This post is an overdue account from Skyler’s trip to Peru in August 2014.
We hadn’t had much luck with our mountaineering objectives in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca this season. On Pukaraju, our nice line of climbable snice (snow-ice) had turned to powder on slab a mere 30 meters below the ridge. On Artesonraju, Artem Bylinskii and I found wind-affected, unstable snow conditions and backed off at the bergshrund. On Mururaju, we drank from a stream tainted with lead and failed to make up for time lost clutching our stomachs before the weather blew in. Finally, after Nick arrived, we managed to touch the summit of Shaqsha – I recounted that story here. But still, the weather continued to be uncooperative for our alpine climbing objectives. Even if the weather permitted an ascent, the alpine ice that the Cordillera Blanca is famous for wasn’t forming reliably in presence of so much afternoon cloudiness.
With ten days left before my flight home, and a week before Nick’s departure, we decided our best bet at an enjoyable outing in the mountains, and a happy ending to our trips in Peru, would be found through trails, valleys and passes. That we could find almost no information about the Cordillera Raura, the kid-neighbour to the much taller and more famous Cordillera Huayhuash, had drawn our attention in earlier mountaineering plans, but the challenging logistics and lack of information had always turned our dreams away from the range. At some point toward the end of my seven week stay in Peru, we found that Google Earth had updated the 30 year old, low-res satellite imagery of the area with crystal clear imagery from May 2014. We had a remotely-sensed, and nearly up to date conditions report. Armed with a GPS with no basemap, a map of the Huayhuash that included about 30% of the Raura, and memorized details from the satellite photos, Nick Gobin and I caught a bus one afternoon to Chiquian and then on to Llamac. In Llamac we arranged a 4×4 to Quartelhuain, on the main trekking circuit for the next morning.
Over four days, I hiked – first with Nick, and then alone – past the main peaks of the Huayhuash, and then through the remote heart of the Cordillera Raura’s western arm, ending at Mina Raura – a large, high altitude mine in the centre of the range. While any trip through the Huayhuash is memorable for the stunning mountain scenery, my crossing of the western Raura is notable because there has been so little documented exploration of these mountains. Indeed, this report is the first to document a link-up of these high Raura passes into a continuous alpine trekking route (though miners and prospectors have undoubtedly visited every pass in the range).
What follows is a photo documentation of the journey (clicking on any one of the photos will allow you to click through a slideshow of the images in higher resolution – though not perfectly in order).
From that last pass, I dropped down to a mine road, where I was able to hitch to the security checkpoint at the front of the mine. From there, the security guard negotiated me a ride down the hill in a food truck where an ancient herder and I earned our passage to Churrin by helping transfer several tonnes of rice, cooking oil, and condiments from a larger truck – unable to make the final switchbacks to the mine – into the smaller truck.
The old man could have been sixty or ninety; years lived above 4000m, as a subsistence farmer, planting tubers in rocky ground, herding sheep on the side of mountains, or piling rocks into homes, weight heavily on the body. Despite his curved spine I had to insist that he didn’t try to move any 50kg bags of rice.
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