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Trekking the Road Less Traveled in The Cordillera Blanca

Trekking the Road Less Traveled in The Cordillera Blanca

Good Life Expeditions is excited to welcome Gina Allman from The Lazy Dog Inn to offer some insight on off-the-beaten-path Cordillera Blanca treks in Huaraz – Peru’s hiking mecca. The inn is our preferred Huaraz partner offering a host of mountain adventure activities.

Contact our expert travel team today to start planning your trekking expedition! 

Written by Gina Allman, Guest Writer from The Lazy Dog Inn.

The Cordillera Blanca is a mountain range that makes up part of the Andean mountain chain and spans 200 km (124 mi) South to North West. The range holds some of the highest tropical glaciers in the world, with over 700 glaciers and 300 accompanying glacial lakes. The largest town in the area is Huaraz, which while not very close to any of the desired hikes or treks, has stores where you can stock up and plan your trips.

Our lodge, The Lazy Dog Inn, is located 30 minutes from the city center of Huaraz in the South side of the Cordillera Blanca, right on the border of Huascaran National Park and next to some of the largest glaciers in the mountain range.

Cordillera Blanca Road Olleros

Every year we watch mass tourist groups make their migration to the north side to do the Santa Cruz Trek, hike Laguna 69 and marvel at the color of Laguna Paron. Due to misinformation online and unclear travel guides, nobody knows about the treasure trove of Cordillera Blanca treks and hikes on the south side, nor are they aware that they also make up part of Huascaran National Park.

On many of these hikes and treks, one can find old Incan roads, pictographs, pre-Incan tombs, pre-Incan ruins, and some of the largest, fiercest, glaciers the area has to offer. The best part of these treks is that rarely you run into other groups, and you can tap into that feeling that all backpackers/trekkers love. That you are discovering a new land and you are completely dependent on your wiles and those accompanying you. That feeling that has inspired and driven explorers throughout history and keeps nature-lovers coming back for more.

Below we’ve outlined three hikes that have not received their “just dues” in hopes to inspire and in the words of Robert Frost, take the road less traveled by and it will make all the difference.

Olleros to Chavin

Days: 3-4 days, the 3rd night in the town of Chavinfor a visit to the Chavin de Huantar ruins the next day.

Level: Easy to Moderate

Length: 37 km (23 mi)

Elevation Gain: 1,280 m (4,200 ft)

Peru is one of the few countries that does a spectacularly good job blending incredible scenery with ancient ruin sites, and the Olleros to Chavin trek exemplifies these two strengths. The hike starts in the small indigenous town of Olleros, goes through Huascaran National Park overpass that leads you to the city of Chavin, known for its UNESCO world-heritage site Chavin de Huantar.

The Chavin’s were a pre-Incan group made up between the time period of 1300 and 400 BC. The group was believed to be very religious, drinking the hallucinogenic cactus San Pedro as a frequent ritual, their herbal muse of choice in the creation of wild statues that represented their animal deities with beauty and detail unparallel to anything done by the Incan culture. There are seven underground chambers holding the finest stonework with a large sacrificial stone in the center of the complex. Half of the trail is on a pre-Incan, ancient road where you can actually follow in the literal footsteps of the areas ancient civilizations and see their routes for travel and for pasturing their animals, with Chavin being your reward at the end.

Cordillera Blanca Ascending from Olleros

Day 1

The hike starts from the small, indigenous town of Olleros where you can buy your Huascaran National Park passes at the park gates. Go past the plaza and after 100 m (328 ft) go downhill and across the river. The trail goes straight up the valley with the river, Rio Negro, on your right. You will pass a few clusters of adobe homes with their characteristically painted, blue doors. After an hour of walking, you will pass the settlement and pass through an open field. After another three hours, you will pass the entrance of Quebrada Rurec, the trail drops into a long plain. Another 8 hours and you will reach a shallow lake damned by a low moraine with some good campsites to stay for the night.

