Natural Heritage of Peru
Established in 1975, the Parque Nacional Huascarán contains all the Cordillera Blanca (with the exception of the distant Nevado Champará in its extreme north), the highest range of the Peruvian Andes and the highest range in the world’s tropical zone. Its total area is approximately 1300 square miles (340,000 hectares), roughly 110 miles (180 km) north-south, and an average of only 12 miles (20 kin) east-west. Within its boundaries are thirty mountains above 6000 meters (19686 ft) above sea level (fifteen are above 20,000 feet, 6096 meters), crowned by Nevado Huascarán itself at 22205 feet (6768 m). (“Nevado” means snow-covered peak.) There are another thirty peaks above 18500 feet (5640 in), as well as hundreds of glacial lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, and an abundance of flora and fauna.
|The Cordillera Blanca is without questions one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world. And no other range combines its easy access and generally excellent climate with such an alpine wonderland of towering, ice-covered peaks. The Cordillera Blanca, the Parque Nacional Huascarán, is truly a treasure of the natural heritage of Peru and the entire world, a great living outdoor museum, and the goal every year of thousands of mountain climbers, scientists, and other wilderness lovers from all around the globe.
The park is located in the department (equivalent to a state or province) of Ancash to the east of the beautiful Santa Valley known as the Callejón (lane or corridor) de Huaylas. Huaraz, the principal city of the Callejón and the department capital is only 400 kilometers by paved highway from Lima, and only 200 kilometers from the Panamerican Highway near Pativilca.
With the exception of the pictures taken from the glaciers themselves, all the places pictured in this book are within the reach of anyone willing to make a moderate effort to visit them. Most require only two to four days, and many of the pictures were taken from roads or towns. So prepare yourself and start walking, for though the photographs reproduced here can reveal glimpses of what you will discover, they can never capture the true beauty of the Cordillera Blanca. Nor can they transmit the sensations of peace rest and refuge from the pressures of every day life you will End there.
And as you enter into this natural wonderland, consider this: Shouldn’t the park be protected and preserved so that future generations can have the same privilege as we have to enjoy its remarkable beauty?
The first step toward its conservation has been taken: the Parque National Huascarán has been established and the Cordillera Blanca declared a “zone intangible, ” an area to be maintained in its natural state. The next step is to lift this enlightened intention from the documents where it is written and make it a reality. ALI that is lacking is the interest and support of all wilderness lovers.
The Cordillera Blanca:
Eight hours by bus north of Lima is one of the most popular trekking areas in Peru. At least for its diversity and large number of mountain peaks clustered so conveniently in one central area, the Cordillera Blanca is a trekkers’ dream.
|The small city of Huaráz is the hub for all hiking activity, and frequent rural buses transport enthusiasts to a variety of trailheads. A Casa de Guias, located just off the main street, will provide the latest information about routes and mountain conditions, and can provide trekkers with a list of porters and am . eros, burro drivers, who can help carry gear on the long trek ahead. Along the main street of Luzuriaga, colorful billboard signs lend distinction to an otherwise dull facade of street-front shops. Most of these promote tourism in some form, so finding a comfortable day tour, renting hiking gear, or buying souvenirs is as easy as locating the proper agency by identifying its sign out front. A number of good restaurants (whose status is often elevated to excellent after a long hike) serve up a variety of food and a couple of lively peñas, featuring groups playing the traditional music of the Andes, provide a place to loosen up before or after a strenuous four days’ trekking.
The Cordillera Blanca is full of striking views and unique adventures. Hikes from one day to 10 are possible, combinations producing even more possibilities if desired. Here limitations are only the result of a lack of imagination.
The past few years have, however, seen a dramatic improvement in the situation as the center of terrorist activity moved away from the sierra and into the coca growing areas of Peru, most notably the Huallaga Valley.
|The highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán at 6,768 meters (22,200 feet), and what many consider to be the most beautiful in the world, Alpamayo at 5,945 meters (19,500 feet), are just the toppings on an already rich cake. Glacial lakes dot the landscape, and fresh running streams serve up tasty trout.
The days are warm and scented with eucalyptus. Snow-covered peaks stretch as far as the eye can see.
Trekkers wanting to get the legs and lungs in shape for longer treks can start with a variety of short day hikes in the Huaráz area. Just above the city is El Mirador, a scenic lookout marked by a huge white cross. The route heads uphill east along city streets which eventually turn into a footpath beside an irrigation canal lined with eucalyptus trees. Fields of wheat ripening in the sun add a serene, pastoral feel.
At the top, the highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán, dominates the northern horizon, the lower Vallunaraju (5,680 meters/1 8,600 feet) peeks out over the foothills to the east, and the city of Huaráz sprawls below.
