September 9 – 14, 2017

Northern Cordillera Blanca; specifically Nevados Hunadoy and Nevado Huascarán Sur Regions (Caraz-based)

One of the top wishlist stops on our pre-journey planning was Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. A high Andes mountain range. 

Well, we made it. 

Dave and I love Yosemite and have visited and camped there many times, but the Cordillera Blanca puts it to shame. 

The US has three mountains over 17,000′. The Cordillera Blanca has 76 over 17,000′. Mt. Whitney tops out at a measly 14,505′. The highest mountain in the Cordillera Blanca is Huascarán at 22,205′. (Interesting side note: only 5 peaks over 17,000′ use a Spanish names. All the rest keep their Quechua name.)

Words, and even photographs, can’t do the Cordillera Blanca justice. 

But first to get there, we left Chocope and the spectacular Museum de Cao (aka Museo de Brujo) on Saturday 9th and drove south on the PanAmerica until we turned east just north of Chimbote and followed the Rio Santo up for our climb back into the Andes. We boondocked in the small village of Chuquicara in a windy spot before attempting the notorious Cañón de Páto drive. We saved that for the next morning. 

The Cañón drive, while spectacular, requires most of your attention on the road. Not because the paved road necessarily is in poor condition; but rather the skill required to navigate the 46 one-lane tunnels. 

We almost made it through all the tunnels with no problems except that close to the end of the this section of the drive, we came face-to-face with a van carrying people and they wouldn’t budge. So Dave had to back us up in the narrow tunnel for approximately 100 yards. 

Our destination was the Camping Guadalupe campground in Caraz in the north-south valley that hugs the western slope of the Cordillera Blanca (so named because its mountains are snow-capped and glacier-filled year round) and the eastern edge of the Cordillera Negra (so called because its mountains do not retain snow on its peaks. 

“The dry Pacific basin accounts for less than 2% of Peru’s renewable water resources. Its 62 rivers flowing west from the Andes supply the bulk of the water to the coastal region.”

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_resources_management_in_Peru)

“Peru contains over two-thirds of all tropical glaciers which provide important water sources for the dry western half of the country. These glaciers are rapidly melting as a result of climate change, making the flow of rivers more irregular, leading to more droughts and floods.”

“For example, the Quelccaya ice cap is the largest in the Peruvian Andes and has shrunk by 30% in the last 33 years.”

(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply_and_sanitation_in_Peru)

What water there is, is managed through an extensive and complicated series of canals and irrigation channels that we saw all the way down from the Cordillera Blanca to where the rivers empty into the Pacific. Some very ancient. 

On our first day in Caraz, we walked into town and lined up a driver for a day trip up to Lake Parón with Pony Expeditions. 

So at 7am on Tuesday 12th, we headed up to Lake Parón with our driver – Maximó. Lake Parón is the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca at an elevation of 13,632′. After an hour’s drive, we arrived at the Lake. The Lake was clear with a light drizzle but the peaks around were shrouded in fog including the impressive Pryamid or Artesonraju (the Paramount Picture’s logo). We could only hike around a portion of the Lake because at that altitude we were not climbing any further up. 

Upon returning, we made plans directly with Maximó to take us out the next day to different areas. 

On Wednesday 13th, Maximó picked us up at 6am and first drove us up into the Parque Nacional Huascarán to the two lakes comprising the Llanganuco Lagunas. This was a better outing than the day before because at first, we were the only ones there and secondly because the fog would occasionally lift and we could see the glacier-filled mountain peaks. Spectacular with a nice level hike of 2.8km. 

Andean Geese

After returning to valley, we then headed up west into the Cordillera Negra to visit the area where the Puya Raimondii grow. Puya Raimondii “also known as queen of the Andes(English), titanka (Quechua) or puya de Raimondi (Spanish), is the largest species of bromeliad. It is native to Bolivia and Peru and is restricted to the high Andes at an elevation of 3000 – 4800 m.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puya_raimondii

I tried to walk out to one specimen to provide human scale but the trail was steep and only about 4″ wide. After Dave took the picture, I had to scramble back down using my hands. Not one of my brighter ideas. 

Puya raimondii, the largest bromeliad species.
Puya raimondii with the Cordillera Blanca in the background.

Back to camper after a 7 & 1/2 hr. outing. 

We left Caraz on Thursday 14th with the plan to drive up to Punta Olimpicó pass southeast in the Cordillera Blanca. 

Best laid plans: Google maps in it’s infinite wisdom, sent us up a secondary street in Carhuaz. We drove up one steep street partially covered about 3′ high with 12″-15″ boulders dumped in the street for a construction project only to realized when we got past the pile and to the top of the steep street, there was nowhere to go. When we started to back down the street, we discovered that while going backwards we couldn’t navigate around the boulder pile because an adobe building flush with the street on the opposite side constricted the width. 

So Dave and I spent the next 30 minutes moving boulders so we could get out around successfully. Heavy suckers. Good thing my sore back has subsided. 

After getting back down to the main street and finding an alternative route, we tried to head back up into the Andes. Only to hit another snag about 12 kms. up the mountain; the town of Shilla District has placed large cement width barriers at intermittent spots through town. But of course, we didn’t discover this until we had driven up another steep 100 yards street to realize the camper was about 5″ too wide to fit through. 

So Dave had to back us down another steep incline with tires slipping because of a layer of small gravel layering over cement street; at which point we said “H}%}ll and f]}#%^k with that” and trying to get up to Punta Olímpico; so we turned around and came back to Highway 3N which runs through the Valley and drove straight through to the Hotel Real Huascarán campground in Huaraz. 

More on the next section of the Cordillera Blanca in next blog.