Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay

Escaping the "boxes" of modern society in the heart of the breathtaking Peruvian Andes.

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by Kristin Tennessen and Danny Milks | 2011-04-19 00:00:00-06

Editor's Note: click here to see all the articles (and a brief synopsis of each) in this excellent series.

Introduction

One of the drawbacks of our contemporary lifestyle is how much time we spend in boxes. Our homes and offices have floors, ceilings, and walls set at ninety degree angles. To connect us to these stationary boxes, we often use wheeled boxes to travel over flat and gray roads. The paths we take are the most efficient routes, not the most aesthetically pleasing nor the most representative of the land. It is almost as if modern society is attempting to cover up and disconnect us from the earth that gives us sustenance, and, as all backpackers know, a deep satisfaction.

Backpacking is a way to free us from the boxes of our civilized lives. It is a way to connect us to the earth, to explore the terrain around us, to view the world from a different perspective. We climb mountains to answer the question "what does the world look like from up there?" We scale rocks that demand the use of all four limbs and leave us calloused, scraped, chafed, and bruised. We glide over snow for the pure joy of speed, while experiencing a world colored mostly in white. We enter forests and meadows to inhale the pleasant smells of trees and flowers, and to feel leaves brushing against our arms and grass tickling our ankles. We paddle to the middle of lakes to observe life on shore from a different angle and to feel the bobbing sensation that only rolling waves can create.

Danny and I have been traveling internationally for over 18 months, and many people we meet along the way ask what draws us to this lifestyle. The shortest answer, and one that consequently requires the longest explanation, is that we are trying to escape the habit of living in boxes. Additionally, we are trying to learn from other cultures how it is possible to live securely without the stifling feeling of spending so much time in a box.

Danny and I still spend more time indoors than is ideal, including time in buses, trains, cars, and supermarkets. However, when we do escape, it is well worth the compromise. The following photographs from our May trek in the Cordillera Blanca are best viewed indoors, but I hope they inspire you to get outside the box.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 1
Laguna Llaganuca sits at the entrance to Huscaran National Park, several hours north of the city Huaraz, Peru.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 2
The village of Colcabamba - the “trailhead” for our hike.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 3
There were few independent backpackers and no designated campsites, so it was easy for us to find a comfortable spot for the night.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 4
Nevado Piramide as seen from the east side. We hiked over the pass, Punta Union, directly south of this peak.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 5
The weather was variable and the summits were often obscured by clouds. It was sometimes warm enough to wear a tank-top while hiking uphill. We always wore high SPF sunscreen regardless of the cloud coverage.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 6
As we reached the high point of our trek, Punta Union at 4,750 meters (15,500 feet), we turned around to admire the valley in which we had just hiked.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 7
The ~5,700 meter (18,700 foot) tall summit of Taulliraju.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 8
We saw several of these servicios higienicos which were poorly designed and too putrid to use. Instead, the guided trips carried a portable canvas outhouse. We used the standard cat hole.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 10
Kristin wore the right camouflage for this time of year.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 11
The north side of Nevado Alpamayo as seen at sunrise from our campsite.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 12
Outside of the jungle, we rarely encountered forests in Peru. We found this small band of trees tucked away in a valley above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet).

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 13
This lone flower Senecio comosus grew next to a glacier lake at 4,200 meters (13,780 feet).

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 14
Kristin wished she had a packraft to get closer to the glacier.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 15
We saw many vibrant flowers during our trek, including these Taulli blooms.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 16
Walking back to the main valley, the 6,025 meter (19,767 foot) peak of Artesonraju punctuated the skyline (top right).

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 17
Danny wished he had a packraft to mosey down the crisscrossing waterways instead of soaking our feet in the flooded meadow.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 18
A bonus feature of a lightweight pack: it was easier to jump across creeks.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 19
The high-altitude solar radiation was intense. We built a shelter for our lunch break using our five-ounce sil-nylon tarp. The smell of fresh cow pies ruined our peaceful meal. When the smell followed us along the trail, we realized Kristin’s shoe was the culprit, as she had unknowingly stepped in a fresh, gooey cow pie.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 20
I’m likin’ this lichen.

