After our time on the Santa Cruz trek we had spent a few days back in Hauraz rock climbing above the city, deciding what we wanted to do next.

Climbing above Huaraz.

Some of the options for ice climbing/mountaineering from Huaraz were Yanapaccha, Pisco or Vallunaraju. We settled on Yanapaccha as it was surrounded on all sides by mountains that were higher or more or less the same elevation and the climb involved a multi-pitch section towards the top. This means you’re climbing between several anchor points on the same ice/rock face.

The night before we set off we had made a delicious dinner of pasta with tinned tuna, eggs & olives. Something in the dinner didn’t agree with us and early the next morning as we were leaving for Yanapaccha Jacqui was feeling pretty ill. We pressed on though hoping it would pass on the four hour journey from Huaraz.

Similar to the Santa Cruz trek, we once again went back up to the top of this crazy road to access the trail.

After a long journey in the car up the never ending switchbacks we reached the last corner and were dropped off to begin our walk to the base camp, at a moraine camp a few kilometres away. Our packs, while only loaded with gear & food for one night were heavy, with mountaineering boots, crampons, 2 ice axes, helmet, gaiters, harnesses, miscellaneous climbing hardware, clothing, sleeping mats & bags. Similar, if not more weight than we carried on Santa Cruz.

As we walked Jacqui was finally sick, we hoped this meant the nasty’s were out of her system & she would be fine to climb but unfortunately this wasn’t the case and she stayed a base camp the following morning to ensure I was able to climb to the top without having to turn back.

After an early start we set off around 1am from base camp across the moraine to the edge of the glacier. As soon as we reached the glacier it was time for harnesses, roping together, crampons and the walking ice axe. The ice to get up onto the glacier plateau was a short 50° slope. Once on the glacier it was easy walking on the ice for the first hour to reach the base of the ice faces.

On the descent, two tiny dots in the middle of the image

For the most part of the climb, my guide Guido climbed ahead up the slopes without top protection with me belaying from below in case of a crevasse fall. After reaching the end of the rope, he’d sink the snow stake and belay my climb from the top. The climate and the angles of most of the mountains means that mountains are covered in a powdery chandelier type ice that requires snow stakes (45cm long aluminium stage) as ice-screws simply have not enough ice to hold on to.

On a few occasions hammering in the anchor into solid snow meant waiting for Guido as he hacked at the ice with his ice axe 60m above me, sending shards of ice tinkling down the ice face. These rimy chunks of ice shooting down the ice sounded like a thousand crystal champagne glasses clinking together as they rocketed past. And they hurt when they hit you!

As we progressed further and further up we crossed crevasses that were no more than a long 20cm slit across, to some others that were 1-2m wide and had ice bridges spanning the gap. Crossing these bridges was the most nerve racking part of the climb as you had a fantastic view down into the oblivion of the crevasse, while having no trust in the bridge.

The toughest part of the climb was nearing the top where we had the final multi-pitch section. Right in the middle of this was an anchor position that was an ice cave that we climbed into. After climbing inside I realised it wasn’t a cave, it was a crevasse we were sitting in the top of. Just off to my side a few metres away was the opening.

The top of Yanapaccha was just a sliver of snow that tumbled away steeply 1000m on the other side.
Anchored in at the top.
Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru (6768m)
Chakrarahu and the surrounding mountains.

Once the photos and summit celebrations (shivering and complaining about the cold) were over we began our descent via a different ridge. For the start of the descent Guido was repelling me down off the summit faces, which were impossible to see from above where the anchor was. As I was repelling backwards I saw what I believed was a crevasse that I had to cross. I yelled up at Guido telling him ‘hey, big crevasse gap here. Should we go around?’. From his position he couldn’t see it so he said yep go straight across it. This basically meant pulling down enough slack on the rope and jumping from one side to the other. As Guido followed me down he was shocked as he saw what I’d crossed. It wasn’t a crevasse, it was a large overhanging cornice of snow & ice! Guido had no choice but to follow me over, luckily it was strong enough and held us both.

As we descended further down, the mountain was just as steep. To be able to place anchors and not have to climb back up to take them with us, Guido began digging snow bollards which are giant mushroom shaped channels the rope hooks into. Super time consuming to dig out with an ice tool, but much more affordable than lugging anchors to the summit just to leave them behind on the descent.

Snow bollard anchor (source: jive ass anchors?)

After 5 or so snow bollard rappels down across the crevasse openings it was back to walking across the flat glacier and once again jumping over more crevasses. With the end in sight and a much slower descent than planned we made quick time across the flatter slopes and back to base camp.

The view down from the top.
Walking down.

Crevasses, seracs and cornices to dodge on the way up & down. Midnight wake up for a 1am start, 4 hours each way from base camp. Ice axes, crampons, harnesses all completely necessary for this tough but rewarding climb!

Only 8 days had past since our memorable adventure in El Cocuy and already we were missing the mountains (surprising really after the ordeal we went through). So after a few days of eating incredible food (photo blog of FOOD coming up shortly!) and refuelling in Lima we headed back to the mountains, this time in Peru’s famous Cordillera Blanca mountains.

