Showing posts with label mountains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mountains. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Trekking Paramount: expectations vs reality

Trekking Laguna Paron, Cordillera Blanca, Peru
Nevados Paria, Garcilaso and Laguna Parón (lake)
Photos often don’t do justice to reality and this is especially true in many landscape photos - the biggest problem is that a photo cannot always convey the emotions and feelings of the moment. 

This was the case when I went on a trip to the Parón Valley (quebrada) to get some more photos and see what the trek is about. I had seen photos of this area although many had been taken from the classic/normal trail - this day was going to be anything but normal!

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!!


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

3 reasons why these secrets will keep you spellbound: exploring off the beaten track in Peru

Exploring the secrets of Pallasca Province, Peru
Adventure, exploration and relaxation - all at the same time in areas where you’re likely to be the only person around, following age old trails used by the communities who live in these mountains. Central Peru with its rugged beauty is a mix of high altitude lakes, rocky hills and mountains, some rising up the snow-covered peaks of the northern Cordillera Blanca of the Andes. Being totally off the traditional tourist trail, coming across people other locals from the surrounding communities is a rarity. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Not a climber but want spectacular views?

From the western bank of Wilcacocha
Sometimes we think that to have great views of a snow-covered mountain range, we need to be mountaineers.  In certain places this is true to an extent but in others there are other alternatives. Huaraz is an example of the latter due to its location in the Huaylas Valley between the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra. There are various trails and small roads into the Cordillera Negra close to the city of Huaraz that offer breathtaking views of the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

How Blue is Blue?!

The azure blue waters of Laguna 69 at 4,625m
Describing a colour is often just an exercise in relativity as each individual’s definition/perception of a specific colour varies quite a bit. In Peru though, I’ve come across a colour where most people agree on it being the best, and most beautiful, example of blue. A lake that goes by the name of “Laguna 69” is the subject - ’69’ get’s most peoples attention for reasons probably not specifically related to trekking in mountains at high altitude but a view of this lake will have you speechless, temporarily anyway!

Your trip will start with an early (c.5:30-6am) departure from Huaraz to the Llanganuco Sector of Huascaran National Park. The route will take you through some picturesque villages and eventually leaving the tar road in Yungay, turning east towards the national park. During this drive, if you’re not sleeping still on the bus like most, you’ll be enjoying gorgeous views of the snow-covered peaks of Huascaran and Huandoy mountains. The south peak of Huascaran is the highest in Peru at 6,768m - on the right as you ‘face’ the mountain on this road trip.

After a short breakfast stop near the park entrance, the bus will head into the park and follow the winding road up to an altitude of 3,850m where you’ll get the first big colour treat of the day, the emerald waters of Lake Chinancocha. Right above the lake as you’re taking photos, will be the north face of Huascaran mountain. This is just a taster so don’t hang around too long here, there’s another 15min drive to Cebollapampa where the trek to Laguna 69 starts off. Along the way the bus will pass another lake; Lake Orconcocha. 

The names of these two lakes are Quechua and “cocha” means ‘lake’. “orcon” is ‘man/male’ and “chinan” is a ‘woman/female’. These names originate from a story relating to the daughter of the Inca chief Huascar after whom Huascaran mountain is named.

Cebollapampa is located at 3,900m and this is where you’ll start your c.7km trek to the famous Laguna 69 whilst also ascending 725m. The name of this area, also used as base camp for the Santa Cruz trek and Pisco trek/climbs comes from plants growing on the plains that look like onions (cebolla = onion). Enjoy the views from here of Chacraraju and later Yanapaccha mountains high above you. 

This first section is about 3km long and ascends 200m, a reasonably easy walk but also where you could taste the first affects of high altitude trekking. Enjoy this section though along the river where you will encounter some cattle, donkeys and horse - all part of trekking in a biosphere. This isn’t distracting from the beauty of the area at all so include them in your photos. Culminating at waterfalls, the walk would’ve taken you around 45-55min depending on how your body is dealing with the altitude and exercise. Don’t forget to look back now and then to get some photos of the imposing beauty of Huascaran mountain.

(Remember, if you get headaches, nausea and/or dizziness anywhere during this trek - stop! At higher altitude this will only get worse and could become life threatening. The only proper remedy is to return to a lower altitude!)

The following section is a short 2km but certainly more strenuous as it zig-zags up the mountain and crosses to the nearby saddle north of the waterfalls you just passed. Once again stop now and then and enjoy the views over Cebollapampa that you’ve just ascended from; there’s some stunning photos to be had. Above you on this section, the peaks of Yanapaccha tower. Into the saddle is the last little bit of a climb, for now, and you’ll get to a little lake unofficially referred to as “Laguna 68”. Good time for a 5min break but the wind might be chilling you to the bone so move around to the far end of the lake where you’ll be a bit more sheltered from the icy wind. In front you will be the massive shape and peaks of Chacraraju mountain. 5km completed now and you’re at an altitude of 4,400m. 

