Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Where's that frozen lake?

Laguna Parón - Huascarán National Park
The spectacular Laguna Parón - the longest and largest in
the Huascarán National Park
I kept hearing about this Lago Congelado but somehow never did a search online to see what it looked like. It’s located at the foot of Artesonraju (6,025m) in the Quebrada (gorge/canyon) Parón but that’s all I knew. Sitting on the shore of the spectacular Laguna Parón at 4,200m, the longest and largest in the Huascarán National Park (Ancash, Peru), I was contemplating where I should go and explore the next day…I had a free the following day and was staying at the Refugio Parón and gagging for something new, even if it was hard work getting there.

The guy at the refugio who also sometimes worked as a porter, explained that I could get to the lake along the trail that goes to Artesonraju Basecamp and Campo Morena (Moraine Camp). Walking with a full load of gear, he said it took him about three and a half hours to get there. It was decided, I would head off the next morning and go and find Lago Congelado.
North shore trail view - Laguna Parón, Huascarán National Park
The view from the trail along the northern lake shore;
Nevados Pirámide (left) and Chacraraju (right)

The first section was pretty simple walking the 4.2km trail on the northern shore of Laguna Parón which with a bit of ups and downs took me about an hour. It was cloudy and cold but at least not raining…no rain and cool weather always made for easier walking and I was feeling strong. Dressed with a few layers but not thick, I was just warm enough to be comfortable and the backpack seemed to fitting better than ever.

At the eastern end of the lake, I started crossing some of the rivers and streams that ran down from Artesoncocha (cocha = lake) and from the glacier of Mt Caraz. I was aiming in the general direction of the trail that headed up the western side of Artesoncocha to the foot of Artesonraju. The river crossings were fairly simple as it was still early and the water levels were low - in the afternoon with more melt from the glaciers and snow, the levels would be up between 30-40cm.

On the ridge west of Artesoncocha, I was walking at 4,400m, 200m above the average level of the trail along Laguna Parón to the river crossings. The ascent hadn’t been too steep but I could feel it although going a bit slower now to take some photos and videos of the surrounding scenery.

View of Artesoncocha and Nevados Chacraraju and Pisco
Artesoncocha in the foreground with the peaks of Chacraraju and Pisco in the background.
Centre between the 2 mountains, another glacial lake.
Looking back, were the peaks of Chacraraju and Pisco, at times hidden in the clouds and then at the northern end of Artesoncocha, a massively high waterfall, I reckon at least 150m, coming from the foot of Artesonraju. The latter and then Mt Garcilaso to my right were still hidden in the clouds although their glaciers were visible at times.

Below to my left was a small river/stream passing through a little patch of Polylepis forest and a few open spaces - I later found out that this is the basecamp of Artesonraju, and I presume, at times for Mt Caraz as well. At this stage with the views around me, regardless of it being cloudy, I already had a huge smile that wasn’t leaving my face!

Trail junction to Nevados Caraz and Artesonraju
The junction with the 2 signs to Nevados Caraz and Artesonraju
The trail gradually starting ascending a bit more as it started curving more to the left over a rocky section till I reached a point with two signs “Nev Caraz 6,020msnm” and “Nev Arteson 6,025msnm” - according to the gps I was at 4,563m. The little stream here was handy for freshening up a bit and filling up my waterbottle and obviously, taking a few more photos. The trail to the right to Artesonraju went up steeply to the right but I wasn’t about to be stop now - I needed to find Lago Congelado!

Heading up the trail to the right it was about a slow step by step ascent which meant I could advance constantly without lots of stops - 560m in distance with a 207m ascent which, according to the gps took me about 40min. I passed what looked like a terraced area ideal for camping. (Later this was confirmed to be advanced basecamp or sometimes referred to as Campo Morena.) 

At the viewpoint of Lago Congelado
Lago Congelado at last! Artesonraju os to the right, Paria centre behind me
and Garcilaso to the right. (View from 4,786m)

The view from up here at 4,786m left me speechless but with a massive smile…three glaciers came together and down the centre, a huge wide joint glacier into a huge lake with massive blocks of ice (little icebergs?) floating around. From a point to the right the water flowed out into what was the waterfall that fed Artesoncocha. This just completely exceeded my wildest expectations of what I would find up here, especially as I hadn’t seen any photos of it! 
Trail to Campo Morena, Artesonraju
The trail leading up to Advanced Basecamp/Campo Morena
and the viewpoint of Lago Congelado.

