Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hard & High: Six days trekking in the Cordillera Blanca

Me sitting on the shores of Jancaruish lagoon, near the base of the Alpamayo ridge


While the cloud of parting was hanging in the air, Valy and me already made the preparations for a trek in the mountains around Huaraz. The short Alpamayo trek was chosen for it`s beauty and time line in addition to the fact that it was less visited in comparison to other treks in the vicinity. Arranging the food, tents and stove, we woke up early Sunday morning and made our way to the little village of Hualcallan , 3 hours north-west of Huaraz. Over the past six days, we crossed five high mountain passes over 4500 meters, saw numerous turquoise colored lagoons and of course, saw the amazingly beautiful peak of Alpamayo . It was hard going up, hard going down but at the end, it was worth any moment out there in the wild nature surrounded by the white snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

Day -7: All about trek choosing
A day after going down the high pass with the mountain bikes, me and Valy went to visit the popular agency here in Huaraz, “ Andean Kingdom ”, so Valy can rent some winter clothing for the upcoming attractions we wanted to do that week. On the way, we started asking about potential trekking routes, and two promising candidates were raised: the huayhuash (pronounced, Waywash) circuit and the Alpamayo Circuit. Both are ten days long and are regarded as very difficult and long. Quite quickly we learned that there are shorter versions of these treks, six days each, and now we were troubled whether to do both or just one, and which one to start with. Both of us gripped that doing six days trekking might be stressful and we might just start with one and see how we feel about doing another one. The treks are located in different areas around Huaraz, and at the end we decided to go for the least visited, the Alpamayo short trek and set a rough date of a week later, after we depart from Shay, Lee and Lena.

Day -1: Preparations
There are quite a few things to arrange prior setting out into nature, especially, when going out for six days in the high mountains. Aside from arranging our backpacks and personal belongings, we had to calculate and arrange the amount of food necessary for such a long trek and also the outdoor equipment. As we had only one gas stove, we decided to rent a MSR fuel stove for two reasons: first, going up in Altitude means less oxygen and also, less pressure, which when combined means that gas canister stoves burn less efficiently as going up in the altitude (a problem which is non-existent in liquid fuel-based stoves). The second reason was that a warm meal a day is crucial in such treks, thus, a backup system is a must.
Another issue was the Arriero, or fondly termed, the Donkey Driver (DD). Trekking in such a high altitude is a very demanding activity due to the lack of oxygen, and carrying backpacks for six days plus food for some much time can be a very heavy and difficult mission. And we are here to see the sight, and not to pass an elite unit fitness test, right? Thus, the Arriero is a crucial factor in the trek: he is responsible for the equipment and usually, he acts also as a guide, as he already walked the same path numerous times. We talked with the agency and they told us they will try to contact a DD and arrange that he will wait for us at the starting point, the tiny village of Hualcallan (Walcayan).
The agency also provided us with a well scanned topo map of the whole route, as the DD is much fitter than the two of us, and so many times walks way ahead of us and thus we sometime need to navigate by ourselves (and that’s why he isn’t a guide, per se...).
Around the evening we had a nice meal (the last normal one for six days) and hit the sack early as we planned to wake up early. Sunday was a busy and long day!

Day 1 - Negotiating our way up
5 am and I was awaken by the alarm clock. I quickly arranged my self and took my Chola bag down stairs for deposit. Miguel, the guy that runs the show in the hostel woke out of a dream just to put the bag in his room and went back to his dreams. I hastily took my day pack and big backpack and went outside to catch a taxi to Valy`s hostel, the Backpacker hostel (there were a case of mugging at this time of early morning, and I didn’t want to be the number two in the statistics…). Valy already waited for me in the dim light of the lobby, with his backpacks and the food plastic cylinder we got from the agency, full of food. We shared some of the high calorie candies between our backpacks, hailed a taxi (where all the taxi go??) and after five minutes were already on our way to the bus station leaving for Caraz. Actually, it was a combi taxi station, but it is of no importance. We paid the taxi driver and in the dark hours before sunrise two people grabbed our stuff and loaded it on the minivan roof. We went inside and another five minutes and we drove away, into the darkened streets of Huaraz.
