so, i didn’t exactly come on this trip fully prepared, as one might say. i don’t have a pair of those funny looking zip off pants/shorts things, i don’t have a first aid kid or a money belt, and i definitely didnt pack hiking boots or rain pants. taking into consideration the amount of disdain i have for packing and my tendency to get distracted every 15 seconds or so, we’re lucky i brought socks.
regardless of the fact that i wasn’t exactly prepared gear-wise for a 3 day trek, my heart was set on doing the Santa Cruz route in Huascaran National Park. as with most of my trip so far, it was a ‘deal with it when i get there’ sort of situation. after paying my hostel for the trip and buying a pair of gloves and a beanie, i figured i could hack any kind of weather for 3 days as long as i got some good photos out of it. <- not true. it was cold as hell and i cried. mostly because of the pounding headache i got from the altitude, but I’m sure a little was due to my cold feet as well.
the trek itself is either a 3 or 4 day trip (41 km total), and you can approach from 2 different villages- starting in the pueblo of Cashapampa (300+ people) or from the even smaller pueblo of Vaqueria (less than 30). Most treks (in the high season, when it rains WAY less) start on the Cashapampa end. We started in Vaqueria, which to me seems like the best choice- the third (and last) day of our trek was by far the most beautiful, not to mention had we done it in the opposite direction we would have started the trip with 800+ meters of climbing! <- sounds like a recipe for altitude sickness!
the highest point we hit was Punta Union- 4750 meters (15,584 feet) up- high enough to have to gasp for air and give us terrible headaches! luckily, our guide packed a giant bag of coca leaves and we were able to chew on those to keep altitude sickness at bay (at least for a little while). after 5 hours of climbing in dense clouds and intermittent rain, we descended into the valley, which was almost like a different world- clear skies, blue lakes, and unbelievable scenery. our 3rd day of trekking was spent hiking along the river towards Cashapampa, and then back to Huaraz!
would i recommend this trip? hell yes. would i do it again? probably- but not during the rainy season, and definitely not with the clothing/gear i brought with me!
—What to bring/know/consider before doing the Santa Cruz trek—
- alpaca everything. seriously. socks, sweater, gloves, hat.. before you head out on this trek, you should own enough alpaca to cover 90% of your body. pure wool is also a good choice.
- waterproof everything. you know all that alpaca stuff i told you to get? cover it all up with some rain gear. if you end up going during the rainy season (Dec-April) like i did, chances are it will rain. a lot. on the plus side, it is the low season for trekking, and you may just have the entire canyon to yourself (well, and a couple hundred cows)
- hiking boots. i hiked the whole thing in a pair of Nike Free running shoes. was it a good idea? no. did i look like a badass in my neon shoes, skipping happily up the mountain? probably, but i would have spent a lot less time with soaking wet feet had i worn proper hiking shoes.
- reusable water bottle- at night, you can fill it with hot water and tuck it into your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm (this SAVED MY LIFE the second night).
- be prepared to not change your clothes pretty much the whole time. why bother? got a few cows to impress out there in the wilderness? might as well save the burros that will be carrying all your gear a few kilos and pack super light.. don’t you know dirt keeps you warm?
- check with your trekking agency to see what gear they provide- some agencies will set you up with everything from boots to headlamps, and others charge extra. as of Feb 2014, the cost for the trip should be ~$120, not including your entry into Huascaran National Park (65 soles and valid for 21 days)
- you can do this trek on your own, but i would recommend paying for the trip- it includes all your meals, your guide, water, and a trusty burro to carry your stuff! call me a princess, but i will gladly pay a little extra to have someone make me coca tea and scrambled eggs at 5 am in the middle of nowhere.
i got back to my hostel last night completely exhausted- 9 hours of sleep later and i feel like a new person.. so new, in fact, that i am headed out on another 14km hike tomorrow! Laguna 69, see ya in the morning.