We have been blown away by the vistas of the Cordillera Blanca, and our circuit of Huascaran has been an amazing way to finish. The loop (Carhuaz return) is approx 200km and close to 5000 vertical metres (which incidentally took us into the stratosphere) and the first 90km is baby bottom smooth paved road. We did it in an anti clockwise direction, crossing the paved Punta Olympica pass thru to the town of Chacas. We had our first whole day of rain on the trip so we sat it out in our tent at the bottom of the climb to Punta Olympica.
It was worth the wait as the mountain views the next day on the climb were superb. With the paving of the road they constructed a 1.3km tunnel to avoid the top 200m to the pass. Because of the fresh snow from the storm the day before we hitched through the tunnel instead of riding to the old pass. It was a treat to descend 1400m on the smooth scenic paved road to Chacas.
Chacas was unaffected by the 7.8 earthquake that killed 70,000 people in 1970. Huaraz was all but destroyed and another village Yungay, on the same (western) side of the mountains got completely buried in a matter of minutes when it was hit by a huge avalanche of rock and mud after a huge block of ice was dislodged from Huascaran. Hence the villages on the eastern side of the range are more traditional in the tiled roofs and narrow streets.
From Chacas we enjoyed the climb over a 4000m pass through small villages. As has happened before when meeting locals, the older mamas want to take the gringa mamacita (jo) home with them. I think they feel sorry for me! I also got a cry of “Que bonito su vestido” from a women outside her house – she had taken a liking to my colourful top and skirt.
We stayed in Yanama – distinctive for its brand new, very modern Church. It would have blended with other Gaudi architecture but not so well in a Peruvian village.
The best view was saved to last. The 4700m pass called Portachuelo was blasted through the rocky head wall and the views to the north and south peaks of Huascaran and Huandoy with its overhanging granite face took our breath away. The ascent road had been very rough, and it didn’t improve on the gazillions of zigzags down to the valley floor. Because the road is used a lot we expected a better surface.
We set up camp at the Cerro Pisco base camp and after lunch went up to the stunning Laguna 69. Next day we made it back to Carhuaz through steep granite walls and then productive agricultural land. Above Yungay it was sobering to reflect on the mudslide that tore through and destroyed the town and killed 18,000 people. The only survivors were those who made it to the higher ground of the cemetery, ironically.
Back in Huaraz we just have one day to pack up before the road and air journey home.. Legs get to have a big ol’ rest..