Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca

With dozens of peaks above 6,000 meters (nearly 20,000 feet), Peru’s Cordillera Blanca range is one of the highest, most rugged sections of the Andes, and the most heavily glaciated of any mountains in the planet’s equatorial zone. It is a well-known mountain climbing destination, and hundreds of kilometers of hikeable trails have made the range increasingly popular among trekkers.

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by Rick DeLong | 2009-06-16 00:10:00-06

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 1
The Cordillera Blanca: high peaks, massive glaciers, and deep valleys with mountain pastures.

Just an eight-hour bus ride from Lima, the Cordillera Blanca is among the most accessible high mountain ranges in the world. Not only is transportation to and from the range straightforward and convenient, but bureaucratic procedures are almost nonexistent. Independent travelers from just about any country can fly into Lima’s busy international airport and be in the mountains preparing for their multi-day hiking trip the following day with relatively little pre-trip planning. A month-long sojourn in the mountains can cost as little as $1000 USD, including airfare from the United States.

Flying There

If bought in advance with some flexibility of dates, plane tickets to Lima from U.S. airports can be relatively inexpensive. For instance, I was able to buy round-trip tickets from Detroit to Lima for December 2008 for $650 through travelocity.com.

At their airport of departure, backpackers will need to check baggage containing trekking poles, gas stoves, knives, and other potentially hazardous items. I personally transport my trekking poles in a telescoping plastic poster tube, which has enough space in it for an assortment of other small items as well. If you spend a night before and after your trek in a backpacker-friendly hostel or hotel next to the Cordillera Blanca, you can usually arrange to store your protective container there for the duration of your hike.

Visas are not required to enter Peru for tourist trips of up to ninety days. Upon leaving the country, however, you will pay a $30 departure tax directly at your airline’s check-in desk (in dollars or Nuevo Sol). Aside from a simple immigration form, no paperwork is required for entry or exit.

Lima

At the Lima airport, foreign currency can be exchanged for Peru’s Nuevo Sol at zero commission. Commission is charged when exchanging money back into dollars, Euros, and other currency.

Taxis can be obtained on the spot at the airport, typically for the equivalent of $10-20 for a ride into Lima, which is a sprawling city with many neighborhoods. It is safest, however, to arrange a ride in advance through a reputable taxi service. No public transportation exists to carry travelers from the airport to Lima.

Lima has plenty of inexpensive hostels, as well as the usual selection of high-end hotels. Depending on when your flight comes in, you may want to spend the night in Lima, or you could depart immediately for the mountains. Lima has some sights, but is not a prime tourist destination in and of itself.

Getting to the Cordillera Blanca

The easiest way to reach the Cordillera Blanca from Lima is to ride there with any number of bus companies. The transportation and tourist hub of the range is the town of Huaraz, a seven- to ten-hour ride from Lima, depending on the time of day and the number and duration of stops. A few of the bus companies offering service to Huaraz are Movil Tours, Cruz del Sur, and Expreso Ancash. Buses are large, modern touring buses with comfortable reclining seats. Tickets range in price from roughly $10 to $50 one way, depending on the departure time and type of seat (e.g. partially or fully reclining, or bed).

I tried to reserve bus tickets over the phone, but was told this was impossible. So we showed up at the company’s bus terminal the next morning an hour before departure and bought tickets on the spot. We were told that seats typically fill up half an hour or so before departure. A wise move would be to have the addresses of several bus companies on you and travel from terminal to terminal around downtown Lima if tickets are unavailable. Taxis around Lima cost just a few dollars, even including the somewhat higher prices that foreigners are typically charged. You will need to settle on a price beforehand, since there are no meters.

Huaraz

Almost every visitor to the Cordillera Blanca passes through Huaraz, the largest town in the region with approximately 100,000 residents. Here you will have the greatest assortment of food products to choose from, as well as fuel, maps, and plenty of backpackers from around the world. Although smaller towns in the area may be closer to your chosen trailhead, Huaraz has much more information and infrastructure and is at a better altitude for acclimatizing (3,000 meters, or 10,000 feet). There are a wide variety of accommodations available, but trekkers will generally find it more useful to stay at a backpacker-oriented hostel, which offer beds as cheap as $4 a night. At the hostel we stayed at - Jo’s Place, highly recommended - we were able to find an old backpacker’s guidebook, a detailed topographic map of the mountains hanging on the wall, and partially used gas canisters left by other backpackers. Furthermore, even though it was the middle of the low season, we met several other foreigners who were setting off on backpacking trips like us. There is an abundance of mountain guides in Huaraz, but experienced and travel-savvy backpackers should have little problem organizing and carrying out their trips on their own.