The final section of 2km has two parts; the first is a 15-20min flat walk to bottom of what will be the final ascent to Laguna 69. The walk across this little pampas is a good time to make up some time. At the start of the ascent there are some large rocks where you can take a final 5min break before the last push up to 200m higher. By now you’ll have seen another mountain to the left of Chacraraju, those are the peaks of Pisco - yes, named after the famous Peruvian drink. 

Ascending now will go even slower, for many anyway, the air is getting much thinner. Get yourself a steady pace with some short stops - as they say in East Africa, “Pole Pole” …slowly slowly! This is not all slogging as the views are drop-dead stunning all around you. Another mountain to the left of Huascaran will come into view, this is the beautiful mountain Chopicalqui - the famous logo of Paramount Pictures. In the direction you’ve come from you’ll see another couple of lakes, Lagos de Brogi which are also glacial lakes of Chacraraju. 

This breath-taking (pun intended) final section can take you anything from 30-60min depending on how much/little your body’s liking it. Once you get over the last little ridge, there’s a 2min flat walk before you get your first view of the bluest blue of lakes; these are the azure waters of Laguna 69. Down at the shoreline, relax and have a drink and bite to eat. Your options for photos are multitude here; over and above the standard selfies, there are some higher areas for the more energetic to get more panoramic shots from. 

The waterfall might have some pieces of ice coming down now and then, or like we saw the other day, a ‘small’ avalanche from one of the peaks of Chacraraju. Try not to stay later than 2pm at the most as there’s usually some weather moving in later in the afternoon plus a later walk means longer sections on the return trek in the shade, a considerably cooler experience. 

All along the trek you’ll encounter a variety of flowers and plants and hopefully at least get a glimpse of the shy but quick Northern Viscacha, a relative of the chincilla family resembling a large rabbit. There is no shortage of birds around for the avid birder with a good supply of humming birds and sierra-finches plus the seemingly omni-present blue-grey Tit-like Dacnis. Keep an eye on the sky too as there is of course a small chance of a condor but more likely some vultures. (Keep an eye out for further posts on the fauna & flora of Llanganuco Sector)

The trek back to Cebollapampa takes an average of 2 hours.  Take care though so you don’t end up sliding down too much on the loose rocks on the trail. Once back in Huaraz, or probably on the bus already, you’ll be having a good sleep after the 14km trek to find out how blue is blue! 
Please note that times mentioned are an average only and is dependant on your personal physical condition and ability to adapt to the high altitudes.

(my trip was organised through Akilpo Backpackers {their Facebook page} in Huaraz)


Monday, 4 August 2014

Mountains Alive with Music and Dance

Band following in a procession through the village
with the mountains as a backdrop
Adopting the words from the famous musical “Sound of Music”, “…the hills are alive with the sound of music…” rings true for the mountain village of Cabana (and capital of Pallasca provincia) in the Ancash region of Peru. For 8-9 days the festival in honour of the Patron Santiago ensures at least 18 hours of music a day. You could just sit and enjoy the music or join in the many daily processions, each with a band, and dance your way around the village making friends and enjoying the culture and tradition that makes Cabana such a special place.

Situated in the mountains at c.3200m altitude, any view of the surrounding area includes ranges of mountains. Calling it breathtaking might be a bit of an understatement actually. Naturally for those coming from sea level, you might need a day to adjust to the altitude but the music and festivities make that much easier - and quicker. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be overwhelmed by how friendly people are and everybody greets and some want to chat of course; it’s impossible to walk 50m without being greeted and/or chatted with. During my visit I was also the only non-Peruvian in the village even though there were many people from abroad, they were originally and at least by descent, Peruvian.

Even though considered off the beaten track, it’s quite accessible with a 3-hour bus ride from the coastal city of Chimbote for c.$8. Slightly more expensive trips can be done by cars/colectivo’s. Fair warning here, have your camera ready even during the bus ride - the whole route and then the area around Cabana is like being on a 24-hour photoshoot. Then of course, once you’re in Cabana it will be impossible not to want to take photos all the time - that’s when you get a chance between chatting with the extremely friendly Cabanistas.

The festival commences on 17 July with the host family/families responsible for co-ordinating the

whole event attending a dedication service in the church and a walk around the Plaza del Armas (town square) with the band. This year the hosts were the family and relatives of ex-President Toledo who hails from here. There is a slightly more “formal” (using this word loosely) ceremony of introduction with the Mayor of Cabana. The afternoon is dedicated to a huge party for all the kids, and I mean All of them. Families bring the children to come and participate in music and games with the obligatory sweet snacks and drinks. 

The first donated bull is then paraded through the village and around the Plaza. It was during the parading of this bull I was working at getting some closer photos of it when it charged and hooked my leg and helped me on to 2m further. Luckily the horns did not penetrate my leg but I had a very decent bruise and graze to remind me of my 1st day at the festival. During the slaughter of this I was then given some of the first blood to drink - all good and ready for the rest of the fiesta! All food and drinks are freely available for the duration of the festival with everything coming from donations of bulls, sheep, vegetables & fruit which is prepared by cooking and kitchen staff who are also volunteering. Drinks like the Chicha (corn/maize beer) and beers etc are also donated for the festivities. 