The Global Test: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca - 22
Nothing like the sight of vibrant patchwork fields to welcome us back to civilization.


Citation

"Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay," by Kristin Tennessen and Danny Milks. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/global_test_cordillera_blanca_peru.html, 2011-04-19 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay


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Daniel Paladino
(dtpaladino) - F - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies
Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/19/2011 12:41:10 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru's Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay

Edited by dtpaladino on 04/19/2011 12:47:23 MDT.

Ron Bell
(mountainlaureldesigns) - F - M

Locale: USA
Re: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/19/2011 12:59:10 MDT Print View

LOVE the lichen pic!

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
re on 04/19/2011 13:31:33 MDT Print View

You guys get around to the most interesting places

So, the Donkeys use the outhouse? How well trained

ruben orellana
(eli672)

Locale: los angeles
love the pics!!! on 04/19/2011 23:29:09 MDT Print View

what packs are you guys using???

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Packs and Pack Animals on 04/20/2011 02:05:07 MDT Print View

Ruben - You can find our initial gear list in our first article: The Global Test: One Gear List for Two Years and Five Continents

To answer your question: Kristin has a GoLite Jam2 (2008), womens medium. After 2 years of constant use, it has a few scratches but otherwise looks and performs like new. I have the Mountainsmith Ghost (2005). The pack was discontinued shortly after, but it is made of tough material, has a full front zip, a light frame, and comfortable padding. It weighs 2lbs 4oz.

Jerry - the pack animals hung around the outhouses, but I don't know what they were looking for!

Thank you all for the comments!

Edited by dannymilks on 04/20/2011 02:55:24 MDT.

Trevor Wilson
(trevor83) - MLife

Locale: Swiss Alps / Southern Appalachians
Re: love the pics!!! on 04/20/2011 02:28:38 MDT Print View

Great pictures! Thanks for letting us follow around your adventures!

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/20/2011 07:11:50 MDT Print View

Nice pics Danny and Kristin! I especially like the jumping and the lichen pictures. I've often wondered if Andean trips like this one are one of the few places where our ultralight tarptents aren't a good choice. The weather can be brutal up there. And, we typically do those treks during fairly stable weather periods. What do you think? Are tarptents marginal in the Andes?

Michael Skwarczek
(uberkatzen) - F

Locale: Sudamerica
Southward bound on 04/20/2011 11:21:26 MDT Print View

It's such fantastic timing to have your photo essays and trip journals on the heels of our family adventure to South America. We're flying to Quito this July 20th and we'll be in Peru come late Sept. We'll should also be in Patagonia come Nov/Dec. Returning, ultimately, to Ecuador June/July of 2012 for our return.

I'm combing through resources for treks in Peru and Patagonia. Do you have any recommendations in Ecuador and also north of Patagonia along the Chilean or Argentine Andes?

Beautiful, inspiring. Thanks for taking the time and effort to post these journals.

cheers,
-Michael

btw... what stove/fuel options did you bring or consider? would a wood burner Tri-Ti, in addition to a multi-fuel/white gas stove, be worth the weight and effort?

Cam Honan
(camhonan2)
Re: Southward Bound on 04/20/2011 22:14:57 MDT Print View

Hey Michael,

I spent quite a few years living, working and hiking in Latin America.
In regards to trekking opportunities in Ecuador, I would recommend both the Cotopaxi Circuit and Cajas National Park. The latter is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands - only 8000 ft. higher and without the ubiquitous pub at day's end. Can't have everything I guess! See the following link for trekking notes and photo galleries from my website:

http://www.thehikinglife.com/category/ecuador/

In regards to the northern parts of Patagonia, Lanin, Nahuel Huapi and Puyehue National Parks are all spectacular. Check the following links for details:

http://www.thehikinglife.com/category/argentina/

http://www.thehikinglife.com/category/chile/

As to the question of stoves, multi-fuel or alcohol stoves are your best bets. Kerosene (queroseno), white gas (bencina blanca) and denatured alcohol (alcohol puro) can be found everywhere.