Even though the drive was not that long (a hour and a half), it was not the most comfortable I had in this trip, as I sat beside an old man carrying in his hands his little grandchild. One might think it is romantic, but when the old man was sitting with his ass in the middle of the bench, he didn’t left me too much of a space for my precious ass, and I found myself half of the journey trying to push this old sleepy man to the inner metal framing of the vehicle interior. No dice, the man didn’t budge and just kept on sleeping in an indifferent manner, oblivious to all but to his little grandchild. At a certain point I was lucky enough to move to another seat and have a decent seat! Valy had also to suffer from the conductor, that opened the window to often, and letting in cold air splash straight into Valy`s face. We were happy to reach Caraz, a town north-west of Huaraz. In the early light of day, the station of the combis was full of action, and lots of mototaxis waited for the passengers. One also approached me and Valy and even after explaining him that with all his motivation, there is no way he can carry two grown-ups with two big backpacks, two small backpacks, two tents and one heavy plastic cylinder. After we ignored him, he left us alone finally. One combi owner approached us and offered us an exclusive ride to the Hualcallan for only 90 soles, when a ride in a taxi usually costs 60 soles. We replied thanks but no thanks. While Valy guarded the stuff, I took off in the general direction of the main plaza, looking for taxi. It was Sunday morning and the streets were empty but for a few wakening dogs and several people looking at me in suspicious. Finally, near the plaza I found a line of six taxis, waiting for job. Seeing me passing the corner, taxi drivers jump and offered their service. Less than a minute later I was sitting in a cab going back down to the Combi station to pick up Valy and head for the village. On our way we stopped to buy some bottled water and then continued on for two and a half hours of rough driving up the slopes to the village.
Approaching the north end of the village, we noticed a great commotion of people, animals and cargo. Going out of the taxi, we noticed couple dozens of donkeys being loaded with wooden cargo boxes with locals working around them in frenzy. While we took out our own gear, a man with a roster neared us and asked us if we care for donkeys. We told him we need one donkey for the short Alpamayo trek, and one little guy, a bit chubby, neared and examined our stuff. The two men talked rapidly in Quechua and the roster man replied that for this kind of cargo two donkeys are necessary. For this shift, we were not ready. Two donkeys?” From my experience from past trekking and also from what we have been told in the agency, one donkey is enough for two men cargo. We smelled a stench rising from all of this, and it became even stinkier when we asked for the price of one donkey and realized that instead of 12 USD per day they ask for 15 USD. Outrages! Looking around us, the frenzy continued and it seemed that almost if not all the village donkeys were recruited for this expedition-size convoy. The taxi driver started his engine and was starting to go when Valy shouted at him to wait. I told the guy with the roster that we would not pay for two donkeys, especially not with such a price tag stuck to them! We better take our stuff and head back to Huaraz! The guy nodded in full comprehension and said, well it is up to you and left us to check the arrangement of the donkeys for the journey. This was a tricky situation: either we accept the price and the number of donkeys needed for this trip or we can toss our stuff back into the back of the taxi and drive back to Huaraz. Damn, that pissed me off like you can even imagine! I was so furious that the people took advantage of our situation and our need for donkeys, that I lost any passion for this trek and was willing to go back and fuck it all!! They could charge almost anything they wanted as they guessed we won’t cancel everything and just head back home, after purchasing the food, renting the equipment and taking a 60 sole taxi to the village. Well, I was so pissed off (and Valy was so stubborn about not paying more than needed, especially when we were reaching off-season) that at a certain point we threw our stuff into the back of the taxi and were ready to cancel the whole thing. But, Valy signaled me and told me that while I was searching the village for additional arrieros, the little chubby guy talked with the taxi driver and he felt that they tried to find a way out of this. So, I approached the arriero and asked him, how much he wants for the two donkeys • if he would charge a price which wont be too expensive for us, we gonna take it. He named the total price for 6 days including payment for one day back to his village. We took out the calculator and find out that it wasn’t that far from the price we were willing to pay and we shook hands. We relieved the taxi driver and almost immediately we regreated it: and what if he will demand more?? There was only one way out of this village and that was up the mountain and across the whole Cordillera Blanca! While we thought our pessimistic thoughts, he went back to bring another donkey, and after 20 minutes asked me to join him and help him with his donkey equipment. Amazingly, he showed me his adobe house with his own store (must be an additional way to keep living when the whole park closes for the winter) and asked me to carry a bag of his equipment while he continued to prepare him self for the journey.