When to Go

Guidebooks and tourism-oriented websites basically assume that backpackers will hike in the Cordillera Blanca and nearby Cordillera Huayhuash during the dry season - May to October, which corresponds to winter in the southern hemisphere. Information about hiking during the rest of the year is difficult to find. We arrived just before the New Year, which corresponds to the beginning of the rainiest period, which peaks in February. Initially apprehensive about weather conditions in this high and distant land, we found the weather to be easily manageable with wise gear choices. During the dry season, one will find far more hikers on trails, which are basically deserted during the rest of the year. Essentially, one can hike in the Cordillera Blanca at any time of year with relatively minor gear adjustments. There is no such thing as a traditional “winter” where the snowline drops dramatically and the higher areas become impassable.

Weather Considerations

Being so close to the equator, seasonal temperature fluctuations in the Cordillera Blanca are relatively minor. As a result, there appear to be no deciduous plants, and the transition from frost-free zone to permanent snow and ice occurs within a span of just 2,000 vertical meters. During the dry season, backpackers typically wake up to below freezing temperatures (-5 to -10 C is common) above 3,500 meters, but the unobstructed sun quickly warms the air, and one can often hike in shorts. During the wet season, nighttime temperatures are warmer (generally 4 to 8 C in the 3,500-4,500 meter range), rain is frequent but not nonstop, and skies are often overcast, obscuring the dramatic mountain views. Rain, snow, hail, and lightning are possible any time of year, especially around the high passes. Once, we had to descend from a 4,830 meter pass through a thin layer of wet snow. We did not feel that special equipment would be necessary for hiking any of the trails.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 2
Coming down this steep trail from the pass required carefully placed side steps and a trekking pole and umbrella as stabilization.

During the wet season, one may expect at least several hours of rain nearly every day, as well as wet trails. The rocky ground and minimal vegetation generate quite little mud. Total annual precipitation in most of the Central Andes is fairly low, and the rain we encountered was rarely heavy. We usually had several hours without rain in the morning and at least a couple of rainless hours later in the day. We feel our choice of raingear was ideal: GoLite Chrome Dome umbrellas and homemade silnylon rain skirts. This combination allowed us to hike in the rain with no loss of comfort, though getting our trail runners to dry out was occasionally a challenge. Even on the rainiest of days, however, we would still have at least a couple of hours of almost-sunshine where we could hang our socks on our packs to dry.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 3
Negotiating a water-covered trail.

The sun is a force to be reckoned with. A half hour of exposure at 4,000 meters or higher can leave a fair-skinned person roasted. We honestly don’t know how we would have gotten by without our reflective GoLite umbrellas, even with just a few hours of sunshine a day.

One may encounter biting flies in the mountain valleys, but these were not a major nuisance, even during the rainy season. We had a net tent to go under our tarp, but found the bugs went away at night anyway and eventually stopped using it.

Acclimatization

Any multi-day hike in the Cordillera Blanca will take you to well over 4,000 meters (roughly 13,000 feet) within a day or two of starting. Most backpackers choose to acclimatize in Huaraz, at 3,000 meters above sea level. From Huaraz, one can take a number of one-day excursions around the area to aid in acclimatization. A short walk around the center of Huaraz will quickly familiarize one with the available tour options, which cost around $10.

Food

Huaraz has a large selection of groceries that can be used for backpacking. Smaller towns and villages in the region have a much smaller assortment. Huaraz has at least one smallish supermarket and a large market. We were able to find things like a Ramen noodle equivalent, packaged cheese, peanut butter, Oreos, banana chips, powdered milk, cream of wheat, granola, a small selection of chocolate (Peruvians don’t have the same sweet tooth Americans do), and resealable bags. Huaraz is well-stocked for backpackers.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 4
Ten days of no-cook or quick-cooking food for two people, totalling 50,000 calories. We repackaged everything in Ziploc bags for convenience.]

Groceries may be nonexistent in mountain villages, so don’t count on being able to restock. There was just one very small store in Pishgopampa, halfway into our route, where we were able to get things like apples, cookies, matches, and toilet paper. We would have been fine without this resupply, but decided to buy a few things just in case.

