Cordillera Blanca North: The Santa Cruz Trek

Spoiled from years of ultra running and not having to carry anything heavier than a light pack, I opt to drop some cash on the Santa Cruz Trek organized by Eco Ice Peru and let the donkeys do the heavy lifting.  One of the shorter treks north of Huaraz at 50 km, it is a great way to experience the Cordillera Blanca's masterful collection of big peaks, deep valleys, and pristine alpine lakes.

Unfortunately, a nasty little stomach bug wreaks havoc with my system and delays things. In the mean time, Jo's Place sees a steady inflow and outflow of north bounders and south bounders.  Australian Damion and Didier get things squared away and head off towards Punta Olimpica. Dean and Dang (@pedalling_slow) show up fresh from the Trans Ecuador, while Danny and Jess (@rollingontwowheels) whom I'd first crossed paths with down in El Bolson arrive a few days later.  

Eventually sorted with the help of some meds, I depart for the Santa Cruz Trek a week later.  

Day one brings us up through Parque Nacional Huascaran, passing one of many famed turquoise lakes dotting the Park: Laguna Llaganuco.

Up over Portachuelo de Llanganuco (4676m) we head out towards Vaqueria to begin the trek.  Part of the famed Triple Heart Bypass route, my cycling ego struggles with simply stepping out of a van at the top of a pass.

Afternoon sees cloudy skies settle in above the Rio Yurma valley as we head up towards our first camp.

Morning brings all smiles as team Australia / France / Holland / and yours truly head up towards Punta Union.

Guide Abel in his element.

Punta Union at 4750 m gives us some quality time gazing at Taulliraju's fluted, snow capped faces.

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Aquamarine blues await us below.

I stake out a spot in Taullipampa where we camp for the night and I stare in awe at the last breathtaking light of the day on Taulliraju

while the valley on the opposite side comes alive with Andean reds and oranges. Grateful.

A brief side trip the following morning takes us up into a quiet valley to Laguna Quitacocha where we bathe in the silence and subtly wind swept turquoise waters below.

More head swiveling as the backside of Alpamayo keeps a watchful eye on us.

Descending back through the valley evidences the fleeting nature of the Park's natural beauty.  Ten years ago the glacier on Alpamayo extended down to the grass line.  Projections suggest in twenty years all peaks in the Cordillera Blanca below 5000 m will be without glaciers. The time is now.

The iconic Paramount Pictures peak, Artesonraju at 6025 m, is already a far cry from its snow covered big screen glory.

Afternoon brings us down through the deep V-shaped valley dropping into Laguna Jatuncocha as we soak up the final highlights of the trek.

In my more fit ultra days, I likely would have turned the time out there into a long run focused on a definitive start and end. But this time around, the slower pace allows some time to reflect on Alan Watts' Why Life is NOT a Journey; focusing on travel not towards an end but on fully experiencing the moments throughout that travel allows:

The existence, the physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say, it doesn’t have some destination that it ought to arrive at.

...But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our conduct. We have a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of, “Come on kitty, kitty.” And you go onto kindergarten and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you get into first grade. Then, “Come on” first grade leads to second grade and so on. And then you get out of grade school and you got high school. It’s revving up, the thing is coming, then you’re going to go to college… Then you’ve got graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school you go out to join the world.

Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And they’ve got that quota to make, and you’re gonna make that. And all the time that thing is coming – It’s coming, it’s coming, that great thing. The success you’re working for.

Then you wake up one day about 40 years old and you say, “My God, I’ve arrived. I’m there.” And you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt... Because we simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line.

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at that end, and the thing was to get to that thing at that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.  But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.  

Alan Watts