jump to navigation

Volcan Cotopaxi Climb 5,897m August 19, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Ecuador, Environment, mountaineering, Nature, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
1 comment so far

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!

Advertisements

The Quilotoa Loop August 14, 2007

Posted by Jason in culture, Ecuador, Environment, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
add a comment

From Cuenca we went to Latacunga, a small town which is the jumping off point for the “adventurous” journey around the Quilotoa Loop through indigenous villages and remote countryside.

Indigenous painting in a unique style to the area, the subject matter speaks for itself!     Masks from the village of Tigua     Jason sporting one of the masks, a much needed improvement!!

We headed out the next day to catch the early bus. We decided to take the local transport regardless of how unreliable it is to see the “real” Ecuador! As usual the bus left late than expected no doubt on South American time!

Our first stop was at Tigua. A small settlement on the highland road. Here there is an art gallery with local Indigenous art work and masks. It was quite beautiful.

The Laguna at Quilotoa, within the volcanic crater

We then thumbed down the next bus to Quilotoa 3,800m where the famous Laguna is situated. This is an old Volcanoe filled with water. We arrived at Quilotoa and walked to the view point which was quite spectacular. The weather, as usual in our time in Ecuador was poor. Windy, grey skies and very cold! Just like England hey! The local people were selling their wares here, much artesane products.

The impressive thing about this journey is that most of the people you encounter are of Indigenous origin. On the buses, in the villages and most impressively in the businesses you encounter. Whether arts and crafts, transport companies, or local eateries and hostels. We definitely got a feeling that the local population was benefiting from the tourism and wealth in the areas. It seems that the local population are not the poor Indigenous people of say Bolivia.

From the Laguna we caught the next bus to the remote settlement of Chugchilan at 3,200m. Only a population of a few hundred here and until a few years ago there were no places for people to stay. Now there are 3 places. 2 locally owned very cheap Hostels and very friendly. (8$ each for a private room including breakfast and dinner!).

Also there is a famous Eco Lodge called the Black Sheep Inn.

The Black sheep inn A Sunset view from the Black Sheep Inn So. . . which one is the Black Sheep!

The first night we stayed at the Hostal Cloud Forest which was very nice. We bumped into a Dutch family who spent our Galapagos cruise with here! I resurrected my footballing career (in goal) and playing the local Ecuadorians managed to win 4-0 keeping a clean sheet! No small feet at altitude!! I have since retired again.

The following day we stayed at the Black Sheep Inn. Not cheap here but very interesting. They are trying to become self sufficient and utilize many Eco friendly ways of building and irrigation methods. The buildings are all built of Adobe, with compost toilets. They fully integrate with the local community helping the village in various ways. Run by 2 Americans Michelle and Andres who moved here in 1995 following there own backpacking trip. It is an interesting story and a beautiful place to stay.

Playing football at 3,ooom The village of Chugchilan YES. . . this is a sheep on the roof of the bus! Our bus around the Quilotoa loop on our final day!

We chilled out here for a day before moving on the next bus to Sigchos and then onto Latacunga. For us this was the most beautiful part of the journey. And we didn t see another Gringo on this side of the Loop.

For us the Quilotoa Loop was nice and staying at the Black Sheep Inn was very interesting. However it is not the “Indigenous”, “remote”, or “challenging” journey many write about. But you have to see it and experience it to judge I guess.

Galapagos and a beach side paradise August 5, 2007

Posted by Jason in Animals, Bird Watching, Cruise, culture, Darwin, Ecuador, Environment, Galapagos, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
add a comment

28th of July to the 5th of August

After disembarking from the Galapagos Cruise we immediately caught the “ferry” to the eastern side of the island of Isabela. The largest of the Galapagos Islands with a small settlement and the fishing capital. The Island covers around 58% of the overall landmass of the Galapagos Islands and has several active volcanoes.

