The Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz

If you haven’t seen the incredibly hairy documentary ‘Touching the Void’, go see it. But maybe not before embarking upon a trek in the Huaraz region. Listening to Joe Simpson and Simon Yates recount their disastrous climb of Siula Grande makes hoofing it up a 6344m mountain seem even less fun than it already sounds.

Trailer for Touching the Void

Although we considered a 9 day hike through the Cordillera Huayhuash (where Siula Grande is located), the high probability of shitty weather and my aversion to intense physical pain swayed us towards the Santa Cruz trek, a comparative walk in the park at just four days and only one pass of 4750m.
The trek winds through the Cordillera Blanca, one of the world’s most spectacular mountain ranges with 33 peaks over 5500m, including Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain at 6768m. We had a great group- Austrians, Swiss, Irish, English, Israeli & USA- ten of us all together.
Stuffing our faces with coca
 
The start to our trip was a little inauspicious- about an hour into the trek it started to rain and our guide announced that they had forgotten the cooker. Rather than surviving the next 4 days on a diet of raw eggs and hard noodles we decided to make camp early so we could arrange with another group going the opposite way to borrow their stove. Since the rain was pelting down, we were pretty happy to be stopping early, hopeful that the next day would be better.
Sadly we woke to more torrential rain which soon turned to snow as we began to climb towards Punta Union. Our guide had looked at my adidas trainers in dismay on the first day; I was beginning to understand why. Despite wrapping my feet in plastic bags, the freezing water soon seeped in and I slushed and squelched my way up the mountain.
About halfway up, the snow finally stopped and we could enjoy the stunning views all around. No matter which way you looked, huge snowy peaks and sheer black faced cliffs towered above. Even when we reached Punta Union, the 4750m pass was dwarfed by the peaks on either side. It was a stiff climb from the campsite (3700m) to the pass but for once I was actually happy to be hiking uphill, since moving was the only way to keep warm. Eventually even the water in my shoes warmed up, creating a nice Jacuzzi feeling.
From Punta Union we hiked down into the next valley, where mercifully the weather was much brighter, and made our way to our next camp, at 4200m. This was the most beautiful camp- we were surrounded by Alpamayo (winner of the Miss World equivalent of mountain beauty contests), Quitaraju & Taulliraju peaks, all close to 6000m, and clear skies so we could enjoy the sun setting over the western end of the valley.
We woke to more beautiful weather on the third day and made a small detour to a mirador and glacier lagoon about an hour or so away, before continuing along the Quebrada de Santa Cruz to our third camp. The weather was so lovely that even my shoes dried out : )
That night we played several high octane rounds of Yanif (Israeli card game) and probably caused a few minor avalanches with all our shrieking and yelling…who knew card games could be that much fun sober!!!
The last morning was bright and sunny for our 800m descent from the campsite to the finishing point of the trek, Cashapampa, where we fell upon the one lonely tienda and bought up her stock of cervezas heladas to celebrate.
That evening back in Huaraz we met up at the Sierra Andina brewery and celebrated with slightly more enthusiasm…hands down the best beer we’ve drunk since leaving Australia. Today has been spent largely getting over a well-earned hangover.

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