Hiking Huascarán National Park
Huascarán National Park’s biggest attraction is Peru’s highest mountain, Huascaran, at 22,205 feet in elevation. This majestic peak is in turn surrounded by a long range of lesser peaks including Alpamayo (19,511′) and Pisco (18,874′), two favorite international climbing destinations. Combine these peaks into a range of mountains and you have the well known name-Cordillera Blanca- the White Range.
The mountains within Huascaran National Park contain 663 glaciers, 296 lakes and 41 tributaries of three important rivers.
It is possible to hike among mountains of over 20,000 feet in height without being an experienced mountaineer. An intertwining system of trails exist throughout the park. They follow the broad river valleys (quebradas), crossing over passes into more valleys.
We were in Huaraz having bicycled there from Costa Rica!
Yes, it had been a 5 month long bicycle adventure that would end in Lima.
While in the Andes, we wanted a break from cycling as much as we wanted to explore the region by foot.
Huaraz was the expedition planning center for mountaineering and hiking Huascaran National Park.
We met two Swedish ladies in Huaraz who wanted to spend 3 or 4 days hiking Huascaran National Park. They didn’t want to hike just the two of them, so we invited them to hike with us. Since none of us knew much about the many options, we joined together to research the area trails. We found the Santa Cruz Trail, a 30 mile long trek that gave the only access to 14,599 foot Punta Union Pass. The trail would pass through numerous Quechua villages and follow two completely different valleys. The Santa Cruz Valley and the Huaripampa Valley.
We hiked the trail backwards. We started in Vaqueria and finished in Cashapampa. Collectivo services are available at both ends. From Huaraz, it is about 2 hours to Vaqueria, and 2.5 hours return from Cashapampa.
Like most treks in the area, one can hire a guide service that cooks your meals on the trail and uses donkeys to carry your luggage. We did not fit into that budget range, nor were we yet ready to join an organized tour. We got this far on bicycles with no guide so we figured we could find our way on a marked route. For the most part, the trail is easy to follow.
We passed through many villages along the route.
Most of them were traditional Quechua villages.
We took plenty of gifts for the children such as pencils and drawing paper.
Living conditions seemed very harsh to us, yet the people we met were smiling, and stopped to talk with us on the trail with much warmth.
One man on his horse guided us through a difficult part where the trail was obscure. He lived in Huaraz but tended his cattle in the mountains.
Sheep and cattle are grazed in the highland pastures.
Rock walls of great length are built to protect the animals from wolves at night.
Seemed to me any wolf could jump over the walls!
Huts that look like haystacks are shelters for the people as well as permanent homes.
We were hiking Huascaran National Park slowly, acclimatizing and enjoying the magnificent scenery at a slow pace. We did not have a schedule to keep. We made it to the edge of a pretty lagoon where we could see Punta Union Pass above. We camped there on our third night. Tomorrow we would make it to Punta Union Pass at 14,599 feet. It snowed heavily during the night. We woke up to inches of thick wet snow and low hanging clouds.
Punta Union Pass is the highest pass (14,599′) in Huascaran National Park.
Hiking at this elevation is a slog. Every step upward becomes a commitment.
On a clear day, one can see peaks all around.
We ascended in a spring snow storm.
The mountains were shrouded in a veil of clouds.
The snow turned to rain. We were frozen and were becoming more and more immobile from the cold. The trail down had become a stream bed. We were hiking in tennis shoes (we did not carry hiking boots for 5 months on our bicycles!)
We put plastic baggies around our feet to help hold in some warmth a made a mad dash for the trail head at Cashapampa.
What a totally exhilarating time we had hiking Huascaran National Park!
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