These little stone buggers are called cairns, and anyone worth their trekking salt can use them to pick a trail out of the otherwise featureless landscape. This particular cairn proved to be particularly elusive in my navigation from the glacial base camp of Yanapaqcha to Lake 69, demonstrating my lack of trekking salt.
“I’m sure the path is over here,” I firmly state, striding steeply downhill through the tall grass to the left of the dry riverbed. Miri patiently follows me as we spike ourselves on the sharp grass points, dropping further down the valley. Feeling like a true adventurer, I even begin to put up a couple of cairns in my absolute certainty of the path less marked.
Shortly, and inevitably, my certainty runs aground as we stare down an 80 foot vertical drop into the valley below. “Maybe there’s a clear path below over to the right,” I suggest, as the cold fingers of doubt creep into my mind. “You go off and check,” Miri says, “And I’ll stay here and wait for you.” Her cynicism is well-founded. After perilously swinging from grass tufts across slippery rock faces that lead sharply down into oblivion, it becomes clear that a climb back up to the point where we saw the last cairn is necessary. Shamefaced, I retrace my steps with as much bravado as I can muster, staying well enough ahead of Miri so that she can’t see me disassembling the cairns constructed minutes before which now clearly lead the way to certain death.
After a bit of scouting around it turns out that a full climb back up to the top of the trail isn’t necessary as we spot a cairn sitting proud in an incredibly obvious place atop a large rock. “Bloody thing is too small,” I mutter, and climb up to it to add a couple of stones.
After a selection of wrong turns we traverse our way down into the base of the valley and fill our bottles from a rushing stream of meltwater that pounds down from the glacier. “That wasn’t too bad,” I offer brightly, “Given that it’s the first time I’ve navigated by cairns.” Miri casts me an incredulous look.
After a refuel on dried fruit and nuts and a breath-taking dip in the lake formed by the meltwater, we begin the traverse across the valley towards lake 69, a spot which we’ve been repeatedly recommended to visit. Further tussles with disappearing trails and insistent undergrowth ensue, but eventually we find the well-carved path leading upwards. A sweaty climb follows under the weight of our packs, and a steady stream of day-trippers overtake us as they skip up the trail with their stupid tiny loads. On the way up the far side of the valley I’m afforded the opportunity to look back at our disastrous route from the morning and take a photo to be mapped later. Here’s the result.
To motivate our flagging spirits we rig our speakers and iPod to the back of my pack and endeavour to climb to music. As we tread across a meadow that offers a brief respite from the rising terrain, we cross paths with another gringo pair headed in the opposite direction. A brief nod and greeting is exchanged as we pass, but within a few footsteps I’m brought up short as one of them exclaims in a crystal clear British accent, “Bonobo!”
In the middle of the solitude and isolation of a national park in the middle of rural Peru, it’s always a surprise when you hear someone playing the music of a DJ from Brighton, England.