Day 2

From your campsite you will be faced with three valleys: note the valley directly in front of you with a rocky, elevated, piece of land rising above a marsh-like area. Hike straight towards this valley. When reaching the valley head to the right-hand side where you will encounter a pre-Inca trail, the trail is obviously an ancient trail and rises steeply to the views of the glaciated peaks opening to the north. In about four to five hours you will reach Punta Yanashallash at 4,700 m (15,420 ft), the highest point of the trip. Walking back down from the pass you can stop for the night at the Shonqopampa campground to rest and relax before the walk into Chavin.

Day 3

Today consists of hiking out of the valley where you will come across a small community called Chichucancha. From here you can either grab transport to Chavin or walk the 9 km (5.59 mi) to the town of Chavin. Staying at one of the local posadas, which are all pretty basic, will feel luxurious after a couple of nights on the trail. Right outside of town there are some hot springs to soak your heavily hiked bones before rewarding yourself with a well-deserved dinner.

Day 4

The next day is perfect to visit the infamous Chavin de Huantar site, where you can find guides available for hire around the site entrance. As most park guides speak only Spanish or are not detailed orientated, visiting the museum before going to the site is helpful in comprehending the significance of various structural elements that comprise it. From the town of Chavin, you can either take a bus or private taxi back to Huaraz.

Quilcyhuanca to Cojup via Huapi Pass

Length: 3 Days

Level: Moderate

Distance: 27 km (17 mi) with an additional 5 km (3 mi) to walk back to the inn from Cojup

Elevation Gain: 4,100 feet or 1,250 meters

This Cordillera Blanca trek not only has some impressive lakes and massive glaciers, but it also allows you to reach 5,100 m (16,732 ft) via Huapi Pass without actually climbing a mountain. Huapi pass is a notch in between the glaciated peaks of Chinchey, measuring in at an impressive 6,309 mt (20,698 ft), Pucaranra at 6,156 mt (20,197 ft), Ranrapalca at 6,162 mt (20,216 ft), and Huapi Mountain just to the right of the pass at 5,421 mt (17,785 ft).

This route is virtually empty most of the dry season and is teeming with glacial views and crystal colored lakes. As if the impressive views weren’t enough, the route has pre-Incan pictographs at the beginning of the valley, along with remnants of old Incan roads and pre-Incan tombs.

Cordillera Blanca Quilcy to Cojup

Day 1

Starting at the gate for Quebrada Quilcyhuanca you can pay for your Huascaran National Park pass at the gate and sign in. Immediately upon entering the Huascaran National Park gates head to the right side of the valley where you will find pre-Incan pictographs on some boulders 8 mt (26 ft) from the valley floor. For the hike, we recommend staying to the right side of the valley to avoid the marshy area that runs through the center of the valley.

About 8.5 km (5.2 mi) into the valley you will come to a fork in the trail. To the right you can access the Cayesh Valley, a wonderful option for beginner mountain climbers and for people who want to follow the old Incan road or see the pre-Incan tombs high up on the cliff-side. This is a good option if you would like to extend the trek for a day and explore the Cayesh valley with its accompanying glaciers.

To cross Huapi Pass and descend into the Cojup Valley continue ascending to the left where you will come across the crystalline waters of Lake Tullpacocha located at 4,300 mt (14,107 ft), with the glaciated peak of Tullparaju towering in the background at 5,787 mt (18,986 ft) and Andavite with an altitude of 5,518 mt (18,104 ft).  When the trail turns into pure scree, head to the left on a switch-back single track to the high altiplano. Along the way, you will come across a freshwater stream perfect for replenishing the water supply. Continuing on towards the glaciers you will reach a meadow and a lake, Laguna Cuchillacocha set at 4,650 mt (15,256 ft). Not only is the scenery breathtaking and the meadow perfect for pitching your tent for the night, but the camp will also position you for an early start over Huapi Pass.

Day 2

Rising early to ensure good weather when crossing the pass at 5,100 mt (16,732 ft), you will stay to the right side of the valley, the side you are camping until you reach a hillside with very steep switchbacks. After the first set of switchbacks, you will come across a small lake, continuing up the left-side following another false summit before arriving at a cairn marked path.

