After two gentle days of sharp early mornings over the gas stove, lazy clambering over large white granite rocks and late night fireside chats up at Llanganuco Lodge under a sky splashed with bright-eyed constellations, we leave the peaceful slowness of Keushu behind and step out onto the track once more. A tourist bus waiting roadside some ten minutes later offers us a cheap ride into the national park, and we accept. We pass through the huge black pillars of the valley entrance to the Llanganuco lakes and climb slowly up the switchbacks past air-conditioned buses emptying their payload of plump tourists onto viewpoints, leaving our vehicle at the 42nd kilometre marker at the beginning of our hike.
Jamming fingers into armpits to squeeze out the cold, we make a quick breakfast by the side of the road of porrage (eventually to be loathed after a week of consistent consumption) and step off the bend onto a winding trail as quickly as possible, heading for the Moraine camp of the Yanapaqcha Glacier. Surrounded by glacial peaks on every side, it is hard to keep an eye on the trail which fades and re-appears as it passes under rock slides and tall grasses, weaving through stone obstacle courses. We take a break for some much desired coffee at the foot of a steep climb up to the base camp, and in one final breathless and head-achey push, get to the small glacial lake tucked just under the grey-white mass of ice sitting like the unwanted cellulite creases of the featureless, snow-covered upper slopes which lead to the jagged peak of Yanapaqcha.
Finding a level space between the rubble of a thousand rockfalls, we pitch the tent and totter over the myriad of crooked giant stones to the foot of the glacier, filling our bottles and washing plates in the freshest tasting water that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Woozy from the altitude, Miri and I pass the rest of the afternoon chatting as we overlook the glacier with climbing groups steadily pick-axing their progress up its flanks before trudging the field of crevasses. Back at camp we don’t last much after sunset, diving into the tent and cowering in our sleeping bags as the cold creeps over everything and the lucid dreams begin in a shallow illusion of sleep.
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Striking out from Huaraz a little later than our optimistic 6am start (ok, ok, it was 9. Happy?), Miri and I make our way across the morning chaos of downtown Huaraz to the combi stop which will take us to Yungay. A two-hour bumpy ride takes us to the bus station and a short wander around town links us up with a colectivo taxi rank that eventually pulls us up into the hills as Yungay sprawls below us. An indigenous woman with a pungent odour merrily bullshits with the driver in Quechua, leaving us both to do little more than stare out of the window into the face of the Cordillera Negra on the other side of the valley.
Dropped after a circuitous route at a junction on the way up to the national park entrance, we engage in a heated debate with our driver who has decided to increase the price of our ride. We decide to shed him a couple of kilometres short of our destination, and continue on foot as he rolls a sulky 3 point turn and bounces off down the track into town.
We’ve made a good decision; the shutter button on my camera is pushed to near melting point as we climb steadily through farmland overlooked by glacial peaks. Fragrant blue meadow-flowers wash us with their perfume and the sound of running water tickles our ears as the tidy zig-zag of irrigation ditches run through the fields above and below our path. The sun beats down on us and it feels like we are walking through a dream, a million miles away from anywhere despite leaving a bustling marker of civilization barely an hour ago.
Eventually our route winds its way to a junction at which we have no idea of the correct path, but the cogs of circumstance are running in our favour. A truck laden with wood appears shimmering in the heat and dust, shaking its way up towards the junction from the other direction. It is headed with building supplies to the very same place that we are searching for, Llanganuco Lodge, and the driver points us up the track before rattling off ahead and leaving us to lapse back into our day-dream as if nothing had happened.
The path curves and beyond the hill there’s an electric blue lake, Keushu, sitting in a baked mud hollow overlooked by swollen peaks. A quick scout of the area reveals Llaganuco Lodge, tucked behind the crest of a hill, and its amiable host Charlie Good accompanied by his gigantic and faithful hound, Shackleton. Before rushing off into town on an errand, Charlie introduces us to the surroundings and we pitch our tent behind one of the larger boulders that surround the lake. Pulling the already-tattered map from my bag, I begin flicking through pages that were emailed to me almost two months previous of climbing routes in this remote corner of Peru, eager to begin a bouldering campaign.
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