Trekking The Andes is easier said than done.
We are now officially resident in The Andes and are staying at The Lazy Dog Inn at an altitude of 3600m above sea level. We are already three times as high as the highest mountain peaks in the UK (Snowdon/Ben Nevis). Or 8.3 times as high as The Empire State Building in New York. The altitude literally takes your breath away as soon as you do anything remotely strenuous (like disembark the taxi and walk up a few steps to the front door!) We will get used to it – we have to as we are here in the Cordillera Blanca for a week to do some hiking and all at higher altitudes than this.
Our first hike is a simple starter circuit, known as ” The Cojup & Rio Cas Circuit”. It is 4.5km long and will take up to 3.5hours we are told. Off we set with a very basic outline on a map and a set of instructions. There are two ridges and a couple of valleys. We dip down a few hundred meters and ascend to about 3800m. It is hard going at first as we grapple to get enough air into our lungs. This is a good thing as it means we stop often to take in the spectacular views.
You might think 3.5 hours is a long time for 4.5km. We did too – before we did this. The animal tracks we followed downhill on our last descent took time to find and follow, the uphill stretches had us gasping for air. What would have been a stroll in the park at sea level is certainly a good workout at this height, afterall we are still acclimatizing.
The Huascaran National Park is massive (340,000 hectares!) and contains 27 snow-capped peaks over 6000m within the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. It is the highest tropical mountain range in the world and our next local trek takes us into the park, along the Llaca valley. At the end of the valley is one of the enormous mountains – Ranrapalca (6162m), a glacial lake and a huge glacier. It is the mountain we see from our bedroom window, mocking us as how deceptively close and inviting it looks. It is not our plan to conquer the peak, but rather to see glacier and the lake. We end up at around 4485m near base of the glacier. It is a 15km trek and as we are acclimatized by now the effort is enjoyable rather than “challenging”, taking much of the day.
There are no words that can adequately describe the sheer massiveness of the boulders and mountainsides. Our pictures to not adequately show the scale. The valley is narrow and the mountains so high. This is one of my favourite treks for the beauty of the valley, the bird and wild life, and the fact that we are the only people here! That is all alone except for a lone park ranger who appeared just for a minute from nowhere to collect our park entrance fees. Perhaps he had been watching us make our way ever upwards for some time.
A few more local treks keep us busy, hot and pleasantly exhausted. Each walk affords some great views of the Southern Cordillera Blanca. We have crossed high Andean agricultural land, seeing only a few donkeys, pigs and a few women in the distance tending their crops at the lower altitudes. We also scramble along rocky animal tracks and ridge pathways at the higher levels. The colorful quinoa is beautiful as are the wild and cultivated lupins that appear at random. The sheer magnificence of the landscape make us feel so tiny and insignificant.
After each trek, I feel no worse (in fact, a little better) than a good “LBT” class at the gym. We think we have burned lots of calories because of the exertion we feel at this altitude, but science tells me it was only our lungs working harder and the workout effect was the same as if we were doing this at sea level. Rats! I was hoping to look like a supermodel by the end of the week!