Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Santa Cruz Trek and Lima

Our next four days were spent hiking the 32-mile Santa Cruz Trek east from Cashapampa to Vaqueria over the Punta Union Pass at 15,671 feet. The trailhead was around 9,000 feet above sea level, so we spent the first day (after five hours of combi rides...) following a river up the canyon to the first camp at Llamacorral. The hike was mostly just a steep climb,

although some guests did stop by during lunch.

That evening we set up camp for the night and got our first hint of the mountains awaiting us...

The next morning we hiked past a vibrantly-turquoise glacial lake...

and then into a shocking juxtaposition: two years ago, a natural dam further up the valley collapsed, sending millions of pounds of mud and dirt racing down the valley. A few years later, this is what we saw:

Two miles of flat nothing. A few hours later we made it to our first camping option, where our new friend insisted on being in our photo.

Later that day we decided to make an attempt at Punta Union pass, the highest point on the trek at 15,617 feet, but we were pushed back by the altitude. We set up camp back around 14,500 feet and then cooked perhaps the worst backpacking meal I've ever made (cheesy soup mix sounded good in theory...). This photo really sums it up well:

I'll be keeping it simple from here on out. As we finished dinner, we noticed the weather taking a turn for the worse, and before long it was clear a storm was coming. Given the lack of trees around, we were not in a good place. We decided to take cover next to a rock a few hundred feet from camp, but after we heard the rain coming we decided we'd freeze to death if the lightning didn't get us, and retreated back to the tent, where we assumed the "lightning position" (bend knees, clasp hands, bow head, pray...). Fortunately, it was a fairly mild storm lightning-wise and we woke up the next morning to an inch of sleet (and some cold shoes!!!).

Two hours later we did it- my new lifetime elevation record! It's certainly sobering that my previous high was the summit of Mt. Whitney (the highest point in the continental U.S. at 14,505 feet), while this was the lowest point around (hence a pass), surrounded by 22,000ft+ feet peaks.

And here's a photo of the champs:

Later that day we worked our way down to our final camp, a scenic spot on a river within a few kilometers of the end of the trek.

We finished the hike the next morning and began the arduous 7-hour series of combi rides back to Huaraz on the absolute craziest road I've ever seen:

See the switchbacks above, and the final destination 3,000 feet down in the valley below. Thank goodness our 22-year old driver drove beyond his year...

That night we finally made it back to Huaraz and the next morning we flew back to Lima for a few days. Lima was a whirlwind: cathedrals, fog and sea, lighted fountains, potatoes and ceviche, and ruins. Lima's probably not in the running for any favorite city awards but still treated us well. Jenny even got a little case of food poisoning to remember Lima by (spoken by the flight attendant on the way home: "Oh! This happens all the time on this flight"). 

Despite a rough start to the trip (sleeping in the airport), the Peru trip was special- full of new experiences, and, the most important part of any vacation, a happiness to be home-sweet-home at the end.

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