Well, I was so happy that we were actually gonna leave, I didn’t mind carrying our whole stuff al that distance.
My name is Alfredo, yours? He asked me once the donkeys were at place and he spread the thick thread that used to tie the cargo together. We told him our names and after 30 minutes and some help from his father, the donkeys were set with our cargo on their backs. The two, a male and female, were a funny pair: she was 6 years old and he was 4, when the average donkey life lasts around 10 year. Even so, they marched the path us the slope and we walked behind them, puffing.
We started our ascent, our first day! And what a long day! The climb started with a decent slope that zig-zagged along some 600 meters and was with no end! We started around 11 am and we didn’t stopped walking up and up till we reached a small grassy spot that cows and bulls rested in complete tranquility with the whole valley spread beneath them. There we advised with our map to which path to take, as Alfredo was already away ahead of us, walking slowly but steady all the way up. Even though I had some really nice and totally quiet moment on my way up (I could literally hear my blood pounds in my ears little blood vessels!), it was a nightmare of a climb. Not only that the whole scenery didn’t change all along the way, the whole climb was a long 1200 meters climb!! When I stumbled with total exhaustion the last 500 meters, I could hear the tired voice of Valy announcing that he sees the camp. I saw also a huge tent arrangements, some six yellow-bright alpine tents with two big tents used for kitchen and for dinning room. The expedition people! Wonder who they were, I thought between one puffing to another, taking my mind out of my suffering. At that point I was SO tired, I was almost succumbing to my tired body to just lay down and go to sleep, and the hell with everything! The clouds above already became grayish from one moment to another and the wind became stronger and stronger. A storm is building? The thought of soaking wet in the rain walking the muddy path didn’t made my heart jump of joy, and I pulled myself together and continued on marching till I reached our little camp site. I did it!! Climbing from 3139 meters to 4300 at this height was such a hard thing to do, I was ready to go to sleep without eating anything. Valy already had a couple of minutes rest before me and was stretching the rain cover of the tent before the rain hits us. I rested five minutes and then took out the stove and started to prepare some meal for the three of us. As I was just taking some water from a near stream, Alfredo told me he is going back home to “secure his stuff”, which means to secure the 150 soles we gave him five minutes before his announcement. The other half will be paid at the end of the trek. He told us he will return from Hualcallan the day after around 5 am. DAMN! I was just finishing going up all the way from that little village, 1200 meters below and this guy is actually gonna go down ALL THE WAY and then up again?!? I was so amazed I could not say but a short word of farewell. We continued to prepare our meal and took a look at the huge camp site we saw a mere hundred meters below us. French people, Alfredo told us, making a 9 day trek with a different path (well, actually, not that different, as all the five days we walked, they walked and camp similar and proximate to us). We have noticed that I forgot to bring some salt, and I went to our neighbors to borrow some salt till Alfredo will return with a kg from his shop. Entering the kitchen tent, the cook was already at work with double flame torch burning on 20 kg gas canisters. Damn, now that`s a kitchen! Turns out, that these French guys took with them two cooks, some thirty donkeys (!) and accompanying locals to lead the convoy, some more 7 to 10 people. “They are classy, those 11 Frenchmen, aren’t they?” we half admired half laughed about them till we took a good look at them. The French group average age, amazingly as it might seem (and it is amazing) was around 50 if not more! White and bright grey hair sticked out of their heads, and amazed us. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that they had cooks and such a comfortable tents, as they had the STRENGTH to do what we, two 28 young men, did. Rewinding the suffering of the ascent, and the amount of energy needed for such an effort, I shut up and in my heart gave them the right respect.
After eating our half-cooked pasta in Tomato sauce, we quickly went to clean the dishes, as hail was coming down on us, strong and fast. Luckily, we managed to clean the last remnants of the “feast” and dashed into the tent. We arranged ourselves and by the time the clock hit 8 pm we were already in a deep-deep sleep.

