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April 13th, 2012 | Peru

Pasto Ruri Glacier…

The tour bus took us back the way I had come the previous day, and then turned off the main road and began an 80 km crawl up into the mountains on a winding dirt road…

Winding our way up to the car park at the base of the glacier....

There is life up on the Altiplano...!! This lone gaucho was driving a small herd of horses to new grazing grounds....

Old man of the mountains... He was very grateful for the lift...!!

Along the way, we came across an old man, shivering in the cold and our driver stopped to give him a lift… I have no idea where he was going, and guessed he lived up in the mountains… By the smell of him, I would say he worked with goats and sheep…!!

Paging through a guide book, I came across the following description of Hauraz and the surrounding area:

“The Cordilleras – Icy mountaintops. Rugged valleys. Crystaline high altitude lakes. Hikers and climbers the world over arrive in the area of Huaraz, to lay eyes on some of Peru’s most majestic vistas, not to mention the Andes’ highest and most majestic peaks…”

The valley that Huaraz lies in, is between two long ranges of mountains; the Cordillera Negro, with it’s dark soils, that stretch away to the west and the Pacific Ocean; and the Cordillera Blanca, with it’s towering snow-capped peaks that stand to the east of the valley…

The guide book goes on to describe this latter range of mountains far better than I could…

“Star of the show is the Cordillera Blanca, 20 km wide and 180km long. It is an elaborate collection of toothed summits, razor sharped ridges, emerald-coloured lakes, and grassy valleys draped with crawling glaciers… More than 50 peaks of over 5 700 m, grace this fairly small area. North America, in contrast, has only three peaks higher than 5 700 m, Europe has none…!!”

This is the glacier we were heading for... I began to wonder just how close the bus would take us, and how far we would have to walk to get to the glacier itself...!!

More evidence that people actually inhabit this area, which was close to 5 000 metres above sea level... The stone corrals or kralls as we call them back home, are to safeguard the sheep and Alpacas during the night... Spectacled Bears roam these mountains and will take the odd lamb and even a full grown sheep, should mutton take it's fancy...!! They have been known to attack Llamas and horses as well, although they tend to be more herbivorous than most other bears.... The males can grow to weigh over 200 kg, so not an animal to challenge to a bout of wrestling...!!

Spectacled Bear, showing the markings that give it it's name....

This Bromeliad, is only found in Bolivia and Peru.... There were a few up on the higher slopes that were even taller than this one...!!

We stopped in an area where the amazing Queen of the Andes grew in some profusion…

These giant plants live to be over 80 years old, and when they finally bloom, they collapse and die…

They can grow to over 10 metres in height, and flowers every 40 years or so…

We walked amongst a small “forest” of these spectacular plants and marveled at the size of them…!!

They are a protected species, and grow only between elevations of 3200 m and 4000 m…

Welcome to the "Recreation Area"....!! We hope you are prepared for the odd fainting spell...!!

After almost two hours on the dirt road, we arrived at a bleak and almost deserted parking area… A few dilapidated, low-roofed wooden shacks stood to either side of the entrance, and in one of them, an old woman was selling rolls filled with thick chunks of goat cheese…

We lined up to buy whatever she had, and while we stood chewing, our guide explained that we would be taking a short 5 km stroll up to 5400 m, where the Pasto Ruri Glacier awaited us…

His message was not greeted with the enthusiasm that he had been hoping for, and some of our party chose to view the glacier from the parking area, rather than risk a heart attack by walking up to it…

A very wise decision which I should have adopted too…!!

Together with the rest of the foolhardy bunch, we started our walk up the stony path, that seemed to stretch up into the heavens…

It began to drizzle, further adding to our woes, and then later, a short burst of small hail stones pelted us as we climbed higher…

Restaurant at 4 500 m... Seating not an option...!!

The old duck who made the trip from Caraz every day, to sell her buns and a few soft drinks... She even made me a cup of coffee when I asked for one...!! I was impressed with her friendly attitude that I paid he twice what she asked for, much to her delight...!!

The walk up to the glacier was tough…. The path climbed up from the parking area to a halfway point at 5 000 m, where we stopped to take a break… The people that had decided to walk up to the glacier, were strung out in a long line behind a young German guy and a fit and healthy young woman who walked with us…

Halfway there and feeling the pinch...!! The thin air was making things rather difficult for us...!!

"Whose idea was this anyway...??" An exhausted GB stops to consider why he started up the path in the first place...!!

After another half an hour of uphill struggle, we finally got to the glacier…

The last few hundred metres were the toughest, but seeing people up there ahead of us, spurred us on....

The walk up to the glacier had been worth it...!! Even though I thought that my heart would beat it's way right out of my chest at times...!!

A view back down to the parking lot from where we climbed up to the glacier... One can see where the original glacier had crept down into the valley, scouring the landscape as it went....

We snapped away at the fantastic scenery surrounding us, and tried to imagine just how big this particular glacier had been, back before global warning began affecting it… It has shrunk to perhaps only a third of it’s original size, which is rather annoying, because it meant that I had to hike much further to get to the darn thing…!!

I went off to one side, eager to get my breathing back to normal… I sat down on a small pinnacle of rock, and, crossed my legs and closed my eyes… In moments, I had drifted off to a faraway place, my breathing slowed and I felt a calmness wash over me…

I had been looking for a special place to meditate for some time, and found a spot on the Pasto Ruri Glacier....

I am not sure how long I sat there, but when I finally “woke”, I had to grin at the sight that greeted me… A small group of hikers from another party were standing close by, staring at me in silence… I smiled back at them, and then realised that they had stopped hiking so as not to disturb me…!!

The trip back down the mountain was a breeze… As we were leaving to walk back, some of our party were only just arriving…!! One of the woman was gray in the face, and did not look well at all…!!

Back at the bus, we had to wait for over an hour before the remainder of the passengers struggled back down the mountain… I amused myself by throwing snowballs at the window of the bus, which got the driver a little hot and bothered…!!

The construction of the cathedral has come to a halt in Huaraz... For the time being, it is just a big lump of concrete and brick...!!

The ride back to Huaraz seemed to take forever, and I eventually got back to the hotel as the sun was setting… Not that there was much sun to see, as the entire day had been overcast and raining…

Seeing that I would be riding the following day, which would be my third birthday away from home, I decided to treat myself to a dinner at what was billed as the best place in town…

The restaurant was on the top floor of a backpacker hostel, and was beautifully decorated with local artwork…

The views of the Cordilleras would have been amazing, had it not been for the thick cloud, but as I sat watching the scenery, a narrow ray of sunshine burst through the clouds and lit up a section of the hills across from the town…

The other diners rushed to the window to take a few photos, and marvel at the play of light on the hillside…

Bathed in gold...!! A narrow ray of sunshine is splashed across the foothills of the Cordillera Blanca...

A few minutes later, another of nature’s marvels appeared…!!

A gift from above....!! While the other diners "ooh-ed and aah-ed", I smiled to myself, believing that the sight of this rainbow was an omen meant for me alone...!! I can dream, can't I...??

After dinner, I walked back up to the hotel, a few blocks away, and prepared my kit for an early departure the following morning…

The Canon del Pato awaited me, and many riders I had spoken to had said that it was a section of road I should not miss… Had I known that it would cause me more stress than I would have liked, I might well have taken the longer and easier option back to the Pacific Coast…!!

©GBWT 2012

 

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