Fuel

Gas canisters with 230 and 500 grams of gas are available around Huaraz in many travel agencies and mini gear shops, which are concentrated in the central part of town. We saw two different mixtures of propane and butane, one of which is preferable for very cold temperatures. In addition, backpacker-oriented hostels may have stores of partially used canisters left by past hikers and climbers. We picked up a couple of these for free and returned them - somewhat more used - ten days later. Pure alcohol is readily available in pharmacies, and other sources say that blue-colored alcohol de quemar can also be found. The mountains have little wood, and campfires are prohibited, so a BushBuddy is out of the question.

Regulations

Most of the Cordillera Blanca is located within the Huascarán National Park. A one-day pass costs under $2 per person (payable in Peruvian currency), and a one-month pass (required for any overnight stays) costs $20 per person. The fee is payable upon entering the park, but sometimes there is no one to collect it in the off-season. Camping is allowed anywhere, and human waste does not have to be packed out of the park. However, no fires are allowed. No additional permits are required to hike or climb any of the peaks - even Peru’s highest, Huascarán (6,768 meters, or over 22,000 feet).

Crime

While some other mountain areas of Peru, such as the nearby Cordillera Huayhuash, were the site of robberies and even murder during the years of The Shining Path, the Cordillera Blanca have never had such problems. In recent years, all mountain areas in the region are considered safe, but guidebooks still recommend hiring a guide for hiking in the Huayhuash, and local “guards” will ask for money to watch over your camps at night. In the Cordillera Blanca, none of this is necessary, but still take care to avoid attracting undue attention in inhabited areas.

Maps and Information

For 20 Soles ($6.50), a very basic, non-topographic map of the Cordillera Blanca can be obtained at some travel agencies in Huaraz. Unless you are walking along the most popular and well-marked path, the Santa Cruz trek, this map will probably not be sufficient for orienteering. However, the other map for sale - a detailed topographic map of the Cordillera Blanca and nearby Cordillera Huayhuash - costs 80 Soles ($25 USD). Finding this a high price to pay for our slim budget, we opted to take a photo of the map on the wall of our hostel, and this, along with the basic tourist map and practical orienteering skills, kept us on the trail we needed to go. In ambiguous spots, a careful comparison of the tourist map and the topographic map photo was enough to send us up the right valley or mountainside.

Also very useful is a free “Map Guide” for Huaraz that has most of the information that a traveler would need - what to do in and around Huaraz and the surrounding mountains, how to get around, etc.

Trails, Terrain, and Orienteering

The Cordillera Blanca are high, glaciated mountains, with deep valleys that take on a pronounced U-shaped starting at approximately 3,700 meters. Few, if any, trails in the Cordillera Blanca are dedicated hiking trails. Mostly, they are used by locals - some for hundreds of years. Trails link settlements and lead to important grazing areas. Hence, they either follow valley bottoms or lead up over passes into the next deep valley. Sometimes trails cross streams, which usually have primitive bridges over them. Trails are well-worn and generally easy to follow. The less popular the route, however, the fewer signs there are, and the easier it is to lose the trail, which may at times be hard to distinguish from livestock paths.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 5
A high mountain settlement.

Luckily, the dramatic topography makes map reading a cinch, and the largely unobstructed landscape allows for easy cross-country travel should you stray off the trail. If you are still unsure of the route, locals will know which path to take, if any happen to be around. Even though not everyone in the mountains speaks Spanish (Quechua is the default language), saying a name place with a questioning intonation and pointing will probably be enough to make yourself understood and get an answer.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 6
Orienteering is not a problem in open terrain such as this.

Selecting a Route

The most popular and well-marked trekking route is the Santa Cruz Trek (50 km), followed by the Alpamayo Trek (90 km) and a number of other less known circuits. The readily available free tourist guidebook in Huaraz has a simple map with all the trails on it, and these trails can be stitched together to make a route of anywhere from 30 to 200 or more kilometers. Based on our time schedule (ten days), we created a loop combining most of the Santa Cruz Trek and the Alpamayo Trek. We settled on this route the day before we began our hike. We chose to go in a counter-clockwise direction in order to begin with a gradual elevation rise and finish with a long descent. This helped with acclimatization, but we still experienced some headaches the first couple days.