Another choice of many is the Pitec Trail to Laguna Churup. There is no public transport to this small village 10 km (6 miles) from the center of Huaraz, but often a taxi driver can be persuaded to navigate the terribly rough road to Pitec. Walking is an option, but it’s nicer to be fresh at the trailhead and then walk back down to Huaraz afterwards.
The trail begins at the “parking lof ‘before the actual village of Pitec is reached. A wellworn footpath heads north up a ridgeline and the Churup massif rises just above 5,495 meters (18,000 feet) in the distance. At the base of this mountain is the destination of the hike, Laguna Churup, fed by the glacial melt-off and surrounded by huge boulders. A picnic lunch and a midday siesta in the warm sun reward the effort of getting here. A leisurely hike back to Huaráz follows a cobbled road through campesino homesteads.
|The Llanganuco to Santa Cruz Loop: One of the most frequently hiked trails is the 5-day loop into the Cordillera Blanca which begins at the Llanganuco lakes. The route passes under a dozen peaks over 5,800 meters(19,000 feet) and panoramic views abound. Buses frequently leave Huaraz, loaded with an assortment of campesinos, their chickens, cuyes and children, for the small village of Yungay. Here camionetas, small pick-up trucks, wait in the plaza to transport hikers and sightseers up the valley to the dazzling, glacier-fed lakes of Llanganuco.
The trailhead lies a few kilometers above the lakes, near the Portachuelo (high pass) of Llanganuco, and the trek begins with a descent towards the village of Colcabamba. Immediately the steep face of Chopicalqui (6,350 meters/20,800 feet) towers over the trail like a sentinel and soon a few thatchedroofed houses come into view. A sampling of local cuisine may be possible here.
At this point, the trail begins a steady ascent up the Huariparnpa Quebrada (narrow valley). The snow-capped peaks of Chacraraju (6,110 meters/20,000 feet) and Pirámide (5,880 meters/19,285 feet) provide splendid photo opportunities, and a chance to rest, as the trekker labors up the steepening trail towards the high pass of Punta Union. In the last hour before sunset, as camp is set up, the mountains are cast in the silver and pink of “alpenglow.”
At over 4,750 meters (15,500 feet), Punta Union becomes both literally and figuratively the high point of this journey. Taulliraju, over 5,830 meters (19,000 feet), glistens in the midday sun, and a number of glacial lakes lie like scattered jewels in the distance. The valley below opens up to reveal a wide stretch of snow-capped peaks, a mere hint of the magnitude of the Cordillera Blanca, and huge Andean condors can often be seen soaring high above the pass.
As the trail descends toward the village of Cashapampa, the scenery changes from dramatic mountain vistas to open, marshy pasture land where herds of llamas and goats graze. Farther along, the trail narrows as it begins to wind through forests of stunted trees and follows the easy meandering of a small stream.
For the more adventurous and technically-minded mountain enthusiast, the Cordillera Blanca is unrivaled for the pursuit of mountaineering. With glacier-covered peaks varying in altitudes from 5,495 meters (18,000 feet) to 6,795 meters (20,000 feet), and technical levels from very easy to extremely difficult, there is something for everyone. However, because all climbing here is at high altitude, and any glacier travel requires technical knowledge, climbing in the Cordillera Blanca should be attempted by those with experience. Besides the usual trekking equipment, a rope, ice axe, crampons and ice stakes or screws are necessary.
Trekkers generally don’t experience anything more than soroche, or mild altitude sickness, but at higher altitudes serious complications can occur. Pulmonary Edema occurs when the lungs begin to fill With fluid. Early symptoms include a dry, incessant cough, a rattling sound and tightness in the chest. Cerebral Edema occurs when fluid collects in the brain. Symptoms include loss of coordination, incoherent speech, confusion, and loss of energy. Both of these illnesses are extremely serious and possibly fatal. The only cure is an immediate descent to a significantly lower altitude. The victim is usually the last one aware of the problem, so it’s essential that each person in the group keep an eye out for symptoms in the others. Another high-altitude problem is hypothermia, or exposure. This occurs when the body loses more heat than it can replace. The symptoms begin with uncontrolled shivering that will eventually cease, though the body is still cold. Lack of coordination, confusion, drowsiness and even a feeling of warmth are other symptoms. A victim suffering from hypothermia will need to be immediately dried-off, placed in a warm sleeping bag, and given warm liquid to drink. In advanced cases, the victim will not be able to generate any body heat and will need the warmth of other bodies to get his temperature back to normal. Hypothermia is prevented by staying warm and dry. Wearing wool or a synthetic insulating material next to the skin will help hold in warmth, even when wet. Cotton has no insulating properties and will actually draw off body heat when wet. Layering clothes is an effective way to regulate body temperature during times of exertion and rest. Food also helps stove the internal generators, so eating quickly assimilated food like chocolate will help keep the system functioning.
