Peruvian Adventure 5/18/2006-6/28/2006

Steamboat à Denver à Miami à Lima à Huaraz à Cordillera Blanca à Cordillera Huayhuash à Huaraz à Lima à Miami and home


5/20/2006 Huaraz, Peru 0006 (6 minutes past midnight) 10,254 ft:  Just got back from a tour of the night life in Huaraz with a couple of Brits, Thomas and Ian, who I met this morning on my first acclimatization hike.  I believe the explicit instructions for acclimatization are, don’t over do it the first day, get plenty of liquid (not alcohol), eat well and get plenty of rest.  One out of four isn’t bad.  I ate well.










View form the communal deck at Momma Mesas
















This AM, my first day in the Andes, woke at 6:30 and went upstairs to our open air deck, community kitchen and eating area and hung our with Skip and Tom, the only other current residents of Momma Meses. 









Communal kitchen at Mamma Mesas











Skip is a professional guide on his 29th trip to the Cordillera Blanca.  He spent years on the US Cycling Team and won the Tour of Peru three or four times which has a lot to do with Huaraz being his second home.  He is from North Carolina and in spite of his 28 previous trips still takes a few weeks to acclimate and condition himself for the next couple of months of guiding and climbing in the high mountains.  Tommy is a self confessed pot head and good old boy from Georgia, in that order, who is on his 5th trip to Huaraz and is still working on getting up his first 6,000 meter (19,000+ ft) peak.  Both Skip and Tommy are great resources for getting around Huaraz and the Blanca.  Skip is a particularly valuable resource for information on climbing routes.

Chris Benway stopped by and after chatting for a bit invited us for an on the house coffee at the Café Andino (Chris is the owner).  Chris came to Huaraz for the same reason most people go there, to climb and hike in the high peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, but in the process and pursuit of his adventure he met a Peruvian lady, Ysabel, who he married and had a child with (approximately in that order).

The Café Andino is a slightly more rustic version of your laid back San Francisco coffee house.  You enter through a steel gate on the street level and after ascending a couple of flights of stairs you come in to an open, warm and friendly two floor café.  The main floor has a few tables, a bar, comfortable stuffed chairs and a fire place.  A deck opens off the street side to your immediate right and upstairs are more chairs and an honor system library with books in many languages and themes. The coffee is ground in the shop and is always fresh and good.  Kind of tempting to just hang here with the international crowd, sip coffee and spray (spray=to boast about climbing feats both real and imagined).

After a great breakfast burrito and social session it was time to hit the trail.  My goal was Laguna Churup at 14,400 ft and my instructions were, “go out the front door, go three blocks south and listen for a collectivo driver calling out ‘Uba’”.  I accomplished the first step very quickly and located the collectivo going to Uba.  What I quickly learned that the collectivo, the main form of Peruvian public transportation, runs on only one schedule, when it is full it will go.  I was the only one on board and it was already 9 AM.  This made me a little nervous since the estimated time for the walk was eight hours and at this latitude the sun sets at 7 PM +/- 30 minutes all year round.

A short time later my soon to be British friends, Ian and Thomas jumped in.  We introduced ourselves and sat for several more minutes until we realized this could be a long wait.  With some aggressive negotiations we settled on a price of 5 sols a piece ($1.50), and even with a near empty van the driver headed off for Uba.  We picked up a few more locals along the way, so the trip wasn’t a total loss for the driver.  The collectivo drivers rent these vehicles for a flat $25 per day, not including gas, and then just load them up all day.  It probably takes 30-40 fares to break even.

We finally got dumped off at a non-descript trail head and the driver asked when we would return.  We said around 6 PM and he said he would be waiting.  As we headed up the more than 3,000 ft climb to the lake we had serious doubts that the driver would be sitting in this no where spot waiting for us in 8 hours.  In spite of a thirty year age difference we all hit it off immediately.  I learned that Ian and Thomas had been in South America for nine months working in small rural villages in Columbia.  They were part of a UK humanitarian effort to educate street kids enough so that they had some options in life other than crime or prostitution.  For the most part we avoided international politics as both the Brits and the Americans are roughly in the same basket when it comes to Iraq. 

The hike was spectacular with clean steep trails and even a short technical section that you free climb or get a fixed rope assist.  I couldn’t help but compare the surroundings with the Garhwal Himalayas where we had trekked a year and half before.  The Garhwals were spectacular, but no matter how remote you were there were always signs of humans in the form of litter.  It was clear the Peruvians and their visitors put a greater value in their environment than the Indians and their visitors.

On the way up we met Jorje, a little Peruvian powerhouse who was training to be an elite guide in the Andes.  We reached Churup about 1.5 hours ahead of schedule and with the encouragement of Jorje decided to continue on to the base of the Churup glacier at about 16,000 ft.  Thomas and Ian were tough as nails, but had never been this high and had never really climbed rock.  In spite of some dizziness, headache and shortness of breath they plugged on and an hour and half later we touched ice at the base of the Churup glacier. 





(Left) Ian and Thomas on the trail to Churup

(Below right) Laguna Churup with Churup peak an Glacier in the back ground












Approaching the base of Churup Glacier
















Now we just had to descend 4,600 ft and hopefully make it down by dark and find a ride back to Huaraz.

The sun set and with just enough light to see the trail we finally dragged ourselves on to the road back to Huaraz an hour beyond our designated pick up time.  To our internal embarrassment and external relief and joy there the collectivo sat like the magic pumpkin carriage in Cinderella.  Appropriately my feet felt like they had been stuffed in one size too small glass slippers for the past 9 hours.










Sunset on the trail on our way back to meet our collectivo











On the way back to town we picked up 14 more people from the villages and fields along the way.  Ian, Thomas and I made plans to go to dinner, but first priority was a hot shower, the first shower I had had in nearly three days.

Back at Momma Mesas I ran in to Skip and Tommy and we shared a cup of tea on the deck before I headed to shower.  There was one bathroom/shower for all of us which was no big deal since there were only three of us.  I collected everything I would need to clean up, razor, soap, towel, steelwool, wire brush…I was needing a major clean up.  I turned on the hot water and waited…and waited…and waited.  No hot water.  Bad combination, three days of travel scum and sweat, 10,000 ft elevation, no heat and no hot water.  Normally I am allergic to cold water, but the need outweighed the risk and discomfort and I only had 15 minutes to meet Ian and Thomas, so I bit the bullet and became a man, a clean man at that.

I met the Brits at the Andino bar on time and from there we hit the Vagamundo and several other establishments.  We polished off two large pizzas, a spaghetti with marinara, many beers and a bottle of decent cabernet before arriving home around midnight.  We had a great time, but in the end I had to add another rule to the high altitude caution list, “be careful when hanging out with Brits”.



Peru Adventure Part III

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