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Volcan Cotopaxi Climb 5,897m August 19, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Ecuador, Environment, mountaineering, Nature, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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Our plan all along was to fit in a couple of climbs in Ecuador before we left. With so little time we decided that maybe this time we would hire the help of a guide with transport and logistics worked out. Our first target would be Cotopaxi at 5,897m

Cotopaxi after the mists had cleared from just above the refugio, 4,800m

However, the weather has been appalling in Ecuador recently. Indeed from our climbing experience in the high Andes of Peru and Ecuador the weather has not been the predictable dry season usually encountered.

We therefore had to be lucky to summit. The additional complication being that as we have spent 2 weeks in the Galapagos we have lost some of the acclimatisation of our last few months at altitude.

Jason trying on Moggeleys glacier glasses                                            Our Hostel courtesy of Moggely

So we headed off on the 14th August 2007 to a Hostel owned by Moggely the climbing agent. We thought this might help as it is located at 3,500m. The Hostel is near the Cotopaxi National Park and is basically in the middle of no where! Unfortunately the weather was not good and the hostel was freezing! To top it they did not have enough wood for the wood burners! Oh hum.

The next day we left at about 11am with technical equipment up to the National Park and really for the first time in Ecuador (other than the Galapagos) we were truly impressed with the scenery here. A volcanic landscape quite beautiful and with a remoteness not felt elsewhere. With less human interference.

In the 4 X 4 we drove up to a high plateau where we could leave the vehicle leaving a 40 minute climb to the refugio at 4,800m.

The refugio is basic and large, fit for about 60 people and 2 self catering kitchens.

Chez, relaxing at 4,800m at the refugio on Cotopaxi      The view across from the refugio      Jason pointing the way!

After lunch we explored around the refugio and at last the clouds lifted revealing the hulk of Cotopaxi and its Glaciers. Truly beautiful. The sun was out and finally maybe our luck would be in. With bad weather over the last few days, we needed a clear cold night for a safe ascent.

After dinner and with the skies still clear we went to bed ready for a midnight dash for the summit.

. . . . . . . Midnight came and with it the snow. Snow had been falling for some time. A quick something to eat and we headed out in the snow for the glacier.

It was snowing and frankly not too cold, the exact conditions we did not want. We put on our crampons and roped up for the steep glacier ascent. 35 degrees or so as we climbed. The snow continued to fall and the wind began to pick up.

Jason, Cheryl and Marco our guide on the descent from Cotopaxi, in the snow

At 5,300m the snow was several inches thick and we had to dig a pit to test for avalanche. After much discussion between our guide and another we decided to continue. The slope now steepens to around 38 degrees, maybe 40 degrees in sections. Perfect avalanche country, and to top it we are on the lee side of the mountain allowing snow to build up.

We ploughed through the snow constantly slipping back as the snow beneath our feet collapsed.

At around 5,525m the snow was falling heavily and we were ploughing through up to 50cm of fresh snow. More testing of the snow conditions lead to only one conclusion. . . . .we had to go down.

Most disappointing after our failed attempts in the Cordillera Blanca but basically the weather Gods are not on our side at the moment.

Snow conditions could not be much worse and the avalanche danger was acute.

So as we were at the head of the pack so to speak we were advising other groups to turn back as we descended.

Not even a sun rise to behold as the cloud was too thick and on arrival at the refugio it was a Christmas card view.

The refugio following the fall of snow 6,30am, after descent, 4,800m

Oh well, after a rest and a drink it was down to the 4 X 4 and a long drive back to Quito.

It took us a day to recover from the exertions at altitude.

The weather is still bad and our plans for Chimborazo have evaporated with frustration. So with only a few days until we go home we will spend mainly in Quito.

It feels like a slight anti climax after all that we have done, but its not a bad place to “hang out”, and planning our return to good old blighty!


Huayhuash : The most beautiful trek in the world? July 21, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel.
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Cheryl and I have just completed an 11 day trek of the Huayhuash, a remote mountain range south of the more famous Cordillera Blanca in Peru.

A year a go I met a frenchman while climbing Illimani in Bolivia, we ended up sharing a tent at high camp before our attempted climb.  This guy, Pierre told me of his travels around the world, to Patagonia, the Himalaya, Alaska and the like.  He told me that the most beautiful mountains he had ever seen were in the Huayhuash in Peru.