As you can see from the elevation profile below - which shows only the high and low points - our route took us over eight passes in nine days. Walking up and down steep passes over 4,500 meters proved to strenuous, but overall our pace and schedule were quite unhurried.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 7
The route we chose was the following: Cashapampa village - Quebrada Santa Cruz valley - Punta Unión pass - Tuctu village - Alto de Pucaraju pass - Quisuar village - Tupatupa pass - Pishgopampa village - Laguna Sactaycocha lake - Huillca village - Quebrada Alpamayo valley - Laguna Cullicocha lake - Hualcallan village.

Getting To and From the Trailhead

Getting to your trailhead from Huaraz could prove challenging without some knowledge of Spanish. This is one more reason to choose a backpacker-oriented hostel for your first couple nights in Huaraz, because you’ll be able to meet other backpackers and share important information. In our case, we took a local minibus to the town of Caraz, where we were immediately approached by a mototaxi driver who had guessed our itinerary and took us to the location in town where cars filled up to take people up the mountain to Cashapampa, where our trailhead was. On the way back, we were approached by a taxi driver in Hualcallan and taken to Caraz, where we took the same kind of minivan bus back to Huaraz. As a general rule, one can figure out transportation on the go and count on the locals having long ago figured out where backpackers need to go and how to take them there.

Water

Water is always nearby in the mountains even in the dry season, since trails generally follow deep gullies with glacier-fed streams. However, much of the mountains are grazed by cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys, and pigs as high as 4,500 meters or more. Nearly ubiquitous cow patties led us to treat 100% of our water with AquaMira. Even where there seemed to be no cattle, donkeys on the trail would leave patties of their own, and we were never completely sure that the water we were getting was untainted. We did not notice any filters for sale in Huaraz, but it is highly likely that iodine drops could be obtained in mini gear shops or pharmacies.

Locals

In general, Andean mountain dwellers appear cheerful and friendly towards strangers. If you speak Spanish (or better, Quechua), it will be easy to talk to people and find about their life. Their Spanish is often easier to understand than that of Peruvians who grew up speaking it at home and have a much larger vocabulary.

However, you will probably encounter people - especially children - who ask you for candy or other things. We actually had a grown man run a quarter mile down a slope just to tell us, “Dame un caramelo” (give me a piece of candy). To be honest, we felt put off by people who would bluntly ask us for candy without having even talked to us. Once, we were feeling ungenerous and refused some children candy, and they only left us alone after we had turned them down multiple times for chocolate and money as well. Generally, it is wise to carry along a bag of lemon candy or similar treats to give to locals whom you feel inclined to treat. Unfortunately, most of them will just toss the plastic wrappers on the ground, since they’re apparently not yet aware of the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable trash. In fact, we are sure that most of the trash left on trails is from local residents and guides, not foreign backpackers.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 8
We met these friendly, colorfully dressed children, aged seven to twelve, walking up to a 4,500 meter pass without their parents, who were celebrating the New Year far below.

Livestock

The only negative aspect of our backpacking trip was encounters with cows, who at times viewed us as intruders. On some steep slopes cows may be reluctant to get off the trail, forcing you to somehow go around them or scare them off. One must be attentive to the cows’ mood and movements to judge whether they are indifferent, on guard, or aggressive. An indifferent cow looks at you curiously and continues to chew its cud. A cow on guard stares at you and stops chewing its cud. An aggressive cow moves towards you while staring at you without chewing. Aggressive behavior is usually the result of having calves around. The smaller the calf, the more protective the cows will be.

Cows with calves are best avoided at a safe distance of a hundred yards or more. If you notice they have started to advance towards you, calmly walk away from them and pick up a few rocks, just in case. Once, a group of cows came running down a hill and moved towards our campsite, which was at the bottom of a large meadow in the valley. We tried to hastily break camp, but the cows got to us before we had finished. They seemed curious about us and wanted to check out our campsite, but we knew that if we abandoned our things, they would trample everything and slobber all over our food. Once the cows were about thirty meters away, I began blowing my emergency whistle as we continued to pack up. The cows didn’t know what it meant and continued moving towards us, albeit more slowly and unsurely. Finally we had moved everything to the nearby collapsing stone outhouse, and from there began tossing pebbles at them. Meanwhile, some other hikers had responded to our whistle and stood a kilometer away on a ridge to see what was up. After five minutes or so of pebble throwing, we were able to get the herd to stop trying to move closer to us, and by advancing towards them, we finally got them to start moving away from us in another direction. Cow herds are very inert indeed.

