Travel Mumblings

June 5, 2008

Huaraz

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 18:55

From Mancora, we headed to Huaraz… a cool town sat right slap bang in the middle of the Andes. The last part of the bus journey here was the most ‘chicken-bus’ we’ve experienced so far. For what was probably only a 6th of the journey distance between Mancora and Huaraz, it took us about half the journey time! Even when the bus seemed full, the driver was stopping at nondescript little villages in the middle of nowhere to take on more passengers. The central aisle was rammed full with women, bags of grain, screaming children and a goat. The roads were similar to what we’d call a bridleway with crazy-big drops falling away to the valley bottom, though thankfully our driver wasn’t as suicidal as some we’d had, and he took his time. We arrived in Huaraz late and didn’t really notice the magnificence of our setting until morning light. The views from the town were amazing… the sheer number of peaks… +5000m that we could see from our hostel terrace was unbelievable.

Hike to base camp. It would have been sacrilege to visit there and not climbed something. So after talking to a bunch of guides and climbing companies, we decided on attempting to climb Mount Pisco (5762m)… it´s not the highest peak in the area, but it´s sat right in the middle of a bunch of +6000m peaks, so the views from the top are unmatchable.

After acclimatising in the town for a day or two, we did an acclimatisation hike to Laguna Churup (4450m), it was a great hike with plenty of psycho dogs thrown into the mix. Both Jayde and I managed with no problems so we were both confident that we were ready for our bigger climb!

It was a three day trip… the first day we drove for 2 hours into the Cordileria Blanca and then had a 3 hour hike to base camp (4400m). We had donkeys… yey. Two donkeys carried our mess tent, cooking supplies, climbing equipment etc… which made the hike to base camp pretty easy really… we just had to carry our day-packs. The views on the hike up were amazing… the weather was perfect and we could see Pisco’s summit towering above us. It was actually quite unreal to think that in the early hours of the following morning we’d be standing on top of it!Hike to base camp

We lucked out big-time that on our summit day there was only us and a Belgium couple planning to summit. So we had base camp to ourselves which Roger, our guide said was pretty unusual. We didn’t have long before nightfall. Just enough time to pitch our tents and have a quick explore of the area. Roger cooked us epic meals! More than any of us could eat, but he ensured us that we’d need the energy in the morning. We went to bed early and were woken for the climb around 01:00. It was cold and dark. We had another massive breakfast, and left camp at 01:40 for the hike across the moraine. It was pretty scary to hear the size of some of the rockfalls, and I wasn’t sure if I was happier not being able to see them or not. Anyhow, none of them fell on us so we made it across safely! We reached the snowline around 04:00 and put on our crampons and harnesses etc. The rest of the climb from here on was hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ve done. A strong wind relentlessly whipped up loose ice particles to blast any exposed skin and the air became notably thinner. Sunrise was amazing though. Definitely one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever witnessed and provided more than enough inspiration to continue.

Our climbing grew slower and more laborious the higher we went, but having the summit in sight kept us pushing on. Our last big test was a 30m ice wall we had to climb to reach the summit of Mt Pisco. That done, the feeling of reaching the top was one of sheer elation. It was 08:45 – we’d been climbing for 7 hours. The highest I’ve ever been in my life! Boom! Summit of Mt PiscoIt was pretty freaking cold though and the wind was even stronger up there, so there there was much speedy rejoicing, the customary photos were taken and then we headed back down. By now, the sun was higher in the sky, the wind had died down and it was easier going, though a few falls quickly gave me the reality check that I was still bloody high, and I should not relax too much. On the lower slopes before we got back to the morraine, Roger showed us a few self-arrest techniques which were good to know, and fun to practise.

