Peru 🇵🇪: Battling the Huayhuash circuit

Before taking my family on a tour through Colombia to see the country and meet Laura’s family, I had some time to get back into the mountains in Peru. While Peru for most means Machu Pichu, for me it meant a little bit of Lima yet mostly a lot of Huaraz – the gate to the Andes – and its surrounding mountain ranges like the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash. Admittedly, it turned into one of the most fascinating and exhausting hikes I have done.

Lima express visit

My time in Lima was limited to only two days – my first and last in Peru. Barely enough time to do a lot of sightseeing, but enough to get a feeling for the city and its colonial past. Different to what I heard about the traffic, I found the city rather sleepy. Who knows, might have been the jetlag!

Huaraz – Gate to the Andes

Huaraz is a rather unspectacular town situated at about 3,000m altitude surrounded by mountains wherever you look. Its a good base for a few days to get used to the higher altitude If you haven’t booked your tour, here is the place to do it (and for better prices than online).

My first day I spent sporting the shopping for the upcoming trek and I also had a few chats with guides. The general feedback was that we are out of season limiting climbing options. I also found a lack of experience with some of the mountains I was looking at. Best place to go is ‘Casa de Guias’ (house of guides) for some decent info.

Preparation hike no1: Churup Lake (4,450m) & Churupita lake (4,600m)

To hike Churup lake you need to get first transport to the trailhead in Pitek about 45mins by car. They run frequently and leave as early as 6am in the town center. The weather on the day was reasonably poor with quite a few wet spells. The trek sets out very easy and well marked until the upper section where you encounter some pretty steep parts with fixed steel wires. Once I arrived at the lake, it was initially all fogged up but cleared after a while. While physically not that challenging, I felt a very strong impact from altitude having been at sea leavel only 30h earlier and with just one day of acclimatisation in Huaraz. The flu I brought with me from my river adventure in London (England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿: Thames cruise on “De lachende Moor”- mayday, mayday …) didn’t help either and would be a drag for many days to come. Needless to say, I collapsed into my bed after a brief dinner consisting of painkillers to fix my head … and next day was a day off!

Preparation hike no2: A visit to Laguna 69

Second acclimatisation hike to 4,600m. Beautiful day that despite sunblock gave me a sunburn right away. The laguna is an amazing sight and well worth a hike if you don’t mind sharing with crowds. While taking some drone footage, Chris from Regensburg joined me and we ended up discussing literally god and the world until we had descended all the way back down. He had also lived in Colombia for a while and hence we had a good place to start among a few other shared interests. Near the pick up point for our bus journey back we met a Japanese cyclist how had cycled here from Alaska and continues all the way to Ushuaia in Argentina. A three year project. Wow. Jealous. Compared to Harry from Germany he was far from travelling light. I told him that the Serbian cyclist (see here) I met on my sultan’s trail bike tour will be heading up the other way soon. I bet you they’ll somehow meet …

While feeling good on the mountain, i again didn’t feel great in the bus. Tired. Compared to my time in Nepal, the huge altitude gains had me suffer. Further, i had prepared poorly for food and i think my body was asking for energy. The hot shower that day in the hotel felt especially good. I must have been in there for 20mins or thereabout. The 2 hour nap afterwards was great too! Then i felt great again and packed up to leave for Huayhuash the following morning … With 27kg in my pack as I took gear to hike, camp, eat and also to climb (a combo I would come to regret later on).

Getting to Llamac & the trailhead for the Huayhuash Circuit

Public transport to Llamac leaves very early (4.30ish my bus) and goes via Chiquian. Book tickets before (or sit on the stairs like i did). Departure point is here Transportes El Rapido (https://maps.app.goo.gl/Bgu2MyD3JzCjJhk76).

