Exploring Huascaran

We stayed for almost two weeks at Camping Guadalupe in Caraz. It was nice to be among friends, have access to wifi and hot showers, and get a little work and relaxation in after the last couple weeks of driving.

Caraz is nestled on the flanks of the Cordillera Blanca on the North end of Peru’s Huascaran National Park. We took a break from wifi and hot showers to wind our way into the mountains right outside of town. We drove for about two hours, barely covering more than 20km, but nearly doubling our altitude. Until now we’ve spent quite a few nights at elevations between 10k and 13k feet, but our camp at Lago Paron was our second highest after Ecuador’s Volcan Cayambe.

We spent two nights and nearly three days camped near the lake, with tourbuses of backpackers passing by each day, and leaving us alone with the cows every night. We did some hiking, I wrote a blog, and we spent one night in our tent, just to make sure our (as of yet unused) backpacking gear was up to the task of keeping us comfortable at this altitude.

We eventually left the Powerade blue of Lago Paron behind to spend a few more days at Guadalupe, before burning gas South for the Huascaran’s main adventure portal, Huaraz, and the mountains beyond. We spent another two nights at the trailhead for Laguna Churup. The trail turned out to be more stairs and rope climbing up a waterfall than it was trail. Climbing 2000’ in only two miles at a starting altitude of nearly 13,000’ made the short trek to Churup one of our slowest hikes ever. We were tempted to turn back, but the locals scrambling past us in cheap tennis shoes, carrying small dogs, and grocery sacks full of lunch-beers, shamed us into making it. In the end, of course, we were glad to have made it to the lake, but we easily convinced ourselves to spend another night in our comfortable campsite after returning to the truck.

The next day, we went on a short hike down into the adjacent valley that turned more into a compass-navigating, boulder climbing field day than an actual hike to anywhere. We were still beat from the day before and the stunning beauty of two glacial canyons opening into a tranquil valley filled with rock-huts, grazing sheep, and their colorfully dressed shepherds kept us gawking more than walking.

We spent a third night on the mountain, before heading back down to Huaraz for an excellent brewery lunch. We’d intended to drive further South still, and camp near the Pastouri glacier before heading across the mountains to enjoy a few hot springs on the other side. About 40 minutes after leaving town, and 10 minutes before our turn-off, we were slowed by a swarm of waiting trucks and busses, then stopped by the local policia who informed us that the road was closed. We didn’t quite get everything he said, but we understood two things- the river had somehow swallowed the road, and we most definitely couldn’t get through for the next day or so.

We drove back to Huaraz and treated ourselves to a night in a beautiful chalet style boutique hotel with a jetted tub, amazing views of the mountains, and included breakfast. At first we weren’t going to stay, as it was significantly out of our regular budged (0-$10/night).

The kind owner offered to let us park our redneck-mobile directly in front of his hotel and next to his classic Ford for the night. He explained where we could get showers and find public bathrooms in the neighborhood and that, though the area was very safe, his security cameras would keep watch over us all night.

When he even offered to let us back into his hotel the next morning for breakfast, we broke and decided simply just pay for a room. I never mind giving business to someone so genuinely kind. We’d already told him his place was too expensive for us, but he still wanted to chat American trucks and make sure we had a comfortable night in his town, regardless of whether we were customers or not.

The next morning at breakfast, the owner mapped us an alternate route through the mountains to our destination. It was longer, and involved some backtracking, but with the river and the road having merged on the main highway it was our best option short of heading back to the coast.

Taylor took the wheel and we spun back North for a way, before climbing once again into the mountains of Huascaran. We twisted up, up, and up through a beautiful valley and over a pass whose switchbacks looked more like a blob than a road on our map.

Our new route took us nearly three days.

We wound our way through more valleys, over more rivers, and past countless glaciers, waterfalls, and high-mountain lakes. We had two excellent roadside gravel-pit campsites, and each day’s lunch stop was accompanied by MacOS desktop level scenery.

Because we’re so well planned (read, we barely plan ahead at all) we were surprised to find ourselves smack in the middle of the largest mining operation in South America. Luckily the kind gate-guard agreed to let us through, avoiding a day-long backtrack. We stuck close behind our suicidal collectivo guide, stopping for bulldozers, slogging through concrete-like mud, and gawking at office-building sized excavation equipment.

We did eventually make it to our destination, making our new highest camp alongside a still glacial lake and cooking chili-dogs over the fire as the sun slowly sunk behind the mountain peaks. We settled in for a cozy night in our camper, then promptly ran out of propane. It seems I’d miscalculated how much we’d used in the last few weeks and we were now heater-less at nearly 16,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes. Taylor was a tad annoyed with me, but I bundled us into our blankets and we managed to stay plenty warm despite the chilly, high-altitude night.

The great thing about these latitudes is that you’re almost always able to drive to whatever weather you want in only a few hours. We visited the glacier we’d set out to see four days earlier, then made our way to lower altitudes. By that night we were camped in a restraunt parking lot, surrounded by desert and palm trees.

The day after that, we found ourselves watching the sun set into the Pacific from a bar, drinking pisco sours and craft beer, and enjoying gourmet hamburgers in the heart of Lima.