Why am I here? Well… it’s the Andes, the Cordillera Blanca, the mountains that put the Rockies to shame and that sneer at anything else that North America has to offer. We are from Colorado and thus assume that mountains will quake at our presence. We are wrong. They are humbling beasts. Our base of operations is the Lazy Dog Inn at 12,000 feet and everything else is up from there. The big peaks – and there are many - go up to 22,000 feet. Or in metrics, really bleeping tall!
I get my breath; pride forces me to make it to the end of the trail, and WOW!! Laguna 69 is finally in front of us. And, man is she pretty....
No one can tell us why it is called Laguna 69 or how far down the glacier used to come before global warming, but right now, we don’t care.
The air is clear, the skies are blue, the glacial fed lake is pristine, and we are no longer climbing. We stop and savor and take advantage of the fact that we are in the company of fellow hikers. We point to us and to our camera and they get the hint – we get the “happy couple” shot. We earned it!
So now for the back story……
We are coming to the end of our 2 year tour in Peru. We have seen the Peruvian coast from sad and dusty south to lazy and glamorous north, we have relished the Peruvian jungle and been overwhelmed by the sounds of howler monkeys and the colors of macaws and parrots, we survived the urban jungle of taxis and combis in Lima, and we have visited the central Andes where the Incas and Spaniards battled in centuries past. Our final trips were now to be hiking adventures. Back to our Colorado roots with an Andean twist – we wanted to climb mountains, see lakes and experience the back country in a new world. And that we did in the Cordillera Blanca!
The Cordillera Blanca is a snow-capped stretch of the Andes that measures only 13 miles wide and 110 miles long and includes 50 plus peaks over 18,500’ above sea level The cordillera is very popular with the international crowd for multi-day treks and serious technical climbing. Glaciers abound but are rapidly receding and are predicted to disappear in the next 50-60 years. Given that these glaciers provide the water supply for Lima and other coastal cities, the disappearance of the glaciers potentially spells disaster for the Peruvian coast. Hence this is a part of the world getting significant attention by global warming experts.
The energetic and fit crowd in Colorado marks their progress by climbing the many "fourteeners" in our state - mountains in excess of 14,000 feet. We discovered that in the Cordillera Blanca you reach 14,000 feet before lunch and are still climbing. In the course of our one week in Huaraz we topped 15,000 feet several times and the mountains around us were still 7,000 feet above us.
Our base camp for the first 4 days was the Lazy Dog Inn which is a story in itself. So I gave it its own story in the next blog entry. Here I want to share some of the mountains and the town of Huaraz itself.
Our first sense of what Huaraz had to offer came as our plane landed and the mass of Huascarán rose up before us.
Huascarán at 6,768 meters (about 22,000 feet) is Peru’s highest mountain and one the most impressive masses of glacier and stone.
Nestled in the Andes this town of 100,000 is surrounded by views of glacial peaks and does all it can to make the "urban" experience every bit as enjoyable as the trekking and hiking experience
The main plaza, like so many throughout Latin America, features the cathedral as a central draw. Sadly this cathedral is under construction having been destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1970. Apparently funds are slow in coming and much work remains to be done.
Drinking and Dining:
Among the joys of passing time in Huaraz are the dining opportunities and coffee houses. Despite Peru's role as a major coffee exporter the brewed coffee experience is not nearly as central to Peruvian culture as back in the States. Huaraz is a very international city - hosting trekkers and mountain climbers from all over the world - and boasts numerous opportunities to savor excellent coffee. Cafe Andino
became one of our favorites and we enjoyed their French press while sitting outside and drinking in the view as well.
Cafe Andino features periodic live music, a lending library and decorations including a Jerry Garcia drawing and tickets from concerts past
all in a charming setting
In addition to coffee Cafe Andino has a great dinner and breakfast menu. But our favorite dinner spot was Chilly Heaven where we stopped in for dinner 2 of our 3 nights in Huaraz. Cafe California is another good coffee shop and has the added feature of being a favorite with the local Peace Corps volunteers. We met several and were very impressed with the dedication and maturity of the volunteers we met.
While in Huaraz we stayed at the Andino Club Hotel and enjoyed views from our terrace of the magical mountain range.
The hotel has 41 rooms and those with the terraces are clearly the best choice.
While we were no longer in the company of lazy dogs or Paso horses, the hotel did have a bit of whimsy to welcome guests on arrival.
And great flowers (who knew that bougainvillea grew at 12,000 feet?) to welcome and bid farewell to travelers.
But, of course, the real treat is the hiking and mountain scenery . During the course of our stay in and around Huaraz we hiked up several "quebradas", or valleys between the various peaks and climbed up to mountain lakes and glaciers. The views along the way were spectacular:
So let me share some of the sights. Since we didn't quite figure out all the peaks we were seeing the commentary will be sparse. This is the glacial fed Laguna Llaca, one of the hikes that heads right out from the Lazy Dog Inn.
Many of the peaks in this region have razor sharp ridges and summits.
And, of course, no shortage of snow (for now anyway)
And my personal favorite; I think this one is Pisco but could be wrong.
In addition to mountain scenery we were treated to plenty of lakes, creeks and plant life. While plant growth above 13,000 feet would be pretty sparse in the Rockies, the Andes have the advantage of equatorial sunshine throughout the year. Hence the plant life is far more varied and substantial.
a river in Quebrada Chorup:
One of the Llanganuco
Roaring river near the campground for the base camp of Nevada Pisco:
Very cool grasses growing up to as high as we were able to go:
A vizcacha (cross between rabbit and squirrel) that we met along the trail:
We are pretty sure that these are Puya Raimondii; a member of the bromeliad family that grows in only a few isolated places in the Andes:
Cool mountain flowers:
But beyond the cool mountain scenes and spectacularly massive mountains, the Andes have another aspect very much unlike our native Rockies. People live and work and graze their livestock at these extreme altitudes and, with the exception of the viscucha, domesticated animals are far and away the most common animal life. So we wanted to share some of the scenes of rural Andean life encountering high altitude hiking.....
Just outside the Lazy Dog Inn are a number of what appear to be great grazing areas. Animals are herded up to un-grazed grassy areas in the morning and then herded back home before dark to keep them protected from poaching. While we were told that there are some wild cats in the area the primary predator is probably thieving homo sapiens. So here is heavy traffic on the local road:
Local abode for some of the local herders and/or farmers:
Now this woman really humbled us. As we were hiking and climbing and huffing and puffing she and her dog and donkeys just passed us by without any sweat or drama.
We discovered her and friends much farther up the mountain. The purpose of her trip was apparently to help the herders carve up a dead cow; quarter it and haul it back down the mountain.
Those are sides of beef they have loaded up on the donkeys. I spared you the photos of the meat carving.....
Even with the donkeys fully loaded they did, of course, beat us back down the mountain. And holding that vision in our minds we ran into the local wildlife on the trail. Thankfully they did not hold the meat carving against us and let us pass.