Cerro Soray - 17868' - Class 4
After three successful weeks in the Cordillera Blanca, I joined Santiago on the bus ride back to Lima. It was a nice 8 hour ride, which was extended another hour due to traffic getting through Lima after dark. I eventually got to Javier Prado bus station where I managed to join Santiago with his taxi driver towards the hostel that Emily was staying at. We met up and went to a nice dinner in Miaflores. It was the first time we saw one another since Alaska nearly a month prior!
We enjoyed a night in Lima, and took a taxi to one of the only nightclubs we could find that was open on a Sunday night, which advertised Salsa Sundays. Needless to say, we enjoyed live Salsa music and Emily managed to get drunk which was certainly amusing haha. We walked back to the hostel at 2am, and neither of us were looking forward to taking our flight to Cusco merely hours away!
We got a few hours of sleep, but Emily was hesitating to get going, and for good reason! We ate breakfast and packed up our stuff and took a taxi to the airport. We boarded our flight on LCPeru to Cusco, and I quickly noticed we were getting on a 737-300, a plane that has long since been discontinued in the US, and no longer allowed to be used by airlines. In Peru though, these types of rules are not in effect so probably the scariest part of the entire trip was the flight from Lima to Cusco!
We landed on a runway that bisected right through the heart of the city, which looked similar to Huaraz but a bit larger. The red brick structures were the same as everywhere else in Peru. We stayed just long enough to grab lunch with a friend of mine from Colorado, who was working in Cusco at the time, then took a van to the train station in Ollantaytambo. At about 8pm we boarded the train and arrived at Agua Calientes by 10pm and after walking around awhile, found our hostel. It was a very long day of travelling that started in Miaflores and ended at the base of Maccu Picchu! We got a well deserved rest and decided against going up really early the next morning.
We slept in and waited in line for the bus up to Maccu Picchu, and although the line was long we only waited a half hour or so. I still couldn't stop eating and was buying food at nearly every stand I could find. Climbing at 6,000 meters really enhances my already crazy fast metabolism.
Once we arrived at the gate, we spent all afternoon exploring the city and had a beautiful afternoon as most of the tourists left by 2pm. We hiked up to the sun gate and I found the center square particularly nice. Despite the ridiculous amount of tourists and selfie crazed Europeans/Asians, it was worth seeing.
After a nice walk back down the stairs to the valley bottom, we returned to Aguas Calientes for another night, and enjoyed another nice Peruvian restaurant. We then packed our super light packs and walked down the train tracks towards Santa Teresa. It was a beautiful hike and as we got closer to the road, the rainforest began to dwindle and become much drier. I was shocked how quickly the flora changed. We got to the road and grabbed one of many taxis to Santa Teresa. I attempted to convince our driver to take us to the Cocalmayo Hot Springs but he said they were a half hour walk outside of town. I managed to understand what he was saying and found out exactly where the hot springs were, so we walked down the gravel road along the river, and ran into a sweet looking hostel which advertised a dinner buffet and I was like SOLD!
We grabbed a room here, which featured a full bar with games, nice dining room and a sweet view. They even had a pool but it wasn't filled. It was just a few more minutes down the road to the hot spring which were very nice to relax in. Although they were not super hot, it was a very nice place.
The next morning after an amazing dinner where I ate them out of business, they gave us (there was a large group of others staying here to do their zipline tour, giving us other English speakers to chat with) a breakfast buffet
I think I was in heaven with so much quality food to eat! The zip line tour guides were nice enough to drive us back up the hill to town, where we could catch a van heading to Santa Maria, and then back to Cusco. Emily and I got the front seat in both vans too!