Cheryl walking along the neach with our beach side retreat in the distance

The “ferry” is in fact a small motor boat that carries around 14 people over the seas between Santa Cruise and Isabela over around 2 1/2 hours. Due to the season, the seas were extremely rough! The boat lurching out of the water at regular intervals before smashing down onto the water again! I was glad I had not eaten lunch yet! To make matter worse there was a woman on the boat who was copiously drunk singing and falling over at every opportunity, screaming with all her might for the whole journey! Eventually she asked to go to the toilet. The driver of the boat slowed and moved away our baggage from a small compartment at the front of the boat where a small (and I mean SMALL!) toilet was situated. Once inside the compartment they closed and locked the door and proceeded towards Isabella! This whole heartedly approved of by all passengers!Half an hour later she was let out looking a little worse for wear.

Eventually we came into port, well a small wooden pier. However, the “captain” of the boat came in too quickly and the boat hit the rocks! Immediately it started taking water on board and there was a scramble to get off the boat and to get our bags! To our disbelief this boat was still in operation 4 days later on our return!!

Our home for 4 days would be a beach house, on the beach itself with the view of the Pacific Ocean and a balcony from which to admire the view!

Jason surveying the enormous volcanic crater from horseback   The view towards the north of the Island from the crater rim      Flamingoes

We spent the next 4 days chilling out. We did horse riding to the Sierra Negra Volcanoe. Through the mists of the Island to the crater rim where the mists dissipated and the view of the second largest crater in the world came into view. We walked around across lava flows to smoking fumaroles and could see a wonderful view across the island to the north toward the other volcanoes and the bleak volcanic landscape.

Chez and Jason on horseback on Isabela Island

Cheryl loved the horse riding, this being one of the few occasions when our guides would allow the horses to trot or Gallop!! I on the other hand found it most painful!!

We took the board walk on the island to see Flamingos, Tortoises, Lava Lizards and of course the Darwin Finches. We also went to a small island off the coast of Isabela where we saw hundreds of Marine Iguanas, some sea Turtles and amazingly White Tipped Reef Sharks swimming within 2 meters of us in a shallow pool off the coast of the island. It was just wonderful.

The rest of the time was spent doing. . . . well. . . . not alot!!

The town(well small village!) of Puerto Villamil is quite nice but incredibly sleepy. Laid back in the most extreme way! Even most of the hostals or hotels do not have signs up saying they are, and siesta appears to happen at any time of the day, or in some cases all day!!

We spent a few hour wiling away our time in Beto´s Bar on the beach drinking cocktails. We were told this was the best bar on the island. We later found out it is basically the only bar on the island!

The second largest volcanic crater in the world An Iguana Crossing!!

After the 4 days we took another tortuous journey on the “ferry” back to Santa Cruise where we visited the darwin Centre again and generally relaxed in town and on the near by beach of Tortuga bay.

In some of the Hotel Bars on the water front you can drink on the decking sharing it with Herons, Sea Lions and Pelicans! The Sea lions can get a little upset if you steel their spot in the sun!!

The local fish market is a wonder to see. The boats come in bringing their catch and they are gutted and sold or prepared for clients there and then. Of course this is not only a place for tourists to have a look. Basically all the Sea Birds and Sea Lions in the area know about the easy pickings! Blue Herons, Lava herons, Sea Lions, Pelicans and Frigate Birds all arrive for a feeding from the scraps! Most amusing to see.

After 7 days more of the Galapagos we were ready to catch the flight back to Quito. Surely a journey and experience we will not have again. A beautiful place!

Galapagos Islands : 8 Day Cruise to Darwin´s Paradise July 28, 2007

Posted by Jason in Animals, Bird Watching, Cruise, culture, Darwin, Ecuador, Environment, Galapagos, Nature, South America, Travel, wilderness.
1 comment so far

Marine Iguanas keeping an eye on us!!

We arrived in Quito to book a cruise of a lifetime in the Galapagos to find that the pickings were rather thin on the ground with it being the high season. There were some good deals on a few tourist class yachts, but we wanted to go to a few places that most visitors don´t go, and to do this we discovered that we had to take a 1st class boat around the islands.

Our Catamaran the Cormorant II fit for the high seas Galapagos National Park Nazca Boobies!!

