Mountains and Mischief: The Quilicayhuanca Trek

April 20th-22nd, 2016

After a few weeks of travelling solo and surfing my way down the northern Peruvian coast I headed to Huaraz to meet up with my friend Darren with plans to get back into the mountains. Darren had just arrived from Canada to join me in the camper for two months of adventures in the Andes. Huaraz is the staging ground for trips into the Cordillera Blanca, one of the world’s most impressive mountain ranges. The Blanca is a mecca for alpine climbing, containing 33 peaks over 5500m. We, however, were there to go trekking.

We rendezvoused at Joe’s Place, a popular hostel in town, and quickly decided to head up to “The Hof”. Located at the foot of the Blanca, The Hof is a charming guesthouse consisting of a handful of cabins and a common area. It is operated by the friendly and welcoming Chris and Cat. Chris has a particularly fascinating and generally unconventional life story, which you can read about in a binder in the common room. It includes is his account of walking across the United States.

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The Hof is also the perfect starting point for the Quilicayhuanca trek, an alternative to the more popular Santa Cruz trek that Darren had already done on a previous visit. It’s generally completed in 3 days as a loop up the Quilicayhuanca Valley, over a high pass and down the Cojup Valley, which returns you to the Hostel. In anticipation of finding good bouldering along the way we packed our climbing shoes. There’s great bouldering right by the Hof as well.

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On day one of the trek we had breakfast, packed our bags, and walked an hour to the park entrance. Here I realised that I had forgotten my 21-day park. I tried to explain to the guard that it was in my car, but there was no way he was letting me through sans pass so it was either pay another $65 or go back and get it. We turned around and started walking back the way we came, but the prospect of 2 hours of extra walking wasn’t enticing. At this point came the bright idea of just walking around the checkpoint. I didn’t feel stellar about that but we decided to go for it. Our friend Ben and his dog Lorenzo, who we had just met at the hostel and were joining us just for the day, prudently elected to split ways and leave us to our mischief. Not to worry though, they would both be joining us again on our next trek in the Huayhuash Range.

Avoiding the checkpoint wasn’t difficult. Unfortunately, however, we met a group of indigenous women as we crossed another trail. At first they were very happy to see us and worried that we were lost. They immediately started taking pictures of and with us. Thinking that this was less than ideal we excused ourselves and continued on, eliciting a disapproving response from the women who seemed to be exclaiming that walking off trail in the park was not permitted. We pushed on and were shortly intercepted by two unimpressed parks rangers on a motorbike. As far as we can tell the ladies must have blown our cover and we were busted. We stood sheepishly and listened as they laid into us, and told us they were going to call the police and have us arrested. After more than a few apologies on our part they eventually cooled off and settled for snapping photos of us while I purchased another 21-day park pass. I imagine our mug shots are posted on the wall in a Peruvian ranger cabin somewhere.

It was an embarrassing and silly way to start the trek. The first few hours of walking afforded plenty of time to mull it over and generally feel guilty about angering the rangers and besmirching the good name of Canadian tourists. Luckily for us we were soon distracted by the striking valley with its flat meadow bottom and looming rock walls. Through the meadow meandered a creek and giant boulders were strewn about. Everywhere there was livestock grazing and at first active indigenous homesteads and farms. At the end of the valley rose the impressive white spiny peaks of some of the Blanca’s 6000’ers. We made camp near the end of the valley and soon found ourselves in a standoff with a young bull, which evidently felt we were trespassing once again. In the end we figured the animal wasn’t really a threat, despite giving me a real start as I was cooking dinner and glanced over my shoulder to find it had snuck up behind us and was peering through a bush a few meters away.

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Day 2 was the biggest of the trek and consisted of ascending 1000m over a 5000m pass from Quilicayhuanca Valley to the Cojup Valley. It was a spectacular route that afforded great views. The climb was gradual and deceptively long. It took us longer than expected. The descent was steep and rocky, with patchy trails. Once in the next valley we headed for what looked like a favourable rock garden, keen to set up camp near some good bouldering opportunities.

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The last day of the trek consists of a pretty easy downhill walk back to the hostel. We took advantage and spent as much time climbing as we could. Near camp we found some excellent boulders, including a small monolith that was especially fun. Unfortunately we were forced to leave early when we were surrounded by an aggressive heard of cows with a new born calf. We sat on the rock for a while hoping to wait it out. When the cows grew closer and closer we elected to leave, clearing the way with volleys of rocks. Below the valley, in the hills above the hostel we found several nice boulders to climb, a nice way to finish off three beautiful days of trekking in the Cordillera Blanca.

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A big thanks to Darren for taking over the camera regularly and taking many of these pictures!

T

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