August 20, 2007
This morning I took a bus up a hill outside of Huaraz. The bus went past several traditional farming communities, and being surrounded by Quechua speaking people with big rosy cheeks, campesino hats, hand-knit sweaters, dresses, and leg warmers, and carrying bundles of wheat and piles of firewood made it hard for me to believe that only a few days ago I was eating at Pizza Hut in a cosmopolitan part of Lima. But I was even more surprised when one of the girls on the bus pulled out a digital camera and started taking pictures of the mountains. When we were in the middle of nowhere, she had the bus driver stop, got off, and started walking toward a field, supposedly toward her house, though none were in sight.
Eventually I arrived in Pitek, a collection of a few houses at the gateway to Huascaran National Park. From there, a park ranger named Hugo, who spoke little Spanish but excellent Quechua and a bit of French, pointed me to the path toward Churup Mountain. On the way up, lots of people passed me going the other direction, but nobody was going up at the same time as me. It was a popular day walk, but nobody was crazy enough to camp up there, except me.
After a few hours I reached Laguna Churup, which sits at the base of a mountain with the same name, at 4650 meters (15,256 feet). It was a beautiful place, and there was nobody else in sight. After doing some searching, I found a flat place and set up camp. I could still see Huaraz 1600 meters (a vertical mile) below, but it might as well have been on another planet. My only companions were a dozen or so birds which were fishing in the freezing water. Their squawks echoed off the rocks on the other side of the lagoon and broke the silence with thunderous report.
It was still warm late in the afternoon, but at that altitude, I knew I had to prepare by putting on all of my thermal clothing and cooking dinner before dark. Soon the sun went down and did a fantastic job of lighting up the lagoon and mountain behind it. I originally only made the trek up there to prepare for my real trek, but the lagoon was beautiful enough to stand out in my mind as an adventure in its own right, and I had it all to myself.
The photo album for this entry is here.