elcome to Huaraz, base camp for the second highest mountain range in the world outside the HimalWaya. Trekkers and climbers, and outdoor adventurers of all stripes, have a lot to choose from. The Cordillera Blanca soars in jagged pyramids, glaciers domes and knife-edge ridges. The Santa River runs through town with Class II – IV whitewater. The snow-less Cordillera Negra rises on the other side of town and offers mountain biking, horseback riding and hikes framed with the best views of the Blanca.
But wait. Keep in mind that Huaraz hosts Peru’s best collection of backpacker restaurants, hostels and cafes. The city lies at a heady 9,934 feet (3,028 meters) and most of the trekking passes hang at 15,000 feet (roughly 4,500 meters) and above. To avoid altitude sickness, take a day or two in Huaraz to acclimatize.
Here’s a time-proven Huaraz acclimatization regime: drink lots of water and hike to Mirador Rataquena, the hill above town with the cross on top.
Afterwards cruise through Huaraz’s colorful vegetable market and check out snow and weather conditions at the Casa de Guias, the headquarters of Peru’s certified mountain and trekking guides.
If you need another day (and most people do), rent a mountain bike and cruise down the Cordillera Negra. Or take a combi down-valley to go sport climbing in Chancos and visit the Don Bosco art cooperative in nearby Marcará, where teenagers trained by Catholic priest Ugo de Censi crank out furniture, blown glass, ceramics, weavings and stone sculptures. Then soak in the hot baths at Monterrey.
Once you’re ready, go big. Forego the oft-publicized day trips and launch yourself into the mountains. If you’re going on your own, double-check every detail and go with a group of three or more. Or go with a reputable agency, even if you have to pay more, and make sure your trekking or climbing guide is certified through the Casa de Guias. There are dozens of world-class possibilities, depending on your time and skill level.
Looking for a two-to-three night trek? Check out the Quilcayhuanca or Rajucolta valleys near Huaraz or, further north, the route over the yanayacu pass. A slightly longer trek leads from Olleros to Chavín de Huántar, a complex of ruins built thousands of years before Machu Picchu. If you don’t have a tent nor stove, and don’t want to hire a guide, hike into the newly built lodges near the Llaganuco lakes or the Ishinca Valley. After a day’s hike to get there, you can get a room, sip coca tea and warm yourself in front of the fire. Both places offer good day hikes out the back door – and access to the warm-up peaks of Pisco and Ishinca.
Veteran trekkers are drawn to the area’s iconic trek, the four- or five-day journey past the Alpamayo pyramid from Llaganuco lakes to the village of Santa Cruz. More remote options, and about twice as long, lead around the remote north side of Alpamyo or include a circle around the Huayhuash, the Blanca’s sister range to the south. The Huayhuash, publicized by the book and movie Touching the Void, is a continuous serrated ridge that falls into a series of snow faces and glaciers decorated with snow-blasted flutings and meringue.
Commerce between the Pacific coast and Amazon jungle has flowed through the Huaraz area for thousands of years. That is a main reason why the Chavín, Peru’s first empire state, arose here and spread across the Andes. Now mining and other modern forces are threatening the ecology, and ways of life, in the mountains around Huaraz. Before you head out on a trek or climb, check out the seven principles of Leave No Trace, available at www.lnt.org/programs/lnt7. We all can help preserve this remarkable corner or our planet.
By: Ross Wehner.