Hiking the Santa Cruz trail in the Andes

posted May 1, 2015, 9:55 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated May 2, 2015, 4:29 PM ]
Lots of different kinds of fruits...and potatoes  ©http://backpackthesierra.com
You may remember that we had a great time on our hike to Machu Picchu a few years ago, and we'd always said that we wanted to go back to Peru and see more of that amazing country.

Well, we did just that over the past two weeks.  (That's why we've been a bit quiet here.)

We flew into Lima, spent a day there, and then took the eight hour bus ride up to the town of Huaraz, which nestles in a valley in the foothills of the Cordillera Blanca.  The foothills, in this case, start at 10,000 feet and go up from there.  The Cordillera Blanca has a number of peaks over 20,000 feet high.  It's time for your big boy pants!

After two days of poking around Huaraz to get acclimated, we joined our guide Hector and his assistant Clemente, and took off for four days into Huascaran National Park, where we hiked up the Santa Cruz Valley, over 15,500+ foot Punta Union Pass, and then down the Huaripampa Valley to our exit at Vaqueria. 

We knew that this was the end of the rainy season, so we were taking a chance with the weather.  As it turned out, the worst weather of the trip happened at night--one night of very gusty winds, and a second night of steady rain.  But during the day we had only a few showers on the third day, and spectacular weather during much of the hike. 
M hiking up the trail  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

The combination of tropical latitude and high elevation is a strange one.  We were hiking at over 13,500 feet in a cloud forest, with jungle vegetation at times, and looking up at massive rock and ice massifs hanging 5,000 feet or more above us.  We rarely needed a warm jacket--a simple windbreaker was enough, when coupled with one of the alpaca sweaters we bought in Huaraz for $15.  And some of the time we were actually too hot, even wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

While we took it a bit easy over the high pass, we had no real trouble with the elevation.  We did have trouble with the miles of boulders followed by more miles of pure mud on the third day.  But we did finally make it into camp, and the next day was a perfect trail and a piece of cake to finish.  (See photo below left for some of that mud...)  
Most of the last few miles of the trail was like this. A mess.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com

And then there was the ride back to town from the trailhead, over another 15,000 foot pass, and a road that met every possible standard for an e-ticket ride!  That's the road, below right.

And down....  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Perhaps the most lasting memories are of the truly warm, helpful, and nice people we met at every stage of our visit to Peru; from hotel staff and guides to people on the street, we were always made to feel welcome and appreciated.  We're sure that it helped that we speak quite good Spanish, but we saw other visitors who spoke only English getting much the same treatment. 

And the archeology of Peru is truly fascinating--more than 5,000 years of continuous civilizations, from the pyramids of Caral to the mountain roads of the Incas.  Add to that the remarkable cuisine which includes Inca, Spanish, Japanese, African, Chinese, and other influences (including the best avocados in the world and more than 600 kinds of potatoes...) and you have a country that keeps surprising you and delighting you at every turn.  Not to mention the sheer verticality of the landscape!

And the most amazing ceramics in the world, over hundreds, even thousands of years.

The full photo bucket of our trek is here: https://picasaweb.google.com/balzaccom/PeruSantaCruzTrek2015

And in a few days we'll try to post the rest of our photos from two weeks in Peru.