The Peruvian Andes are even more of a hiker’s paradise than I’d imagined. Fortunately, I have a flexible schedule.
In Lima, I visited the South American Explorers club in Miraflores (Pro tip: Confirm the address online before you go. Both of my guidebooks had old information). I came away with a stack of maps, a massive list of acclimatization hikes, and the realization that it would be a missed opportunity not spend time in the Cordillera Huayhaush (pronounced “Whywash”), the higher and more rugged range south of the Cordillera Blanca.
As a result, I added to the menu a 8-day, 90-mile appetizer trek on the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit before the main course in the Cordillera Blanca. I’ll be hiking with a Dutch/Belgian couple I met at the Andes Camp Lodge in Huaraz. We leave Huaraz early Saturday (5/23) for the trailhead in Pocpa, located about six hours south.
I’ve been in Huaraz (3,100m/9,842ft) four days to make sure I adjust to the high altitudes. The first of several acclimatization hikes was to Laguna Wilcacocha, a small lake in the Cordillera Negra nestled between small Quechua villages at 3,800m/12,467ft. The lake had stunning views of the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.
The next prep hike was part of day trip into the Park Nacional Huascaran. The trip included visits to a carbonated thermal spring and a field of Pulla de Raimondii, a species of massive endangered flower endemic to the Andean highlands.
The highlight of the trip was a short hike to a pair of glacial lakes in Pastoruri (5,000m/16,400ft). It was amazing place. According to the local guides, however, the glacier has receded dramatically in recent decades and is now only a shadow of its former self. They estimated that the glaciers would be gone in 5-10 years. Not exactly the most rigorous of estimates, but it adds local color to the projections that most low altitude Peruvian glaciers in the country will disappear within 20 years. As a former climate change attorney, this hit home. It looks like Pastaruri is destined to be another casualty of the warming that has already seen the Cordillera Blanca lose nearly 30 percent of their glacial surface area over the last 40 years.
Which brings me back to Lima. I’d heard that the city was not the world’s greatest tourist city and was not lead astray. What was impressive, though, was the sheer size of the place. Located in a coastal desert, Lima is a sprawling city that is home to over 8 million people. It feels every bit that large. That huge population gets the vast majority of its water and energy from the runoff of those disappearing Andean glaciers. Millions of others throughout the region face the same problem. Faced with that reality, it’s going to take some serious planning for Peru to successfully adapt. Better cross our fingers.