Day 2 - Up and down, Up and down
The night passed quite badly at first in our camp in Huishcash. I had some hard time breathing due to the height and short supply of oxygen, but my exhaustion was stronger than anything that evening, and I was fast asleep. In the meanwhile the rain pounded on our tent heavily and already in midnight we observed that the tent leaked and some parts of the inner mesh of the tent was already soaked with dripping water. Luckily, it rained heavily only for a short periods, and we were not soaking wet when we woke up around 6:30 am.
The air was clean and clear, and the sun that shone behind us lighted the valley below us with warm colors. Checking the tent, I didn’t notice Alfredo, which meant that he was late. We arranged our stuff, folded our tent and made our breakfast, without waiting for him, as we were cold and needed some hot stuff to put in our bellies. Around 8 am, when I was washing the dishes I heard Valy crying out that he sees Alfredo, and I was a bit relieved. I could not imagine what were the consequences of him leaving us behind (in retrospect it was a foolish thing to think about dear Alfredo, as this was his job and his reputation was at stake). He quickly assembled the two donkeys that strolled down the hill and quickly we folded and arranged his equipment and by the time it was 9 am we were on the move again. Still, going up, zig-zagging our way till we reached a level and walked along a slope, maintaining more or less the same height till we saw the first pass. Well, geographically speaking, it is a mountain pass between two mountains peaks, but the approach was a moderate one. We could see the pass from a km away, a dark grey granite wall falling some 150 meters to a gorge with a turquoise lagoon sparkling in the morning light. On the other side of the pass we could see the Nevado Santa Cruz, a massif made of three major peaks, all covered with white ice and snow, all bright and glistening in the sunshine. Crossing the pass was relatively easy, and on the huge granite rock were two tin shacks, and a meteorological station. We snapped some pictures of lagoon Cullicoha and of the ice spills right to the edge of the water line, and then continued on walking back to the trail. Only…where is the damn trail? The rock was tough and no marking of a path could be seen on the rock texture. We tried to advise with the map, but the resolution was awful for such a small discrimination. What should we do now?? Well, we went by our guts, and instead of climbing on the top of a huge and long rock, we passed it by it`s side and quickly were on our way on top of an almost indistinguishable path, that the many donkey shit that spread all over the place made us think that that might be our path. Well, after going down some 100 meters we found out that we don’t have the least of a clue where the hell we are…At that point I was quite furious, especially on the guide that explained us the way in the Andean Kingdom agency. Couldn’t you tell us that this part is tricky?! I was mumbling and grumbling in fury. Finally, a local kid that passed above us led us back up to the way, while we puffed our souls out. We found out that there was a little path that continued from that great granite rock which turned out to be the major path. Great! We rested a bit and continued on walking up the zig-zagging path, with the turquoise lagoon on our right side some hundreds of meters below us and the peaks towering above us, merging with the white clouds surrounding them. Little by little, the path went steeper and steeper and we entered the mountain pass realm, with two massive granite walls going up on either side, and the little path winds to the left and up. After an additional 20 minutes of puffing we came to the pass itself and almost immediately made our way down to find a nice place to have our usual lunch time. Time was going on, and we made our way along the path till we reached a high point, just to see what was coming: a valley was spread in front of us, the path zig-zagging its way down, across the valley and then up-up in the familiar zig-zag way to another high point straight ahead. Advising the map we assessed a 400 meter going down only to go another 500 up again…The secenery was nice, not amazing, and I thought to myself, “why, why did I go here??” We went down the path and near the starting point of the ascent we stopped for a snack and some energy. While I was crunching down on the snack and savoring the flavor and sugar, I noticed that we sat in the middle of a donkey shitting ground and I commented it to Valy, which replied in a tiresome indifference, similar to my feelings. It was funny, but at that time we didn’t gave a damn about almost anything, as we were already tired from the whole day. The climb was slow and tiresome, but we knew that once we cross the high point we have only to go down to the next valley, Quebrada (valley) dos Cedros. Well, not that THAT was easy (sorry for the bitching, but that was my mood at that time…), as we went down for almost two hours, from 4700 to 4000 meter. The path was also quite rough, with big rocks twisting your ankle and making your foot suffer from blisters. At that point I was disappointed from the trek, thinking about what we covered in the last two days and the amount of energy, time and money we spent to be there. If the trek will continue like this, than it is a suffering for nothing! (looking at retrospect, this bitching around is all because of the toughness of the trek and once I was accustomed to the height and to the walking, I bitched less and savored the nature I saw around me). The scenery, even though it didn’t changed all the time we went down, was amazing: the huge ridge of the Nevado Milluacocha, like a great wall on the other side of the valley. At a certain point we came to a split in the path and after half an hour we saw the French camp and a little beside it, our own little camp, as Alfredo already pitched the tents near the river bank (a camp called Ruinapampa). I was also relieved to see that we were not wrong in our path choosing and walk, as we already lost our way one time that day and it was enough.
