This part of the Peruvian Andes has 16 peaks above 6000m and is the 2nd highest mountain range in the world after the Himalayas. It is a hiking and climbing mecca! Santa Cruz is a 45km trail normally covered in 3 to 4 days. Along with Johnny Jew, we did it in just over 2.
Just before lunchtime on the 23rd of december we headed to an adventure company to hire some gear, and then to buy supplies. We were planning for around 3 days after talking to a guy in our hostel who did it in 2. Early afternoon we were off to the bus terminal to get a collectivo (combined transport, either minibus or car) to Caraz, and then Cachapampa. The first leg was in a minibus where johnny and I had to hold our 15kg backpacks on our legs for an hour and a half while squashed right at the back. I couldn’t feel my legs after half an hour. And, because we still took up too much space we were charged for an extra person. Fortunately only $3. From Caraz we then got into a little Toyota sedan with 4 of us in the back and 3 in the front, including someone keeping the gear shift warm. Seems they have one of these unlucky people in each “car” collectivo, just to make use of all available space. This last leg lasted around 2h on a gravel road winding around cliffs which dropped into never, never land. We were left at Cachapampa at 5pm, and started for the first campsite, 4h away. Wonderful scenery.
We were up at 6am, had a quick breakfast, packed up the tent and were off just after 7. The scenery was breathtaking. Snowy peaks everywhere, at times 3 at once.
At 9am we pass the first campsite, Llamacoral, albeit simply a patch of grass and a drop loo. We kept going, and arrived at the second campsite, Taullipampa, at the base of Taulluraju at 1:30pm. Perfect!! Nice short day of hiking. We are at 4200m. I have never camped so high before. Time for lunch then a relax. We have a few friendly cows and horses come to visit.
Around 3:30 I decide to brave the chilly water and have my first wash in a couple of days. How refreshing. Butt naked in such a serene location, that is until 2 Spanish guys and a guide head over a crest and pop out right in front of me!!
At 4 the clouds close in, and hail starts falling. Tiny little balls of frozen water force us into the tent. But it is Christmas Eve!
We hauled a carton of red wine to be able to celebrate, possibly even with our new guests, but we are stuck in the tent! We open the wine and devour some peanuts. Johnny braves the weather to cook a great Christmas meal – pasta, chorizo, onions, garlic and vino tinto. Yummo! Dinner is finished and lights out around 8:30. So much for partying with a star-filled sky at the base of a beautiful mountain.
At around 10pm a cow kindly starts doing the dishes for us. Unfortunately she lacks the dexterity in her tongue that us humans have in our fingers, and for the next hour or so, though possibly only 15 mins, but seemed like forever, she spins a plate around inside the pot. Around and around, yet while not even touching the ropes tying down our tent, and not really making that much noise. Just enough though. Johnny shouts at her, first in English, then Spanish. Neither works and he can’t remember the “moo” sound which means piss off. I get out of the tent and manage to get her moving. A little while later she is back for the rinse cycle. She manages to almost completely clean the pot and bowls, and even pinches a packet of pasta her long tongue is able to pull out from under the cover sheet.
I wake thinking it is almost time to get up, but it is only 1am. Guess that is the problem with going to bed at 8! I get out of the tent to try and get a photo of the mountain which is fairly well uncovered…not much luck though as there really isn’t enough light. Back to bed.
We wake around 5:30. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Weather is pretty good. Johnny and I take presents for the 3 people in the other group…chocolates!! Feliz Navidad!! They share with us some Peruvian cake. Mmm . We leave at 7:15 after breakfast.
The clouds have come in as we start climbing towards the pass as 4750m. We have a beautiful view of the lake at the base of Taulluraju, even if the peak is covered. The climbing slows at we get higher, we take more frequent breaks. Just before the top the sleet starts. We arrive about 9:30 and can’t see a thing. We cross a local with his donkeys as we head down the other side. He gives us a big Christmas hug.
We continue, though are fairly wet now and the sleet gets heavier. Then it starts snowing!!! We have a white Christmas!!! I am like a little child in a candy store…no longer cold and wet, but thinking of how much snow is required to build a Peruvian snowman. We come across a large group with guides, and spend a while talking and laughing about the snow.
We continue and come across a straggler from the group, possibly 30mins behind the others and struggling with the altitude. Why have guides if they don’t look out for those who are slower in the group, I don’t know?
The weather is on and off for the rest of the day, though less severe than at the pass. The views are amazing, even with clouds covering must of the peaks. There is something about the anticipation of getting a sneak “peak” which keeps Johnny and I excited. I will certainly be back one summer to redo this hike…with clear skies, wow!!!
We arrive at the next campsite at 1:30 and have lunch with the cows. We decide not to stay the night here, and are slightly confused as to whether a bridge crossing the river about 1km back might be the trail to take. We continue anyway and choose to either finish the hike today or camp further along.
About an hour and a half after lunch we arrive at Hauripampa, and are really confused as the last leg is supposed to be around 4h.
We are happy though, and enjoy walking through the village. We come across a guy who indicates the way we should go to get to the next town, Vaqueria, 1h straight up a hill on the other side of the river. That must be the last part of the hike, so much for decent directions/signs. We are tired, having been on the go for 11h already, but push ourselves up the hill.
As the sun is going down and the rain starting, we make ourselves comfortable in a makeshift hostel rather than camping on a patch of grass. The hostel is actually a shop with a spare room. Johnny is over the moon when he finds out we can have Christmas Cuy. Yes, guinea pig! I got my snow, he gets his cuy. We eat and drink a little wine before hitting the sac at 9pm.
3:15 am the first collectivo of the day, which we were told about but didn’t consider getting, knocks at our door. We are not that tired, and consider waiting till lunchtime for the next one to leave, then agree to go. 6 of us cram into a car, plus the driver. There is the standard person who sits on the gear stick. The bumpy, slippery ride takes a couple of hours. The driver stops a few times to splash water on his face when falling asleep, and even slaps himself a few times!!! The road is wet and slippery, and on one occasion we start to spinout, though the driver does a great job of controlling the car. It was probably a good thing that is was too dark most of the way to see the big droppoff just next to the road!! Apparently it is an amazing view though, which we unfortunately missed.
From Yungay we then waited maybe 15mins and got another collectivo back to huaraz. What an amazing way to spend Christmas!!!