Do not underestimate cows. Even though guidebooks and websites on the Cordillera Blanca make virtually no mention of them, we told locals about our scary encounter with the cows, and they cautioned us to be careful and told us about a herder who had been gored by a bull. Presumably, cattle are less of an issue during the dry season, when there are far more hikers on the trail, the cows may move elsewhere to graze, or the calves may have grown up.

Shelter Choice and Site Selection

We chose to use a generous 10 x 10 foot silnylon tarp to provide more coverage during the Andean rainy season and believe this was a good choice. We were not at all cramped and could comfortably cook under the tarp during the rain. Surprisingly, we encountered almost no nighttime wind. Site selection is limited due to the dramatic topography and tufty Andean grass, and almost all our campsites ended up being in pastures at the bottom of deep valleys. After our encounter with cows, we searched for spots out of sight of any grazing cattle. Finding a dung-free patch was sometimes a challenge.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 9
Tarp camping at 4,650 meters above sea level.

Conclusion

Our hiking adventure in the Cordillera Blanca allowed us to see and experience magnificent mountains larger than anything we had ever seen before. We faced consistently wetter conditions than we had hiked in before, and were pleased to find that our rain gear, quick drying clothes, and generous tarp allowed us to avoid any discomfort or loss of hiking time due to rain. Finally, through our many conversations with local mountain dwellers, we came away with an awareness of how people live in the Andes - how they have changed the mountains, how the mountains have shaped their civilization, and how their lifestyle is changing in the modern era.

As we read about other mountainous regions of the Central Andes, it appears that the logistics are much the same everywhere. Inexpensive local buses and taxis take backpackers to all the popular hiking destinations, and services have cropped up to provide them with the supplies they need. Based on our experience in the Cordillera Blanca, we would feel confident making visits to mountain ranges in southern Peru, Bolivia, and much of Chile and Argentina with very little advance planning except for gathering some phone numbers and addresses of bus companies or hostels in important locations. These mountains are magnificent, accessible, enjoy fair weather, and are perfectly suited for lightweight backpacking.

Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 10
At the end of the trail.

Rick          
CATEGORY ITEM BRAND MODEL WORN PACK
FOOTWEAR Trail Runners Inov-8 320 776.0  
  Socks SmartWool N/A 39.0  
  Gore-Tex Socks Rocky N/A   75.0
  Thongs Teva N/A   201.0
  Socks SmartWool N/A   70.0
TREKKING CLOTHES Bottom Base Layer Icebreaker 150 Leggings   155.0
  Bottom Shell Layer Homemade Momentum Wind Pants 74.0  
  Top Base Layer Icebreaker Mondo Zip 200 249.0  
  Shirt GoLite Drimove T-shirt 103.0  
  Top Shell Layer CAMP Magic Jacket   128.0
  Top Insulating Layer Montbell UL Down Inner Vest 174.0  
  Underwear ExOfficio Polyester Sports Briefs 63.0  
  Shorts Generic Polyester Running Shorts   117.0
  Eye Protection Polaroid Sports Sunglasses 21.0  
  Shell Gloves Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT Rain Mitts   34.0
  Top Insulating Layer BackpackingLight Cocoon PRO60 Parka   350.0
  Insulated Pants MontBell UL Down Inner Pants   208.0
  Weatherproof Coat Montane Quickfire   324.0
  Sun Protection GoLite Visor 30.0  
  Headgear Generic Fleece Headband   20.0
  Mosquito Headnet Simblissity UL Mosquito Headnet   10.0
  Insulating Gloves PossumDown Gloves   41.0
TREKKING GEAR Trekking Poles Titanium Goat AGP Poles 202.0  
  Umbrella GoLite Chrome Dome 222.0  
  Altimeter/Compass/Watch High Gear Summit 63.0  
PACKING GEAR Backpack Zpacks Blast 32   217.0
CAMPING GEAR Tarp Generic 10 x 10 Silnylon Tarp   530.0
  Ground Sheet Adventure Medical Kits 2-Person Emergency Blanket   85.0
  Bug Net Homemade Hanging Bug Shelter for Two   210.0
  Stakes Generic Cheap Plastic Stakes   140.0
  Tarp Guyline AirCore Pro URSA Dyneema Rope 50' plus Carabiners   75.0
  Quilt BackpackingLight PRO60 Quilt   330.0
  Bivy Titanium Goat Ptarmigan   190.0
  Sleeping Pad Gossamer Gear 104 x 150” Hammock Pad   250.0
  Emergency Bivy Adventure Medical Kits Emergency Bivy   93.0
  Sleeping Bag Liner Jag Bags Silk   149.0
  Stove MSR Pocket Rocket   111.0
  Pot MSR Titan   130.0
  Spoon BackpackingLight Long-Handled Spoon   9.0
MISC GEAR Personal Hygiene       150.0
  First Aid Kit Homemade     150.0
  Maps       100.0
  Water Container Platypus 2.5 Liter Reservoir   36.0
  Odds & Ends   Repair Kit, Flashlight, Batteries, Matches, MP3 Player   200.0
  Water Treatment AquaMira Drops   80.0
  Camera Canon G7 w/ Extra Battery, Charger, Memory Cards   500.0
CONSUMABLES Food   10 Days   7500.0
  Fuel   2 Small Fuel Canisters   400.0
  Water   1 Liter   1000.0
Total Weight     lbs g kg
Total Weight Worn/Carried     4.4 2016.0 2.0
Total Pack Weight     12.0 5468.0 5.5
Total Consumables Weight     19.6 8900.0 8.9
Total Initial Weight (Pack + Consumables)     31.6 14368.0 14.4
Full Skin Out Weight     36.0 16384.0 16.4