Follow the cairns all the way to the ridge, whereupon summiting you will have a staggering 360-degree view of the Cordillera Blanca, along with Pucaranra, one of the largest glaciers in the area. From the ridge, you will route-find down the steep Cojup Valley until reaching the valley floor. The main camp in Cojup Valley is located 2 km (1.2 mi) away from Palcacocha Lake and it’s worth the short side hike to visit the celestial blue lake surrounded by massive, over-hanging glaciers.

Day 3

The next day you can walk out of the gently sloping Cojup Valley. The Huascaran National Park gates are about 12 km (7.4 mi) from your camp or 18 km (11 mi) will bring you to the gates of The Lazy Dog Inn, where a hot sauna and a fresh, well-deserved meal awaits.

Quebrada Rurec to Quebrada Rajucolta via Yararhua pass

Days: 4 days

Level: Strenuous

Length: 64 km (41.5 mi)

Elevation Gain: 1,750 m (5,741 ft)

Similar to the Quilcyhuanca to Cojup Cordillera Blanca treks, this is great for hikers wanting to trek in high elevation terrain in the mountains without the use of technical climbing gear. The route goes up Quebrada Rurec and comes out of Quebrada Rajucolta going over Yararhua Pass located at a breathtaking 5,200 mt (17,060 ft). As if the views associated Yararhua Pass wasn’t enough, throughout the trek the huge giant glacier Huantsan is in the background, measuring in at an impressive 6,395 mt (20,981 ft). While this route is absolutely gorgeous it’s rarely done and it would be rare to see anyone else on the trail with you.

Cordillera Blanca Rajucolta Valley

Day 1

The trek starts at the town of Olleros where you can pay the ranger the entrance fee for Huascaran National Park next to the town plaza. From Olleros you will walk past several adobe communities along the path, around 7 hours, ascending slowly to the mouth of Quebrada Rurec. At the entrance of the Quebrada you will spend the night in a grassy meadow.

Day 2

The next morning you will begin your ascent to Lake Tarahua located at 4,480 mt (14,698 ft), a perfect spot for having lunch while admiring the colors of the glacier-fed lake. From here you will continue hiking up to 5,000 mt (16,404 ft) where you will rest for the night for an early start up the pass the next day to ensure crossing before any bad weather hits.

Day 3

An early morning start begins with an ascent along a cliff path, marked with cairns. While you are only gaining 200 meters, its much more work when hiking at 5,000 meters. The hard work is paid off with 360-degree views of the mountains: Rurec 5,700 mt (18,701 ft), Urashraju 5,735 mt (18,816 ft), Cashan 5,716 mt (18,753 ft), and the superimposing Huantsan at 6,309 mt (20,981 ft). From the ridge, you will descend into the Rajucolta Valley to the lake located at 4,250 mt (13,944 ft) to camp for the night.

Day 4

This morning you can finally catch your breath again as you descend a gentle valley for 12 km (7.4 mi) to the gates of Huascaran National Park where your vehicle awaits to take you back to your lodgings for the night. Along the way, you can observe the waterfalls cascading along the canyon walls as the giant Huantsan glacier watches over you.

Cordillera Blanca Yanashallash PassCordillera Blanca treks blend altitude, glaciers, and history providing a unique and rewarding experience, whether it’s the most popular Santa Cruz trek or the seldom hiked Quebrada Rurec. We certainly hope that this taste of what is out there, beyond the Santa Cruz trek, will inspire you to take the road less traveled and create your own adventure, as Huascaran National Park is teeming with routes and adventures that are just as rewarding and beautiful as the more popular treks. 

Photos courtesy of The Lazy Dog Inn and Highline Running Adventures.

Tackle Cordillera Blanca Treks with Good Life Expeditions

If you’re ready to take on some off-the-beaten-path Cordillera Blanca treks, Good Life Expeditions is here to help! Our expert travel team can take care of all the logistics and arrangements, as well as help you pick the best route suited to your taste.

Contact us today to start planning your next expedition!   


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