We made it back to camp tired but happy at 13:30 and went to bed. The rest of the day was spent sleeping and eating and sleeping before heading back down to ‘Donkey Land’ to meet our lift back to Huaraz. The only other thing we did in Huaraz was visit the hot springs which were a wierd brown colour. The were hot though, I’ll give them that. The bizarre thing about our visit there was that Peruvians were completely baffled by breast-stoke. They all seemed to use a cross between very bad frontcrawl and drowning, so when they saw us moving through the water without making the usual spashes and without looking like we needed a life buoy tossed to us, they started asking questions. ‘Frog Man’ they called me (if my Spanish translation is accurate), ha… so I spent the rest of the afternoon teaching Peruvians breast-stroke, which was harder than you might think, in brown water!

May 25, 2008

Cotopaxi & Banos

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:11

Glad to leave Quito, we headed south a couple of hours to Cotopaxi National Park and stayed in a sweet hostel in the mountains. It´s an old converted farm house, and sat in pretty amazing grounds, had a pack of pretty cool dogs running around continuously, horses, mardy lamas, cute puppies, two cows and a sheep… almost a petting zoo…. except for the lamas… they were miserable and looked like they´d spit if we ever went any closer! At dinner on our first night we arranged for a guide to take us to climb Illiniza Nord. One of two strata volcanos next to each other, standing at 5126m. High. Anyhoo´s, we left at around 6am and were hiking by 7, after a bumpy ride in a beat up Landcruiser on a narrow mud track that had been punished by the wet-season. It was pretty slow going, and we could definitely feel the altitude as we neared the refugio about 3 hours into the climb. By this time, the clouds had closed in, and we´d already been snowed and hailed on. At the refuge, our guide (Sergio) made us some coca leaf tea (the same plant they make cocaine from), which is supposed to be good for countering the effects of altitude… or else, it just makes you all warm and fuzzy and ´care less´ about the effects of altitude… ha, either way, I had three cups of the concoction, then sprouted wings and flew to the top with my yellow and green friend, ´Spotty´.

Hmm… if only it was that easy… or drugs were that good. After drinking my tea (and going to the toilet), we donned our harnesses, helmets, gloves etc. and headed for the summit. There were a few sketchy moments and we were roped together for the last 600m, although our guide didn´t really explain what to do if one of us did fall. I know a little bit about the ´fall and self-arrest´business, but he didn´t mention that to us, and I´m pretty sure it takes practise with a team to get it slick… so really, as far as I could see, if one of us fell… we all fell… end of. But we didn´t so that´s ok.

may21-paul-5There was one bit that had me worried beforehand – the Paso de la Muerte, literally translated – the Pass Of Death. Now, I´m a firm believer in that things are named for a reason… and so, rightfully so in my opinion, I wasn´t over enthused about ´The Pass Of Death´. But, thankfully it came and went without incident, or talking… or looking down, and we made it to the summit in good time. We ate lunch there, took the customary summit photos and headed back down.

The next day Jayde talked me into giving this ´horse riding´malarky another go… and to be honest, this time was better. I think I was more confident which helped, and the horse did pretty much what I wanted it to do most of the day, which is good. I even cantered… and then galloped this time!… but couldn´t get my timing of coming in and out of the saddle with the horses movement quite right, hurt the ´crown jewels´, and just got him to walk after that. Didn´t need to gallop anyway. Silly idea.

We left Cotopaxi a day later and headed to Banós… a really cool little town at the foot of an active volcano – Tungarahua. The whole town was evacuated in 2006, hmmm. Driving in was weird. You could see where the lava flow had cut the main road in half. One day there, Jayde and I braved the crazy South American drivers, and hired a couple of quads and headed down the valley towards Puyo.

View over Banos
View over Banos

Banós is called ´The Gateway to the Amazon´, and it definitely felt warmer and more humid as we dropped down the valley. We found Diablo waterfall, which was pretty cool, and there was a scramble up a path/under a cave, that meant we could get behind the waterfall… I felt like I was in a shampoo advert… alas, there was no cheesy music, but we did get soaked.

That night we took a bus to the top of another hill for a viewpoint on the volcano. It was one of the coolest things I´ve seen. Every so often, it would just spew lava out into the night sky… it looked awesome… so awesome, I forgot to be scared as I fell asleep that night, listening to it´s intermittent rumblings. Over and Out

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