Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gold Peak Scouting Trip

There's a peak, Gold Peak*,  that overlooks Yuracoto on the Cordillera Blanca side of the valley that has been taunting me since my arrival. So, with my years in site whittled down to my last few weeks, I decided to take a scouting trip towards the mountain, to see how I could summit it.
The view of Gold Peak from Tza Tza.

Its a peak that sits above Sara Jane Pepper's old site of Cashapampa, and forms the southern wall for the quebrada (canyon) of the famous Santa Cruz Trek. According to the oral history that I got on the mountain, 40 years ago it held snow year-round; however, due to changes in the climate, the Nevado (snow capped mountain) no longer exists. What is now there is a rocky topped mountain, scrapped free of vegetation, that only receives a light layer of hail during the cold rainy season days (which melts away in a maximum of two days time).

Looking at Google Earth and my topo map, it looks like a challenging hike (gaining nearly 6,000 feet of elevation), but very doable. However, as with most things here in Peru, it's never that easy.The biggest problem is, I have to rely on local transportation to get me to the best starting point (damn, I miss listening to country music while driving myself to a trail head). This means I have to go to a combi stop Caraz, and wait for a car going to the place I want to go to fill up. This also means that after hiking, I don't have the comfort of knowing that my car is waiting for me at the trail head. Ending my hike just means one adventure has ended, and then the next adventure of catching a ride home starts (this is my rose-colored glasses point of view).

The day I chose to scout out the mountain, there was no school due to a local holiday. Therefore the combis weren't running on a normal schedule. This means that although I arrived to Caraz at 6am, the one combi that was running to the town I wanted to go to wasn't running, and the combi going to the next town over didn't leave until 9:30. So arriving to the town 45 minutes walking to the north, at 10:30 meant I had a pretty rough start.

Although, not getting to starting point until mid-day meant that my hike was seriously off schedule, I decided to make the most of it and try to hike around the area a little bit and see the sights. There was no way I'd get even close to the summit, but needed to make the most of the day.

The other side of the peak as seen from my "starting point" at mid-day.

The grassy slopes on steep rocky terrain made hiking difficult, but it was worth the effort. After deciding to go for pure elevation gain, by trying to stair step my way up the mountain, I was soon rewarded with great views of the nearby Nevados, the Cordillera Negra, and great dead-end canyon at edge of the National Park, full of old growth Quenual trees (not to mention a black toenail from the pounding, and nearly a heart attack).

After high-knee it straight up, I was finally starting to get some good views of the valley.

The town of Pampacocha below. Pampacocha lake can be seen to the bottom right. 

This is just a shout out to Jill and my roofing hat. Great hat. 

Finally cut this cow trail at little over 11,000 feet. A huge relief to my feet. 

Followed the path around the mountain into a dead end canyon. 


Looking up the canyon at about the time I "should have" turned around.

It was just too beautiful to stop hiking. I needed to see more. 

Finally a flat spot to sit and take a break. 

Not Gold Peak, but still impressive. 

Rocky cliffs above the Quenuales. 

Fairly isolated, not easy to get to. 

Looking down on the Rio Santa. 

Looking Northwest towards Huaylas and the Coast. 

This what I came up. 

Looking up towards Gold Peak. 

Lots of places to go, not enough time. 

The hike turned out so well, that I kept pushing my "turn around" time. A mistake in Peru that I won't soon make again. Although returning late meant I got to catch a great sunset, it also meant that hoofing down the mountain at a fast pace, speed walking from my Pampacocha to the town of Tza Tza, just in time to see the tail-lights of the last combi driving away from town. Here's some of my last pictures of the sunset before I kicked it in to gear in an attempt to catch a combi.

Looking South towards Huaraz

The Huaylas Valley.

The sun setting on the Nevado. 

Pretty time of day. 

The Nevado taking on a pinkish hue. 

The sun dropping over the town of Huaylas. 

I finally returned to Pampacocha lake. 

Arriving to Tza Tza past dark meant I could either try to find a family to take me in for the night, or pay for a taxi to take me back to Caraz. Although there have been Peace Corps Volunteers in Tza Tza in the previous years, I was in full "Back to Barn" mode (see bullet point 9, page 41:Avalanche Safety Student Manual), and decided my own bed was the only place I wanted to be. So I splurged for a taxi home, talk about a budget breaker, but felt like it was something I needed to do.

* I call it Gold Peak, because whenever I ask anyone about how the best way to approach it, the only thing they tell me is that if you summit the peak, you'll find gold up there. I can count at least 4 people that have told me that; however, I have yet to meet anyone that has made it up there (meaning one day I'll be stinking RICH! Don't worry, I won't forget you guys).