Situated inland from the coast is the city Huaraz, a base for organising many different types of outdoor activities in and around the mountains. We arrived in the evening with all our clothes, food and maps ready to head off first thing the next morning to begin the Alpamayo circuit trek. This is a trek that includes 75% of the Santa Cruz trek, and then proceeds off in a different direction to loop back around the valley on the other side of the Alpamayo peak.

The planned trek around Alpamayo had us walking 8-10 days at altitudes between 3000-4900m. 9-10 days worth of food meant our bags were really heavy, weighing in at around 17-20kg each. A lot to be hauling up and over pretty big mountain passes.

By day 3 we were considerably tired of lugging around such large bags and after climbing our first mountain pass we both agreed without question to spontaneously change our route and only do the Santa Cruz trek which was 4 days and 3 nights, giving us time that we wouldn’t have had to enjoy some of the other activities Huaraz had on offer. This also meant we could eat whatever we wanted on our final days, happily choosing the most delicious things we packed to eat.

Reasonably early on day 1 we set off toward the trailhead in Cashapampa. We arrived at about midday after catching 2 taxi’s and one minibus from Huaraz totalling around 4 hours of travel along bumpy and unsealed roads ready to start walking with the full force of the hot sun beaming directly down on us.

4 hours of walking with a gradual incline with the sun and heaving bags was enough for us to call it a day, settling on a camp spot right next to the river for the night. A few cows around on the trail, but none in the campsite itself or in the river.

Camp spot 1 by night
Camp spot 1 by night.

We planned on getting up early as we had around 15km of walking to cover and wanted to get most of it out of the way before the sun hit us hard. Well, that was the intention and ended up waking up at around 6:30am. After realising our plan to leave early had failed we decided to just take our time, enjoying one of the best trekking breakfast’s of mashed potato with bacon bits.. truly so good, you must try it! Oats just don’t cut it for us anymore.

Packing up on dry ground without the numbing cold biting down on us meant we were quite efficient and got going an hour after waking up. Our day started by walking quite casually further up the valley towards the snow covered peaks. Along the way we passed several trekking groups with their mules carrying all of the food and equipment, leaving them happily walking along with a small day pack. You could defiantly see them inquisitively looking at us carrying such large bags and wondering what we were doing or where we were going.

Shortly before lunch at the lake, in one of the passing trekking groups we bumped into Gabriel, a German guy we’d been diving with in Utila, nearly 2 months ago (small world!). We also passed groups heading off to climb Alpamayo with all their mountaineering gear- now that was impressive, it made our bags look small and light.

It was nice being able to take the time to stop and enjoy the incredibly awe-inspiring surroundings on this trek (unlike at El Cocuy thanks to the weather), taking as many breaks as we wished, the most impressive of the day being our lunch spot. Sitting by a beautiful aqua blue lake eating chocolate, candy & a little fruit (balance people, balance!).

Breakfast Lunch Alpamayo No better place to wash clothes

We actually arrived at our camp spot for the night a couple of hours ahead of schedule (lucky we didn’t wake up any earlier!) and questioned making our first pass that afternoon, opting for an afternoon of reading in the sunshine after seeing how beautiful the camp site really was. It was the most spectacular valley surrounded on all sides by snow capped mountains. The valley itself was full of cows and mules freely wandering around, eager to find any bits of left behind food. Simon even managed to get sunburnt on the tops of his hands from reading.

Tawllirahu (5830m)

As we were still planning to do the Alpamayo trek at this point we were doing our best to try and conserve our gas to last us the 10 days. This meant heating food until it was just warm enough to eat and pre-soaking as much food as possible to reduce cooking time. The other way was sending Jacqui the blonde gringa off to ‘borrow’ hot water from the guided trekking companies with their 20 mules to carry the kitchen tent & equipment.

The chefs were so generous from the other groups that they were more than happy to give us hot water and coca tea for the altitude. On the morning of the third day when going to borrow more water, Jacqui came back to our tent with the chef carrying two of the fluffiest pancakes we’ve ever eaten for us! Pancakes for us was a true delight and shows how kind and generous people can be. Made the porridge we attempted to eat taste horrible, so settled on a pancake and a sachet of ‘baby fruit’ before beginning the climb up Punta Union pass.

After making our way up through the never ending switchbacks to the Punta Union pass, we were pretty tired and after seeing the first glimpses of the second pass we had planned on, it looked extremely steep from Punta Union and the path to cross wasn’t visible. As we started descending, we were soaking up the endless sunshine and really enjoying the weather when I’m not sure what we were talking about but we both stopped at the same time said and said, do we really want to do this for another 7 days? The answer being no, and the decision was to spend more time rock climbing.

We were in Huaraz for 12 days and 10 of those were devoted to just trekking. With our bags so heavy I think we’d underestimated our tolerance for the weight of 10 days food over so many mountain passes. So with this decision made, we continued on along the Santa Cruz trail but this now cut our trek down to 4 days so we were already nearly done.

We walked for a total of around 8 hours on this day, leaving only 5km the following day - a cruisey finish to a beautiful trek.

We casually woke up around 7am and wandered the 5kms out of the National Park where we waited alongside some friendly mules for the long ride back to Huaraz.

<figcaption>Our new friends, interested in our quesadillas. The view in the morning. The road back to Huaraz</figcaption>

The Santa Cruz trek proved to be one of the most beautiful spots we had seen, with extremely magnificent 360 degree views, perfect weather and great company, as always.