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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lagito Churup, High Mountains of Peru - Caching in thin air!

This trip is a week long. I’ve been working six days straight so today I’m enjoying a day off to find a cache. This is no ordinary cache. It is a virtual cache placed in 2002 by some trekkers traveling through the highlands of Peru. See Lagito Churup (GCA637) placed by Cave or Die Dude. To date it has been visited 8 times due to the difficulty involved in getting to it. This is just the kind of cache I like. Tommy Smith, my good friend, picked me up at 8 am at the Hotel Colomba in Huaraz, Peru. It was a 40 minute ride up the dirt roads that ascends out of Huaraz to the parking lot for the Huascaran National Park. We paid our five soles (about $1.75) each and set out on our hike. The guard said it would take an hour and a half. I thought to myself that he is referring to Peruvians living in the highlands, not tourist. We started our climb to the cache at about 12,600 feet above sea level. The cache is at 15,200 feet above sea level. There were others on the trail but none proved to be geocachers. There were Dutch and Austrian groups climbing to see the lower lake. Tommy and I pushed on because we wanted to meet the cache requirements and need the extra time before the predictable afternoon rain would start. We pushed up the trail, conversing briefly with the Austrians in my limited German. The Dutch couple spoke English. The trail started in what is called páramo grass. We were already above the tree line. The trail was full of big rocks so we had to be careful not to turn an ankle. After climbing to an elevation of about 13,500 feet the trail leveled out for about a kilometer. We could see some beautiful waterfalls produced by the runoff from the lakes above. At that point the pass through which the water flowed was in the clouds. We arrived at the base of the waterfall and had a decision to make. The trail to the left seemed more used; the one to the left less so. We were ahead of the tourist groups and their guides and couldn’t ask so we decided to push on via the trail to the left. What a hidden challenge! The climb was steep. Soon we arrived at an eight foot ladder made of the branches of the Quenual tree. It appears in the páramo region. I know I said we were above the tree line. There were a few squat Quenual trees. They have a beautiful orange color beneath the peeling bark. After climbing the ladder we were climbing on all fours and on the verge of needing equipment. Tommy tried another route while I pushed on up the rock face until we met at a beautiful waterfall. After the obligatory photo sessions we were able to cross the stream and pick up the trail that went to the right side of the waterfall. It took us another 20 minutes of climbing in thin air to reach the Laguna Churup. The climb was worth it. The water had an aqua color to it due to mineral content. We pushed on around the north side of the lake following the trail to the far eastern end, then up to the saddle that divides the two lakes. The smaller lake isn’t as pretty as the first lake. The cache requirements are that you take a photo with yourself in it on the saddle that divides the two lakes with the small lake in the background. We did this spending about 10 minutes there when it started raining. Out with the rain gear and off we went. It took about an hour to get to the other end of the first lake. From there we got a glimpse of Churup Mountain. The clouds lifted and the snowy peak was partially revealed. This time we climbed down the opposite side of the waterfall. The rain began to turn to sleet and the rocks were slippery. It took a while to get down the side of the waterfall. Tommy lost his water bottle when it fell into the stream from the waterfall. We were able to get it back and head on. Negotiating the waterfall took longer than we thought. From the waterfall we pushed hard as most of the remaining kilometers were level ground or down hill. In the distance across the valley we saw the first lightning and heard the first thunder. The tourist had already left so we had the trail to ourselves. As we pushed lower we moved from sleet to rain. By the time we made it to the truck anything sticking out from under the poncho was soaked. What a way to spend a free day! I’m tired and content having seen what few see and having logged this special cache! I recommend this cache if you are coming to the highlands of Peru. Remember Huaraz! This is the capital of the Department of Ancash and is replete with Quechua culture. There is so much to see and do. Ya’ll come!

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