Being the usual sceptic self, I took this with a rather large pinch of salt!  But intended checking out this range of mountains myself sometime in the future.

So, here we are and we made it to Huaraz and hired our Arreiro to help us with an 11 day trek of the Huayhuash.

Huayhuash map

I have to say that Pierre was pretty spot on with his assessment! We have had the most fantastic time, seen the most amazing mountains, valleys and breathtaking scenery.  Met locals who are living the same way they have done for centuries, in stone thatched houses, no electricity or water supplies, traditional dress and incredibly friendly.

The whole 11 days were an awesome experience we will never forget. Wowed again by the breathtaking scenery and experiences in South America.

To read more detail about the trip (from the bottom up!)… Click here

For more photos…. Click here

Huayhuash : A future in doubt July 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Environment, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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 The mountains of the Huayhuash at Laguna Yahuacocha as the sun goes down

We have just completed one of the most amazing treks we have done in South America (or indeed the world) in the Huayhuash in Peru. A superb trek for wilderness, culture and just the most amazing mountain scenery.

Yet, despite this beautiful area not having changed a lot in the last 20 years, the next 20 years could be make or break for the region. So many pressures on a fragile landscape could be the breaking point for a once untouched land.

The Huayhuash has suffered in the past from crisis but has always come through. With the rebels of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) fighting a Guerilla War and using the Huayhuash as a base for its activities. The war was waged between 1980 and 1992 when its leader Abimael Guzman was caught. Some 23,000 Peruvians died in the conflict making the area a no-go zone for foreigners for several years.

A cross commemorating the loss of 2 trekkers in the Cordillera Huayhuash

More recently, in 2002, 2 Americans were robbed and killed on a pass at Punta Tapuish and in the same year 2 people were again robbed and murdered in Catajambo.

In 2004, in a 20 day period several people were robbed and threatened and 4 Isrealis were killed when they refused to hand over their money on a pass.  These shocking events have lead to private conservation projects where the local communities charge trekkers money at different campsites in return for security and installing certain facilities to protect the landscape such as long drop toilets. Since this time there have been no incidents of theft or killings and gradually visitor numbers have increased.

Yet, now more strife is on the horizon. The Japanese, who have large mining interests in Peru, have been given rights to mine in the mountainous areas around Huaraz and the Huayhuash.

There is a mine near Matacancha, and there are several areas of the Huayhuash under threat of more development.

Much talk is of a new mine opening near Huayllapa and indeed a road being built over what is now a remote pass.

The inevitable problem here is that there is much mineral wealth, but the exploitation of such will bring devestation to a wilderness area and traditional ways of life.

2 children waiting to greet trekkers at the top of a pass

The communities would obviously like to earn more money in a very poor area, and the conflict is between exploiting mineral wealth or developing tourism, which itself brings environmental problems and the invasion of modern life and development. This can already be seen with some areas showing signs of litter and some people polluting rivers by using them as toilet facilities.

Efforts are being made to keep the area clean and long drop toilets are being used.  However, with some ignorance in this area, some of these are far too near the rivers to prevent the pollution.

Cheryl looking over to the mountains of the Huayhuash

Compounding these problems is the fact that politics interferes with certain apparent solutions – why not make it a National Park? The answer is that the Huayhuash is split between 3 different provinces making it politically difficult with so many differing interests.

Maybe, the only answer is making it a UNESCO site of special interest, giving it protection.  But this is a long way off (and would require government cooperation). Indeed the Huayhuash area is not even on the UNESCO speculative list of sites at the moment.

Some in Huaraz are very concerned with the situation and are trying to bring the plight of the region to the attention of UNESCO, Alfredo from MountClimb being such a person.

Perhaps the only way of protecting the area is to make it such a money making trekking destination that the money generated would make mineral exploitation not advantageous to the region? Maybe like a Torres Del Paine? This would obviously destroy the local communities as we know them and the wilderness experience. But would give the area some sort of future without destroying the landscape.

No easy answers to a growing problem. But maybe we worry too much in these fickle times.  A much bigger problem will be facing this area soon which could be far more devastating to the entire region. It is estimated that all the snow and glaciation could be gone within 20 years due to global warming! Yes 20 years. This in itself will devastate the area – glacial meltwater is the bloodline of the local people. With no water from glaciers, agriculture and life in the region will be impossible.

This area is truly one of the most beautiful in the world, I just hope one day I can return to explore this area further and experience the delights of the last 11 days of wonder.

