Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca


P1040437Having read “Touching the Void” many years ago I could not have gone to Peru and not visited the “Cordilleras”. The Cordillera Blanca is the second highest mountain range in the world with 18 summits at more than 6,000metres [18,500ft+]. However, before you begin to wonder – we did not go ice climbing, mountain biking, rock climbing or any of the other adventurous stuff lots of people do. The best excuse I can come up with is that we didn’t have the time. The reality is we are [well certainly I am] getting too old for that stuff and as I said above I have read the book!

The bus journey from Lima to Huaraz took 8 hours. We deliberately opted for a daytime bus as we wanted to look at what we expected would be fantastic scenery as we climbed into the mountains. Initially we watched the changes from valley bottom….

IMG_0318 - Copy…up through the agricultural region….

IMG_0324 - Copy…where you can see that the clouds were beginning to roll in. Unfortunately by the time we got to the top our view was impeded by rain!

IMG_0331We hoped that we weren’t going to get a repeat of Machu Picchu and spend three days in cloud and, by and large, our luck was in.

Huaraz isn’t the most attractive town we visited but it has a certain vibrancy, some very friendly inhabitants…. and a brewery – thought I’d get the beer photo in early this time.

P1040321The brewery is outside the town and used to have a taproom but due to expansion of the brewing process the taproom has now closed. Luckily several of the town’s hostelries stock one or more of the beers.

We had read that the village of Monterrey [9km from Huaraz] offers a traditional Peruvian feast every Sunday. Called “Pachamanca” [Earth Oven] it consists of meat and veg cooked for a long time over hot stones. Having had the long bus journey the previous day and, wanting to look around Huaraz and maybe book a couple of trips we decided not to visit Monterrey even though we were there on Sunday. However, unbeknown to us, the same “feast” was offered in Huaraz. Shame we didn’t know sooner because by the time we chanced along the street where it had taken place it was mid afternoon and most of the customers had left and the food all gone.

P1040305bWe did see a small baker’s which Mike was really interested in. We thought he was making some kind of flat breads…..

P1040307…..but they turned out like rolls.

P1040308As it happened our visit coincided with a religious festival….

P1040310a…and lots of people congregated to mark the occasion.

P1040315In this photograph you can see part of the Cordillera Negra range. Smaller, more mud coloured and arid, the “Black Range” lives in the shadow of the Cordillera Blanca. However, it plays a very important role. Being on the Pacific side it protects the White range from the warm pacific winds thus reducing thaw. Unfortunately however, as you will read later, the effect of the pacific winds is nothing compared to global warming.

As part of the festival, troupes of dancers compete. They all do the same dance and, although we had left Huaraz by the time the competition took place [the following weekend], we were fascinated to see some of the dancers practicing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was drum noise and bells which alerted us at about 11pm that something was happening – so we got out of bed, got dressed and went to investigate. They must have repeated the routine about a dozen times while we watched.

With regard to getting out and about we looked into taking an organised trip to Yungay and the Lagunas Llanganuco but decided that we could do this just as well ourselves – especially as the coach trips didn’t get to the lakes until midday/early afternoon.

An hour by collectivo brought us to the small town with its colourful plaza.

P1040322Yungay has an unfortunate history – on May 31st 1970 an earthquake loosened 15 million cubic metres of granite and ice from Huascarán Norte [the mountain which towers above it] and the resultant landslide buried the town and its 25,000 inhabitants. The town has been rebuilt a few km further down the valley and has a population half its original size.

Anyway – to get back to the trip – we negotiated with a local taxi driver to take us up the mountain, drop us at the top lagoon, wait for one and a half hours whilst we walked to the second lagoon and bring us back. For three and a half hours of his time we paid £20. Unfortunately for him the journey up and down the rough dirt road also cost a new tyre ….

P1040360a…..though the “new” one was as worn as the one he took off. OK, it didn’t have a puncture but as it wasn’t what we would call blown up I don’t think it would last long….!

The two lakes are nestled in a glacial valley at approximately 1,350 metres above and 28km from Yungay.

P1040327Given that we were therefore at 3,850 metres [nearly 12,000ft] it didn’t actually feel that cold. The top lake – Orconcocha – is turquoise in colour…..

P1040333P1040325Looking back from the lake the mountain peaks rise into the distance – a great view if you can see it! Although you cannot tell from this photograph, the scene hidden by mist is the “Paramount Pictures” logo.

Just to remind you, once again, our visit to Peru was at the end of the wet season. These waterfalls should have been in full flow…..














P1040350There should also have been far more snow on the peaks than we saw….

P1040353There was evidence of glacial moraine….

P1040337….particularly in the shoulder between the two lakes.

The bottom lake – Chinancocha – is slightly more green in colour…..

P1040355though these photos don’t really do either lake justice – not helped by a lack of sunshine to reflect the colours fully. Had we been on one of the coach trips which arrived later than us we would have seen even less as the clouds were getting lower all the time.

P1040356We didn’t take the boat ride though it is, apparently, very popular.

That night it rained in Huaraz which did mean a snow fall on the peaks and, early the following morning, we could see the “Paramount” peak. From the wrong angle…. but it was there.

P1040368It was on this day that we went on an organised trip to Yanashallash – a glacier which is slowly, but surely, retreating. First we travelled along the road between the Cordilleras and this time we got the views we had hoped for three days previously.

P1040372aHeading up towards the glacier we passed through a biosphere reserve which covers the altiplano….

P1040408…..where we saw natural springs [agua gasificada]….

P1040405….and the Pumpapampa “lake”.

P1040416aWe also saw stands of Puya Raimondi….

P1040422….. a member of the bromeliad family – though I don’t think you would want it as a houseplant!. You can see the size of them – Mike is standing at the base of one.

P1040419The cacti are pretty big too….

P1040420We then reached the car park for the glacier – at around 4,700metres [around 14,500ft] and had to walk from there …… up.











This was no mean feat! It was the place where we felt the altitude the most but we fared a lot better than some people who suffered nose bleeds and headaches and others who just couldn’t walk at that height. The glacier used to reach further down into the valley and you could see where the path had originally stopped. It took us about 45 minutes until we got our first glimpse….

P1040428….then a little further along and time for a pose….

P1040435….and finally, the view from the glacier….

P1040438Even though it felt really cold, there was evidence of melt.

P1040444It was the equivalent of November and therefore one of the coldest four months. The glacier should not have been melting.

P1040450Mike had visited a glacier before but I hadn’t. Although I had seen photographs of them [and icebergs] and knew they were blue it was lovely to see it.

P1040459The blue doesn’t really stand out – but it was there, as evidenced by this shot….

P1040453We had spent around 30 minutes at the top when, looking back, we saw rain approaching….

P1040461….fortunately it only took us 15 minutes to return to the coach.

Our final stop was the “Pintura Rupestre” – pre-historic rock paintings.

P1040471cThey were quite hard to see so I managed to photograph the fallen sign which might help you make out some of the shapes.

P1040469bOverall, a very worthwhile day which cost the grand total of £7 [$10] each.

Well, that’s about it for Huaraz except to say that it was a great place to spend a few days. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, beer, a relaxed evening atmosphere and some good cafe’s.

P1040482aWhat more can you ask?

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