Cordillera Blanca Traverse – Stage 2 – Pompey to Pitec

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Ascent to Ishinca Pass

Distance:

  • 65 miles (105 km)

Time:

  • 5 days (including a rest day in Huaraz)

Start:

  • Pompey
  • Returned to the CBT via a colectivo minibus from the town of Chacas.

Finish:

  • Pitec
  • From Pitec, I got a 1 hr ride down the mountain to Huaraz, the regional capital. This was my “base camp” of sorts during the CBT (see below).

Maps & Info:

  • Topographic maps: I used two mapsets during the CBT:

1.  Alpenvereinskarte (German Alpine Club): Consists of two 1:100,000 maps which cover the entire range – 0/3a Cordillera Blanca Nord & the 0/3b Cordillera Blanca Sud.

2. Skyline Adventures: Also two maps split into north and south. Both are 1:75,000. The Skyline maps do not cover the most southern part of the Cordillera Blanca range.

Cordillera Blanca Overview Map

Cordillera Blanca Overview Map

  • Base Camp: During my time in Ancash region of Peru, I was based out of the regional capital of Huaraz. A bustling city of 100,000, Huaraz is a mecca for climbers and hikers; the Peruvian equivalent of Kathmandu.
  • Albergue Churup: Whilst in Huaraz I stayed at the excellent Albergue Churup. A family run business headed up by indefatigable Juan Quiros Romero,  it has very comfortable rooms, great food, helpful staff and is situated close to the centre. Highly recommended.
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Debris Shelter in Quebrada Akilpo

Route

  • Stage 2 of the CBT went over four passes. In the order in which they were traversed: Portachuelo Honda, Akilpo, Ishinca and Choco.

Notes & Musings from Stage 2

Quebrada Honda

In 1996 I spent a couple of days hiking in the Quebrada Honda (translates to ‘deep gorge’). Much has transpired in this stunning glacial valley in the subsequent 18 years. Large scale mining operations are now in full swing at the far eastern end. During the CBT I descended into the gorge via Portachuelo de Honda, situated a few miles west of the mines entrance.

As of 2014, the only motorized traffic allowed in and out of the valley is that associated with mining business. No one seemed too bothered about a lone hiker.

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Sunset over Quebrada Honda

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Quebrada Honda

The miner’s presence represents a very controversial issue in the local community. Technically speaking, most of the Cordillera Blanca lies within the boundaries of the Parque Nacional Huascaran. Unfortunately national park status doesn’t carry quite as much influence in this part of Peru, as does the bottomless pockets of the powerful mining companies.

Chester & the Enchanted Forest

More than 90% of the hiking on the CBT was out in the open. Forest stretches were generally short and few and far between.

The lone exception was Quebrada Akilpo, locally known as the enchanted forest. A gorgeous section that wound its way through stands of quenua trees, it represented the one and only time on the CBT that I wasn’t walking by myself.

My companion was a dog that I called Chester.

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Chester

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Quenua forest

I name all stray dogs that follow me, Chester.

It comes from one of my favourite tunes, The Weight, by “The Band.” (Note: In the song, Chester is actually the name of the owner and ‘Jack’ is the name of his dog).

Refugio Ishinca

Situated in the shadows of  Toclarraju (6032m) and  Polcaraju (6110m) peaks, Refugio Ishinca was a great surprise. Half expecting a semi-dilapidated backcountry outpost, what I got instead was comfy beds, good food, helpful staff and even a solar powered shower! The refuge was run by helpful young guy by the name of Juan, who had been working in the region in a multitude of capacities for the last twenty years (since he was 7 years old!). For anyone thinking of doing the CBT in the future, I highly recommend a stop at this impressively situated mountain hut.

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Refugio Ishinca

Slow Going

During Stage 2 of the CBT, I went up and over two passes that were both nameless and trailless. I unimaginatively called them Akilpo and Ishinca, after the approach valleys leading up to the crossings. At 5215 metres (17,109 ft), Ishinca was the highest of the 23 passes on the Cordillera Blanca Traverse. Definitely one of the scenic highlights of the entire journey.

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Ascending to Ishinca Pass

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Cam Honan & the Dri Ducks rain jacket (Big Bird colour)

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Ascent to Ishinca Pass

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Ishinca Pass

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Descent to Quebrada Cojup.

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Descent to Quebrada Cojup.

The Polish Ghost

I left Quebrada Cojup just before 3pm, on the penultimate day of the second stage.

Feeling strong, I figured I had plenty of time to negotiate the steep, difficult, but relatively short climb up and over Choco Pass (5020 metres / 16,469 ft) before it got dark.

Half way into the ascent the wind picked up and it started to snow. The fog rolled in. Temps were dropping fast.

Not long after a lone figure emerged out of the clouds. Descending slowly, the person was carrying a huge load on their back. It turned out to be a young twenty something from Poland.

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Choco Pass

The guy was wearing jeans, big army boots and had a pack that he told me weighed 26 kg (57 lbs). He may have been underestimating. It was huge. He carried no compass or GPS. His sole means of navigation was a palm-sized sketch map that he picked up from the tourist office in Huaraz.

It was 3.50 pm and he told me it had taken him 8 hours to come up and over Choco Pass.

Looking at my comparatively tiny pack and trail running shoes, he shook his head and said, “I don’t think you should continue any higher. You won’t make it up and over the pass before it gets dark.” I nodded, and assured him I would be fine.

After chatting for a few minutes, we both went our respective ways. I was relieved that he was descending. He was obviously a strong bloke, but to be out in those conditions without the appropriate skills or equipment was asking for trouble. Cold, wet and unsure of your location, is not an ideal combo at 16,000 ft above sea level when the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

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Campsite above Quebrada Quilcayhuanca.

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Quebrada Quilcayhuanca

 


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