Chiquian is pretty little town where trash even collectors are cheery and play loud music on their car. The bus from here to Llamac usually departs 8am. I used the good hour i had stopover for breakfast. However, when I enquired about a ticket I was told that today there was in fact no transport at all. The one chance was to hitch with another group of tourists. I was directed to a place called “la salida’ – a restaurant that tour guys frequent, bring tourists and get their food free. Here i met a group of three hikers from Cologne that were also on the way to Huayhuash to do the valley circuit. Thankfully they were happy to take me along.

Valley circuit vs Alpine circuit

The valley circuit takes you along well trodden tails that keep you always above 4,000m and with passes as high 5,000m. It measures more than 100km depending on the starting point and is typically completed in 8-12 days. trekkers usually hire donkeys to carry equipment and food.

The Alpine circuit is shorter at about 80km, but requires technical climbing skills and good orientation for there are often no visible trails. You also have to carry your own gear and food for donkeys can’t manoeuvre this terrain. Best description for the alpine trek is this https://www.huayhuashalpinecircuit.com/

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Starting the alpine circuit – first stop Garagocha Lake

(3.6km, ⬆️ 572m,⬇️ 136m)

The journey to my trailhead (between Pocba & Cuartelwain camp site) was swift and rich in conversation. The couple from Cologne is currently on a one year journey in South America, South Africa and Asia while her friend just joined them for the trek. Great stories al around.

Map of the Classic Huayhuash circuit

By 10.30am they dropped me off and it was time to hike. The scenery was already breathtaking and soon the struggle uphill was even more breathtaking. Progress was extraordinarily slow though with that kind of weight it had to be expected. First the way led up a valley with huge weather fluctuations – sun, hail, rain, blue sky and grey clouds. For some steep bits the axes came out already on day one. Not your ordinary hike! At some stage I lost the trail and veered off to the right where a rocky cliff wouldn’t let me pass until I managed to find a way around to arrive above Garagotcha lake at 4,500m.

I cooked dinner, but panicked as my new lightweight stove didn’t seem to work well. But it was just the altitude … all cooking takes a long time. The first night was super cold despite new sleeping bag (3 season not sufficient here, mine is rated to -8/9). Further, the altitude effects didn’t help sleeping either.

Second day: ‘You shall not pass’ Garagotcha col – the ‘crux’ of the alpine circuit

(5.0km, ⬆️ 695m,⬇️ 240m)

The tent was covered in ice in the morning. I still have this bloody cold and coughing which doesn’t help up here. I made my porridge with doubledecker choco bar for breakfast. Tasty. And with a bit of sun I continued to my way up.

The day turned out really bad. First I wasted 100m in altitude hiking up the wrong side of the mountain and then ever more technical terrain that made the backpack weigh even more. Tough going as I climbed towards 5,000m. Big issue today was that I lost my sunglasses that meant no mountain climbing or glacier crossing for me this time to avoid the risk of snow blindness (and meant that I am carrying some gear like crampons and ice screws now just for fun!). I tried to find the glasses retracing my steps, but finding a black case in the midst of rubble is a bit pointless I had to acknowledge.

Eventually I made it to the Garagotcha col that includes the technically hardest bot of the circuit with a 25m, 5 rated climb. Dangeround, exposed and too hard for me after a long day especially with the backpack. The onsetting snowstorm didn’t help either. At times it felt really scary as I stood on rather porous ledges without being secured by much more than my foot and hand holds. I tried to climb ahead without the rucksack (which worked), but failed to pull the rucksack up later.

Eventually I gave up, but fixed one of my axes for safety next day and retreated to make camp on a small lake some 50m down at 4,850m. Tomorrow I will try again after what turned into another cold night.

Third day: Passed the crux, off now more climbing

(6.3km, ⬆️ 732m,⬇️ 856m)

The axe I left the day before provided a bit more mental security (about 15m up and right next to my axe are also two pitons I could have used, but didn’t see) and a ok nights sleep gave me enough firepower to get me and the rucksack up and over the col. The climb down on the other side proved ok, but yet again prove that this is not for the ordinary hiker.

