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Things only seen at a slow pace

The late author/backpacker Colin Fletcher was the man who walked through time during his six month solos through the Grand Canyon and across the Pacific Crest Trail in the 1950s-1970s. He thought a lot about the proper pace for hiking through special places and after much contemplation succinctly came up with, “mostly two miles an hour is good going.”

cordillera blanca

That sounds about right for trekking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountains, where Tusker leads an arduous but thought provoking 15-day trek that should be savored visually, emotionally and physically. By walking at a medium two mile an hour pace at altitudes above 12,000 feet, the secrets of the Andes are best revealed.

The goal: journey or destination?

By trekking at a slow pace we get to see ancient rock paintings and burial sites we wouldn’t even know about if we were driving or walking at a fast pace,” observes Tusker’s South American guide Andrew Springsteel who is a devotee of full experiential hiking. “You can see the environmental changes like ice-calving and how rock-slides shaped the range.”

To merely walk the trail and not absorb its surroundings would not do Peru’s highest peaks justice, but it requires a third gear mentality. Andrew has a schedule to keep, but doesn’t believe in forced marches ever mindful that you can get to a destination, but miss the journey. “We have a goal to get to the next campsite, but there are many opportunities for photos with breaks planned. We have multiple guides who take time to explain how the forces of weather and geology shape the mountains,” Andrew said.

Slowing down pausing to reflect on how hard it is to live in this turbulent range is a way to pay homage to Peru’s mountain people. “On our way to Llanganuco valley where we undertake 3 spectacular hikes, we drive through the town of Yungay It’s important to stop and walk through the memorial. This is where thousands died in the 1970 earthquake. There is still a bus sticking up through the earth. To see what these massive forces can do is amazing.”

The 1970 Ancash earthquake released an 800-meter glacial ice slab resulting in a massive avalanche down onto Yungay killing 20,000 in Peru’s greatest natural disaster.

Condors aloft

Most speed hikers miss the big picture so that they can bag the summit first. In the Cordillera Blanca part of the big picture is seeing unique wildlife. To consider the majesty of an endangered Andean condor aloft riding the morning thermals requires stopping and studying its movements. With the world’s largest wing span (ten feet) for a land bird, its majesty deserves your attention.

So slow it down and enjoy the full Cordillera Blanca experience. That medium two mile an hour pace may seem slow, but it’s good for your lungs, heart, mind and soul.