The Santa Cruz trek

After visiting the vast Chimu ruins at Chan Chan (where we were constantly asked to have our picture taken with locals) we took a nightbus to Huaraz.

Jack at Chan Chan

I have never been much of a trekker but once we got to Huaraz, doing a four-day, three-night 45 km hike (and for only US$120) seemed like the obvious option. We had planned to spend a few days acclimatising to the altitude in the town but as it was much scrappier than we expected we signed up for a trek on our first day. This was our itinerary:

Day 1

After a 5.30am wake-up we met our group for breakfast:

  • Canadian couple and their friend: Kate, Lorne and Wendy
  • French sisters: Maude and Coralie
  • Israeli couple: Anni and Michelle
  • Lone American: Rose
  • Peruvian guide: Abel
  • Plus the cook and donkey driver (an important man as the food, camping equipment and all our stuff was carried by the donkeys)

We then drove for several hours passing breathtaking scenery of turquoise glacial lakes, emerald-green hillsides and snow-capped mountains and climbing higher and higher along switchbacks to the village of Vaqueri where the trek started.

View of the valley from the road up
Hardcore trekkers carrying all their gear for four days

We set off down into the valley and went past small villages where children asked for sweets. Abel (the guide) kept stopping us to rest but no-one was tired yet and after we questioned him he admitted that he was slowing us down as the donkeys, cook and driver had not passed as yet (normally they get to camp first to set up your tents and prepare the dinner).

Dinner in the tent

We arrived at our camp in a river valley after about five hours of walking and were soon treated to delicious soup, chicken, rice and tinned peaches, all prepared in a tent. Jack had a bad headache from the altitude so we retired to our tent and were asleep by 8pm.

Day 2

Today was supposed to be the hardest day as we reached the highest pass on the hike. We started off with a decent breakfast of frankfurters and scrambled eggs and then began to climb fairly solidly for about five hours. I found it hard but Jack really struggled with the lack of air and had to stop for breath every few steps. We were the slowest but finally made it to the Punta Union pass at 4,750 m.

Our group at the top (with us sporting local knitwear)

There should have been an amazing view of the surrounding mountain range at this altitude but it was a cloudy day so it was shrouded in mist. After a packed lunch we headed two hours downhill to camp (but were warned not to descend too fast as that can be dangerous at this height). On the way we passed another amazing glacial lake at the foot of a snowy mountain.

After another lovely dinner we headed to an early bed but were kept awake by the strong winds which were so powerful that they blew the toilet tent down and freezing temperature even though we slept in all our clothes.

Day 3

We woke-up for sunrise over the surrounding mountains, expecting it to be overcast after last night’s storm, but it was clear blue sky and we watched in awe as the rising sun changed the colour of the snow on the mountain tops from orange to yellow to white.

Sunlight on the mountains around camp
An improvement

The previous night Abel had given us the chance to do an additional 12km walk to a beautiful lake but the group had been divided. However, with today’s weather looking good we all decided to do it and it turned out to be the highlight of the four days. It was an amazingly azure lake surrounded by mountains and at one end a glacier fed directly into it. We spent several hours walking around it and viewing it from all angles.

Lake and glacier

After lunch we continued on to camp passing another stunning lake where Abel suggested we could swim. Jack said he was not going in as it would be freezing but after the Canadians went for a dip, the guide made the (fatal) mistake of saying to him that he would go in if Jack did. Never one to duck a (stupid) challenge, Jack stripped off and jumped in, much to Abel’s surprise as I think he was bluffing.

Jack freezing

After 12 hours of walking we finally reached camp where tea and biscuits were ready.

Day 4

Today we had a ‘lie-in’ until 8am so were able to appreciate our final campsite which was the picturesque as our tent was located on a separate island surrounded by streams – when we unzipped our door there was fresh running water right outside.

View from the tent

We followed the river through the valley to the village of Cashapampa for about four hours where we met other groups just starting the trek in the other direction. The minibus took as back to Huaraz passed more gorgeous scenery and then we went for a burger to celebrate being back in civilisation.

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