Hope this helps. Have a fantastic trip.

Cheers,

Cam

ruben orellana
(eli672)

Locale: los angeles
packs on 04/20/2011 23:25:18 MDT Print View

Thanks for the info. Danny.

Michael Skwarczek
(uberkatzen) - F

Locale: Sudamerica
RE: Southward Bound on 04/22/2011 12:49:49 MDT Print View

Cam, that's great. I took a peek at your site, it's well laid out and documents your travels fully. It's really helpful. I'll look closer and also contact you directly through the site.

Thanks for hopping onto BPL briefly to comment and lend some great info.

cheers,
-Michael

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: Re: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/25/2011 02:16:13 MDT Print View

Hi Jack,
Thanks for the post. We often camped above 4000meters in the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash, as well as other ranges in southern Peru and northern Bolivia. It was May and June, and your right, the weather was great. It is there winter, which is usually dry in the mountains, warm during the day and below freezing at night.

I felt like our tarptent did a fine job in the those conditions, and we weren't taking many risks. However, if we were in a different season, then I too would consider going with something more robust.

Where the tarptent was marginal was in Patagonia. The winds were constant, which means that dust came through our exposed mesh and coated our belongings inside the tent. The winds could be very strong, and the rain leaked through the sil-nylon on a few occasions. Southern Argentina (winds) and Chile (rain) are where a tarp tent is really testing your skill in tent craft, and your luck :)

What did you use in South America?

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: Re: Southward Bound on 04/25/2011 02:25:44 MDT Print View

Michael,
Cam has some great ideas in his post about locations. Thanks for chiming in Cam!

BPL has published a few photo essays about our travels, and will publish several more in the coming months. You can find more info about our other adventures on our travel blog.

To answer your question about stoves, I'd respectfully disagree with Cam's comments above. A wood-burning stove would be virtually useless in the mountains as there are very few parks that allow you to burn wood. Additionally, it would be very difficult to find trees in Patagonia or the high Andes.

Carrying two fuel burning stoves seems redundant. At the very least, go with one or the other.

My suggestion, though, is to use a canister fuel stove. You can find canister fuel for $4-7 in any tourist town and it'll be light and easy to use. The only limitation is if you plan to take a lot of flights, then you'd have to buy a new canister at each new location. Long-distance buses are relatively comfortable, cheap and frequent. That's our preferred method.

And yes, BPL is a fantastic community!

Cam Honan
(camhonan2)
Re: Southward Bound on 04/26/2011 01:16:11 MDT Print View

Hey Danny,

I think you may have misread my comment in regards to stoves. To reiterate, the only two types of stoves I recommend for hiking in any part of the developing world are alcohol (best option - simple design & burns cleaner) and multi-fuel. I am in 100% agreement in regards to the non-suitability of wood burning stoves for such regions.

In addition to flight travel, the other major problem with using canister stoves in the developing world is environmental. Unfortunately countries such as Peru and Bolivia do not have the means by which to recycle empty cartridges. Using canister stoves in these areas only exacerbates the already serious waste disposal issues which exist.

Cheers,

Cam

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/26/2011 10:53:17 MDT Print View

Stunning photos. How long were most of your backcountry trips (between bus rides)?

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: Re: Southward Bound on 04/26/2011 11:44:31 MDT Print View

Hi Cam,

You're absolutely right - I read the two posts and mashed them together in my response. I apologize.

A simple alcohol stove would be great for one person. A wood burning stove would be not be very useful, though I suppose if it is part of the alcohol stove system that you already have (like the Tri-ti) then it would add flexibility without much weight. There are some places it would be legal.