As you can guess this was not going to be cheap! After much soul searching we went for the Cormorant II Catamaran.

This is a much faster boat and being a catamaran should be more stable as this is the misty season with rough seas!

So on the 22nd of July 2007, we headed on a plane from Quito to Baltra Island and “The Galapagos Islands”!!

It was so weird to be on our way to the Iconic Galapagos Islands, another destination that I have wanted to see for 20 years or more.

After a delayed start (we were supposed to catch the 8:20am flight and ended up getting the 11am), we were picked up at the airport in Baltra by our eccentric guide Alex. An Ecuadorian born class III guide, a biologist who had been guiding for 15 years. Perversely, we soon found out that he had lived in Birmingham, England for 4 years while doing a masters degree!

We were worried by the first words Alex said to us as we hit the tarmac of the airport, “Where are your stickers”! As we looked around we saw several people with green stickers labelling them as passengers of the Cormorant II. Now we are not fans of tours and being herded around, and this was worrying in the extreme for us! However amusing it is to see grown adults herded around with bright green stickers on them!

It took an hour or so by bus, ferry, mini-bus and motorised dinghy zodiac to arrive at our boat. We had heard many stories of the boats not quite being “as advertised”, but the Cormorant II was everything they said it was. Spacious cabins, great food, friendly crew and for us extremely luxurious. A pleasant change!

Giant Tortoise

After a quick lunch we headed off to the island of Santa Cruz and into the highlands to see the Giant Tortoises. An amazing first sight in the Galapagos. Enormous creatures up to 250kg in weight and live up to 200 years. There are 14 species in the Galapagos although one species is likely to be wiped out shortly as there is only one of his kind left from the Island of Pinta. They call him Lonesome George. The Charles Darwin Research Centre have been trying to breed him with close relatives but he won´t breed. Each species has a different shaped shell and has developed independently on different Islands, sometimes a different sub-species within the same Island, like on Isabella Island where they have evolved differently depending on which volcanoe they live in and around on the Island.

Giant Tortoises on Santa Cruz island Giant Tortoise Giant Tortoise

After this it was back to the boat and a voyage started across the open sea to Espanola Island, an overnight crossing after our slap up evening meal.

Galapagos Cruise of a Lifetime

22nd July to the 29th July

After the first nights voyage at least half of the 16 passengers were, well. . . . shall we say. . . . a little green in the morning! The sea was not the calmest in the world and the voyage lasted a good 6 or 7 hours!

Marine Iguanas on Espanola Island Sea Lions Sea Lion sleeping, oblivious to the tourists around them!

The sun was shining as Espanola Island greeted us, and I have to say one of the highlights of the whole trip. A dry landing and a short walk around the head of the island . We were greeted to amazing sights of sea lions within a metre of us, Marine Iguanas, literally hundreds of them, mockingbirds, warblers, lava lizards, and beautiful Blue Footed Boobies!! And this was within the first 10 to 20 metres of the landing area! To get off the Zodiac onto dry land we had to negotiate sea lions who were lying on the pathway and clearly did not want to move! Not to mention the dozens of Sally lightfoot crabs, incredibly colourful with their red and yellow coats of armour scattered over the rocks.

At first we did not recognise the dozens of marine iguanas because there were so many so close that they looked like stones and rocks, not moving an inch! This was totally incredible.

Waved Albatross

A short walk further on and we encountered the Waved Albatross, the only place they nest in the world. We were so close we could have touched them, and we saw their amazing courtship dance with their beaks like a swashbuckling sword fight!

A few metres further on and we saw many sea birds and the “Albatross airport”! where the Albatross taxi across the cliffs and take a run before launching themselves into the sky, a wonderful sight. It was so nice to just sit here and watch them.

Blue Footed Boobie

Further around the island we were able to experience the Nazca Booby bird at close quarters and the Blue Footed Booby, mother and father looking after their chick within a metre or so of us as we sat and watched them, and saw their amazing courtship dance, lifting their bright blue feet into the air as if for the cameras!

Blue footed boobies feeding a young     Blue Footed Boobies!

