sort of adrenaline inducing trip you would like to try. The lady in the hostel was very keen to sell us a trip which was beginning to put me off. We decided to check out some of the trips offered by the tour operators themselves. One of the companies recommended by the Lonely Planet looked like a good bet. We wanted to do a two day trip where we could camp. They started off by telling us about a trip up to the mountain, showing us pictures of a snow and pointing to the crampons and shoes on the shelf. Not sure there was any going back for Talan at that point! Also told us about a lovely two day trip to Laguna 69 which looked very attractive. They assured us that the trip up the mountain was for beginners as I voiced my inexperience of crampon wearing.

View from overnight camp 'Moreno'
Anyway we went off and had a coffee to make our decision. I figured the company seemed good and liked that they weren’t pushy. Also thought this was probably a fairly rare opportunity to first climb a snow capped peak and secondly do it in Peru.

 

We headed back and booked the trip. Were fitted out for shoes, waterproof trousers and gaitors (to stop the snow getting into your shoes if you are unaccustomed to such clothing items as I was). They then brought out a harness to try and an ice axe. I was getting a little nervous at this stage but Talan assured me it was just as a precaution.

 

Next morning we headed off to meet them at 8:00, sorted our stuff out and meet the two French guys that were doing the trip with us.

View from camp Moreno
We drove about two hours up through the mountains with fantastic views to where we would start the walk. We pretty much headed straight up the side of a mountain with heavy backpacks which was very tough with the altitude. We started at about 4200m. We had two guides with us who were reassuring and told us that this was the most complicated bit. Thankfully Talan took my snow boots when we stopped for some food so that got rid of a few kgs. We reached our camp about 2pm which seemed quite easy at that point and I think we all felt we could have done a bit more. We had some food and set up camp. Then we headed up over some rocks to where the snow started (my terminology of this type of landscape is not very good seeing as I grew up in the Co. Westmeath!). This was the best bit of the trip for me I must say, disappointing to all you adrenaline junkies I know. The scenery was just amazing. I don’t think I had ever seen anything like it. Every view was something different, lots of different colours of mountains with different type of rocks, some really jagged, some really smooth, perfect snow, streams, small pools and blue glacier pools. We took lots of photos and marvelled at the quietness.
View from the base of the glacier (5000m)
Then we headed back to camp and had some food. It was getting really cold by the time we finished dinner, I think we were all shivering. Was about 6pm, just getting dark so we headed to bed ready to get up at 2am to start our climb. Getting to sleep didn’t really happen. It was very cold although we had really good sleeping bags and were wearing lots of clothes. We think maybe it was the altitude (4900m), was also really windy. We both had a pain in our head at this stage.

 

Breakfast call was at 2am and I was feeling quite nauseous at this point. We managed to get all our clothes on, had a small amount to eat and headed off wearing our head torches, although it was quite bright with the moon and the stars.

Start of the glacier
Took us about 30mins to reach the snow where we put on our crampons and were roped up. Talan and I were with our guide Dennis with the other three in front. We started the long climb which took about 4hrs and was damn hard. I was feeling really rough and I think I just zoned out and kept climbing. We needed to walk up sideways at some points as it was very steep. Had three crevasses to cross which required a big jump and lunging your ice axe into the snow. I nearly bottled at one but made it across.

 

Dennis reassured me that he used to suffer from altitude sickness when he started, small detail that he grew up in Huaraz. Had a few moments when I thought I can’t go any further but I figured this might be the closest I ever get to a summit again so persevered. We made it to just below the summit. I had decided that that was it for me. The guides advised that it wasn’t safe to go any further so I guess it was quite nice I had made it to the top with the others.

More glacier
We didn’t hang around for long at the top, it was freezing and I think we were all feeling a bit worse for wear. Headed back down the mountain, about 3hrs which again was tougher than I thought it would be because it was steep so we needed to go steadily and also I was pretty exhausted. We got back to camp where there was some lunch. I couldn’t really manage any and then back down to the bus. This was nearly as hard and seemed very long but we made it. Was very relieved to get back to the hostel and I crawled into bed clothes and all and had quite a few trips to the bathroom. It took until the next night until I began to feel human again and we have pretty much chilled out since. I think Vallunaraju might be my first and last mountain at that level to climb. Am glad I have done it but I still feel a bit ill thinking about it.

 

Kara has encouraged me to write a bit for those who’d relish the opportunity to do such a thing.

Before no sleep
 

I think I was a bit of an idiot for encouraging this trip seeing as we’d only had one day to acclimatise after arriving from the coast and Kara had felt ill when we’d reached 4600m on a mountain in Quito.  Not only that, we decided to forgo the opportunity of a porter for our climbing kit to save a few dollars.  (Our bags weighed about 12kg). Having chatted to the Frenchies (who were very nice, and with perfect English & Spanish to boot), we all had the notion that this would be a little easier.  High yes, but not nearly as steep.  They’d also had a least two more days to acclimatise having just completed the two day Laguna 69 trek!  We managed to get it for US$110 each from the original US$150.

 

I think Kara has covered all the technical details.  Thankfully for me, I wasn’t as affected by the altitude, getting away with a few intense headaches, feeling like vomiting after dinner on the first day, breathlessness and with feet and hands numb with the cold.

Even though we’d got no sleep and it was intensely cold, there was something quite magical about being high up a mountain with a clear starry sky and an almost full moon lighting the surroundings (I managed to avoid using my head torch for most of the ascent).  Climbing up to the glacier we could look down and see sleeping Huaraz lit up far below.

  I tried to take a quick photo, but with the cold and other pressing matters I didn’t have the chance to set up my tripod and take a long exposure so I got a big square of black.  As I write this in the sunshine on the roof terrace of our hostel Soledad, I can look up to ‘our’ mountain; Vallunaraju 5686m.  We only missed the top by about 30m so I think that counts as a summit.

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Starting point of the climb - Just…
Starting point of the climb - Jus…
View from overnight camp Moreno
View from overnight camp 'Moreno'
View from camp Moreno
View from camp Moreno
View from the base of the glacier …
View from the base of the glacier…
Start of the glacier
Start of the glacier
More glacier
More glacier
Before no sleep
Before no sleep
The team
The team
Our guide Dennis in the middle
Our guide Dennis in the middle
Camp Moreno 4900m
Camp Moreno 4900m
Kara climbing an easy bit
Kara climbing an easy bit
Refitting a crampon
Refitting a crampon
Im alive! The top.
I'm alive! The top.
The summit
The summit
View NE from hostel roof terrace. …
View NE from hostel roof terrace.…
Mt Vallunaraju 5686m (left)
Mt Vallunaraju 5686m (left)
Huaraz
photo by: latino28