In our second day in Huaraz, we began our long anticipated 4 days/3 nights trekking (Santa Cruz Trail) through the high snow mountains of Peru. It was the children´s first time living and tents and camping out so they were all very excited.
We got up at 5:30 to begin the trip at 6AM with Monttrek. To our surprise, Monttreak didn`t have its own transportation and we had to go own the typical van-like collective bus that travel frequently along the valley of Huaraz. It was very cramped as it fits much more people than it should.
The first leg was an hour on the bus where we changed to another bus at Yungay. Yungay was the town that was buried by avalanch and mud from Huascaran Mt. (6768m) where 18,000 were killed in 1970 due to a 7.8 earthquake. It was an odd coincidence as only a day before, China also experienced a 7.9 earthquake in Sichuan. Before the trekking trip, we were glued to the TV watching the horrible news and praying for the victims and our World Vision staff who were also victims and working hard to bring relief to the people in Sichuan.
The 2nd public bus we took was 2 hours, again in cramped style. On the way, we entered the entrance to the national park (65 Soles/adult). The children were able to go free. The park staff told our guy that it is crazy for children of their age to go hiking the Santa Cruz trail as it is difficult and one needs to hike and sleep at high altitude. I guess they don`t know our children are special, as you can see from our trip so far.
On the way from the park entrance to our trek start point of Vaqueria (3500m), we passed by a mountain pass of 4767m where one can see the panaromic view of the valley with Laguna Llanganuco with its aqua glacier water and also the highest peak in Peru and South America, Mt. Huascaran (6768m). It was a pity that the sky was quite foggy and rainy and when pass through the mountain pass, we were shrouded by thick clouds. However, fortunately, on the way up there were some breaks in the clouds were Jon was still able to take several stunning pictures of the Huascarn Mt. and the valley. Around this area of Peru, there are over 22 mt peaks over 6000m, so we looked forward very much to the views.
We began our trek from the small village of Vaqueria (3500m) with 9 person, a guide/cook, a donkey driver, and 4 donkeys carrying our packs, tents, sleeping bags, and food. The initial hike was down and up a river valley. We passed through few small villages where we saw how some locals lives, similar to the villages in Yunnan. A highlight was tasting the stalks of corn right next to the path. The guide showed us how we can eat the corn stalk, similar to eating sugar cane. It was extremely sweet, to all of our surprise.
We had simple sandwich with avocado and tomatoes for lunch at a picturisque grass field, next to two rivers. The rest of the walk was fairly easy as we gradually hiked up to 3700m. The valley was beautiful, surrounded by snow mt. on both sides. However, it began to rain and the trail was very muddy. Literally, for the next 3 hours, we jumped from rocks to rocks to avoid stepping into deep mud and we had to cross lots of wet grass fields and high glacier watershed along the way. Our coats and shoes were all wet. Because the children did not have waterproof hiking shoes, their socks were soaked and Joani began to be very crumpy.
Finally, after a total of 5 hours of hiking that day, we made it to our camp for the first night all drenched. We quickly help to put up the tent and rushed into it to shelter from the rain.
To our surprise, our guide put up a large tepee cooking and dining tent. The guide, Abel, boiled hot water for tea/coffee and made popcorns. We all huddled into the warm tent and also put children`s shoes next to the cooking fire to dry. That was the best feeling to be warmed after a wet, cold day.
For dinner, we had very tasty hot soup and chicken with rice. Abel was an excellent cook as he add fragrant spices and lots of yummy things. The soup was so good and large that most of us couldn´t finish the main entree. Our group also consists of four Isrealies who just finished their military service (all has to go through, both male and female). They were a cheerful, fun group and we had good time chatting and singing. Edron brought a portable stero speaker, so there was lots of good music to go with the food.
It was not easy sleeping at 3700m and with rain outside. But we all slept all right for the first night.
We woke up at 6:30 to beautiful view of the Piramide Mt. (5885m) right next to the campground. With the two rivers and snow mountains it was an excellent way to start our 2nd day.
For breakfast, we had a special treat of fried sweet potatoes which warmed up our body. The children`s shoes and socks were still wet, so Jon got 3 pairs of plastic bags to tie around their feet as socks.
The 2nd day was the toughest as we need to go up vertically 1000m and the hike was 8 hours. It was also still cloudy. However, on the way up, when the clouds break, we were rewarded with beautiful view of Mt. Taulliraju (5830m). The name is the name of the common flower we see all around us.
As we hiked up, we passed by several rivers, waterfalls, glacier lakes, and lots of wild flowers. The wild flowers do not have any stem. But they have large flower petals that grows close to the ground like moss. One type of green plant makes very regular pattern on the rocks.
