Our Own Cordillera Blanca Traverse

The Cordillera Blanca is one of South America's most popular destinations for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers and mountain-loving travelers. It is the home to the stunning Artesonraju Peak, the rumored inspiration behind Paramount Pictures' logo. Throughout our 9-day self-designed trek from the south to north of Cordillera Blanca national park, we repeatedly asked each other, "Do you think that is Artesonraju? Is that one it?" because each peak was so perfectly picturesque. We never did come in view of it but have concluded that a mix of all the gorgeous pyramidal peaks in the Blanca must have been the designer's inspiration behind the logo. Below we've summarized our itinerary, some points of interest (POI), our camps, and highlights of each day.

Day 1 - Operation Kill Omer
Start: Rinconada 3800m - Quebrada Honda
POI: Portachuelo de Honda Pass 4750m
Camp: Ismaypampa River Valley 4000m

  • Omer Schwartz, an Israeli film maker that we met at our wonderful laid-back Huaraz hostel El Tambo (no website- find it hidden in an alley by the stadium), was up for the adventure of joining us dos chicas locas for the first couple of days of our trek and get some footage for his upcoming documentary on travel in South America... little did he realize he was in for an adventure. 
  • We were carrying the best maps of our trip- in color with 50m contour lines and marked trails, roads and settlements! Copies made from a local agency in Huaraz.
  • The first day, forgetting about our stellar maps, we accidentally took the steeper, non-trailed valley down to our camp.  We scouted our way down the rock and sideways-growing grass tuft cliffs to where we George-of-the-Jungled our way through twisting red trees and finally navigated our way down a dry waterfall bed to the pleasant river valley below, arriving at nightfall.
  • Omer interviewed us the night before hitting the trail and asked what the scariest moment on the trip has been... we quickly replied, "Cows and dogs!". After our trail-less cliff adventure the following day he asked us, "you do THIS and your scariest moments were with cows and dogs???"
Double rainbow!!! Omer Schwartz.
Omer and his two wives, as he would tell locals, on the top of Portachuelo de Honda. Shelley, Omer and Trinity.
Trinity navigating her way through forest (not pictured: steep, dense tangle of roots and tree trunks above her under previous cliff)

Day 2 - Eat Our Hearts Out!
POI: Towns of Chacato and Pompey (resupplied for two days)
Camp: "El Punto" 3800m
  • After taking a short morning walk out of the mountain shadow and into the sunshine to warm my soul in our lupin-filled river valley, I returned back to the tent... but not alone. The scattered cows congregated and followed me back to my stuff at a trot. In the spirit of trying to overcome our fear of cows, I tried to pet one but it spooked. Curious cows in Peru- not nearly as threatening as their Argentine and Chilean relatives!
Cows approaching Trinity to see if she has anything to share in her gear.
  • Omer made us a delicious hot lunch of spaghetti with tomato, garlic and onion sauce topped with olive oil. Mmmmm! We ate so much we had to take a nap after lunch before parting ways with Omer and trudging our way onward with stuffed bellies. Omer exited via Chacas back to Huaraz.

Our Chef Omer cooking up some deliciousness!

Day 3 - Construction Blues
POI: Punta Olympica Pass 4890m
Camp: Quebrada Cancahua River Valley 3950m
  • Noise, unnatural rock fall, heat and dust filled our senses and weighed on our feet and hearts as we hiked up toward Punta Olympica. Road construction was underway by the largest construction force we have seen yet in South America to connect Pompey and Carhuaz, cutting through the perfect high alpine landscape on either side of the pass. We broke down to hitch a couple hours in.
  • We have become so spoiled with pristine wilderness (okay, minus the livestock all through South America) that we felt hurt and offended by the scarring of this amazing landscape. We pondered what our home playground of Rocky Mountain National Park looked like prior to the construction of Trail Ridge road...
Shelley pausing to hold her breath as a construction truck passes kicking up loads of dust
Trinity hiking through a marred mountainside - this was a "cement plant" of sorts
Can't even count all the switchbacks scarring this mountainside that overlooks Huascaran peak (the Cordillera Blanca's highest mountain- you can only see the bottom flank of it in this picture). Note the dusty haze in the air.