Alfredo greeted us and we quickly went into preparing dinner (even though it was only 15:00) as the clouds started to build. We managed to eat before the hail hit us hard and strong on our heads, and as we wrapped all our dishes and pots, I was debating whether to clean the dirty pots or leave it be till tomorrow. Valy stop my debating by addressing nothing is worth staying outside, and we better get into the tent before it gets worse. Feeling my wet ass, I agreed and shoved into the tent after him. We arranged ourselves in the tent as the wind started to build in parallel to the hail/rain and soon we got into our sacks and headed for our first dream with the rain making a rhythmus sound in the background.

Day 3 - Easy going, lovely going
Early morning and it was a freezing morning, as a slight wind was still blowing down the valley. The skies cleared above us by a bit, and we again noticed the leakage of the tent, especially Valy`s side that his sack at the feet area was wet. We arranged our stuff and around 7:30 we saw Alfredo returning from his brother’s house down the valley (he asked us the day before to relive him to visit his brother, and even though he was not punctuate on the last time we let him be, this time he came more or less on time).
The sun rays invaded by the minute more and more of the valleys ground and finally came into our camp and filed us with warm joy. We quickly arranged some breakfast and hot drinks and around 8:30 am we were on the move, walking along the valley, and soon we saw the magnificent white peak of the majestic Alpamayo jutting in a perfect triangle pyramid up into the blue sky and the two of us cried together a big “wow!” and of course, snapped several pictures of this grandeur sight. We continued walking, as Alfredo was way ahead of us, and then after couple of hours when we neared the point where the valley coincide with the Alpamayo mountain ridge, we suddenly saw something that looked like our blue cylinder…Turns our that we had a very short day ahead of us, and soon we were greeted by Alfredo. This was the Jancaruish camp site and we were already debating what to do next as it was only 10:30 am. Theoretically, there was a route going up to a scout point on the Alpamayo, but already the peak was shrouded by white-grey clouds so we skipped this 600 meters ascent (and also decent, of course…) and decided to visit the little Jancaruish lagoon that nestled under the Alpamayo peak. It was a ¾ of an hour walk along the valley and then up the rocky slope that bordered the lagoon. The scenery was a very beautiful and tranquil one, when the Alpamayo playing hiding seek with the clouds that kept on coming and obscuring the whole view of the peak. We had a little lunch there and quickly retreated to the camp to prepare dinner and prepare ourselves for the coming evening. That was also the first time I had time to write my diary and I appreciated it very much. Soon it started raining again and we dashed into the tent and to have a good sleep before the coming day, which was expected to be difficult, with two high passes.

Day 4 - Against the wind
Waking up, we knew we had a long day ahead of us. Popping into work the MSR stove we identified that it was a bit dirty as we didn’t had a significant flame. Thus, we had to use my gas stove, which worked relatively well under the circumstances (windy). This time Alfredo had his breakfast with us and soon after the sun peeked behind the mountain range we started our way toward the northern path that lead past the river Los Cedros into the valley that went down from the high pass, the Gara-Gara 4800 meter high barrier. Right from the start I had the need to go to nature (not meaning literally) and while Alfredo, the donkeys and Valy continued in their slow and consistent pace I was crouching and doing my stuff. Soon, the French group`s donkeys convoy was trailing also in my direction and once I was on the move I decided to let the convoy pass me and to walk behind them, as I hate by guts that somebody is on my heels. Once they passed me I continued climbing the steep slope, which the path was already black and muddy from the numerous donkeys thumping the ground and the last night rain. One thing positive I can say about the difficulty of climbing in the high Andes is that it reminds you to take a look around at the magnificent scenery on the way up. And it was indeed a beautiful sight: the end of the Los Cedros valley met with the mountain range, which was high above all, and the white snow peaks gleamed in the early morning sun, and between all, the turquoise water of Jancaruish lagoon wink at me every time I took a look back. Amazing!