While it started to snow lightly, I had something to eat and took some more photos - I was a very happy camper and there was little that could change that at this moment!  It had taken me three and a half hours to get here which I was pretty happy with and it had been a good trek as I was still feeling strong. The mountain peaks of Artesonraju, Paria and Garcilaso (Pirámide) were hidden in the clouds but with the bit of wind blowing I got glimpses of them. An incredible moment and place and I was savouring every second!!

Flowers growing up at 4,786m - Artesonraju, Huascarán National Park
Flowers growing up at 4,786m
Eventually after almost an hour it was time to head down and back to the Refugio Parón. The trek back only took me two hours although some time spent finding crossings over the variety of little rivers and streams which were now about 15cm higher - not more as there hadn’t been much sun/warmth around.

This trek is an excellent option for somebody who is well-acclimatised (a must!) and physically reasonably fit at least - totally worth every moment spent on the trail with a range of panoramas and views that will blow your mind!

Total distance: 15.3km Trekking time (return):  5h30min
Total ascent:  885m Highest point:  4,786m
Total descent: 900m Lowest point: 4,177m


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

What's the best birthday gift?

Crampons for the glacier ascent
Crampons on at the start of the glacier
When it comes to birthdays, I've never been somebody who goes out hinting for birthday presents. If there are any, obviously I'll be curious and a bit excited to see what they are. Realising a childhood dream on my birthday though, ranks very high in the "best day" ratings...but when it's on the 50th, that possibly just knocks on the door labeled "Epic".

Summiting a snow-capped peak has been a dream since I can remember from my first books about explorers, adventurers and climbers I had as a kid. Since then I've travelled past many snow-capped mountains and trekked around more. Scrambling up hills and over boulder as a youngster, basic rock-climbing later and again in Peru just seemed like things I would be doing anyway. The big white giants of the Cordillera Blanca just continued to call louder every time I came to Huaraz since my first time in 2014.

Mid-2017 I finally set myself the goal of realising that childhood dream on my 50th birthday (26 Sept.) - at least then! Over and above the budget which was pathetically small, I knew I had to prepare well to be acclimatised to altitude and certainly have a half-decent level of fitness. Based on the budget, I decided I would aim to do Nevado Mateo with its summit at 5,150m above sea level.

At 4,450m looking out over Laguna Parón
At 4,450m above Laguna Parón with
Nevados Garcilaso & Paria in the background
It would be a 1-day trip leaving Huaraz around 2-3am in the morning and getting back in the afternoon. The other fortunate thing was that it was ideal for beginners on ice and snow climbing with a glacier section which may or may not involve some climbing with the ice axe and crampons - although even with a decent layer of snow, those would still be the most essential equipment.

Although reasonably acclimatised to the altitude already, I needed a more intense programme. This started on the 22nd of September with a trek and scramble on a route of Akilpo Trek named the Paramount Trek - ascent to 4,450m above sea level.

After a long 1,100m ascent to 4,450m and Laguna Ahuac
At Laguna Ahuac after 1,100m ascent over the 6,1km trek
The next day was to be the "burner" and also a pretty strong test of how I am physically and acclimatisation-wise - the trek to Laguna Ahuac. This is a 6,1km trek (1-way) with a constant ascent totalling 1,100m to 4,550m above sea level. This didn't turn out to be any easier than I expected but I got up there within a reasonable time.

To be sure, I would do another fairly steep trek on the 24th and then take a rest day on the 25th - also the final day for planning everything and getting equipment sorted, with the the guide, for the climb.
For this I selected the trek to Laguna Churup, and if feeling good enough, to Laguna Churupita a 100m higher in altitude than the main lake at 4,450m above sea level. Getting to Churupita was not to be though as my legs were screaming for a break after the previous day's trek to Laguna Ahuac.