So many species we saw on Espanola, Cactus Finch, Warbler Finch, American Oyster catcher, Galapagos hawk, and the Swallow Tailed Gull.

Chez observing the Blue Footed Boobies and their young

Absolutely amazing to be so close to the wildlife, to be able to just sit and observe their behaviour in a natural setting.

A great first encounter with the wildlife.

A Sea Lion Sea Lions in Gardner Bay Jason disscussing the value of a sun hat with a Sea Lion!

After snorkeling in the afternoon, we had a further wet landing on the beach in Gardner Bay where we were able to chill out as the sun descended and we were able to observe the Sea Lions again at close quarters. Simply beautiful.

Land Iguana

The following day, following another sea crossing we went to Santa Fe Island, completely different to the previous day. More barren this time and we managed to see Land Iguanas, Sea Lions and the Boobies. There are wonderful cacti here with a red bark that is just beautiful. We saw many finches here and the yellow warbler.

After snorkeling we headed to South Plaza a simply amazingly beautiful Island. It is amazing how each Island is so different and sustains such life in sometimes what appears to be quite a barren or hostile environment. Each creature that has evolved has increased its chances of survival by creating a unique niche for itself and in the main not competing with other species.

South Plaza Island

South Plaza is quite beautiful with its red succulent plants and wonderful cacti. Here we saw diving Pelicans and Land Iguanas, not to mention the amazing Boobies and Sea Lions. A walk along the cliffs revealed an array of sea birds including the Galapagos Shearwater, Red Billed Tropic Bird and Brown Noddy. Below the cliffs we could sea Sharks (the vegetarian kind!) feeding and swimming with the Sea Turtles.

This is also the place where the sea lion bachelor colony hang out, who are either too old or cannot get a mate. Needless to say they did not look the happiest of sea Lions!

Pelicans hitching a ride on our boat!

In the evening we were joined at the rear of the boat first by a couple of Sea Lions who clambered up to “chill out”!!, but later 2 Pelicans decided to use the boat as a good feeding post, staring fixedly on the sea waiting to dart into the water! We watched them for at least an hour, they did not blink an eye at us taking photos and watching them from within 2 to 3 metres!!

The following day we headed to North Seymour Island, it was a hot sunny day again and we spent a good 3 hours or so walking around this beautiful Island. Again completely different to every other Islands we had seen. The big attraction here is the Frigate Birds with their ostentatious red pouches displaying. This is a sight to behold. So amazing if rather ridiculous looking!

Frigate Bird Displaying

We also saw the Frigatebird behaviour, as if on queue for our Guide as he explained that they do not fish in the sea, indeed they cannot get their feathers wet with sea water, but that they steal food off other birds.

We saw a band of frigatebird robbers! Swooping down on a family of Blue Footed Boobies where they were trying to feed their chick and a frigate bird swooped down and stole a fish from within the young booby´s throat as it tried to swallow! Where else could you see behaviour like this??!

We saw many other species on the Island, many more Marine Iguanas and saw areas where they lay their eggs. In addition we sat and watched for a while a sea lion mother trying to teach her young pup to swim, he could only have been 2 weeks old!

After chilling out on the boat sunning ourselves we snorkeled at the Isle of Bartolome around the compressed ash rocks reaching into the sky on the coast. We swam with sea turtles and saw enormous rays – marble and manta rays. Wonderful colourful fish at every turn.

The View of the Galapagos Islands from Isla Bartolome

Then we landed on Bartolome itself and climbed to the top of the hill across a wonderful volcanic landscape to view the bay below. Truly beautiful.

Overnight was another rough crossing, a long night for those without their “sea legs”! At times the boat was lurching from side to side with things crashing off shelves to the floor! To go to the bathroom was becoming a major feat!

The boat was heading to the west of Isabella Island where few boats are allowed to go any longer, only the faster boats and those with permission with new park regulations are allowed to visit here.

We stopped to see Tagus Cove a place where Charles Darwin visited and observed what are now called Darwin´s Finches. A major piece in the puzzle of his evolutionary theory, even if he did not know it at the time. A beautiful area on the largest of the Galapagos Islands covering 58% of the whole landmass of the Islands.