Huaraz : Were finally leaving!! July 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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After what seems like an eternity here we are finally leaving the city of Huaraz!

We have been here since . . . . .wait for it. . . .the 18th of May!! And now we finally have to leave for pastures new.  Time is rapidly running out on our journey around South America. Only 6 weeks left and much to see and do.

We have done many things and it has been somewhat of an interesting experience here in and around Huaraz.

We have done ice climbing, the Santa Cruz trek, climbed Nevada Pisco, attempted to climb Chopicalqui and Tocllaraju (mas o menus!), and seen the ruins at Chavin(pretty amazing). And of course the amazing Huayhuash trek, see the pictures on Flickr, simply amazing!

Its been an exhausting nearly 2 months in and around the Cordillera Blanca.  We have seen some amazing sights and met some wonderful people.

Cafe Andino Huaraz    Chez after too many beers at Pachamama playing table tennis!    Jacal guest house

We have spent (as many gringos do!) much time hanging around Cafe Andino and Califormia Cafe with their wonderful book and magazine libraries, many an hour was spent here!

Not to mention beating Chez at table football in Pachamama, and of course Chez thrashing me at table tennis yet again!

We have found some superb places to eat with Chilli Heaven (great chilli, real curry and great English real ale!) run by Beatriz and Simon, El Horno (the best steak in Peru!) and La Luna.

I´m sure that our guest house we have been stopping at in between our trips will be glad to see the back of us at last! The very friendly Jacal guest house.

Alfredos Mountclimb agency

Much of what we have done here we could not have done without the excellent help of Alfredo from MountClimb. He is a wonderful guy who gives excellent advice and is extremely helpful.  He has provided us with mules, guides, porters and hire equipment for our mountaineering which has been excellent quality. We can fully recommend his services and friendship.

We must also mention our guide for Chopicalqui William Beltran who is an excellent international guide and speaks excellent English; and of course Alfonso our Arreiro for the Huayhuash trek who was excellent and very knowledgable about the area and its people. Both William and Alfonso can be hired through Mountclimb or you can ask for William at the Casa de Guias.

But now Ecuador beckons and we must move on to the last leg of our trip.

It seems that this will be another place we will have to come back to! We still have to climb Huascaran, Alpamayo, Quitaraju and Artesonraju which are now on the ¨must do¨list ever growing!    

Our affection for this area has grown since we have been here, I just wish we had more time.

Hasta luego Huaraz!!

Huayhuash : Day 10 Quebrada Huancho to Laguna Jahuacocha July 6, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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We woke early this morning, knowing we had a long day ahead and hoping to get away early.  We were up, packed and had the hot water on before the sun hit the tent, which meant it was bitterly cold.  There was an icy wind to make matters worse and our hands were freezing up packing the tent and making sandwiches.

The water was boiled and the eggs were fried, but there was still no sign of Alfonso, which was unusual.  I checked his tent but he wasn´t there.  We´d heard him get up at around 6am to go and fetch the animals which he usually left grazing in the hills high above camp.  Eventually at 8.30am Alfonso appeared over a rise chasing the horse who he´d been looking for for 2 and a half hours!  The horse had done a runner in the night and Alfonso had a difficult job finding him again.  So much for an early start!  Wish I´d stayed in bed for another hour!

We left Alfonso loading up the animals and started the climb to the top of the first pass Punta Tapush.  Once again the scenery was gorgeous.  It was the only time in the entire 11 days that we actually saw any other gringoes on the trail.  They were German and we chatted to them at the top of the pass, but they were heading off into another valley and we didn´t see them again after that.  Leading down from the relatively flat pass were a couple of beautiful turquoise lagoons offset against the reddish brown copper colour of the earth and the Diablo Del Mudo and with its small glaciated peak.

Another beautiful valley with grey slabs of rocks to one side and to the other multi-coloured striations of grass, rock and earth.  The second pass of the day (4,850m) loomed above us and I doubted (incorrectly) that it was only a 300m altitude gain.  At the top of the pass we were once again treated with a beautiful view towards the major peaks of the Central Huayhuash and the views all the way down the valley to Laguna Jahuacocha were beautiful.  We stopped and rested in the last rays of sunshine as the sun dipped below the horizon, but were pleased to find that there was still sunshine over the campsite when we arrived there.  We cracked open the carton of wine we´d picked up in Huayllapa in a small celebration for completing the trek.  The wine must have worked  wonders for our Spanish as we managed to have a quite involved discussion with Alfonso about the changing environment, politics and exploitation of the people of the Huayhuash!

