It was 5:50am and my alarm was buzzing and I didn’t want to get up. I had arrived in to Huaraz a couple of days earlier and had planned to do a one day test hike – the Churup trek – to see some of the area and to assess how I dealt with the altitude. But now my alarm wasn’t shutting up and I’d had a bad night and I was finding reasons to talk myself out of going. I could do it another day. What was the rush? But I did get up, and I’m glad that I did.
Getting to the starting point
It was bright morning. The distant razor ridges covered in a smooth, snowy blanket stood out vividly against a brilliant blue sky. A taxi to Pitec cost S/.40 for a fifty minute ride up rocky, unrefined roads and narrow passes through villages. The jolty ride rattled the taxi interior, and my teeth rattled in my head.
The early morning sun was streaking through the trees as the taxi driver skilfully dodged other vehicles and avoided steep drops. Donkeys blocked the road and dogs ran along with the car, barking madly. A man sitting in a field waved as we passed by another village of low mud brick buildings with red tiled roofs where another man led three sheep on a lead and carried a cockerel under his other arm.
Thirsty shrubs and trees and parched grasses decorated the landscape, the overall colour scheme yellow, orange and brown. The landscape started to open up to reveal far reaching views and rolling hills and mountains, a coarse landscape with fewer trees, tufts of spiky grasses and the odd hardy shrub and chunky rocks. We had arrived!
‘Take only photographs
Leave only footprints
Kill nothing but time and mosquitos’
The hike itself
It was a confident start: a definite pathway and a point in the right direction from the ranger who had taken our details and a S/. 5 entry to the reserve. Within a few moments the path sprawled into a multitude of possibilities.
‘It’s really obvious and easy to see’, another traveller, Raz, had said when we had discussed it yesterday. Really? We made a choice. It was the wrong one. Pathways disappeared and then possible pathways reappeared. We pushed on, not wanting to backtrack. And then finally, after two hours of scrambling over rocks and pushing bushes to the side, Pacha Mama guided us and we saw her, and she was beautiful. A proper, well-trodden path. Amazing.
Spirits lifted, we pushed on, but steep climbs and increasing altitude meant that every ten to twenty metres we had stop to catch our breath. I felt dizzy. I had a serious case of the sniffles and my head hurt. I popped some paracetomol.
A gentle downhill stretch passed a more rocky landscape brought some respite, winding slowly down to a waterfall that split and then trickled over boulders into a little pond. It was to be our picnic spot. And it was where we were overtaken by a group of fit, acclimatised Peruvians, who stopped for a quick chat and then marched onwards.
The path took us to the left of the waterfall and put my limited climbing experience to the test with an unavoidable ascent passed patches of snow. Although there were plenty of footholds and ledges to grab, the drop was steep. I didn’t look down. Grabbing thick wires bolted into the rock face and launching up to the next flatter section reminded me a bit of via ferrata that I had done a few years back. I wished I had brought a carabiner. The drop down would have been horrific: no helmet, no first aid kit, no way of calling for help.
A further ten minutes on from the climb and I arrived at Laguna Churup (4,450m). Finally, a destination success! And wow! Cliffs on the far side rising straight from the lake that sparkled in the sunshine, the bottom visible with black and turquoise and yellow patches, the water icy cold from the snow run-off of Mount Churup in the near distance. A stiff breeze rippled the surface, the lapping water on the mighty boulder peninsulas and the distant rush of the waterfall the only audible sounds.
Re-energised, the way back felt like something out of an action-adventure film: swinging from branches, sliding down rock faces and running and bouncing along like a mountain goat
Um, okay, I can’t think of any action-adventure films with goats and I really wasn’t that agile, managing to lightly sprain both ankles on the way down.
We took the right path all the way back. Phew.
If you do this day trek then – if you want to do the regular, less adrenaline filled and random route – take the path to the left and up once you’ve paid the ranger, and not the tempting one to the right. Or take the one to the right and enjoy an unmapped scramble and ramble. Why not?!
Bouncing along in a shared taxi-minibus (S/.8) the 3:00pm rain accompanies us on our journey back to Huaraz. The collectivo bursts a tyre and we sit on the roadside whilst the driver changes the wheel. We continue onwards and a young girl waves from the field as we drive by and I wave back. And we smile and wave at each other. I think about the altitude, about getting lost, about the walk in general: it was tough for the body, but good for the soul. I feel great.