More Cordillera Blanca magic

In the 1940’s a glacial lake high above Huaraz burst its moraine dam and sent a wall of water and rocks down 1500 vertical metres to and through the city killing 5000 people. Julio, a local mountain bike guide, had told us that the walking track to this lake (Lago Palcacocha) has been recently upgraded to a gravel road so we were able to bike to the lake from town in 2 short days.

It was a nice climb up thru the suburbs then zig zagging up a wide ridge before entering the Cullop gorge and yet another locked National Park gate. The valley Collup, with its share of cell phone stealing cows (a story related to us by a young couple walking out), was wilder than the Rajuculta valley of our previous trip. 1000m of climbing from town was enough for Alan’s cold and we had a nice camp by a waterfall.

Next day we carried on up under the watchful gaze of Palcaraju (6200m) & setup camp on a scenic knoll below the lake, then biked & walked the last few km’s.

The lake has a number of long siphon pipes that keep it’s water level low and a worker lives in a stone abode above the lake and has to call in every 2 hours to report on conditions. An earthquake or icefall collapse into the lake could cause the level to rise with potential problems downstream. It was impressive to see the level where the lake had been and the giant breach in its previous natural moraine dam and the lengths gone to to prevent another disaster.

The next morning we cycled back down the gorge then turned up the rough road up the adjacent Llaca gorge and another great campsite at the head at 4400m. Laguna Llaca, like all NZ glacial lakes, was a shadow of its former self as a result of glacial recession but still beautiful under its impressive 6000m mountain guardians.

Back at camp we had just crawled into the tent when large rain drops started falling ahead of sleet, hail and lightening. The violent mountain storm lasted 3 hours and we awoke in the wee hours to a total clearance and a moonlit mountainscape with Cerro Ranrapalca (6162m) dominating.

In these steep sided valleys we don’t start packing up till the sun hits around 8 and are on the road before 9. Less than 50 pedal strokes got us most of the 1400m down to the outer suburbs of Huaraz, such is the nature of the efficient gradients of the roads. Straight to a cafe for brunch before heading ‘home’ to Jo’s Place, our comfy hostel in Huaraz.

Yesterday was national day of the humble potato and today it is 48 years to the day that Huaraz was flattened by an earthquake measuring 7.8, and the most tragic in the history of the Western Hemisphere (70,000 deaths and 250,000 casualties in the region). Every year this is marked by a mock evacuation practise at 10am. Because of the earthquake the charm of Huaraz comes from the sorrounding 6000m peaks not the streetscape. There is but one street (Jose Olaya) that still has some original buildings lining a narrow cobbled lane. We talked to an old man sitting in the street who was in a small mountain village at the time so his family fared well. 

Tomorrow we cut our ties with this Andean city and it’s dramatic mountains and make tracks north