We could see the hulks of the volcanoes on the Island reaching up into the mist.

Sea Turtle coming up to breathe Sea Turtle swimming Lava Heron

Each day we saw plenty of the mist covering many of the land masses, hence the “misty season”! However we were lucky on the whole that the mist often cleared to give us wonderful views.

We then visited Elizabeth Bay where we took a Zodiac into the breading grounds of the sea turtles, seeing many Pacific Green Sea Turtles and the Leather Back Sea Turtle.

Then a trip around the outlying rocks here to observe a feeding frenzy of Blue Footed Boobies diving into the sea for food, along with pelicans and penguins. We also observed the Flightless Cormorant.

This evening was beautiful as we watched the sun go down. The sunset was amazing turning the sky in 360 degrees into oranges and purples.

Fernandina Island

The following day we visited Fernandina Island which was stunning, seeing the nesting Flightless Cormorant, Marine Iguanas, Lava Cactus, Blue Heron, Lava Heron, rays off the coast with sea turtles and different species of mangrove.

The Island has a spectacular backdrop of the large volcano, Volcan La Cumbre.

Jason making friends with the Marine Iguanas!

After snorkeling we headed to Urbina Bay on Isabella where we saw more Land Iguanas and snorkeled in the bay, swimming with sea turtles within touching distance and we saw a blowfish.

In the evening we did not experience a sunset like the previous evening, instead we had 14 hours of rough seas and mists! Finally landing at Floreana the following morning. Here we saw marble rays, dozens of them within 5 metres of the beach just above the sand feeding and sea lions commanding the beach!

Flightless Cormorants with their chick and Marine Iguanas in the background

We also visited the “Post Office” which is a barrel where people leave post cards and if any travellers live near the address of the cards takes them away and posts them personally! Well saves a stamp hey.

Following these we snorkeled at Devil´s Rock, a sunken volcano in the sea where Chez swam with a White-Tipped Reef Shark! Rather her than me!

This was to be our final evening, a Saturday night of cocktails and barbeque on deck in the port of Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz.

Our final day was a short visit to the Charles Darwin Research Centre and then to say our farewells to the rest of the group.

The Galapagos Islands, a trip of a lifetime?

There is no doubt that the Galapagos is an amazing place to visit, but is extremely expensive!! There are restrictions as well. You cannot go anywhere in the National Park without a guide, its all tour orientated which is inevitably restrictive and expensive. But for good reason – to protect this natural environment is paramount.

The Galapagos is certainly not as we expected. Over 30,000 people live on the Islands – far more than I had envisaged. And rather than being unspoilt, the human interference of the last 200 years has almost devastated many species.

However, the abundance of wildlife you can observe here in its natural environment so close is truly awe-inspiring and amazing.

The islands are beautiful and unique in many ways and it never gets too crowded. When you consider that visitors can only see a tiny percentage of the islands visited, yet you can see so much wildlife, it gives an indication of just how abundant the wildlife is.

We have asked ourselves whether it was worth the money to come to the Galapagos and our answer has been a resounding YES! It is truly a unique experience and a trip of a lifetime!!

Huayhuash : A future in doubt July 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in climbing, culture, Environment, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
add a comment

 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.

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

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

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 6 Laguna Viconga to Guanacpatay July 2, 2007

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

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.
add a comment

 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.

Huayhuash : Day 4 Carhuacocha to Huayhuash village June 30, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in climbing, culture, Environment, mountaineering, Peru, South America, Travel, trekking, wilderness.
add a comment

Today we got an unsolicited chaperone who led us around the lake on the other side of the campsite.  At first we didn´t realise he was chaperoning us, but when we slowed down, he slowed down.  When we sped up, he sped up, and he occasionally gestured to us to follow him down the well-trodden and perfectly obvious trail.

Snowy mountains and blue lagoons on Day 4 of the Huayhuash trek

Eventually at the far end of the lake, he pointed the way up towards the pass. We thanked him politely (hoping he would now leave us alone). His mission finally became clear when he asked if we wanted a guide for the pass. We declined, saying we had a map.  We didn´t need a guide, especially one who whistled along to his hand-held radio as he walked.  We walked on again, enjoying the solitude of the mountains once again.