Kim          
CATEGORY ITEM BRAND MODEL WORN PACK
FOOTWEAR Trail Runners Salomon XA Comp 650.0  
  Socks SmartWool N/A 40.0  
  Socks Keds N/A   48.0
  Thongs Generic N/A   180.0
TREKKING CLOTHES Bottom Base Layer BackpackingLight UL Merino Wool Leggings   103.0
  Bottom Shell Layer GoLite Women’s Wind Pant 94.0  
  Shorts Adidas Running Shorts   89.0
  Top Base Layer REI All Weather Polyester Zip Pullover 186.0  
  Shirt Nike Fit Dry Ultrawicking Top 156.0  
  Underwear Victoria’s Secret Micromesh Panty 13.0 13.0
  Top Shell Layer Marmot Windshirt w/ Hood   133.0
  Headgear Generic Fleece Headband   20.0
  Top Insulating Layer Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket   349.0
  Eye Protection Generic Sunglasses   24.0
  Mitts REI N/A   60.0
  Shell Gloves Homemade Silnylon Rain and VB Mitts   15.0
  Mosquito Headnet Coghlan’s Headnet   30.0
TREKKING GEAR Umbrella GoLite Chrome Dome 222.0  
PACKING GEAR Backpack Zpacks Blast 18   120.0
CAMPING GEAR Quilt Jacks 'R Better Rocky Mountain No Sniveller, w/ Hood and Stuff Sack   900.0
  Spoon REI Lexan Spoon   12.0
MISC GEAR Personal Hygiene       180.0
  Water Container Platypus 2.5 Liter Reservoir   36.0
  Odds & Ends   Flashlight, Batteries, MP3 Player   160.0
CONSUMABLES Food   10 Days   5000.0
  Water   1 Liter   1000.0
Total Weight     lbs g kg
Total Weight Worn/Carried     3.0 1361.0 1.4
Total Pack Weight     5.4 2472.0 2.5
Total Consumables Weight     13.2 6000.0 6.0
Total Initial Weight (Pack + Consumables)     18.6 8472.0 8.5
Full Skin Out Weight     21.6 9833.0 9.8


Citation

"Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca," by Rick DeLong. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/cordillera_blanca.html, 2009-06-16 00:10:00-06.

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Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/16/2009 16:52:15 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Ultralight Backpacking in Perus Cordillera Blanca

Edited by addiebedford on 06/17/2009 16:12:49 MDT.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/16/2009 21:54:07 MDT Print View

Oh man, another hike added to the list! Thanks :)

Patrick Miron
(PMIRON) - F
Re: Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/17/2009 14:31:03 MDT Print View

wow thank to sharing with the community. I like all the detail of your text. Very appreciated. My next big trip...

Pat

Edited by PMIRON on 06/17/2009 14:31:39 MDT.

Jonathan Ryan
(Jkrew81) - F - M

Locale: White Mtns
Re: Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/17/2009 18:59:07 MDT Print View

great article, thanks for sharing Rick!!!

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/17/2009 21:12:31 MDT Print View

Very nice trip report and how-to tutorial!