Learned again that staying on the GPS path is important to avoid facing non-passable terrain. Steep descent towards to Mitucocha lake for lunch. Then up, up, up again. Eventually hopping over rocks at the top of the ridge. The ascent took me so long that I didn’t make it to Chaclan lake, but camped up high. This time with only 300ml of water.

Day four: I need water & Siula Pass

(7.4km, ⬆️ 740m,⬇️ 846m)

Really thirsty in the morning, but water had to wait. Initially up to 4,900m before the descent to the lake begins. Impressive views. Found out later that people that life here don’t even know of this lake as only few know of the alpine route. 1 liter of water disappeared quickly once i reached Chaclan.

From here the descent was meant to be easy. I chose again to try my own path only to find a seriously steep descent (well, initially I though there was no way down). Views to die for yet super exhausting. Lunch in the Carhuacocha Valley (4,150m) with sunshine.

From here, a easier path towards the three lakes (where I had to pay my first fee of 30 Soles to a lovely grandma) and up the Siula pass. Run out of time again and camped some 150m below the pass. Sadly my flint stone was not working anymore and hot meal and drink was not an option which was upsetting to say the least. Cold night. Really happy i brought hand warmers along. Need to find a lighter in the next village (especially to make hot water bottles and soup!).

Day Five: Off to the thermal springs!

(12km, ⬆️ 665m,⬇️ 562m)

Freaking cold night. All frozen. Super foggy … will be a hot day today. Looking forward to making it to Viconga lake and the hot springs nearby.

Great day. Started 6:45am with only a muesli. Crossed the siula path without problems. Then down into Huayhuash valley passing animal herds and eventually joining the valley circuit to reach the thermal springs (the alpine route takes you up to Trepecio camp via the Trapecio glacier).

At Viconga lake I met a family that collected a fee again and sold me matches. Lovely kids, lovely location to live. be it basic. My day finished in amazing fashion as I had 38 degrees thermal springs just to myself and got to wash myself properly for the first time in almost a week. Listened all day to an audio book called the “Die andere Hälfte der Hoffnung“. Fascinating.

Once i put up camp I also saw that the tent was still frozen from this morning despite the sun all day. Wow!

Day six: Relax. Just Relax.

Technically this day was reserved to climb Pumarini and the conditions were good. However, climbing this mountain solo without glasses is simply a bad idea. So instead I stayed all day at the springs to recover more (the flu still making me suffer). Talked with the guardian and getting myself proper sunburnt sitting in the basins all day.

Sadly, the day turned out superbusy as another hiking group arrived as well as a large Peruvian family (there is a road connection not that far away). Thanks for sharing the food, but sadly I noted that it is the locals that leave most rubbish behind.

The audiobook is finished now, so I read ‘notes from a small island’ by Billy Bryson instead and take a virtual tour through the UK with him.

Day seven: Across Cuyoc pass

(9km, ⬆️ 721m,⬇️ 573m)

Reasonably good going despite 700m ascent. Pretty gradual overall. 5000m pass was exhausting to say the least. Views pretty average. Slept straightaway for an hour after I arrived in camp today. Same Spanish hiking group as yesterday and one more that climbed Pumarini and is off to climb Diablo Mudo after. No other solo hiker in sight and sometimes a bit jealous as to the comfort the other groups enjoy.

Chatted with a guide who agreed that climbing without glasses is stupid (there was an incident on nearby Alpamayo not long ago).

Worst news of the day was that on top of altitude, bad sleep and flu … I got myself diarrhea. It just doesn’t stop!

Day eight: Feels like dying

(5.5km, ⬆️ 658m,⬇️ 908m)

Really bad night. Very cold despite the decent camp site. I think i boiled water three times to keep warm. Diarrhea still causing me big trouble in the morning. Little appetite like last night. No energy.

Turned out to be the worst day of all. Left well after all the others. Straight up 600m towards the San Antonio pass (5,000m). Half way i stopped for lack of power. I was literally shivering in the middle of sunshine and had to rest. So sleeping bag out and 30 minute time out.

