I set out on it last week, feeling strong and going solo instead of joining a tour group that uses donkeys to haul gear. Shortly after starting out I met two hikers -- Julie from USA and Franklin from Cusco, Peru -- and walked with them for much of the trek.
Here they are on Day One hiking up toward the pass:
Everything here is higher than what you may be used to in Europe or the USA. This trek started at about 11,500' above sea level and camp on the first night was at 14,001'. If I were in the States this campsite would be considered monumentally high and people who hike up to it would write a blog post about it. Ahem.
But here you can see I'm still in the valley surrounded by peaks from 18,000' to over 20,000' high. Awesome. This was the second highest campsite I'd ever spent a night at.
I was feeling strong and met the high point of the trek, Punta Union, at over 15,500' on the morning of Day Two. This would be a 3-day trek for me carrying all my own gear, not a 4-day trek like the tour groups do with donkeys. Insert smugness here.
It was cloudy on the side of the pass I hiked up, but the other side of the pass was clear and offered majestic views like this one.
And this one, made only slightly less majestic by the human form preening in the foreground:
Day Three was spent hiking down the valley along a beautiful river and past some of the group encampments. This trek is contained within Huascaran National Park, Huascaran being the highest point in Peru at 6,768 meters or over 22,000' elevation.
My smugness was short-lived, however. For while hiking out of the valley I was passed in quite rapid fashion by some trail runners. They were holding a first-ever trail running marathon along the 44k route I had just hiked in 3 days. The winning runners did it in just over 4 hours, almost like a normal road marathon time for me (back in my old running days). Amazing. They went up and over a pass at 15,500' like they were running up Summit Ave. in the Twin Cities Marathon in St. Paul, MN.
Here's one of the top female finishers posing in front of a throng of beer company sponsor photographers while the locals take a break from bailing hay by hand to watch.
Good times in the Cordillera Blanca.