Into the White Range
When most travelers consider going to Peru it’s often about checking Machu Picchu (7,972 feet) off the bucket list. When most adventuresome trekkers consider Peru, they consider the Cordillera Blanca (22,205 feet).
This Himalayaesque range has 40 peaks topping 19,000 feet, making it the tallest tropical mountain range in the world and that’s a good thing for being in the backcountry. It’s often mild, especially below tree line, and the warmth leads to glacial melts, hidden waterfalls and turquoise shimmering lakes. With lots of water there is rich and varied wildlife including the Andean Condor that soars beneath Mt. Huarascan, a 22,000 foot goliath.
Tusker will make its maiden South American voyage there this June with a 15-day trip offering a unique take on the venerable hiking circuits in Huarascan National Park. These trails were formerly laid down by the Incas in the 1400’s, but were traveled long before by pre-Incan native South Americans. Huarascan is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that, despite 1,000 years of trekking, still offers remote wilderness.
Andrew’s Andean Take
Tusker’s U.S. Operations Director and South American guide, Andrew Springsteel will lead the trip. He emulated Tusker founder Eddie Frank’s 40-year tradition by hand-crafting the trip with his own boots – on the ground- in the Cordillera Blanca. After studying the half-dozen or so circuits and evaluating trips offered by Tusker’s competitors, Andrew came up with a plan with Tusker’s specific clientele in mind.
He knew that Tusker’s trekkers want something unique so the most popular hiking circuit in the Cordillera, the Santa Cruz route wasn’t right. Andrew’s take on trekking Peru’s Cordillera Blanca is to spend the front end of the trip acclimatizing with some relatively gentle hikes to spectacular places (Laguna 69, LLanganco Valley) as well as a two night camp-out. The back end of the trip includes a five night trek and camp-out in the most rugged, least visited area, the Quilqueyhuanca Valley east of Huaraz, the trip’s anchor city.
The Right Balance
Unlike other Cordillera Blanca trips that remain in the backcountry for long stretches and don’t allow adequate time for acclimatization, Tusker’s trip unwinds at a healthy pace and is broken up between backcountry camp-outs with nights in Huaraz’ comfortable San Sebastian Hotel whose owners are climbers. This allows trekkers to get a hot shower, use Wi-Fi and sleep in a comfy bed before finishing strong with a five night trek up the Quilqueyhuanca Valley. These five magical days are varied, as you move through river carved valleys, up several passes with lakes and snowcapped peaks well within view.
“It’s a 40 minute drive from Huaraz to the Quilqueyhuanca trailhead where we will likely not see a soul. On my exploratory trek I saw four people; some who were carrying ice axes to get over the summit,” Andrew said of his 2015 scout. “Some of the stone paths we will follow were built by locals over a 1,000 years ago, and were used to follow the herds during wet times. The herdsmen still use them. There are ancient homesteads and Wadi stone burial sites from pre-Incan civilizations. The ancient trade route was over peaks on top of the glaciers but today those glaciers have melted and now the only way over is a technical climb over jagged rocks.”
Tusker Style with a Peru Twist
The trip does not go over these technical summits, but tops at over 16,800 feet at the Chocu pass following a night camping over 16,000 feet at Huapi.
Combining Tusker’s top high altitude knowhow, backcountry gear and great food with comfortable nights at the San Sebastian, the trip combines good value with a full Andean adventure.
Machu Picchu will always be there. Since it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 it has been thrust onto the global tourism stage and today nearly 3,000 daily visitors scour the ruins in season.
To fully grasp Machu Picchu, a trek through the Cordillera Blanca could be the perfect backcountry balance.