Day 4 - Pee-Eating Cows
POI: Punta Yanayacu Pass 4850m, towns of Challhua and Colcabamba (resupplied for two days)
Camp: Hospedaje Senora Alejandra ($5 Soles/ $2 USD per bed in dirt floor attic) 3300m
  • Woke up to mooing moans outside of our tent. One cow was tugging on the pole bag tied to the outside of our tent, my pee rag was missing, and there were chunks of grass missing where we had peed in the night. We had no idea cows love pee so much!
  • An avalanche crash from a glacier across from our our pass-top lunch spot didn't prompt a response from Shelley because she had become so accustomed to the construction booms.
  • We bought roadies in the town of Challhua for our remaining 30-minute descent into Colcabamba

Glacial river crossings first thing in the morning! Shelley making her way across.
Shelley hiking on a good Incan trail toward Punta Yanayacu. You can see the new road's switchbacks etched into the mountain in the background.

Day 5 - Nevados Nevados Everywhere
POI: Town of Huaripampa, ranger station (paid park entrance fee of $65 Soles/ $25 USD each), Alto de Pucaraju Pass 4640m
Camp: Lake Huecrucocha
  • Ate a breakfast of champions cooked by Sra. Alejandra- fried eggs, rice and potatoes in a spicy carrot sauce with tea made from lemon verbena (cedron) pulled from her yard
  • Kids in Huaripampa yelled "dame caramelos!" ("give me candy!"), now an all-to-familiar demand. We gave them grapes! Ha!
  • Out of the populated main valley we hiked through red-barked trees that cast dancing shadows on the meadow floor up to the doorstep of two passes - one leading to the popular Santa Cruz Trek and one to the Los Cedros Trek.
  • We were invited in for tea and a second dinner of ramen (albeit this time it was warm) in the guide and arriero (wranglers) cook tent of an Austrian tour group heading in the opposite direction. We enjoyed swapping stories and impressing them with our fast and far hiking times through our trip in the Cordillera Blanca. We made plans to meet one of the local arrieros in his village at the conclusion of our trek.
Senora Alejandra cooking our breakfast in Colcabamba
Trinity hiking under beautiful peaks... wondering, "is this one the paramount pictures logo inspiration?"
Trinity and Shelley at the top of Alto de Pucaraju pass
Another view from the top of Alto de Pucaraju pass - nevados (snow-capped mountains) everywhere!

Day 6 - Right on Time!
POI: Tupa Tupa Pass 4360m, towns of Jancapampa and Pomabamba (resupplied for four days)
Camp: At entrance to pass in Jancapampa valley 3550m
  • After a steep descent into Jancapampa, there was no food to resupply us for the next four days. Our guide friends the night before warned us of this possibility. The only store sold soda crackers and pasta (and we at the least needed cream-filled cookies, cheese or mayo, and chocolate).
    Shelley descending into Jancapampa
  • We opted to take a micro bus to the nearby town of Pomabamba to resupply. As we were walking away from the store, the shop owner yelled "Hurry! It's leaving!". We sprinted down to the bus across the river, hopping over a footbridge, to jump on board one of the few daily buses just in time!
  • We arrived in Pomabamba at 1:30pm and the last bus back up to Jancapampa would leave at 3pm. First things first, we found the nearest restaurant and scarfed down a bowl of soup (pushing questionable chicken body parts aside) and plate of chaufa (fried rice). Then we headed to the ATM, various kiosks, carts and the market to resupply for the next four days: oatmeal, bread, cheese, jam, tuna, nuts, fruit, cookies, ramen and chocolate. At 4pm we found the micro bus which didn't actually leave until 4:30pm.
  • Back in Jancapampa at twilight, we walked to the end of the valley to the entrance of the pass we would climb the following day. We took in the serenity of horses grazing on soft grasses, the sound of the opaque light blue glacial stream running through the heart of the valley, and the security of the giant peaks guarding this slice of heaven.
  • Sadly, we found out from a local that a road will be built through this bit of heaven and over the pass to Wilka (our path for the next day), a settlement of only three houses. The road's sole purpose will be for tourism. The local told us of his plans to open a restaurant in the middle of the valley. And we were just starting to feel like we were getting to that pristine wilderness again...