Many climbers feel that acclimatization comes with activity – getting the legs in shape for the more demanding climbs is as important as having the lungs working at capacity. To this end, several short warm-up climbs are favored. Nevado Pisco, just over 5,800 meters (19,000 feet), is popular for its steep, yet quick ascent, and the views from the saddle are some of the finest anywhere in the Cordillera Blanca.
The approach to base camp begins just above the Llanganuco lakes. The 5-km (3mile) hike follows a footpath along the crest of a lateral moraine and gains 750 meters (2,460 feet) in altitude. Camping is in a flat, grassy area below an incredibly steep moraine, which unfortunately must be negotiated the next day. Some groups choose to continue on past the base camp, tackle the difficult moraine the same day, and continue on up to the high campjust below the glacier.
An early-morning start from here allows climbers to make the summit and be back in camp for afternoon tea. The next day descent is quick and climbers are usually back in Huaraz by evening.
Peru’s highest peaks: When the acclimatization to altitude is adequate, and climbers are ready for some real work, they’ll often head for the highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán. There are two huge summits separated by a lower saddle giving a sort of double
humped camel look. The south summit at 6,768 meters (22,205 feet), is 113 meters (370 feet) higher than its north sister, and the most frequently climbed.
The hike into base camp begins at the small village of Musho, where arrieros can be hired to help carry the heavy load of climbing gear and food provisions to the first camp. The trail wanders through farmland and eucalyptus groves for the first few hours, and then a sharp ascent above treeline finally leads to a flat, grassy area known as Huascarán base camp.
Another two hours up a very steep ridge lies the moraine camp and some climbers opt to make it to this point in one day. The loadrelieving burros, however, can’t make it up this section of the trail, so it means donning the heavy weight and sallying forth.
It’s usually on the second or third day when climbers pack up at moraine camp and head for Camp One on the glacier. The hike starts with a scrambling across rock slabs, the path marked with stone carins. At the glacier’s edge it’s a question of finding the best access to the snow through sometimes massive icefalls.
Once on the glacier, the route up to the next camp will often be “wanded” by previous climbing parties. Small flags are placed at regular intervals for an easy descent afterwards and to avoid getting lost on the glacier during a “whiteout” when clouds obscure everything. The climb up to Camp One is unforgettable. Wide crevasses, icy cracks and massive pillars of tumbled ice are constant reminders that glaciers are anything but static piles of snow.
Camp One at about 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) is a welcome relief after five to seven hours of traversing the lower glacier, but the pleasure is short-lived as the sun goes down and temperatures drop to well below freezing. It is in this bone-chilling cold that climbers rise early the next morning and prepare to set off for the final high camp at La Garganta (the throat) at 5,790 meters (19,000 feet).
This section is probably the most interesting of the entire climb. About an hour after leaving camp and crossing a wide crevasse, the first technical part of the route appears. A 30-foot, 70 degree ice wall must be climbed, and quickly because it is a natural avalanche chute. Early morning is the best time as the snow pack is still frozen and likely to stay in place. Above the chute, the route remains steep and prone to avalanche activity. It’s important, but extremely strenuous, to move as quickly as possible, leaving little chance to rest the aching lungs and reeling head.
At La Garganta Camp it’s difficult to do any more than set up camp and melt and boil snow for a hot drink. Nightfall brings a dazzling array of stars, but the intense cold quickly drives everyone into tents to nestle in warm sleeping bags. At this altitude sleep can be elusive; it’s a long night of tossing and turning and trying to stay warm.
Another early morning finds climbers preparing for the summit attempt. Stiff fingers attempt to sort out gear and groggy minds work out the plan ahead. A small blessing is that the heavy equipment can be left behind in camp. All that’s needed are spare warm clothes, food, water and a camera for those magnificent summit photos.
The summit route heads up across the saddle between the two peaks of Huascaran, and the climber is treated to a view of distant mountains set ablaze in the early morning sun. Shifting south the climb ascends several steep snow slopes and the first few hours involve zig-zag traverses up and up until the final approach is reached.
Here the abstract concept of “forever” seems to become tangible. Rather than being just one long, gradual slope to the summit, the climber encounters a series of gentle inclines. From the high-point of one, a] I that is seen is yet another. Each time, the climber summons what strength, both mental and physical, is left and trudges on, and each time he finds only another long slog, and no sign of a summit. At this altitude, about 6,700 meters (22,000 feet), breathing becomes so labored that three or four breaths are needed for each step taken. Finally the tricks play out, “forever” is ended, and the summit of the highest mountain in Peru is conquered.