Continued afterwards in 10m increments like an animal (or worse). No power whatsoever. took me 4h for the 600m. Superslow. This was followed by 800m steep decent, which also required a lot of strength. Frequent stops. Little water. A bit of irony maybe that I felt like dragging myself for I had reached the location of the ‘Touching the void‘ drama where Joe Simpson self rescued himself after breaking his leg climbing Siula Grande (a book i had just read in preparation of the tour).

After three hours I made it to camp and passed out for a while. made camp and slept without dinner. constantly out of the camp to go to toilet.

Day nine: Aborting the mission early

Although I felt much better and had a soup in the morning, I figured it was best to leave it here and retreat to the valley. I just felt too weak and didn’t want to risk getting back late to Huaraz. So down I headed the valley to the village of Huayllapa. Nice hike and refreshing to be back below 4000m for the first time in 9 days.

The village is very basic and alcohol amongst its residents a problem. Houses in colonial style (balcony) and in colours, but all very dark with hardly any windows. Not very inviting to enter any of the shops. Kids are playing in the streets and all very dirty. Apart from one car I saw zero traffic. Different world!

Loving my bed though. While there was no heating in the room, there was tons of blanket to cover you as you wish. Very comfi. Good night … it would have been if the local youth drunks wouldnt have been so noisy!

Tomorrow the long journey back to Huaraz awaits!

England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿: Thames cruise on “De lachende Moor”- mayday, mayday …

I have to turn back the clock quite some years to take me back to the time I lived on a house boat right by tower bridge. With hindsight, it was probably my best time in London and I made some wonderful friendships that last until today.

Paul is one of these friends and without a doubt the biggest character of all as my other friends will happily attest. He lived next door on a steel hulled dutch barge called ‘De lachende Moor’. He skippered his steel monster the way from Holland across the channel. No experience? No problem! A true, full-blood english explorer.

Fast forward to today Paul asked me for help to get his boat into dry dock downriver at Chatham. Sure! It turned out that he picked a beautiful evening to start the trip. The sunset was amazing with vivid colours and lovely, open views of the London skyline courtesy of the river.

He came alone from Barking dock and picked me up at the Thames Clipper pier in Woolwich / Royal Arsenal. Without Paul actually stopping i jumped on the boat to the surprise of folks waiting for the official ‘public’ transport. Off we went into the night…

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It was already late and visibility increasingly poor. However, we wanted to make some way in order to make the next days journey quicker. After i while paul left me to steer and disappeared into the boat. It was really dark by now and hard to tell what is river and what is mud as we approached low tide.

I saw lots of seagulls resting in the shallow waters to my right (starboard) and made sure to keep a distance. Still i misjudged the situation for the birds didn’t sit in shallow water, but in the mud itself. By the time i realised that we had already hit a mudbank. Stop.

There was no getting away and so we prepared dinner waiting cor high tide to lift us off. Eventually a boat from the London Port authority joined us and, once the water levels allowed, pulled us off the mudbank and led us to this nights resting place.

Off to Chatham

We left bright and early (partly to avoid paying a mooring overnight fee) and headed down the river. Paul was up even earlier than i was and prepared a fry-up … the smell tingling my nose and forcing me out of bed despite the bitter morning cold.

Soon after we set off we passed under Dartfort crossing. The weather was miserable at best – rainy, cold, foggy … and no wheel house to hide in. Coffee and snacks kept us going as we headed towards the North Sea.

Late morning another incident, as we tried to cut short the path off the Thames and on the River Medway. We got stuck on mud again. Really hard to see that though this time we managed to free ourselves (as the tide was coming in) and continued our journey.

Conditions got rougher now by the minute and waves became a real challenge forcing the boat to move in corkscrew like patterns. One moment the forces was so strong as to catapult Paul’s tender boat and bicycle off the barge and into the river … bye, bye.