We got so close to the snow mountain peak that one can see every details of the glaciers, clouds, and rocks, especially using the binocular. We had lunch on a large rock facing Mt. Taulliraju and above glacier lakes, about 150m down from the mountain pass that we would be crossing. It was breathtaking.
After lunch, we continue up to Punta Union pass at 4750m. It was tough climb but we were surprised the children all did it by themselves. The pass is a Y shape opening on a cliff and once passing it, we can see another long, lovely valley on the other side with snow mountains all around. Unfortunately, when we got to the top, it was cloudy and snowing so we`re were able to enjoy the sight too much. Right below was a beautiful blue lake.
For the next 2 hours, we hiked steeply down wet, slippery, and muddy trails until we reach our 2nd camp site for the night(4200m). We were tired but it good spirit. Nathan`s feet was wet for a long time and it was all wrinkled! We had another tasty dinner of tuna pasta and wonderful soup.
Before we went to sleep, we played UNO in the tent using flashlight hanging from the top. It was the first time the children play cards in a tent and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
At night, we hear moo sounds of cows and their stamping sound all around our tent. We kept feeling they were about to crush into our tent.
We woke up the 3rd day finally to nice bright sunshine. All around the camp ground were different snow mountains. One interesting mountain was Mt. Artesonraju (6025m). This mountain is the mountain shown at the beginning of all paramount pictures movies. For all our lives, we didn`t know they used an actual mountain from Peru. The Taulliraju Mt. was also spectucular in the sunrise ray. Alpamayo Mt. (5947m) with its triangular and jagged peaks also was breathtaking.
All around the tents were also 10-20 cows, which explains all the noises we heard. We quickly took advantage of the sunshine to dry our shoes and socks. After another hearty breakfast, we began our third day of treak, 8 hours long but along the valley going downhill.
It was a leisure but beautiful trek as we passed by Laguna Jatuncocha and several water falls. There were also many large flat grassy fields with many horses and cows to decorate the whole scenery. We passed by Pumapampa Mt. on the way were there are still Pumas. The sun was shining brightly and we all have good spirits. We ran out of water so we got some glacier water from the falls. It was much more tasty than the mineral water we bought so we decided there was no need to put in Tang flavor powder. Joani`s face was quite red, being under the sun for all these days.
We finally camped right next to a fall for the 3rd night (3300m). It began to rain a bit and two rainbows appeared very close right own top of us to end the day beautifully. Everyday when Olivia arrived at the campground, she quickly bring out her `Holy` pants to mend as she has 4 holes. We had tasty spicy cheese pepper bell sauce to go with rice and soup for the night.
The last day was a short day of hike about 2.5 hours downhill and along the glacier river. The trail ended at an opening between cliffs into the wide Huaraz valley in the town of Cashapampa (2900m). The children were especially sad it was ending as they enjoyed the scenery, the company, camping out. They kept begging to add another day.
We like the guide, Abel, very much. He was an excellent cook and has a very friendly and kind personality. He is also a Protestant and along the way we taught him several Christian songs. He especially like the Christian hiking song called, On Who`s Side Are We Walking On. He even translated it into Spanish.
We heard from Abel that there is this excellent hot spring in Chanco, near Marcara, so we were dropped off at Marcara on our way back to Huaraz (30 min. away from Huaraz) and took a 5 min taxi ride to Chanco (4 Soles).
The Hot Spring (5 Soles for Cave Sauna) there was very popular with the locals and there were long lines in frong of several doors which we couldn`t figure out what was happening. After much effort, we finally figured out the highlight of this hot spring was not the hot swimming pool, but the natural hot caves that produces natural sauna. Every family can stay only 15 minutes inside and there were different caves with different temperature. We waited almost 2 hours outside as not everyone sticked to the time limit and Jon almost wanted to leave.
Fortunately we didn`t as it was quite an unique experience to go inside a small dark cave that was very hot and steamy. We kept feeling the cave to see if the temperature and steam was coming from somewhere artificial but we finally concluded this was authentic. We took off all our clothings and enjoyed the steam all over our body, especially after four days of treakking. What an experience!
It was a good finish to a good trip.
1) We went on the rock climbing & trekking with Monttrek (Av. Luzuriaga #646 - 2nd floor, firstname.lastname@example.org). It has it`s own guides and equipment. The cost is average but not the lowest. In general we are sastisfied, but didn`t exceed expectation. If it had its own transportation, it would be much better. The cost was 220 Soles/person (about $80 USD). We were able to have Joani go free.