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Monday, July 15

Dispatches From Peru: Santa Cruz Trek

As a preface to this next post I would just like to say that I apologize for the mockery to the English language that was my last blog post. A medley of grammatical errors and clumsy sentences was brought to my attention by a certain member of the team, which I must confess was my own fault. A little proof reading can go a long way.

However, I digress. What I really should be writing about is not the lambasting I took from a certain someone (who, I might add, claimed that it sounded as if I wrote that post using English as a second language :) but rather the success of our trek through the Santa Cruz and Hauripampa valleys.

This leg of our journey begins with yet another nauseating encounter with Peruvian public transportation. Our minibus left Huaraz at 7am and didn't roll into Vaqueria (the start of the trek) until a stomach wrenching 4 and a half hours later. I personally enjoyed the ride up insanely switchbacked and steep mountain roads, the decsent, however, certainly tested your stomachs mettle.

A quick baƱo break and some organizing of gear and we were off. We left Vaqueria behind leaving only our foot prints in the dust. It wouldn't be for another 4 days and 55 kilometers later that we would emerge on the other side.

The first day of the trek was unique compared to the others in the way that we got to see first hand the native peoples that lived deep within the valleys. Their way of life is nothing short of amazing - based almost entirely off the land they tilled and the wares they crafted. It wasn't long, however, until even these settlements were a thing of the past and the only thing on all sides of us was a raw wilderness consisting of rocky, snowy peaks and lush green valleys. And the occasional cow pie. Well, there was kind of a ton poop. Everywhere.

The first night was spent at 3850 meters. One of the main purposes of this trek was to continue the acclimitization process, and that was certainly happening. Almost all of us were suffering to a varying degree from altitude induced headaches, though this wasn't enough to stop Nick from going out for a 40 minute run, even after a full day of bus riding and hiking. Camp was set, dinner was made, and card games were played. This night must be a restful night, for tomorrow is potentially the hardest day of the trek.

They're the cutest 

Day two starts off with some moderate climbing before we take to the switchbacks. Those headaches that we managed to get rid of during the night came back. Justin had a great idea the day before to come up with a scale to rank our headaches, a 1 being barely there and a 10 being a full blown, debilitating migraine. At the point of the steep climbing most of us were sitting around a 1 or 2, some worse, some better. The climb to the high point of the trek brought us to Punta Union. At a whopping 4750 meters (~15,000 feet) it was officially the highest the four of us had ever been on foot. The views at this pass were mind boggling. On either side we could see from whence we came and to where we were headed (the Hauripampa and Santa Cruz valley's respectively). It was at this point that my head felt the worst (duh), but a break for lunch did wonders. Justin whipped up some of the most delicious freeze dried burritos I've ever had, while Nick hauled Moms very nice camera to the top of the pass to capture some stunning photos. The combination of full stomachs and knowing that we were at the top of the trek acted to raise spirits and propel us onward.

Relaxing at Punta Union

We somewhat regrettably left this beautiful place to find the location of our next campsite. A knee-busting descent through a fairly arid region meant we ran short on water supplies for a few miles before our camp.

Camp was erected before the sun disappeared behind the neighboring peaks and thus plunging the valley into darkness. It's amazing how cold it gets once the shadow falls across the valley floor. It goes from comfortable shorts and tee shirt hiking weather to frigid, below freezing temperatures. Dinner is prepped with a surprisingly delicious dessert of cheesecake with Graham cracker crust (though, to be fair, an old boot would taste delicious in the backcountry) and a friendly game of rummy ensues. Nick's come-from-behind win was impressive.

The next morning we are up at 6am, shovelling breakfast into our mouths, breaking down camp, and hitting the trail by 8. The initial objective of the day is to traverse over to a trail that leads up to the Alpamayo base camp. A quick Google search of Alpamayo will shed light on the allure of spending extra time to travel to it. The mountain itself did not fail to please, but the glacially fed lake nearby was also a sight to behold. After some time spent in the area we once again hit the trail, leaving the alpine atmosphere for one that more closely resembled the Gobi desert. The floor of the valley was covered with sand and when combined with the hot sun overhead it made for a unique experience.

The Gobi desert portion of the trek 

A full day of trekking brought us to our last camp site. This one came complete with a concession stand that was run by one of the natives. Jenna, Justin, and I may or may not have splurged some of our soles on junk food... :) After Nick got back from a run (crazy bastard) Justin and I served up dinner and dessert. Another game of Rummy (Justin mopped up) preceded sleepy time.

That was unfortunately the last time we saw our stoves. We left the pots and stoves out right near our tent door every night, unfortunately this time an opportunistic soul absconded with them. The bright side? It was the last day of the trek and we really didn't need them (a very courteous couple we had been leap frogging the entire trek lent us a stove for tea). The down side? They were both expensive stoves that are imperitive to the success of our future endeavors. And stealing really sucks. Don't do it, it's not cool.

That was fast and away the only negative of the entire trek. That day we spent hiking out and traveling back to Huaraz, which was considerably less scary than the ride to the start. All in all the trek was a great success, I personally felt stronger each and every day.

Today was spent as a rest day in Huaraz. A very productive rest day, however! Bus tickets back to Lima were bought, a stove was rented (and one bought), we bought a ton of groceries, and packed our bags for the coming expedition.

Our last dinner before departure

The plan is to leave tomorrow morning around 8. After much deliberation and a flurry of changing plans, we have settled on heading to the Ishinca Valley. The conditions on one of our initial peaks, Chopicalqui, have not been very conducive to climbing, therefore we have decided to axe both it and Pisco (the other mountain initially planned). The Ishinca Valley has a great range of peaks that vary in difficulty. The plan is to pack for 9 days and make attempts at three mountains: Ishinca, Tocllaraju, and Ranrapalca. Each offer a greater challenge than the last. We are praying for good weather-as of right now it isn't looking the greatest, but mountain weather is as predictable as....something that isn't very predictable.

This will be the last update for a while, hopefully the next will be of good news!

Love Always,

The Team


  1. Beautiful trek! I'm sorry to hear about the loss of the stoves - not cool. You guys must be off in the backcountry by now, sending some positive vibes to the southern hemisphere that your adventures go well! -Nico

  2. Well written! ;) great job.
    What an incredible adventure you are on! Sending lots of good karma to the team from Ithaca.
    p.s. the fact that Nick went on a run at altitude tells me that he does not, in fact, have cerebral edema. Sounds about right! :)