According to the locals, Alpamayo is the most beautiful mountain in the world. I set off on an eight day trek through the Cordillera Blanca to judge for myself. Unfortunately clouds covered our best views of the famous mountain, but there were plenty of other highlights along the way – amazing views of the Santa Cruz range, traditionally cooked local lamb, and a pretty top group of fellow trekkers.
There was one more trek that I wanted to tick off my list before heading out of the Huaraz region. In fact, from day one in Huaraz I had been searching for a group to do the Cedros Alpamayo trek. Most visitors to Huaraz head off on the Santa Cruz or Huayhuash treks, but not many people walk this track. I was about to give up on finding a group and had packed my bags to leave Huaraz when I was asked if I wanted to join a group that was heading off on an eight day trek along this trail. This was one opportunity I was not going to pass up on.
Huaraz to Colcabamba to Ampapampa.
We were picked up nice and early from our hotel. We had managed to round up a nice group of 8 people for the trek. Our guide Margarita (From Ganesa Travel) was extremely smiley, and had a very cute laugh. After about 6 bumpy hours in the van we arrived at the start of the trek, in Colcabamba. Here we met our arriero, Santos. For the eight of us we had 4 donkeys and 2 horses. We had quite a bit of gear, and Santos was a bit worried that the animals were not going to manage to carry it all. The donkeys weren’t looking too happy about it either.
The walk on the first day was a nice easy stroll along a dirt road to the village of Ampapampa (approx. 2 hours). We got some nice views of the Cordillera Blanca along the way. We set up camp next to the village soccer field, amongst the grazing pigs, sheep and cows. The local guys invited us to play soccer (gringos vs locals), but wouldn´t let us join in without paying 2 soles each. Apparently, the winning team would take the money. They looked pretty serious, all suited up in their boots and jerseys, and we knew we had no chance of winning, so decided to watch from the sidelines.
Ampapampa to camp near Laguna Huecrocoha
We trekked out of Ampapampa and up to our first pass of the trek. On the way down the other side, one of the horses took a fall and badly injured its leg. Unfortunately we had to leave it behind. A few minutes later, one of the donkeys (and food boxes) took a tumble down a steep slope. Luckily there was no injuries from this fall. Down to 5 pack-animals we had to carry some of our gear for the next couple of days.
Losing the horse dampened everyone´s spirits a little, so we set up camp in near silence. The others headed up the valley to find a small lake, while I took the opportunity to read and relax around camp.
Laguna Huecrocoha to Jancapampa
We climbed out of the valley and up to Paso Tupatupa (4400m, approx 2 hours), where we got some nice views of the mountains around us. After about 2.5 hours we reached our camp at Jancapampa. We passed a few small households. Chickens were running around as the kids played in the yard and a big pot of beans steamed away over a roaring fire. A man was constructing a fishing net for catching trout in the nearby lakes. When we reached camp, we saw four women rush down the hill towards us. They set up some blankets in the middle of our tents, sat down, and laid out several bottles of cold Coca Cola and beer in front of them. Soon, everyone was sipping a cool beverage and admiring the view up the valley towards a steep cliff covered in small waterfalls that were coming from the melting glacier that sat above. We headed up the hill to get a closer look at the falls, and a couple of the boys were brave enough to take a shower under the chilly glacial water.
Back at camp, the arrieros had got stuck into the beer and were chatting up the local ladies. Several other women had set up more beer “shops” in the lawn between our tents. Soon enough, everyone was feeling jolly and the dancing began. It was quite a show.
I had just climbed into my tent for the night when someone called out “Hey, did anyone else see the fire??”. I stuck my head out of my vestibule to see that half the hill just across the valley was ablaze. None of the locals seemed to phased about it, so I went back to bed.
Jancapampa to Safruna.