It got very cold again very quickly after the sun had gone down for the last time, so after a quick dinner rounded off with tinned peaches and dulce de leche (yum!) we dived for the tents.  Needless to say, the horse got his front legs tied together tonight so he couldn´t do a disappearing act!

Huayhuash : Day 9 Cutatambo to Huatiaq July 5, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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Still tired from yesterdays day walk we left camp at about 9:30am and headed for the long journey down the valley.

Mostly down hill we dropped to 3,500m and the village of Huayllapa after 3 hours.  Much has changed in this village in the last 15 years.  The houses still look pretty quiant with the stone and mud brick houses and some with thatched roofs.  But now many have corrugated iron roofs and the village gets its electricity from hydro electric power with the river nearby and has had electricity  for about 8 or 9 years.  Traditional dress is little in evidence here and even supplies can be bought here with 2 well stocked stores.

We took advantage of these and bought some bread and wine! Essential supplies you understand!

Then after a short stop we headed up the stepp valley for a climb to 4,265m to our next camp spot below more snow capped peaks, if less dramatic certainly no less beautiful of Anocancha 5,450m and Diablo Mudo 5,350m.

This time there were 3 tents we had to share the site with, a small group we had caught up with.

Unbelievably, there was yet more evidence of people using the river banks as a toilet here, where there is a toilet long drop provided. Some people really are unbelievable.  We have come across this on 3 different camp sites.  It really is unbelievable that people can be so ignorant.


Huayhuash : Day 8 Siula Grande and Touching the Void! July 4, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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Today we would stay the day at this campsite at Cutatambo at 4,265m and Alfonso would have a day off, not to mention Triste and Tranquilo our trusty donkey and horse!

We wanted to do a day walk onto a mountain ridge and pass on the opposite side of the valley to Siula Grande the famous peak climbed by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates on the west face.

The ¨Touching the Void¨story has actually brought much publicity to this area of the Huayhuash, and many watch the film at Pachamama in Huaraz before coming here. An amazing survival story in a remote area on one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

So we headed off at 10am up the valley, the sun was shining as usual and we reached the laguna of Sarapacocha and began climbing.

This ended up being an extremely steep climb to over 5,100m up a steep sided valley, of grass, scree and rocks until finally reaching the top of the ridge.

The views from here are simply amazing.

We could see into 2 valleys, the adjacent valley of Segya and into the heart of the mountains of Yerupaja 6,515m; Siula Grande 6,344m and Sarapo 6,127m.

Wow what a view!

Many photos were taken! the view is just breathtaking from here.

We stayed on the ridge for an hour and 20 minutes or so taking in the view and having lunch in the blazing sunshine as the clouds slowly came into the range and began to swollow Siula Grande and its west face.

The west face looks much different now with less snow and much more rock on the face than when Joe Simpson and Simon Yates climbed it back in 1985. The face has not been climbed since.

Eventually we took leave of the ridge and headed back down the steep slopes and valley and finally got back to camp at 5pm.  We had the whole valley to ourselves tonight, not a soul to disturb the peace as the sun went down.

We were pretty tired after this climb and looked forward to a nights sleep! 

Huayhuash : Day 7 The San Antonio pass and the ¨Killer Cattle¨! July 3, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking.
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 View over to the massife of Siula Grande from the San Antonio Pass

The sun hit our tent early this morning greatfully warming our tent and our bones as we cooked breakfast.

The view in the morning of the enormous mountain Cuyoc 5,550m at the head of the valley was superb as the sun rose.

We left the camp site at 4,500m to climb steeply over a little used pass for more spectacular views.  The trail is not suitable for donkeys so we will meet the arreiro later in the day in the next valley.

We gradually climbed up the scree slopes until a plateau was reached with grass lands and a lake.

We noticed that there were cattle higher up the slopes but as usual took no notice as Peruvian cattle are usually so docile.

Then one of the bulls started taking notice of us, staring at us.

Then he started running down the hill towards us.  Then his mates followed earnestly after him.

This started to get slightly worrying!

Cheryl was fidling with her bag on the floor and I asked her to get up as the cattle began running down the hill towards us!

Beautiful Laguna

One of the bulls got within 15 metres or so and stopped with his mates behind him.  Then he put his head down and began to charge! He stopped again at about 5 metres away, he again put his head down and began to charge! His mates close behind.

