The Santa Cruz-Llanganuco trek is located just north of Huaraz, and goes through Peru's highest and most spectacular mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca. The 5-day trek can be done in either direction: I chose to start in the Santa Cruz river valley, and to work my way over to Laguna Llanganuco. Amazing scenery, and the trek is the easiest and the most popular in the Huaraz area.
My 5-day hike through the Cordillera Blanca — Peru's highest and most spectacular mountain range, north of Huaraz — has been a tonne of fun, and a unique experience. It's the first hike that I've done (on this trip) purely for the natural scenery, rather than for the ruins, or for the animals. And it's the first hike that I've done solo, without a group or a guide, and without anyone to help me along the way. In my opinion, you can't say that you've backpacked through South America, until you've done something like this, and lived to tell the tale.
When I realised that I'd gone the wrong way this morning — to the Pisco high camp, instead of to the famous Laguna 69 — I thought that I wouldn't be able to make it to the laguna today. But as it turned out, I was able to have my cake and eat it too: I made it to Laguna 69; and boy, was it worth it. Quite a stunning place indeed.
For my 5th and final day hiking in the mountains, I intended to just go and visit the famous "Laguna 69" (no idea why it's called that — but it is a cool name!), which is about a 2½ hour walk from my campsite (from last night) of Cebollapampa. Nothing more: simply visit the lagoon, then come back. But instead, I accidentally took the route up the mountains, to the Pisco high camp. Anyway, all turned out well in the end, and I had a much bigger and better day than I originally bargained on.
The fourth day of the Santa Cruz hike was a short but interesting one, as well as being very scenic. Spent all morning continuing to hike down through the Huaripampa river valley; then I reached the teeny mountain town of Vaqueria, and from there caught a combi over to Llanganuco. I've reached the road, now: so I could have just gone back to Huaraz tonight, thus resulting in my skipping the fifth day of the hike; but why would I wanna do that? Still way too much fun to be had.
Christian is a Belgian guy, and part of the (largely) French group that I bumped into yesterday afternoon. As I was hiking with this group all of this morning, and as Christian was the only one in the group to speak decent English, I ended up talking to him a fair bit. Really nice guy, just down here for a few weeks, for his summer vacation. Yay: more Belgians!
After getting back down from Punta Union, the rest of the hiking in day 3 of the Santa Cruz hike was very pleasant. From lunchtime onwards, it was all downhill, through the Huaripampa river valley, to the camp of Paria. Beautiful scenery, much-improved weather, and a steady pace all the way. Plus, I bumped into my friend Angel.
Angel (pronounced in the Spanish way: "an-khel") is a cute, 10-year-old boy that I met this afternoon, on day 3 of the Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike. He was sitting all by himself on the side of the track, minding a small herd of donkeys and horses, while his father went off to catch trout in the river nearby. I chatted with Angel for a little while (he spoke good Spanish — not just Quechua!), and I gave him a pen, which all the kids around here ask you for (they need them for school). Happy little chappy: who knows, he could be a tourguide one day.
This morning — to start off the third day of the Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike — I climbed the pass of Punta Union, the hardest leg of the whole expedition. With the 2nd-night campsite of Taullipampa at 4250m (asl), and with Punta Union at 4750m, it's a fairly intense 500m climb. The weather still wasn't too good this morning: so although the area was snow-covered (unusual for this time of year), visibility was quite poor — a shame, since this spot is meant to offer the best views on the whole hike. Anyway, was good to reach the top of the pass, and was good to descend to the other side.
Big surprise, this being a hike and all: but funnily enough, today consisted of a lot more walking. Extremely flat all morning, then up and down after lunch. Today's walk finished off the first part of this hike, which consists of following the Santa Cruz river valley upstream, from west to east. Also had some amazing views of snow-capped mountains in the afternoon, when I ascended to the Alpamayo lookout area: the mountains around here are just something else.
Apart from the fun of getting there, and the donkey thing in the morning, day 1 of the Santa Cruz hike was basically just a lot of walking. Most of it gentle uphill, through the Santa Cruz river valley. Most of it alone — although I had company here and there. And most of it very scenic, and very beautiful indeed (fine weather was a blessing as well).