Etien, a boy who guided us through the wetlands of the valley, crossing a bridge in the beautiful Jancapampa valley. Construction begins on a road through this valley later this year.

Day 7 - The Right Way
POI: Yanacon Pass 4610m, Settlement of Wilka (three houses)
Camp: Mountainside overlooking Taulliraju and Pucahirca Peaks (4450m)
Trinity hiking up Yanacon pass (where the new road will lead)
  • When we reached the top of the pass, a roughly 17-year-old herder girl yelled over the wind, "dame caramelos!" (give me candy!). Not even an "hola". Aaah!
  • We were missing this section of the map so we got a little off track after Wilka but fortuitously ended up with a phenomenal mountainside campsite overlooking the sun going down on Taulliraju and Pucahirca peaks that birthed a traditional glacier zipped up with a textbook medial moraine.
  • That night we ate our delicious cold ramen (our staple meal of the trek) like two little teletubbies, hooded in all our gear, on our own hillside watching the sunset and listening to the crash of avalanches in the distance.
Trinity approaching a herd of sheep as we entered Quebrada Los Cedros
Shelley hiking in front of Taulliraju and Pucahirca Peaks (with ruins to her right)

Day 8 - Doubling portions
POI: Unnamed Pass (4600m), Gara Gara (or Cara Cara) Pass 4830m
Camp: Ruina Pampa 4100m
  • We gained roughly 150m in elevation from our campsite and found the trail- just where we guessed it to be!
Shelley overlooking  Taulliraju and Pucahirca Peaks
  • We have learned that day 8 on the trail means your appetite has kicked in. Thank goodness we estimated we could finish the trek the following day so our four-day resupply in Pomabamba would be for only three days. We ate nearly double the amount of our normal calories at each meal.
  • After peaking our second pass of the day we lowered into the heart of some of the grandest peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, spackled with glaciers dripping into bright blue lakes.
Shelley steadying herself in the strong wind on top of Gara Gara pass
Trinity and Shelley on top of Gara Gara pass
Trail leading down north side of Gara Gara pass, promising stunning views of cyan lakes
Shelley hiking down from Gara Gara pass with a view of Alpamayo Peak - dubbed "the most beautiful mountain in the world."

Day 9 - "Gotta get up to get down!" -Coolio
POI: Vientunan Pass 4770m, Unnamed Pass 4740m, Osoruri Pass 4860m
Camp: Doorless, windowpane-less storage room with disco balls of corn hanging from the ceiling and the overwhelming stench of urine in Hualcayan 2739m
  • We hit the trail early (8:45am is early for us) and peaked three passes in four hours.
Trinity hiking up the second pass of the day
  • We were rewarded with one of the most stunning lunch spots of the trip:
Trinity in front of the Cordillera Blanca's grandeur at Lake Cullicocha.
  • We lowered a loooong 2100m drop in elevation into Hualcayan
  • Almost down to Hualcayan, I came across a cow in the path. It looked unperturbed by my presence. I knew this was the moment- I reached out and touched it! Booyah!
If you look really hard you can see Trinity's tiny silhouette hiking down the mountainside
  • Upon arrival in Hualcayan we met several American archaeologists excavating in the area. We drank some post-trek beers, kept our arms down, and enjoyed them serenading us with the harmonica and ukulele.
Our accommodations in Hualcayan. Shelley and Trinity. (Not pictured: "disco balls" of corn precariously hung above our heads)
Back to Civilization
We returned to Huaraz and bee-lined directly to the California Cafe (chai tea!) for a giant American-style breakfast upon its 8am opening. We promptly bought bus tickets to Trujillo for that evening to spend a couple of warm rest days on the beach in nearby Huanchaco (since it was en route anyway) before busting up to Ecuador. However, Huaraz wanted to keep us and we did not want to leave. After several moans from friends at the hostel, running into familiar faces on the street, being asked to drinks by two blonde, buff Canadian mountaineers, and being gifted free electronica tickets by the internet cafe owner, we changed our tickets for the next day. Nice to feel like a part of a community again! Huaraz, we will definitely be back.

Time is ticking so we have had to be more selective of what we're going to hike. We love the terrain in Peru so much we even considered chopping off Ecuador entirely (to save for another trip)- in the end we decided to keep it albeit unfortunately for a short three weeks. 


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