Backpack the Santa Cruz Valley: Vaqueria to Cashapampa

Rate this Adventure Peru Vaqueria, Peru

Added by Quinnen Donahue

Rated as one of the "World's Best Hikes" by National Geographic, travel through the incredible Santa Cruz Valley in the Cordillera Blanca range and be completely surrounded by monolithic snow-capped peaks. This is the second tallest range in the world with 33 mountains reaching higher than 5,500m. Jagged and sharp, they create a perfect contrast cutting into the blue sky. Among the twelve giants on this trek you will find Mt. Artesonraju made famous by Paramount Pictures and Mt. Alpamayo which was declared the "World's Most Beautiful Mountain" in 1966. Though you may be captivated by your upper vision, don't forget to look down and around. Along the way you will walk past lush moss-filled areas with twisted, knobby trees that create an enchanted forest feeling, gushing glacial rivers and and strings of perfect waterfalls. Test the limits of your body on this high altitude hike and leave plenty of time to acclimate.

Permits and Logistics: You can do this hike in fewer days if interested as there are many National Park approved campsites to choose from. According to the "Casa de Guias" the Huascaran National Park may start cracking down on independent trekkers who are choosing to camp outside of the designated sites. But at the time of writing this you are able to camp and hike without a guide and sleep outside of the designated sites. You must purchase a Huascaran National Park entrance ticket. You can buy it at the ranger station before entering the park. It is s/.65 (approx. $20 USD) and it is valid for 21 days. You will need your passport number. If you are taking public transport, remind the driver to stop so you can pay the entrance fee.

The hike may be done in two directions. Both are equally beautiful, but when choosing the direction that is best for you there are a couple things to consider: 

1. This trek requires a decent amount of commuting to and from the trail head. It is easier to do the longer, more logistically challenging transport at the beginning.
* It is approximately a five hour drive from Huaraz to Vaqueria and transportation to and from is less frequent. * It is approximately a three hour drive from Huaraz to Cashapampa.
2. There is less elevation gain walking from Vaqueria to Cashapampa. You will save yourself 800m of uphill going this direction.

The Hike: Vaqueria to Cashapampa

Day 1: Vaqueria (3700m) to Paria (3870m) Approximately 5 hours driving, 3-4 hours of trekking. It is best to leave Huaraz early because it is approximately a five hour drive to the trail head. It is a beautiful drive up harrowingly sharp switchbacks to the Portachuelo viewpoint (4700m). Along the way you will be introduced to the first five giants of the Cordillera Blanca range: Mt. Huascaran (6768m), Huandoy (6395m), Chopicalqui (6354m), Chacraraju (6112m), and Pisco (5752m). Once in Vaqueria you will have the opportunity to buy some last minute snacks and water before descending through the Huaripampa village and back up the valley. Camp at the second designated campsite at the base of Mt. Paria (5510m).

Day 2: Trek to Taullipampa (4250m) via Punta Union Pass (4750m) Approximately 7 hours of trekking. This is the most challenging day of the hike but you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Santa Cruz Valley, the aquamarine pools scattered below and the five peaks lining the walls: Mt. Quitaraju (6036m), Ririjirca (5810m), Pucajirca (6050m), Artesonraju (6025m). Optional Excursion to the glacier. For an up close experience, you can delay taking the trail that leads down into the valley. From the Punta Union Pass, hike across the grassy areas towards Mt. Taulliraju's glacier.

Day 3: Trek to Llamacorral (3760m) via Alpamayo Base Camp (4330m) and Lake Arhuaycocha (4400m) Approximately 7 hours of trekking. Start the morning with an Optional Excursion to the glacial lake down the Arhuaycocha Valley. This is one of the highlights of the trek and well worth the detour. From this valley you will get a stunning view of multiple peaks including the world-renown Mt. Alpamayo (5947m), Mt. Artesonraju (known as the "Paramount" mountain), as well as Quitaraju (6036m) and Jancarurish (5601m). Returning back to the Santa Cruz Valley, you will continue towards the Alpamayo Base Camp. The trail turns into a desert-like rocky beach which was a result of a landslide in 2012. Camp near the Llamacorral stone structures right after a reed-filled lake.

Day 4: Trek to Cashapampa (2900m), Drive back to Huaraz Approximately 3 hours trekking, 3 hours driving. You descend through a hot, steep valley to arrive in the village of Cashapampa. In the village there are plenty of small shops and restaurants to use the bathrooms and refuel with beverages and lunch.

Weather: The trail is between 2900m to 4750m high. It can be very cold at night in the high altitude camps. Make sure that you are bringing adequate warm layers. It is best to travel in the dry season between May to September. Altitude Sickness: You should arrive in Huaraz at least 1-2 days before trekking to acclimate. Look out for other people in your group. Common symptoms of altitude sickness can include: nausea, headache, dizziness, tiredness, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. To learn the basics about altitude sickness, its symptoms, and how to treat it visit WebMD.

Among the twelve giants on this trek you will find Mt. Artesonraju made famous by Paramount Pictures and Mt. Alpamayo which was declared the "World's Most Beautiful Mountain" in 1966. Though you may be captivated by your upper vision, don't forget to look down and around. Along the way you will walk past lush moss-filled areas with twisted, knobby trees that create an enchanted forest feeling, gushing glacial rivers and and strings of perfect waterfalls. Test the limits of your body on this high altitude hike and leave plenty of time to acclimate.

Pack List

  • National Park Entrance Ticket (purchased at the Control Gate before entering the park) 
  • Sleeping bag (rated -5°C) * Sleeping mattress/pad
  • Camp Stove (open fires are not permitted) 
  • Warm jacket (windproof recommended) 
  • Waterproof jacket 
  • Trekking pants 
  • A few t-shirts (long sleeve and short sleeve, quick-dry and merino wool)
  • One warm sweater or fleece
  • A few pairs of hiking socks
  • Underwear
  • Long thermal underwear (top and bottom)
  • Worn-in hiking boots
  • Green Latrine (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, extra plastic bag to carry your used TP. Please Leave No Trace)
  • Water purification tablets or filter 
  • Water bottle or hydration pack 
  • Toiletries
  • Sun protections (hat, sunglasses, sun block)
  • Warm hat
  • Gloves
  • Shorts 
  • Neck warmer or Buff
  • Liner for sleeping bag (silk recommended)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Insect Repellent (during the rainy season)
  • Camera
  • First Aid Kit
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Activities:

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:

Point-to-Point

Distance:

28 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3445 Feet

Features:

Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers

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