We ended up calling the coast guard for support and while we only requested moral support really, they dispatched one of their boats to guide us into the next harbour. We were well relieved, prepared lunch and headed down to Chatham in much calmer waters where we checked the barge into dry dock. Fingers crossed the survey doesn’t turn out too bad!

Anyway, what a fun two days out. Thanks captain Widdecombe! It was a real adventure.

Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿: Family trip to Edinburgh & Cairngorms National Park

I remember fondly the time Laura and I spent in Scotland just one year ago. What great memories of the Fringe festival, Jen & Sean’s wedding in Dunkeld or our three week hike on the Scottish national trail. This time we came here to belatedly make good on a birthday present for Bodo … a present we gifted more than one year ago yet group dynamics prevented an earlier trip.

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Checking out Edinburgh: Friday for Future Fun

While the masses of the fringe festival held throughout August had left town, it was still pretty busy with tourists. And there was Greta Thunberg and her climate movement. And it was Friday.

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So amidst ~20,000 of people joining the global Friday for future climate strikes, thus neatly avoiding school, we visited Edinburgh on a mild and sunny late summer day. Castle, Grassmarket, Greyfriar church, Royal mile etc. I used a few notes of last years blog to share the stories of Edinburghs most famous dog Greyfriar Bobby, of Maddie Dickson and how the term “shit-faced” came about (see Edinburgh: Beauty. Tales. Art. Friends.).

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In the afternoon we hiked up to Arthurs seat to enjoy the splendid views of Edinburgh and the North Sea. Many others were likeminded and hence it was quite busy up there.

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Nightlife in Edinburgh is always worthwhile – lots of pubs and bars with life music (and lots of more upmarket options if it tickles your fancy). So we enjoyed everything from Scottish folk songs by a group of brothers from the North of the country, improvised fiddle & accordion music and more.

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Dalwhinnie Whiskey Distillery: Getting the taste of it

Saturday we left the city behind us and headed north into the Highlands and Cairngorms National Park (by now easily the park in visited most on the island). Never-mind the destination, the way up there is lovely with stunning scenery wherever you turn your head. You can even spot deer, pheasants, foxes and rabbits … so mainly dead on the roadside. Sadly.

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After two hours we reached the distillery with its beautiful building and distinct roof construction. Dalwhinnie distillery is the most elevated in Scotland (~400m) and facing the coldest conditions (6 degrees average annual vs. 12 in London and 13 in Dresden).

Scotch single malt – What makes a scotch a scotch

  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (and yeast)
  • No added ingredients
  • Matured in an oak cask for at least 3 years in Scotland
  • Minimum 40% alcohol

The guided tour takes about 75 minutes and is very informative. At Dalwhinnie they produce 1.5m liters of whiskey per year, most of which becomes the trademark 15y Dalwhinnie scotch you can buy in most duty free shops in the world.

There is, however, also a “winter gold” edition. This one is produced, as you might have guessed, in winter times as the chilly conditions from October through March cool down the alcohol vapour in such a way that its not conducive to producing the standard brand. And i guess the owner Diageo didn’t want to have the factory idle half the year!

 

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Hiking the Ruthven & Glen Tromie circuit

It was still only early afternoon and the weather still splendid. So we hit the hiking trail for a 11km circular hike (viewranger link to route) with about 250m ascent. The path, while well visible, is wild and takes you through a range of different scenery. We even briefly got lost. Barren hills, farm land, deserted houses, rivers, forrest… the trail really offers a bit of everything. Start and finish is marked by the Ruthven barracks.

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After 3:40mins we made it back and headed for the nearest pub for refreshments.

 

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Frances rediscovered her love for horses it appears. Male ones mainly.

 

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Kingussie: Mostly quiet with a bit of disco light

Last year Di picked Laura and myself up from the pub in Kingussie and treated us to a lovely dinner in her house (Scottish National Trail: Crossing Cairngorm National Park & Dinner at Di’s (days 9, 10, 11)). This time we had a little time to explore this 1,400 soul village. Well, there is not that much. We enjoyed a dinner in the best rated restaurant (mc Innes) in town (well, partly best rated as they give you 10% off your bill if you review the restaurant before paying … but it was genuinely decent).