Each donation/gift to the festivities is greeted by the members of the host family/families and a band where the donation is officially made and then received on behalf of the village and the festival. Followed by some dancing at that spot, there is then the procession from there, sometimes the home of the donor, which “collects” more people along the way resulting in a long, happy procession of people dancing to the music and enjoying their drinks. All the processions will at some stage go around and past the Plaza, the centre for everything during the festivities. Some of the donations are received in the Plaza on the steps of the lovely blue painted church.

As the festival progresses, more and more bands join and it’s very possible to find 5-6 bands at different locations - or you could find 3-4 at the same time in the Plaza. From about 9-10pm, there will be 2-3 bands on the Plaza alternately providing the music for dancing till 1am, the official time anyway. It did happen that a couple of guys with guitars started making music when the bands finished and continued till around 4am.

Some of the events this year included horses with young riders going around the Plaza throwing out sweets, fruit and drinks to spectators which results in some entertaining scrambles. Something similar happens on the 2nd last day (24 July) when adult benefactors ride their horses, at greater speed, around the Plaza throwing out a huge variety of snacks, fruit, drinks and other items.

On the 24th this continues from the balconies around the Plaza after the riders have dismounted.
Midnight on the 23rd and 24th also brings massive fireworks displays on reed-towers (referred to as castillo) and accompanied by the the toro loco (mad bull), a crafted bull spewing fire (fireworks) as the holder runs around with it. As on the first night, a boat carried by 4 people is also carried around going crazy as the music picks up - duck and dive to stay out of the way and have heaps of fun.

One morning the schools will also display some of their crafts and skills their pupils have attained as part of capacity building; this display/expo is visited by the Mayor and senior officials. There will also be more (more than usual) food stalls selling a mix of local food ranging from fried chicken and fries, soup, beef and pork dishes, to ceviche (fish dish) although the latter seems to be more commonly sold late mornings/lunchtime.

The 24th is also when there is dedication again to the Apostle Santiago as the Patron of Cabana and then the introduction of the host families for the following year. I was told that the festival will be massive in 2015 as there will be 5 host families so even more locations where food and drink is served and that serve as festival hubs.  The last day (25th) there are also more dedications and devotions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the last day as I had to head off north to the Ecuadorean border.

The accidental visit and subsequent stay in Cabana ranks in the top of my list of best travel experiences. I was immediately included in all activities and drawn in as if I were a Cabanista - by the middle of the week Cabana already felt like home to me. This little village has since become like my new home and I will return more than once, and not only for festivals, to enjoy the tranquility, friendliness and amazing panoramas that make this a dream location. Thanks again to all the Cabanistas and other Peruvians who contributed, knowingly or otherwise, to an amazing 9 days immersed in your culture and tradition.

(See previous post on how I got to Cabana and the amazing scenery)


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Bernese Oberland June/July 2010 (Switzerland)

Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald
During the latter part of June and early July, we did a walking trip in Switzerland. The weather was on our side and even a little too hot at times but the scenery certainly made up for that. During the walks I managed to cast my eye in the direction of a few birds and/or find a few in the villages where we stayed. I didn't come home with a massive list but managed to get a few good species for my list like Lammergeier over Mannlichen and Alpine Accentor on the Bachalpsee trail. The rest of this trip's photos can be viewed in my Flickr "Switzerland" album.

Eurasian Swift

The walk from Wilderswil to Murren probably chalked up the most birds with Kestrel, Swifts (many everywhere), Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Common Redstart, Common Buzzard, Red Kite and Willow Tit up to the half-way mark. From there I added Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel and Nutcracker - 3 lifers in a row! The area around the Hotel Alpenruh produced quite a few birds as well with Bullfinch, Greenfich, Goldfinch, Alpine Chough (also at Schilthorn and Kleine Scheidegg), Coal Tit, Sisken and White Wagtail. On our visit to Schilthorn we saw Chamois (antelope) from the gondola/cable-car.

Alpine Chough

On the walk from Wengen to Grindelwald via Wengernalp and Alpiglen, I added Tawny Pipit and an adult male Fieldfare with great sightings of the dark morph Red Squirrel which was way too quick for photos. Grindelwald and our walks there produced more notables like Green (2 adults & 2 immatures) and Medium Spotted Woodpeckers, Common Cuckoo (which we heard along some of the walks to Grindelwald too). The walk from First via Bachalpsee to Faulhorn was great with White-winged Snowfinches, Fieldfare and Alpine Accentor with Alpine Marmots and a very large and furry Red Fox adding to the mammal list.

Bachalpsee (between First & Faulhorn)

White-winged Snowfinch (juvenile)

Interlaken on the last day was a surprise with Great Crested Grebe, Common Moorhen, Tufted Duck and Goosander, I'd not been expecting to be anywhere for waterfowl and managed a couple of good shots here.
Great Crested Grebe