Surely this is bullying if ever I saw it!

We picked up stones and began throwing them at the bull and the other cattle.  He came to a hault and shyed away before charging again.  This was getting beyond a joke!

We threw more stones as they charged several times and Cheryl began making loud noises and after throwing several stones started running towards the bull (I always thought she was mad!).

The Bull thankfully backed off, but Chez wasn´t finished yet and continued to run towards the bull brandishing her treki lecki sticks in the air making loud noises and throwing stones.  This was too much for the head bull and his mates and they backed off being content with a staring contest instead!

We briskly walked up the rest of the valley to safety.  We could see the cattle huddled together in a group as if discussing their tactics!  Obviously the ring leader bull was not impressed with the support he got from his fellow conspirators!  

After this excitement we trudged up the final leg of the pass to above 5,050m and managed to see the next valley.

The view was simply amazing.  The snow capped mountains and tumbling glaciers were amazing with the glacial lakes in the valley.  Wow what a view! So worth the steep climb(and being attacked by bulls!)

The peaks of Carnicero 5,960; Sarapo 6,127; Huaraca 5,537m; and Quesillo 5,600m.  So beautiful.

View from San Antonio Pass

We continued down the other side of the pass and finally had lunch above the laguna Jurau below the snow capped peaks.

We chilled out for over an hour and chatted to a local woman hearding her cattle and then we continued down the valley to the campsite where our arreiro Alfonso had just arrived.

We helped put up the tent and chilled out in the sunshine enjoying the warmth before the sun would dissappear.

Only one other tent shared the valley with us that night.

For once as the sun went down and we watched the sky turn its familiar pink, we were able to stay out in the dark as the temperature was just about bearable! 

Huayhuash : Day 6 Laguna Viconga to Guanacpatay July 2, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in climbing, culture, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.

I was awake before light, but we stayed snuggled in our sleeping bags till the sun hit the tent at about 8 o´clock.  After breakfast and packing up we set off with Cuyon in front of us and climbed the pass to its left.  Cuyon became increasingly more impressive as we got closer, with it´s icy summit giving way to glaciers defying gravity and clinging to its sides before plunging into a glacial lagoon below.  The strange rock formations and sparse vegetation gave the last part of the climb a barren other-worldly feel.  Approaching the top of the pass (5,000m), the Cordillera Raura once again came into view behind us, bright, snowy and untouched.  The mountains to the North of us looked tremendous – the big giants of Yerupaja, Serapo and Siula Grande and Cuyon, closer by, breathing down our necks.  On the other side of the pass the path dropped away steeply through a tumble of rocks that ended in a flat open plane dotted with occasional sheep on the valley floor far below.  We camped on this plane enjoying a few hours of sunshine before the sun went in and the cold crept up.

Huayhuash : Day 5 Huayhuash village to Laguna Viconga July 1, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in climbing, culture, Environment, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
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 Jason with the beautiful remote Cordillera Raura behind

A short day of walking today, so we sleep in, only getting up at 8 o´clock.  Alfonso is already up and perched on a rock warming himself in the sun a little way down the valley.  The weather is perfect with not a cloud in the sky. We set off and the donkeys draw quickly away as we walk at a relaxed pace up the pass.  Leading up to the pass, the ground to the left is barren, rocky and grey, while to the right it´s green and full of life with red patches of sand shining through.  The path divides the contrast of the two.

The Cordillera Raura

At the top the shimmering white peaks of the Cordillera Raura can be seen ahead with the white peaks of the Huayhuash behind.  We lunch at the top of the pass, lingering luxuriously in the sunshine, my head on Jason´s belly, staring up at the crisp blue sky. From there it´s another couple of hours to the camp at the intersection of two valleys, one dropping downwards and the other climbing to the imposing peak of Cuyon ahead of us.

The village of Huayhuash with the Cordillera Huayhuash behind

We make camp early and after a cerveza in the sun (1 between 3 of us – not enough) I head off to the thermal springs nearby.  Hot water pumps out of the bare earth and flows down the slick red rock where it is pooled below.  The water is a delicious temperature and no-one else is about.  I soak the last 5 days grime out of my skin.

Back at camp, the sun has already dipped behind the mountains and the temperature plummets with it.  It´s always a race to cook and get into the tents before the cold grips us.  We make a quick supper and are in bed just after nightfall.