We tried the local pub again (which at the time of our visit didn’t serve food) only to find some crazy old Scottish dude entertaining the locals with disco lights and music mostly suited to the older generation (and in a very random order). We didn’t stay long and rather retired to the hotel after an exhausting, but fun day out.

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And Sunday it was time to head home – naturally not without a short hike around Pitlochry and its hydro power station.

 

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Dessert & kites in Cabo de la Vela (La Guajira)

La Guajira is a department of Colombia of which i have only seen a tiny bit when visiting the beaches of Palomino with its crazy waves. This time round we found the time to see the real La Guajira – a peninsula made up of mostly wastelands and desserts not far from the border to Venezuela and (by air) not far from Aruba (Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life).

laguajira

Northernmost tip of Colombia & South America

Long journey: If you ask me, the best way to travel the 300km to Cabo de la Vela is by motorbike (ideally an Enduro, but roadbike works fine too as long as its dry) and probably with a stop. We opted for public transport instead though it is cumbersome and takes 10 hours (!) spread over 4 vehicles (Santa Marta, Riohacha, Quattrovillas, Uribia, Cabo de la Vela). The most interesting part of the journey is the 4×4 from / to Uribia where you share precious little space with lots of people and tons of boxes with ice cubes!

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Hot & dry!

Tough life: Life in this part of Colombia is far from easy. Basic things like water, electricity and road infrastructure are missing or in poor condition. The proximity to Venezuela doesn’t help either other than with cheap petrol contraband that crosses the border in Coca Cola bottles (EUR0,35 / liter vs. EUR0,70 officially).

The people: In Guajira you will find the tribe of the Wayuu with markedly different looks – darker hair, dark skin. They also have their own language and not all speak Spanish including many young people.

Kite tourism: While the village of Cabo de la Vela was pretty empty when we visited (season is June & Nov-Jan when you will struggle to find accomodation), there were quite a few kite surfers around. And quite skillful ones at that. Impressive to say the least.

Overall a great time especially with our two travel companions (Xiomara & Astrid) from Bogota. Generally I am not a huge fan of very hot and dry places, but La Guajira is a place worth seeing. Next time we come for a little longer and get kitesurfing ourselves!

Colombia 🇨🇴: Making coffee from A to Z in Filandia

No, we haven´t suddenly hopped from Colombia to Scandinavia! Rather we took two busses from Salento to get us to another colonial beauty in the coffee zone that is maybe a little less well known to foreigners – the town of Filandia.

Some footage of our day out in Filandia

After a night out in town with some really good Colombian cuisine, we visited a local hostel that rents out bikes and also does tours. For the tour we were late (start like 7.30am to avoid the heat), but for COP40.000 per bike we were soon in the saddle to explore Filandia´s surroundings. First up was Filandia´s mirador – a roman times looking watchtower that offers splendid views of the surrounding hills. Must see!

From there we cycled about 15km to a coffee plantation called Finca El Carriel. We took the off-road path, which is fine given it is all downhill (quite literally). Admittedly, we stopped frequently to marvel at the stunning scenery. Just perfect!

Once at the plantation, two German travellers joined us and we all enjoyed a fantastic tour (COP35.000 each) that explained (and let us do ourselves) the process of coffee making from the seed all the way to freshly grounded coffee from the french press. Impressive (and tasty). Ahh … the fresh oranges were also super juicy.

Probably a little to too self confident we continued to the town of Quimbaya (more downhill) for some food and refreshments. On the way back we paid the price and now the way was ALWAYS uphill for 16km. The sun burning relentlessly. Quite gruesome 2.5h to get back to FIlandia and catch a bus to Perreira … but scenic nonetheless. I guess we both can do with a little more exercise on the legs ;o)

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