Be warned though, don’t try and do this within 24 hours of arriving in Huaraz, the altitude will hurt you with giving yourself time to acclimatise. Do yourself a favour and go on a short-ish one day trek followed by the very popular and well-known Laguna 69 trek (also one day). The latter is a good test of how your body will deal with a good deal of trekking up to higher altitudes. It’s not an easy trek (we don’t do them because they’re easy, do we?) and starts at 3,900m altitude and peaks at 4,625m at the azure blue waters of Laguna 69 . (see post on Laguna 69 trek)
The general recommendation for this trek between Cashapampa (near the town of Caraz) and Vaqueria (on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Blanca) is to start from Cashapampa which is at 2,970m and offers longer time to acclimatise into the trek and higher altitudes. The highest point at Punta Union pass is 4,760m that you’ll pass through on day 3 from Cashapampa. On the return trip after the trek from Vaqueria, the vehicle will go over/through the Portochuelo Pass which is at 4,775m. This is also the reason why the start from this end would only be recommended if everybody in the group is well acclimatised - you don’t want to end up ill with altitude illness (or at best, headaches and nausea) before you’ve even taken your first step.
The views along this trek are just gorgeous and some just more jaw-dropping than others. Ranging from spectacular views at high altitudes to long distance views of valleys and gorges between virtually vertical walls on both sides. Thus, make sure your camera is in an easy-to-reach place as you’ll find yourself wanting to take shots with every breather and longer rest you take.
|And I'm ready to hit the trail from the village of Vaqueria|
We left Huaraz around 3:30am so the bus trip was fairly quiet for a long time till we started going through the switchbacks up to Portochuelo Pass at 4,750m in Huascaran National Park. After enjoying jaw-dropping (and freezing cold) views, we then started to drop down via more switchbacks and a variety of lakes to the little village of Vaqueria. It was time for a light breakfast and some tea and coffee, pack the donkeys and head down into the valley.
|Huascaran National Park office at Huaripampa|
This is quite a long drop before the gradual ascent to Huaripampa area where the entrance to Huascaran National Park is again. A long almost level area followed and we passed Paria campsite to start the ascent to see how far we get for camping on of the small pampas. This was at 4,300m with great views of Taulliraju mountain and the valley we’d just come from.
|Final ascent to Punta Union pass (4,760m)|
Breakfast was at 6:30 and we headed off around 8am (bit late) to make our way to the pass at Punta Union at 4.760m. This was going to be a pretty big day’s walking (about 18km) as we had to get as far as we could so the 3rd day was not a major trek to get to Cashapampa and the transport back to Huaraz.
The views from Punta Union were so worth it!! Seeing the valley toward Cashapampa on the one side and a large part of the route we’d covered that morning on the other. The snow-covered peaks of Taulliraju seemed to be at eye-level with a stunning blue Taullicocha lake at the bottom.
|On top of the world! Punta Union Pass|
The rest of the day was spent descending, rapidly at first, then more gradual and level as we passed Jatuncocha lake and on to the camping are at Ichic Cocha, the site of an ancient lake. Along the way, we were treated to great views of the better known Alpamayo peaks, albeit from a different angle than most photos are taken from.
Once again up early and heading off around 7:30am this time, we passed Llamacorral campsite within an hour - good going for 3,7km! Some people slowed down from here as there was still another 9km till we reached Cashapampa. But nonetheless, another day with great walks along the river and views back to all the snow-covered peaks.
|Llamacorral to Cashapampa (looking back - east)|
At the ‘bottom’, there’s another control point for Huascaran National Park before the final 10min walk into the village of Cashapampa. As some people had been so quick and passed the planned lunch spot, we had lunch in the village before heading off for the 3 hour drive to Huaraz via the town of Caraz.
Would I recommend trekking in this area? You bet I would!! This is just great (and big) panoramas all day and everyday! If you don’t do any other long trek in this region, at least do the Santa Cruz Trek!
(My trip organised through Akilpo Backpackers (their Facebook page) and Landtrek Andino who also provided the guide and looked after the logistics.)