Santa Cruz trek – Aka. The donkey poo trails

After some more weeks of surf in Pacasmayo and a couple of days again in Huanchaco to catch up with a friend, I decided to head of to Huaraz to get a taste of the Peruvian Andes. Huaraz is famous for being situated close to the Cordillera Blanca, which is probably the best part of the Peruvian Andes mountains for trekking and mountaineering. Peru’s highest mountain Huascaran South is located in the Cordillera Blancas and it is an amazing sight up close. Huaraz has quite a lot of activity offers and personally I was hooked on doing some trekking. One of the classic and easy treks around Huaraz is the Santa Cruz trek. Many agencies offer this trek as a tour, where everything from transport, carrying you gear to cooking and setting up camp is included – a real easy way to do it and normally not very expensive. I had never done a proper multi-day trek before, though plenty of day hikes, but after doing some research I decided to challenge myself by arranging and doing the trek solo. It’s  a quite easy and safe trek, so all I needed was to figure out the transport to the trail head and back from the finish of the trek, rent a tent and stove (sleeping bag I had, though It turned out to not be warm enough), buy some food and a map of the trail and then pack the necessities.

After arranging everything, I headed of at 5.30am the next day to get an early start on the trek, as the transport to the trail head in Cachapampa would take 2-3 hours. The transport to the trail head went all according to plan and after stocking up on some water for the first part of the trek I headed off. After paying the necessary entry fee to the national park and having the first crucial 300 meters explained I was on my way. Though I didn’t quite understand the explanation and after walking for 15 minutes I luckily met a guy carrying a big tree log who who told me I had to go back and cross the river, and suddenly the former explanation made sense. The first day would include 900 meters of altitude to ascend over 12 km. This part was on a loose and dusty trail in the sun with no breeze at all resulting in a very hot and sweaty ascend with a fully loaded backpack – though a good warm up for the rest of the trek. After 3-4 hours of trekking including breaks, lying on my back relaxing and enjoying the scenery and tranquility, I made it to the campsite for the night which was called Llamacorral. During this first day of hiking I was surprised about how serious some people take this hiking/trekking business. Most people was doing the trek in the opposite direction of me, resulting in me encountering quite a few coming against me. Many would be totally geared up and walking with blinkers  almost without the time to greet. While having a rest in the grass alongside the trail, I even saw three guys dress in similar outfits who came storming by as if the were training for the relay in the trekking Olympics. I just say: “relax por favor”. While setting up camp, Stacha from France arrived from the opposite direction and she set up camp next to me. After having our dinner alongside the grazing donkeys and talking trekking story we both crawled into our sleeping bags, as it was dark, cold and with nothing to do. The spot I had chosen was quite windy the whole night, which I felt as the wind chill kept me cold the most of the night even though I was sleeping in several layers. The camp was in 3800 meters which during the day when the sun is out is pretty warm, though as soon as the sun goes down it gets freezing cold.

The sun got up at 6am the next morning and at 7am i felt it was time and warm enough to get out of the tent to a beautiful sunset in the valley and breakfast consisting of oatmeal porridge. After saying goodbye to Stacha who is quite an avid trekker and a bit of a mountaineer, I packed my stuff up and headed of for the second day of trekking. More or less all of the organised tours from agencies utilize pack donkeys for carrying the equipment for making camp, food and some of peoples personal items. The end result is a trail which is scattered with donkey poo, but it could be worse I reckon. The second day was easier in the beginning as it was more or less flat for most of the way, though I was still carrying a lot of weight due to the food I had packed from Huaraz. I decided to put a little extra effort into the trek and do a small detour which which would take me up to Laguna Arhuaycocha, where I would camp for the in above 4300 meters altitude. The total ascend of the day was around 500 meters due to the detour, but it was definitely worth it due to the scenery, the cosy campsite and the view of the laguna which required a small climb as warmup the next morning. As soon as I had put my tent up it started snowing lightly and I realised a very cold night would be ahead of me. Before I got too cold I cooked up my dinner which consisted of Knorr aspargus soup with noodles and some bread – a quite decent, warming and filling meal considering the circumstances. It got cold really fast and crawled into my sleeping bag with all the clothes on as I had brought – even my rainjacket. Despite these measures I still froze my ass of the whole night, sleeping 10 minutes at a time, then waking up freezing and having to turn due to the thin sleeping mat and then falling asleep again for another 10 minutes, which kept on going for 13 hours. Luckily having 13 hours of interrupted sleep still makes me rested the next morning. So I got up at 7am in freezing temperatures and as a mentioned I chose to warm up by doing the short hike the rest of the way up to the nearby laguna. After having oatmeal porridge for brekkie, I headed of for probably the most spectacular day of the trek. This day I would cross the highest point of the trek which is the pass Punta Union in 4750 meters altitude.

The 3rd day started out easy with a downhill hike for the first hour down to the camp site which is most commonly used by operators taking tourist on this trek. After the campsite the ascent to the pass would begin and from the bottom it was easy to see the switchbacks zig-zagging across the face of the mountain ridge. This part of the trek turned out to be toughest with my quadriceps running out of oxygen every 50 meters forcing me to take a breather or walk more slowly. I decided to keep on charging and take a breather to enjoy the view which was getting better and better the further up I ascended. On my way i met several donkey trains carrying the stuff for all the tour groups coming from the opposite direction. I must admit that it was a bit of a tough climb and when I got close to the top I could see hordes people who had come up from the opposite side of the pass. Nonetheless I took a well deserved break in the nice sunshine and enjoyed the view of the mountains and valleys on both sides of the pass and took the obligatory pictures. After most of the other people had started moving on down the way I had come up, and nobody was ascending on the side of the pass I was heading down I decided to head on down towards the campsite for the final night. It was all downhill the rest of the day passing small lakes and streams enroute to the campsite for the night. which was called Paria. Reaching it I was the only one there, and I quickly set up camp for the night and cooked my dinner again consisting of noodles in a cream soup. As soon it got dark I crawled into my sleeping bag again wearing all the clothes I had brought along. Shortly after going to bed I hear something puzzling around outside of the tent, scratching in the ground and snorting. At one point it comes all the way up to my tent and more or less snorts into my ear which is close to the cover of the small tent. I didn’t have the nerve to investigate what kind of animal it was, but could only guess it to be a cow, donkey, fox or something totally different.

Next morning I was awoken by a local yelling “get up gringo” in spanish and I soon got my stuff packed and get on my way. The rest of the trek was more or less downhill through open fields towards the exit of the national park. After exiting the national park I walked through small villages and on the way meeting small kids, who had been spoiled by other trekkers,and now begging me for candy. The trek ended in Vaquería after an exhausting 500 meter ascent up to the small village from where i caught a van which had just dropped of a whole tour group who was setting of for the adventure I had just finished. The van took me to the town of Yungay (which years prior had been totally annihiliated by an avalanch coming down from the Cordillera Blancas), via rough gravel roads over a pass higher than 4700 meters and down a track that seemed to zig-zag forever down into the valley below. In Yungay I caught another van back to Huaraz and late in the afternoon I arrived very tired, but happy.


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  • uncle john spain

    nov 3rd, 2013

    well done mate looks like you are having the time of your life you will never want to work again find a rich woman and enjoy life to the full love gill john

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