Mountains and blue lagoons, Day 4

The valley toward the pass was lined to the right by mountains sweeping straight up to lofty peaks with glaciers clinging and tumbling off multi-hued lagoons below.  It was very beautiful.  Unfortunately a bit of cloud had swept in, somewhat obscuring where the snow ended and the sky began (not good for the photos). 

Angelo the campesino boy at the top of the pass

The pass was easy enough to find, with a clear trail all the way.  Behind us were the snow-covered peaks just left behind and in front the mountains gave way to countless green valleys carpeted with sparkling blue lagoons.  We stayed a while enjoying the views and solitude when a young campesino boy wandered up alone.  He sat on a rock and eyed us curiously, shy, but happy to answer our questions.  His name was Angelo and he lived “abajo” (down there – pointing to the valley floor far below).  He couldn´t have been more than 6 years old.  He obliged us allowing us to take his photo and we gave him a chocolate bar for his trouble.  He couldn´t hide his glee.  He bounded down the mountain after us (for a while I thought we may have adopted a son) but at the bottom he left us and charged off towards “home”.

The view down the valley with snow capped peaks rising to over 5,000m.

We continued down the valley from a second pass dodging the boggy ground as we went. Finally reaching our campsite at the “village” of Huayhuash (3 houses!). As usual our tent was already up and the sun had already sheltered behind the mountains making the temperature begin to drop.

Not a soul in sight, magnificent! 

Huayhuash : Day 3 Matacancha to Carhuacocha June 29, 2007

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

With a long day ahead of us (we want to do in 1 day what most people do in 2), we hit the trail early at 8.30am. 

The trail climbs steeply to the first pass, and the cold early morning air is sharp in our lungs.  We can see the campsite far below as the path winds around rocks and outcrops.  Two condors are gliding overhead.  The pass drops away on the other side into a brilliant green valley, a brackish red brown lagoon and sparkling stream. 

We turn off the main trail to head up a side valley to reach a turquoise lagoon with brown reeds waving in the shallow waters against a backdrop of black and grey rocks, snowy white glaciers and lofty mountain tops.  The view is spectacular. We lunch at the lake before heading back down the other side of the valley to pick up the main trail in a slow and steady climb to the second pass of the day.  Again the scenery changes at every turn, wide open grassy valleys giving way to rolling green hills and multi-coloured rocks, scree slopes with snowy tops of the Huayhuash skirting around. 

The top of the pass is a bright yellowy sand, and completely barren. We get a first view of Siula Grande rising imposingly down the valley and the peaks of Yerupaja and Jirishinca rise dramatically straight out of the floor of the valley. 

Siula Grande, and Yerupaja rise behind our camp site beside lake Carhuacocha

An hour more walking brings us to a viewpoint above Laguna Carhuacocha and the campsite.  The sun has already left us as we descend towards camp.  A young boy greets us and asks “Que pais?”. This is the first question anybody ever asks and means “which country (are you from)?”.  Jason says England and I say South Africa.  He looks impressed.  His name is Xavier.  We ask him if his family sell anything (we are on the lookout to buy some fresh trout).  “Trucha” (trout) he says, “queso” (cheese) and after some more thought “papas” (potatoes).  We ask him how much for a trout.  He yells for his mother.  “Who is it?” she asks.  “The gringoes” he replies.  His mother appears.  “Que pais?” she asks.  We tell her.  She doesn´t look quite so impressed.  She tells us she doesn´t have trout.  Xavier is insistent, but she only has little trout.  We settle for 2 cervezas (beers) instead.  Xavier has produced an English school book and proudly pronounces “two” in English.

10 minutes later we are in camp and Alfonso has erected our tent already and we soon begin cooking the evening meal as the evening draws in and the temperature drops.  The backdrop of the camp site is wonderful, a beautiful lake and 6,000m snow capped peaks. A wonderful day.