The going up stopped at a relatively flat and long mountain shoulder which was stopped by another steep rocky climb. The poor donkeys, carrying heavy cargo, had hard time to climb that slope but the worst was still to come. COZ, when I finally climbed that slope I saw the immense and steep slope of Gara-Gara. It was a classic U shape pass, with a steep and intimidating slope zig-zagged by the thin path that lead to the top of the pass. I could already see the French group plowing slowly at the lower part with their hi-tech equipment and the trekking walking sticks, and beyond them, Valy, Alfredo and the two donkeys, climbing slowly, head down and the feet going up and down in a slow and consistent pace. DAMN! That looks hard! I thought, and continue walking toward the base of the slope, passing half of the French group’s donkeys, as they had a problem with one of the donkeys and the whole convoy stopped short.
Starting the climb on the slope, I already felt the wind blowing at me and quickly I put on my rain/wind proof jacket. As might as I hated this jacket for its suffocation effect, in that wind it was a bless from heaven! It was hard enough to breath and to climb that steep slope, but the wind was the worst player, one time playing good, one time playing bad (most of the time, bad). What I am talking about? Well, because the wind blew in more or less one direction, once I faced the wind headlong, feeling her force, making me putting more force each step and keeping my self steady. However, once I finished that zig, the zag part was easier, as I could the wind blowing and pushing me hard, like a giant hand giving me a giant nudge straight from my ass! In that manner I climbed slowly-slowly, nearing the pass end. At that stage I could already hear the wind blows ferociously at anything that stand in her way, and it included also the huge rock walls on the sides of the pass. I could see the clouds shreds tearing apart by the yelling wind blowing them into oblivion, flying fast across the pass, the rocks, across me…The whole experience was so natural and powerful, I could understand completely how the wind can, with enough time, carve stone the way it blows and passes through the air.
Standing alone on top of the pass, I could barely breathe as the wind drew the little oxygen that was at that height and the cold of her touch already frozen my nose half way up. I wanted to demonstrate the strength of this wind, so I decided to make a picture of my self standing with all my clothes, hat and whatever is flapping in the wind. I had to work slowly, so I won’t loose my balance or loose the grip of the camera. Eventually, I made the picture and hopefully I will publish it here and in my web photo album…
Finishing the photo-op, I made my way down quite quickly down the rocky and steep path to a flat area where the French people rested and waited for the donkey’s convoy. I didn’t see Alfredo nor the donkeys nor Valy. This was a surprise for me, as I had the feeling that Valy will wait for me at the base of the pass. I took out the map and my compass and after locating my position, I identified more or less the general direction I should walk to. I look out at the horizon, at the beautiful valley opening before me for several km away and I didn’t notice any movement aside from wild horses grazing the ground in total tranquility. Where are they?
Walking down the path to the opening of the valley, I was trying to understand what happened, and why Valy didn’t wait for me at the other side of the pass. Another thing that bothered me is the fact that I was walking alone, not that was a new stuff for me, but still, this is open country and other trails can mislead you to walk in a different direction. I had full confidence in the map and my location, but still, walking alone was not what I called trekking in company. Somewhere around the end of the slope, a thought crossed my mind that Valy might answered nature call when I went down, and he is actually up there, waiting for me to go down the pass. I stopped short and looked back at the rising slope. No sign for Valy, only for the donkeys coming down slowly with their Arrieros. What should I do? I asked my self and decided to wait till the Arrieros come near me and to ask them if they saw Alfredo and Valy. While I waited, not knowing where Valy is, I heard something that heard like my name called in the wind. I cried Valy`s name and waited for a response.