View over Laguna Churup at 4,465m
At 4,465m with a view over Laguna Churup - almost 700m ascent over 3,3km

The rest day on the 25th was very welcome and I'd slept like a rock again the night of the 24th - not that I was totally knocked out after the Ahuac trek! It was an exciting day but with some nerves as I chatted to the guide and got everything sorted and bought snacks and breakfast for our 3am departure to the mountains.

The BIG DAY - and my 50th birthday (really??)
Just before 3am my guide, Eloy arrived and very promptly Eli, our taxi driver for the day, arrived and we started out the 2-hour journey to Punta Olimpica at 4,700m from where we would start our trek up the mountain to the glacier and eventually the summit of Nevado Mateo at 5,150m. Also an opportunity to get a little bit of shut-eye although excitement kept me awake.

Ascending to the glacier
On the ascent with Nevado Ulta in the background (Photo: Eloy)

After some coffee and sandwiches, Eloy and I headed off with enough light that we didn't have to use the headlamps. It was very cloudy and misty and soon we started encountering patches of snow, increasingly so until we reached the edge of the glacier - which had a very decent layer of snow after the last few days' snowing. Up to here was a mix of a little gravel trail and some rock and then happy moments calling to each other as the clouds lifted over some of the mountains including the big one, Huascarán itself standing proud at 6,868m and the highest in Peru.

Eventually getting to the glacier edge, it was time to get the harnesses and crampons on and rope up. It looked like most of it would be snow but that would could only be confirmed as we ascended and with the mist, there was no sight of the summit. This was my first time with crampons and ice axe so it took a few steps to get my rhythm and the kicking in of the crampons sorted. I was all smiles though and loving every second - even looking down and seeing the slope...just awesome!!

Through it all I eventually saw Eloy get on to a crest and stop and he just motioned me to come up - that was the summit and I got new energy (even more than the adrenaline already there) from somewhere and got up to the ridge - I'd made it! My 1st snow-capped summit - a dream realised on my 50th birthday!! No money could equal this moment...and I was speechless!
My dream realised - on the summit!
On the summit!! Nevado Mateo at 5,150m (above sea level) (Photo: Eloy)
Eloy and myself on the summit
Eloy (my guide) left and me on the summit - best day of life! (Photo: Eloy)
We spent probably no more than 15 minutes up there, before we started to head down the slope. This was going to be a different ball game than the ascent as trying to walk down slowly through the deep snow was not working. Eloy showed me a quicker way doing giant strides which allows for lifting the legs out completely and stepping further. It did mean that the descent would be faster and the ice axe needed to be positioned right in the hand for self-arrest (technique used when sliding down a slope where the end of the ice axe is embedded by the person sliding down to stop the slide) - something which I got to "practice". Going down was great fun and I enjoyed (still) every moment even with a few slips and one tumble which with the combination of the rope belay by Eloy and my self-arrest with the ice axe stopped me pretty rapidly. Granted it gets the adrenaline pumping by the litre!

During the descent it was snowing and from the edge of the glacier where we got the crampons and harnesses off, even more. The rocky sections of the descent was a bit tricky in parts because the rocks were totally wet and in places there were little waterfalls. All good though and we got back down to the car where we had a bite and something to drink while I was also dancing to the music - I was on top of the world.

Eloy, my guide, sorting the rope
Eloy sorting the rope at the edge of the glacier on our descent.

The best day of my life!!


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Where to find colourful fun.

Carnival dancers (Huaraz, Peru)
PERU (Feb 2016): February is the time for very many
processions and festivals in Huaraz (Ancash Region).
Where can you go to have fun and at the same time enjoy spectacular colourful parties? Carnivals and festivals is what you have to look for, and luckily in South America it's not in short supply. The clothing is stunningly colourful, dancers and musicians will have you tapping your feet in anticipation of a dance - plus you can get super colourful photos to add to your travel memories.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Why I love waves (And you should too!)