Upon returning to Cusco, we met back up with my Colorado friend (who was also named Emily) and we planned a trip to Pitumarca which is a newly discovered rock climbing destination. Rock climbing in Peru is very young and just at the cusp of being developed. That's why it was so unfortunate to see Hatun Machay be dismantled bolt by bolt this past summer due to some stupid disagreements. Emily and I took the afternoon though to explore a little bit more of Cusco...making sure we took some time to see a little bit of sexywoman :P
Anyways, Pitumarca was a chore to get to that involved a bus ride southeast along the 3S highway that left from a bus station I never would have found it it wasn't for Emily's local friends who joined us. A couple hours later we arrived at the small town of Checacupe. It was here we waited at the very slow center square for some kind of van to the town of Pitumarca just a few miles up the road. I picked up some last minute food items as well, and we had to flag down a tuktuk driven by a 12 year old to take us up the road. So we piled 5 people with our huge packs into the back and we rode up. We found a local with a car to take us 8 kilometers north on a gravel road leading to a tiny village at the base of some large limestone fins. These fins were the the rock climbing was being developed.
It was quite amazing to behold, and I couldn't imagine what it must have been like for these villagers, who may have never seen a white person prior to the rock climbing routes starting to be developed literally just months ago. But an agreement between climbers and the villagers was made and new routes were constantly being put up, even when we were there. We happened to hit the weekend of the climbing festival. Even the local kids who wanted were given harnesses and tried the climbing. Not surprising though they all were pretty good at it! I ran into people from dozens of countries here and was thrilled to see everyone coexisting very nicely, even with the locals who ONLY spoke Quechua!
This climbing area is located at 13,400 feet however, and Emily, who wasn't completely acclimated yet, had trouble climbing and was getting headaches. She hiked back down the hill to camp and rested while we continued climbing in the shade, with a cold wind. I quickly realized that this crag is best climbed in the morning when it gets sun, but with the towering walls on both sides of this narrow valley, the sun doesn't show itself very long here. Most of the routes were 1-2 pitch sport climbs on very grippy Limestone.
The entire group of people (maybe 50 in total attending the climbing festival) were cooked food from the villagers, and allowed to camp right on their small fields, for a nominal fee. Emily still wasn't feeling too well so I encouraged her to drink, and I went to bed early.
The next day we did a bit more climbing in the morning and with Emily feeling better, she was able to join us. We did maybe 5 or 6 more routes before they all started feeling the same and when the sun disappeared behind the rock formation we went back to camp for a nap. Everyone was leaving by this point and we were all by ourselves Sunday night in the llama field.
We decided to hike up the valley the next morning as I wanted to get a bit higher and get a view of the surrounding landscape. We got up early to a cold morning with frost on the grass around us. We hiked up to an even higher village up at 14,100 feet! Seeing how these people lived was an incredible sight. Very simple lives living in mud huts with no electricity, and ferrying llamas around each day. They may have been descendants on the Inca people as they did not even know Spanish. We walked around their village and continued to where the valley opened up above and Emily stopped on a nice rock next to the creek for a few hours while I continued on towards the summit of a peak I spotted on the map.
This peak was labeled at Hatun Cha'qu and I believed it was one of the highest in the immediate vicinity. I reached a large meadow at 14,500 feet surrounded by llamas and alpaca and turned leftward and ascended a side drainage heading northwest and got to a small tarn at 15,800 feet. Directly above me there was a gully leading to a deep notch, which I hiked up to but wasn't comfortable soloing the mid 5th class rock climbing moves to reach the ridgecrest above. So I descended and found a different route heading directly up the east facing rocky buttress and met the ridge higher up. I scrambled lots of class 3 and 4 until I reached the summit ridge of Hatun Cha'qu but quickly realized that the peak off to the south was at least 200 feet higher. I reached the top of a small peak and, not wanting to return the way I had just climbed, I start scrambling down to the east along the ridge north of the tarn I passed by on the ascent.
The views up here were incredible as I got an excellent view of Rainbow Mountain, and Ausangate! Under a cloudless sky I was standing in an area hardly anyone ever sees with a panoramic view of the highest mountain in southern Peru!
I continued descending until I met back up with the main drainage and ran back into Emily, who was enjoying the warm sun, reading her book. We hiked back down the valley and packed up camp. Without any cars along the road, we were forced to walk the 8 kilometers back down the gravel road to Pitumarca, where we were able to grab a taxi back to the main highway and bus back to Cusco. We found a good hostel near the Plaza San Francisco (my favorite plaza in Cusco due to all the nice food close by) called Puriwana Hostel. This is where we would stay the remainder of our nights in Cusco.