I thought I was hallucinating, but no, I head it again and I shouted again back. Stil nothing, and then, I heard the real and nature cry, which was a cow making her typical sound, which could be heard as my name…Great! By that time the Arrieros already came close to me and I asked them about Alfredo and Valy and they said they were gone a long time ago! DAMN! I thanked them and walked along and a bit infront of the donkeys convoy, not understanding Valy for not waiting for me. Does he like to walk alone? Valy just landed in the continent and he didn’t know enough Spanish to buy a ticket let alone talk with Alfredo about his rural life (I wished I knew that good Spanish to do that!). SO?? Whatever it was, I was getting pissed off, especially because half of our lunch was splitted between us: I had the bread, he had the Tuna fish cans. All the way walking through this amazing valley with huge carved rocks and stones jutting out of the earth in wild angles I was thinking what to say to Valey and how. It was not only the lonesome that troubled me but also my own safety. As far as he knew, I thought, he didn’t know even if I passed the pass peacefully, and if I am OK. I had my share of injuries while trekking in the backcountry, and I knew that a spare legs and hands can do a great deal of difference, if it is by helping, bandaging, calling for help or just being there to comfort.
While I was so concentrated on what to say to Valy and on preheating my self (sorry for the awkward phrasing), I lifted my head and suddenly saw the two waiting for me at the head of a climbing little trail far in the distance, some half a km away. I wondered what made them wait for me, as I was sure to see them only in camp. Surprise, surprise…I waved to show I have noticed them and Alfredo made his move forward, while Valy stayed till I come up the little trail. As I got near he smiled, but seeing my sour face I can imagine was spread all over my face, his smile shrink by the second and at the end he asked if all is well. Mistakenly, I know, I showed him the way with my hand and said bluntly walking. His face turned and with them his statue and he kept walking forward. I was so boiled up inside, it was like letting a pressure pot release all the pressure in a slow and quiet manner. It was VERY difficult and I cursed myself for not controlling my anger and disappointment. I called after him, asking if he wanted to stop for a chow, but he told me he prefer to eat later. He opened up his pace and I walked slowly behind, as usual, deciding that I will talk about only when we can sit down, hear each other and relaxed.
We continued to go up slowly and moderately toward the second pass, and when finally we reached it, I was surprised that we actually were there. So easy? What happened? Valy wanted me to take his picture and I took advantage of this moment to cool things with me and return to normal.
We went down the pass into the opening valley and at a certain point we met with a wide path, which was used as a path for tourist buses visiting a lagoon not far away. We continued walking along one side of the valley (Tayapampa) till we reached a convergence of several streams in a wide opening of the valley and we could already spot several isolated adobe houses. Huillca. Only three houses, each located in one corner of this great opening, with snow capped Pucajirca in the background. We made camp there beside the river bank and till we managed to prepare something hot, we already ate some bread with Tuna fish can. As I saw that we both were OK, I decided to drop the whole thing and not to mention what I was been through (in any case, Valy you can read about it right now…hope you understand the whole situation, as all is forgotten! Cheers, mate!).
We cooked some dinner and had even enough time to write some stuff in the diary while Valy went down to the river to wash his feet and keep his hygiene in good shape!

Day 5 - Tranquility among the high mountains
The next day around 8 am we already set out our pace in an eastern direction, up one of the valleys that spilled into Huillca basin. The French group was walking slowly in front of us and the both of us passed them and continue in a constant pace toward the end of the valley, where the last pass waited for us. It was a cloudy day and I felt for the first time that I feel much stronger and felt that I have less difficulties walking up. I can only guess that after 4 nights over 4000 meters, you get a bit acclimatized. After an hour of walking we came finally to the Yanacon pass basin.
