Cordillera Blanca

From Cajamarca, we followed the little-traveled route through the highlands southwards along the increasingly higher mountain ranges. Some nice villages and their friendly inhabitants made the drive a pleasure. Tanja’s sister Natalie met up with us again In Huamachuco, and we headed off through the Sierra and up to the long awaited mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. First, there was a bit of track which we had some differing information about – ranging from impassable to it being a good road. It turned out to be the latter, and we reached the Rio Santa gorge along very good tracks, even some with some paved sections. It was a spectacular drive going down over 9,000 feet (2800m) between high rocky cliffs into a hot, barren desert landscape. Then, driving along the Rio Santa on a great street, we slowly began to gain altitude again, always surrounded by mighty rocky cliffs.

Shortly before Caraz, we spotted the first glacier and, soon afterwards, we  the thrilling track led us upwards between over 2,625-foot-high (800m) vertical granite walls to beautiful Laguna Paron, the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca, situated at 13,800 feet (4200m) with a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. A hike along the lake gave us our first breath-taking (thanks to the altitude, literally in the true sense of word) views of the icy giants in the Andes – the Nevados Huandoy, Piramide and Chacracaju, the Aiguilas de Caraz and the Artesonraju allowed us short glimpses of their peaks, despite the threatening clouds of a mountain wind storm. All of this above the deep blue water of the lake was an excellent introduction to the weeks to come.

We penetrated even more deeply into the mountains in the Llanganuco Valley. Here, too, an excellent track led from Yungay up into the mountains, right past the highest one in Peru, Huascaran. The entire area is studded with huge house-high rocks, a last trace of the great natural catastrophe in 1970 when a tremendous earthquake convulsed northern Peru on May 31, causing parts of Huascaran Sur, the highest southern summit of Huascaran, to collapse. The energy of the resulting rockslide made a glacier melt, which resulted in a disastrous avalanche. Over 20,000 people dies in Yungay and the surrounding area; on to the coast, about 80,000 people lost their lives. The villages were rebuilt in safer places, and, today, there is not much to remind you of the catastrophe. We can only hope that nature won’t repeat itself here. Looking at the magnificence of nature here, you don’t suspect any threat; the turquoise blue lakes of Llanganuco are embedded between steep granite walls reaching to the sky. We wandered to impressive viewpoints and enjoyed gazing at the imposing peaks. One of the highlights was Laguna 69 early in the morning. To get there, we packed our tent and the children on mules and wandered up to a high plateau and a fantastic place for setting up our tent. Then we hiked on to the glacier lake under the steep wllas of the Chacracaju. Warmed by the lovely rays of sun, we delighted in the magnificent view of the peaks of Huandoy, Pisco, Chopicalqui, Huascaran, and, of course, the inaccessible flanks of Chacracaju, one of the most difficult peaks in the Andes. Then, without the help of the animals, we hiked down into the valley again and enjoyed a refreshing dip in a clear stream.

From Llanganucotal, we drove over to the east side of the mountain along countless serpentine curves and a very high pass and were rewarded with great views of the high mountains. The increasingly poorer track led deep in the valley of the rivers feeding the Amazon before heading steeply back up into the mountains. In the meantime, the track didn’t even have the quality of a bad European forest track, so we were more than amazed when a brand-new, two-lane asphalted surface suddenly appeared. The mountain pass over Punta Olimpica had been newly constructed, and a tunnel had even been built under the highest point. We tried – with no success – to drive along the old track; a landslide on the old pass track prevented us from going any further on it. This circuit through the Cordillera Blanca was one of the most spectacular mountain drives so far and worth every effort.

Up above the city of Huaraz, we found a lovely place to stay, and Robert, Carla, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the mountains while Tanja and Natalie hiked into the Ishinca valley for two days. After the two had returned, we did all sorts of errands in Huaraz and enjoyed the big market, good restaurants, and international flair of the most well-known and popular mountaineering city in Peru. This is where Natalie’s path and ours split up (it was great together!), and we drove on to more athletic activity – the climbing area of Hatun Machay in the Cordillera Negra, with its promise of lots of good mountaineering. We were finally able to dig out our mountaineering equipment and stretch our fingers. At an altitude of 14,100 feet (4300m), a countless number of enormous rocks up to 100 feet high (30m) are spread out all over and offer extremely well-secured mountaineering on fantastic rock. To top it all off, there is a really nice cabin with very friendly people. But we did experience our coldest night so far there. In the morning, everything was frozen, so we especially enjoyed the warming rays of the sun. The great climbing and the view all the way to the Pacific more than made up for the cold night.

With swollen arms from all the climbing and acclimatized perfectly, we drove past enormous Puya Raimondis, which have one of the largest blossoms in the world, and into the high Cordillera Blanca one last time. We had chosen a side route for the rest of the way southwards and had no idea of what was to await us along the way. A remote track first led us up over a high pass and then through an unreal mountain landscape next to wild glaciers, small mountain lakes, and surrealistic rock formations. The entire route took us along the main crest at an altitude of from 15,500 feet (4700m) and 16,000 feet (4900m) and new grandiose views appeared behind each curve – von the 20, 000-foot-high (6000m) mountains of the Cordillera Blanca on over the endless breadth of lowland jungle, the Selva, to the wild, jagged peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash. We were totally overwhelmed, and even Robert and Carla were glued to their windows, completely fascinated by this natural spectacle which the Cordillera Blanca gave us as a farewell present. It was a very special experience, and we leave the first high mountain chain in the Andes deeply impressed and eager to see what awaits us at our next goals.

Private photos of our time in the Cordillera Blanca are here.

2 Thoughts on “Cordillera Blanca

  1. Larissa und Christoph on Tuesday June 17th, 2014 at 01:29 PM said:

    Na, konntet ihr die Standheizung passend umprogrammieren mit dem Kabel, das wir euch weitergeleitet haben? Hoffentlich!

    • Wie geplant – wir können die Standheizung nun mit dem Laptop auf allen gestesteten Höhen (bisher 4300m) starten und betreiben. Leider merkt sich das Steuergerät die angepassten Werte nicht, so dass wir jedes Mal in der Höhe den Computer brauchen. Aber es gibt Schlimmeres.
      Was lernen wir daraus – nie wieder Webasto sondern lieber Eberspächer mit werkseitigem Höhenkit.

      Grüße, Max

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