The sight and sound of waves breaking against and over the rocks can keep us mesmerised for hours. Every splash is different - the water pulling back - build up to the next wave - crash!! No second is equal - no moment totally still. How do we explain or express this to somebody else? ...with difficulty! My passion is photography and together with a deep love for the ocean, I spend my time at the coast completely immersed - living every sound and movement of the water.
Breaking Force (Chimbote coast, Ancash - Peru)
Breaking Force (18mm - 1/40s, f8, ISO100)
Even though the shutter speed is fairly low at 1/40s - already see some speed streaking in the water.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Where are the tourists? - the case of Coishco (Peru)

Plaza de Armas - Coishco (Peru)
Plaza de Armas (Coishco - Ancash, Peru)
A brief take on Coishco, north of Chimbote (Ancash Region, Peru)
Travelling through Coishco by bus or other public transport is unlikely to leave you with any lingering memories, except maybe of the heat that appears to exceed the summer heat in Chimbote, (about 20min south via the Panamerican Highway) or the large fish design in the Plaza de Armas

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Quick Guide: photo locations around Chimbote (Peru)

Hotel Gran Chimu, Chimbote
Historical "Gran Chimu" hotel in Chimbote
Photography locations in Peru don’t very seldom include Chimbote and the areas around it; More often than not, it's remembered it as a terminal where they changed buses or like most, or just as that place that smelt of fish when they passed. The coastline of the Ancash Region is renowned for its Ceviche, a traditional and refreshing fish dish, and as I discovered - some amazing sunsets! Finding photography locations in the evening can at times be challenging but if you’re around for a couple of days, Chimbote and Nuevo Chimbote have quite a few on offer - if you’re not around for a couple of days, make a plan and stop over!

This post is a brief introduction to locations in Chimbote and the nearby district of Nuevo Chimbote, (a rapidly growing town/city in its own right) that have been very rewarding photography-wise. I include the parts of the coastline that I’ve visited so far - spots which are also great just for relaxing with that refreshing cocktail or somebody for some romantic moments. Enjoy the tour.

Sunset over the Plaza Miguel Grau, Chimbote
Photo in NW direction across the Plaza Miguel Grau
The coastal walk or malecón of Chimbote is a good place to start looking for photo opportunities. Along here you have the Plaza Miguel Grau (Plaza de 28 de Julio)with the photogenic Gran Chimu hotel, the now well-known arch and the city lights around it. 

Malecon de Miguel Grau, Chimbote
Along the malecón with the Isla Blanca in the background
Further toward the harbour, there's the view of the Isla Blanca (White Island) and the fishing boats - also the direction for sunset photos from the plaza. Try getting here at different times in the morning and afternoons for some photos - midday will more than often than not be rather unfriendly lighting for those memorable photos.

Sunset from the Miguel Grau malecon, Chimbote

The Plaza de Armas in Chimbote can be rewarding although it also depends if there are any displays or exhibits at the time. During Christmas, there's always the brightly lit-up christmas decorations and as in my photo above, buildings as well. For more photos from Chimbote, see this Chimbote album of mine on Flickr.

Going a little south, we get to Nuevo Chimbote which, between Chimbotanos as well, is renowned for the stunning Cathedral at the Plaza Mayor. During Christmas time, the Plaza Mayor is even more spectacular and lit up with the heron fountain as its central feature (see my Nuevo Chimbote album on Flickr for more photos from here).
Cathedral of Nuevo Chimbote, Plaza Mayor
The stunning Cathedral of Nuevo Chimbote at the Plaza Mayor
There are a amazing variety of beaches just in the Nuevo Chimbote district, and trust me, there's way more north and south of this district as well. I've been at two so far and here are some examples from the beaches of La Poza and Vesique.

Vesique sunset, Nuevo Chimbote
Sunset at one of the Vesique beaches
 In addition to the main beach of Vesique with its restaurants etc, there are at least 3 more beaches with potential for fantastic photography. Around them are also hills and rocky outcrops that are worth climbing (as in the photo below) for better panoramic shots.

Vesique beaches view to Chimbote
View over one of the beaches of Vesique toward Chimbote on the horizon.

Then La Poza, it's a lesser known little bay around from the Bay of Samanco where there are more beaches, some more popular with visitors than others. Obviously, each have their own potential magic spots for that special photo. The best is, as I leave you with this photo from La Poza, go out and explore these places
Once again the links for those albums:

Sunset over La Poza, Nuevo Chimbote
Sunset from a hill overlooking the little bay of La Poza