Even though this pass was not the highest we climbed, it was one of the difficult we approached. We walked constantly for almost one and half hour till we reached the top of the pass, and again a string wind whipped our faces and bodies and made the climb up hard, but at the end we reached the top. We didn’t stayed too much time, only to take some pictures, and then scrambled down the steep path till we entered another great valley. The vegetation changed and it area was heavily forested and looked a bit like pictures from . We found a little nice place to stop to chow a bit and after checking out a lagoon in the distance, we continued on walking up the little slopes and down the valleys, while we consult with the map and navigate our way to our camp at Jancapampa. On our way there, we passed through a steep gorge and when we got to it`s opening into the Jancapampa basin, we found a very steep and muddy way down. Valy was ahead of me so I didn’t see him slide like hell down that slippery path. When I came to the slope, Valy called me and told me to take care coz it is very slippery and I might use the trees on the side as an aid. I tried to manage without them, which was a mistake, and slided down like a ball of metal on top of a clean china bowl. While sliding down, I shifted my statue to grab something by my knee knocked into a stone protruding out of the mud. I yelled like hell, and found a place to rest a bit. I was so angry I shouted so strong, I could hear the echos of my voice bouncing off the valleys walls way-way in the distance. Valy asked if I am OK and I told him I was just pissed off, that’s all. Somehow, we managed to go down without any further problems, and finally we found ourself in the great Jancapampa basin. At first we didn’t saw Alfredo and the donkeys, when suddenly I found his tent at the eastern part of the basin. We crossed the basin, all full of water and mud, and eventually met with Alfredo.
The Jancapampa basin is a magnificent basin, different from Huillca basin in the sense it is more flourish with water, with house hold animals and of course, houses and people.
We had a nice experience, as a kid came to us while we finished our dinner and offered Coca-Cola or Beer. Coca-Cola after 5 days in the mountains?! Sure thing, how much you want? We bought a 1.5 liter bottle and also another half a liter for a local kid that just stand there and stared at us. That was a mistake, as later own he brought his brother and sister and those little kids didn’t left us alone till it was dark enough to go to sleep.
We all drank from the coke and felt great, to taste something different aside from the regular Iodine/Chlorine treated water. I wrote in my diary and read a book I brought with me (good idea!!) and eventually the both of us went to sleep for the last day of the trek. We planned to wake up early so we could get to Pomabamba, a little town on the other side of the Cordillera Blanca, and where we expect to find transportation back to Huaraz.

Day 6 - Easy going, emotional parting and long riding
At 5 am we woke up and quite quickly were ready for the move. Aside from heating some water for the coffee and tea, we didn’t prepare anything. We witnessed the sunrise over the east side of the Pucajirca peak, a magnificent sight, and around 7 am paced down the valley toward east. We walked in a moderate pace, as most of the time we were walking flat or even down a bit, till we got to the end of the valley, were it met with the Rio Maranon valley, where Pomabamba was. Alfredo told us that there are many robbers in the area, and especially in Pomabamba, and we better pay him now before someone sees him, as he had to walk back to Hualcallan alone with only his donkeys. We agreed and paid him the rest of the money, as well as tipping him with the rest of the food that we didn’t eat. (mostly canned Tuna fish, by the way…). We went down steeply for an hour or so till we reached the river, on the way both of us suffered from our knees and Valy also from his ankles. We entered Pomabamba from the north, and found a not attractive town with hostile faces wherever we looked or turned. That is why we were so happy to find the bus agency in the main plaza. We unloaded the tired donkeys and parted from Alfredo with a big warm hug that surprised him totally. As we bought the tickets for the bus leaving to Huaraz at 12:00, I saw Alfredo walking down the plaza with his two donkeys on his both sides, and felt sad a bit that we parted from him, and also for his long journey back home. It was a sad moment and I regret a bit that I didn’t captured it on film.
We had some lunch in a close restaurant and at 12 we boarded the bus. Now, that was a long ride, 8 hours, through rough road (no asphalt most of the way) and with many people cramped into the interior of the bus. At a certain point we stopped at a park check point and were afraid they will charge us the 65 soles we had to pay for entering the park so we didn’t go down to relief ourselves. That was a mistake, as I had to wait till we reached Puertochuelo pass (yes, the same we went down the mountain bike a week and a half before) to run down and relief myself. Returning back to the bus after a long time till I managed to piss at the cold air at 4700 meter, half of the bus was already giggling and they even asked Valy what the hell I did over there…
From that point the road was known to us and even so, we savored the great scenery of the snow peaked mountains all painted with sunset colors. Around 8 pm we finally reached Huaraz and returned the rented equipment to the agency. We were hungry, tired and dirty and the thoughts of doing al the things we desired kept our mind occupied on our way to our hostels…

The day after Valy took the bus to Lima on his way south, while I will take today the night bus to Trujillo , a town up north on the Pacific coast

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