We preferred the canister stove for the two of us because we haven't found an alcohol setup that works well enough (yes, we've tried the Caldera Cone). Plus, if you puncture the canister when you're done, it is no longer dangerous and can be recycled.

Erratic Rock is a guide company and hostel in Puerto Natales, Chile, near Torres del Paine. They have initiated a canister recycling program and hope to expand it throughout backpacker areas of Patagonia. Maybe other similar programs are started or could be started in the Peruvian Andes?

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: Re: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/26/2011 11:48:44 MDT Print View

Hi Tom,
Thanks for the note. Our backpacking trips were typically 3-7 days. The longer trips were in Torres del Paine for 10 days and Los Glaciares (Fitz Roy/El Chalten) for 9 days.

Michael Skwarczek
(uberkatzen) - F

Locale: Sudamerica
RE: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/26/2011 13:10:03 MDT Print View

Thanks a lot guys,

One more troll for advice on a nagging topic: sleeping temps. The girls both have 20F bags and Women's Thermarest Prolite Pads, they'll be OK. But I'm struggling with bringing my WM Summerlite 32F to cut a lot of weight and bulk. It can easily be buffed with the insulated layers but I'm just not sure if that will suffice. We'll be in Peru come Mid-Oct through Nov. And Patagonia in late Nov, Dec-Feb.

cheers,
-Michael

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: RE: Hiking the Santa Cruz Loop in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/26/2011 14:01:57 MDT Print View

Hi Michael,

I think you'll be fine with your bag. Kristin and I shared a 40 degree GoLite Feather, which was a zipperless hoodless bag that had been split down the back to make a two-person quilt. We had the TarpTent Double Rainbow as our shelter and the MontBell UL90 as our pads.

The night time temps in the Peruvian Andes drop below freezing during May-August, which is their winter. You'll be there in the spring, and I wouldn't expect much freezing weather. I also hear that WM bags are conservatively rated. So, unless you feel that this is not true, or that you are a particularly cold sleeper, you'll be fine in Peru.

In Patagonia, you may need to augment the bag by wearing your warm clothing in November. I suppose it'll also depend on your shelter. We had a tarptent, and so the winds came whipping through. Again, we didn't have a hooded sleeping bag, nor did we have down jackets (at the time), just our Montbell Thermawrap and some base layers.

We were in Patagonia late November and early December. I don't think it dropped below freezing in those months.

I hope this helps. Other BPL members may be able to add insight from their own experiences.

Cam Honan
(camhonan2)
RE: Southward Bound / Santa Cruz Loop on 04/28/2011 16:29:08 MDT Print View

Michael - I agree with Danny, unless you are a "cold" sleeper you should be fine temperature wise with the WM Summerlite. One factor you may want to consider in regards to your choice of shelter and outer layers is that November coincides with the beginning of the rainy season in the Peruvian Andes. Although Feb-April is generally when the rains begin in earnest, it is not uncommon for some pretty nasty storms to roll in during the spring (note: this holds true more for the Huaraz region than it does for the Cuzco or Arequipa areas).

December to February is ideal for Patagonia. If you have the time, consider heading further south to Tierra del Fuego, where there is some incredible hiking to be done around Ushuaia and Isla Navarino.

Danny - Thanks for the link to "Erratic Rock." Great programme. Hopefully they follow through with their idea to expand to other parts of Patagonia. Did you encounter other such cannister recycling programmes during your time in Latin America? By the way, fantastic photos!

Cheers,

Cam

Scott Ireland
(WinterWarlock) - MLife

Locale: Western NY
Re: RE: Southward Bound / Santa Cruz Loop on 05/05/2011 07:03:13 MDT Print View

Cam -

I really don't want to derail this excellent thread, but tried to send you a PM and it's not set up...so if could send me one, I have a few South American questions unrelated to the Santa Cruz loop (which is outstanding, by the way)

Thanks, and sorry Danny for stepping on the thread...

Scott