The fire was still going when we woke up the next morning. The smoke gave a nice colour to the sky, and the mountains at the head of the valley looked amazing. We headed steeply up the Yanajanca valley. Just after a large clearning, our guide took us slightly off track and up the wrong valley. She hadn´t done the walk in over four years, so she was forgiven but seemed quite stressed out about the situation. A short side trip gave us a good view over Laguna Sactaycocha. From here, it was another steep climb up to Paso Yanajanca (4610m). On the way up we were passed by a group of locals riding up the slopes on some very nice looking horses. The pass was rather windy, but offered some magical views. We headed down through Huillca and then up the Tayapampa valley towards our camp. From here we got a pretty good view up to Alpamayo whenever the clouds were kind enough to part. A couple of us walked 30 minutes up towards Laguna Safruna Baja, where we got an amazing view up to the snowy peaks of the Pucajirca mountain range.
Sufruna to Ruina Pampa
We passed over the Mesapata pass (4425m) and soon were climbing up towards the next pass (Paso Caracara, 4830m). A couple of young condors passed over head as we stopped for our snack break. It was hard to stand at Paso Caracara, the winds were very strong. A few hats took flights and tumbled down the valley. From here, the view was incredible, and blew us all away too. We caught a very brief glimpse of Alpamayo when the clouds parted, but had great views over the Santa Cruz range and the surrounding mountains.
A few more hours of walking and we arrived at our camp at Ruina Pampa. The arrieros went off to buy a new horse, and returned with the news that they had also found a lamb for us to buy so that we could try the local specialty – Pachamanca.
Ruina Pampa to Osoruri camp
This day was a very short one. A couple of hours up to the Paso los Cedros (4770 m), then half an hour down to our campsite. From here we had a great view back up towards Milluacocha (5240m) and down the valley. Our lamb had already been carved up and was laid out in the sun on a rock. The head sat on another rock near the kitchen tent, along with a few hoofs.
That night we had caldo de cabeza (soup of head). As well as bits of brains, the broth also had bits of stomach, intestine, and some other pieces (which I didn´t want to try too hard to identify). It was rather a tasty soup, and quite an experience to eat. I was glad to know that none of our lamb was going to waste.
Osoruri camp to Calamina
Just after the Osoruri pass, we reached the best viewpoint for the trip. A great mirador overlooking Laguna Rajucocha and up towards the Santa Cruz range. It was absolutely stunning.
By the time we arrived at our camp at Calamina, the arrieros had started preparing the oven for the Pachamanca. They had obviously done this many times before, as the oven looked like a piece of art. They constructed a very neat looking oven, and soon had a small fire roaring inside it. Margerita took one of the horses down to town to find some supplies for the Pachamanca. Unfortanely she couldnt find any beers or any foil to wrap the meat up with. Once the fire had heated up the rocks enough, we watched on as the top rocks were removed, and the hole in the middle filled with several kilos of potatoes. These were quickly covered with the hot rocks. The meat (marinated and wrapped in some cardboard) was placed on top of these hot rocks and gave off of a delightful smell as they started to sizzle. Over the meat, a thick layer of grass was placed and a few beans. A sheet of plastic was thrown over this, and then covered in a thick layer of soil to keep all the heat inside. For anyone passing by, it would have just looked like a pile of dirt, but we knew it was hiding something much more tasty. Now, we just had to wait 45 minutes for the Pachamanca oven to do its thing.
Calamina to hot springs and back to Huaraz
The day started with a steep decent to a nearby village. We decended further into the valley and up and over a small ridge to reach some natural hot springs at the end of the trail. A relaxing way to finish off the walk. We said bye to the arrieros and jumped back into the van and headed back to Huaraz.
TRIP TYPE: Organised trek, burro assisted.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate, make sure you are nice and acclimitised
HIGHLIGHTS: Mountain ranges, high altitude passes, condors and stunning lakes.
TRAVEL TIME: Approx 6 hours to trailhead and 3 hours from finish back to Huaraz.
TRIP COSTS: We paid 580 soles for an all inclusive 8 day trek. Did not include the 65 soles entrance fee to National Park.
NOTES: We went with Ganesa travel. We had a few problems with the trip, and would recommend looking into going with Enjoy Huayhuash who I did the Huayhuash trek through (they were asking 650 soles for the 8 day trip including the section through the Santa Cruz valley). Ask your guides if they can make you a Pachmanca – it was a great experience.