After a great nights rest back at the lower 11,300 feet elevation, we went to chat with a mountain guide living in Cusco to get some information about Cerro Soray, a mountain near Salcantay I had researched before leaving for Peru. I saw it would make a great peak to hike up solo and see the awe inspiring Salcantay region. We located the correct spot at the far west side of Cusco to catch the collectivos to Mollepata. On this van ride we drove by dozens of large wildfires, which we assumed were the farmers doing their annual field burning, but some of the fires were very large. We arrived in Mollepata fairly late, and only found one place to grab dinner, which was someones house really. We found a nice hostel though and got a room to ourselves.
The next morning we found a taxi ride up to the village of Soray, where the start of the Salcantay Trek is located. We split the ride with another couple we ran into who were doing the trek. Upon arriving to Soray, we walked all around looking for a place with a bed for Emily to stay for the night. We found just one place a little down the road and she got settled in while we had lunch. This place was literally a family home where the kids slept with the parents when they had guests! But the location was superb with grand mountain views in every direction.
I took off around noon to start hiking up to the Cerro Soray base camp that was made by the guide we spoke with in Cusco. This is a popular peak for him to take clients to acclimate or for beginners. I made it 900 meters up to base camp in just a couple hours amazingly. I was feeling great and didn't have much routefinding issues, despite what Nate (the local guide) told me. I had no issue finding the trail above the south side and didn't make the mistake of taking the popular trail to Laguna de Humantay, which is cut off from the huge meadow by a large moraine which would add considerable effort and time to hike over.
Once at base camp I set up my tent inside the boulder walls and enjoyed the views of the south face of Humantay. What a crazy looking face this is! I grabbed some awesome sunset photos and went to sleep.
The alarm went off at 5am but I didn't want to start before twilight since I knew I would be fast. I initially started hiking up the lateral moraine just above base camp but this would prove to be a little too far to the left. The Google Earth image I was using for beta was a little hard to see on my phone lol. Regardless, I continued up the crest of the moraine which was quite loose and very narrow. I spotted a place I can cut down to the right and reach the tow of the now very small glacier. The ascent to the ridge from here was almost entirely on loose talus, with the exception of the class 4 crux which consisted on a small 15 foot chimney providing access from the slopes around the lower glacier, through the cliff bands to the upper glacier.
The upper glacier was covered in tall pentinites over a foot in height, so my tennis shoes with just one microspike (since one was broken) was enough to get me up safely as I also had my axe. The final scramble up the ridge was class 3 and on better rock. Once on the summit I could revel in the beauty that surrounded me. Indescribable views of remote glacier clad peaks, many of which have never been climbed awaited my eyes. Well below me I was able to see the village of Soray where Emily waited for me, and towering still above me was Salcantay. Smoke from all the fires clouded the view to the south towards the Pacific Ocean. I reached the summit at 9:15am after leaving camp at 6:30am. The final 600 meters took me longer than I would have liked, but I was still able to enjoy the summit completely alone for nearly an hour before I started back down. By noon I met back up with Emily, and we were able to hop into one of the work trucks to get back to Mollepata! Perfect timing since it was the last truck for the day and all the trekking vans had likely already dropped off their passengers for the morning.
Luck was on our side though as we were able to catch a ride back down the hill from Mollepata to the highway before the road closed again (the road was under construction and only open for lunch break). Then we caught a tour bus who had room for us to get back to Cusco.
Once back in Cusco, we caught our flight back to Lima, and with another day to spare, we explored Miaflores a bit more and returned to Sonia's where we had the best ceviche in the world once again, after going there right when Emily arrived to Lima (Thanks Santiago for showing us this place! Only a local will know about it). We sadly had to leave Peru and return to LA though where the next part of my summer would begin; my annual North Cascades blast!
I hope you enjoyed this series about my Peru trip...I had an amazing time and already cannot wait to go back!
Note: See this page for more information about Cerro Soray