Before you roll your eyes and think “another trek?!”, be aware that this was the last one for the time being!
Just to prove again how much I love hiking, I turned around and went back to the north of Peru again and spent 24 hours on a bus to get to a city called Huaraz. It had been in my original plan but due to my Inca Trail being booked six months ahead I had to skip it and make a bee line for Cusco instead. So, was it worth the effort and time to go backwards and spend too much time on a bus? Of course it was!
It’s low trekking season in Peru so it was difficult to find other people wanting to do the four day Santa Cruz trek. Most of the good mountain climbing companies had closed which left me with the cheaper companies who each sell the same tour for a different price and then pool all the hikers together in the same group. I ended up paying a ridiculously cheap price of $140 for the four days all inclusive. Of course, it meant I expected one or all of the following four things to happen: the sleeping bags to be too cold for the climate, tents to leak, the guide to speak little or no English and the food to be average or not enough. Well, considering the price and my low expectations every thing actually worked out well and none of those things ended up happening.
First, we took a three hour bus trip along a mostly gravel and bumpy road to the town of Cashapampa. It’s usually the end point of the trek but we were getting a guide who had just finished with another group and so we did it in reverse. The first day was a relatively easy five hours along a well worn gravel track. Impressive granite rock mountains were on either side of us and we followed a river through the valley to our first camp site. From there we could see the beautiful snow capped peaks in the distance which was where we were heading the next day.
On day two we had an option to hike four hours or eight hours. Of course the extra effort would be rewarded with magnificent views so most of us chose the longer option. For the first three hours we continued through the valley and passed some lagoons. Our guide had promised a beach with music and Pisco Sours but of course nothing like that was there, except it did look a bit like a beach. Instead of continuing on to camp for the last hour we then turned to our left and faced a two and a half hour ascent to Arhuaycocha Laguna at 4420m.
It began to rain in which it did for the rest of the day. Unfortunately it clouded the top of the peaks around us but the scenery was still amazing. I felt pretty good climbing at that altitude and we made it to the lake by 1pm. We sat and took in the view and had our packed lunches before descending back down and heading towards camp.
The second night was spent in a spectacular camp site with a glacier in one direction, the valley we’d come from in the other and snow capped mountains around us. Safe to say it was also really cold and dropped to around zero degrees at night. I slept in thermals, a fleece jacket, a beanie, a thermal sleeping liner and a sleeping bag and I was nice and snug.
The third day we woke up and faced a steep switchback path to our highest pass of the trek at 4750m. The views got better and better as we climbed higher and our breathing got heavier. We slowed down and most of us had to stop at each switchback to get our heart rate down. Still, we made it to the top in one and a half hours and sat to enjoy the incredible view. From the top we had 360 degree views of the peaks around us and also the lagoons below, an absolutely beautiful landscape.
It was then a long four hours down to our camp, pass the lagoons and into a forest as we left the snow behind. It continued to rain and as soon as we got to camp we all huddled into our dining tent to keep warm. One of the German girls in the group decided to begin a group yoga session outside; the donkey driver and guide thought it was hilarious when they came out of their tent to find us with our bums in the air!
Our last day was just a short two hours as we hiked to the village called Vaqueria, to get picked up. The drive back was a long and bumpy five hours but along the most spectacular road I’ve ever been on. I’d driven on beautiful roads in Morocco, Ethiopia and Turkey but this was unbelievable. A steep switchback road all the way down the mountain with views over snow capped peaks and bright blue lakes, all characteristic of this incredible mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca. It had definitely been worth the detour back north in Peru.
*post adapted from my trip here in November 2015 and from my previous blog elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com