Being a suspension free pack fan I gotta ask:
1) How'd you like the ZPacks Blast packs?
2) 31.6lbs starting weight might be pushing the limits there? Did you perceive a tipping point as you ate your way to a lighter load?
3) The photos seem to show hip belts, did you find them useful with this pack?
4) How'd the 1.5oz Cuben stand up to the load?
5) How about the stitching?

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Peru's Cordillera Blanca on 06/17/2009 23:24:05 MDT Print View

AWESOME and very informative trip report Rick!!! My mind was planning a trek the entire time I was reading your UL backpacking report...Such a exotic place to travel too...What type of wildlife do you see?

-Jay

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Peru (and giving candy to locals) on 06/18/2009 00:17:08 MDT Print View

Thanks for the great trip report Rick! I'm hoping to get to Chile and Peru in the next couple of years. I doubt I'd be brave enough to do it with just a tarp, so kudos for that!

GearList:
Underwear... Victoria's Secret... Micromesh Panty


Interesting choice. And what was your partner wearing? ;-)

Generally, it is wise to carry along a bag of lemon candy or similar treats to give to locals whom you feel inclined to treat.

I'd *strongly* discourage this. In theory it's a nice thing to do, but in practice it just fosters an unhealthy relationship between foreign trekkers and the local population. As you noticed yourself, it encourages people to approach you simply for the purpose of asking for candy (or whatever). In many cases this makes it impossible to have any sort of normal interaction with them. As you noted, it's often the case that people keep asking for a sweet even after you've said no.

I find it really sad when I go trekking in places like Nepal and I meet children on the trail. Instead of saying "hello" they say "hello pen?" or "hello bonbon?". I don't think this is a good way for children to learn to interact with foreigners. Generally these children are not so poor they need to beg for food, but by handing out stuff on the trail I feel we are undermining their independence and self-respect. In other countries, such as Vietnam, it is wonderful to meet children who do not view foreigners as walking vending machines. They play and interact naturally, and are delighted to meet you and say hello or play a game. I had about 5 kids hanging off my legs in Vietnam once and it was lots of fun!

A much better alternative to giving away candy/sweets is to find a local school in the mountains and give some school supplies (books, pencils etc etc) to the school teacher. This has a much more positive and lasting impact and promotes a great relationship between visitors and the local community.

ps. Sorry if I sound like I'm preaching, but foreigners handing out candy on the trail is one of my pet hates!

Edited by ashleyb on 06/18/2009 00:20:33 MDT.

Dave T
(DaveT) - F
strangers with candy. on 06/18/2009 00:58:09 MDT Print View

"but foreigners handing out candy on the trail is one of my pet hates!"

it's a difficult issue to deal with trying to interact with a culture without having a net negative effect on it. i agree that helping a school is, in general, a better approach.

and, wow, is it beautiful down there.

Edited by DaveT on 06/18/2009 00:58:39 MDT.

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Re: Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/18/2009 08:53:54 MDT Print View

Excellent article - like a Lonely Planet guide for backpackers.
:)

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Re: Re: Ultralight Backpacking in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca on 06/24/2009 16:00:05 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the encouragement! I'm writing from the PCT and so rarely have Internet access.

About the Zpacks Blasts:

We like these packs a lot. 30+ lbs in the larger one is certainly not very comfortable, but within 3 days it's down to a comfortable weight. 25 lbs seems to be the comfort limit for any frameless pack I've tried (MLD Zip, Blast, Golite Pinnacle). The hip belts are necessary, but get the hip pockets too, which have the actual padding for the belt. 1.5 oz cuben seems like a 2 -2.5 oz silnylon in terms of strength. The stitching is good and should last about 100-150 days of backpacking.

About the candies:

That's a good point. It's a hard call. It's hard to have to disappoint the locals, but some "tough love" from foreigners would probably be a good thing.

Wildlife:

Surprisingly little. Just birds (condors, etc.) and a relative of the pica. And cattle...

Edited by Legkohod on 06/24/2009 16:02:53 MDT.

obx hiker
(obxcola) - MLife

Locale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
Stream crossing photo on 09/10/2009 13:19:21 MDT Print View

Was that some version of a rain-kilt in the photo labelled "Negotiating a water-covered trail" ?

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Re: Stream crossing photo on 09/14/2009 12:28:25 MDT Print View

Yes, it was simply a piece of silnylon cut out to form an open-topped cone, with a few pieces of velcro sewn on to form the cone shape.