Planet Hiker
2004-12-26 Treking in Santa Cruz Valley of Cordillera Blanca - Part 3, Peru


At 3:15am I check my watch to realise that I should have been up 15 minutes ago. I quickly jump out of bed and started to get dressed, making sufficient enough noise for the guides to wake up as well. Unlike the night at Cotopaxi, I slept well and was feeling ready to tackle my challenge. The trekking of Santa Cruz trail has left me well acclimated and I was feeling no effects of altitude sickness. After having some tea, we grabbed our backpacks and headed out. To my relief, the weather was perfect. There was not a cloud above us and Pisco, majestically silver against the background of the black sky with billions of brightly burning stars, was calmly awaiting us in the distance.

After about an hour of climbing, we came to an edge of a canyon. Judging by the nervous movements of Rommel, I got the feel that something was wrong. We were supposed to descend about 100 meters down into the canyon and then continue up the mountain. But apparently, a rock avalanche has wiped out the path down, making it very dangerous to continue, as there was no telling what could trigger another slide. We sat there, trying to come up with other options, but it soon became clear that there is nothing we could do. The mountain stood there, right in front of us, luring with the beauty of its sharp granite rises, covered in sparkling ice and snow, yet out of our reach...

Later on, a friend of mine soothed my bitterness by saying that "It's good that the mountain does not give itself up that easy". Knowing that I am having a hard time accepting the defeat, Rommel proposed another idea - conduct a rigorous two day ice climbing course at Pastoruri. That sounded like an awesome idea, as I still wanted to learn the technical aspects of the sport.

The following week, as we were preparing our gear, Rommel proposed a change of plans once again - instead of going to Pastoruri, head for Vallunaraju instead, as its glacier is much taller and the walls are more challenging. Plus, there are also bare granite faces where we could go rock-climbing, thus, making it a 3 day affair. Climbing a taller glacier sounded good to me, but tacking on an extra day seemed like a salesman's trick. So I agreed going to Vallunaraju, but while keeping it a 2 day trip never the less. Rommel was a bit agitated that he wasn't able to fish out a few more dollars out of me, but went along.

By mid after noon, riding an old Toyota pickup truck through treturous mountainous road, we reached the refuge fully engulfed in thick clouds that looked ready to spill their tears. As a warm-up, we rushed off to rock-climb a nearby wall. Rommel went up first, clipping the protection gear into the bolts, set all along the path. Once he was at the top, I followed, removing each piece of gear as I went up. About half way through the climb, it suddenly started to hail. I did not feel endangered, as it was not a very difficult climb and I was sure that I will make it. Instead, I found the whole cituation a bit humorous, seeing the hail as a sign that the weather is not co-operating. After a bit of struggling with wet granite and cold fingers, I reached the anchor where Rommel put on a tense smile cheerfully asked if I liked the climb. We then repelled down over what was beginning to look like a good sized waterfall and rushed back to the refuge.

The rain was a serious threat to our ice climbing plans, and I knew it... There wasn't much talk over dinner, which for some reason, was served in a reversed chronological order - first there was Coca leaf tea with cookies, then we had chicken soup, followed by spaghetti with a questionable sauce of some sort of canned fish. With nothing else left to do for the evening, we hit the beds, hoping that the rain will be stopping shortly.

At 1:00am it was still raining. I did not bother to wake up the guides as I knew that we won't be coming out in the rain. At 3:00am Rommel woke me up to tell me that it's still raining... At 4:30am the rain sounded like it’s intensifying and I knew then that I won't be ice-climbing today. I slept in till 9:30am. We then had some more of that wonderful Coca tea, played a bit of frezbee and headed back to Huaraz. I was feeling bitter once again, but I knew that shit happens and this time, it just happened to happen to me, twice. Having had enough of high altitude adventures, I bought a bus ticket to Ica, knowing that some sand-dune-boarding ought to bring a change of pace.

Cordillera Blanca - Peru