A HIKE TO REMEMBER :
A month ago Greg Shaffran, TJ David and I (Adam) traveled to Huaraz, Peru for the second iteration of Corbeaux’s Join the Flight campaign. The trip as a whole was wildly successful. We made strong connections with many local people in the mountain community of Huaraz, we spent some amazing days in the Cordillera Blanca, and we donated 130 pieces of outdoor apparel to the Asociación De Auxiliares De Alta Montaña Ranrapalca (a local porter’s union). In a previous post I laid out the goals and intentions of the trip; and now I want to share the incredible experience we had getting to know some of these guides, porters, cooks and mule handlers before we made our donations.
We met Joel Vargas (President of the aforementioned porter’s union) in Huaraz. When we explained to him the goal that Corbeaux was trying to accomplish in Peru, he welcomed the idea with open arms, albeit quite surprised by the intended generosity. We could tell there was a bit of hesitation on Joel’s part, as it later became apparent that a generous act such as this had never been witnessed in their community. With the desire to get to know us better, and perhaps as a test of our mountain experience, Joel invited us on a trek the following day. This trek was the locals’ monthly trip deep into the Quilcayhuanca Valley above Huaraz to retrieve grazing livestock in order to check up on their health. Little did we know that the 3am start would entail a 25+ mile day of fast-paced hiking, the wrangling of a dozen cattle, and the start of what will hopefully be a lifelong friendship. It was an amazing experience, but to put it mildly, we got our butts handed to us.
The day started early as we made the bumpy drive up to the Quilcayhuanca Valley, a few thousand feet above Huaraz. As we started walking into the valley to “search for their livestock”, we couldn’t believe the pace set by Joel and his friends & family. We crushed roughly 17km in 2 hours starting at 13,000 feet- and the sun was just rising. We knew it was going to be a long day…
The views were incredible and we were so excited to be in the mountains. As we walked, we were thinking ahead to possible ski objectives and could not help but notice that the snow coverage was looking worse than bleak. There was almost none, and the glaciers have receded drastically leaving only broken and complicated terrain behind. Climbing higher, we arrived at Lago Cuchilla and the grandeur of the Cordillera Blanca began to set in. We were surrounded by big glaciated peaks with huge vertical relief from the valley floor. We couldn’t stop taking photos.
But, then we were reminded about the day’s objective, as cows were spotted in some brush way below us. Down we went to try to gather these animals, following Joel’s lead. This was not a simple task as we soon found out how fast cows can run (way faster than humans). We spent about an hour just trying to herd these animals before beginning the trek back down the valley to a pen where their health would be assessed. And on the way, they would scatter innumerable times.
The added mileage we put on just to chase these animals down and to point them in the right direction, was really beginning to wear on Greg, TJ and I. But the locals were laughing, falling in the mud, pulling at the cows, seemingly having a great time and showing no signs of fatigue. So we could only smile and continue the chase.
By the time we arrived at the beginning of the valley and got all of Joel’s family’s livestock into the pen, we were exhausted. We had been hiking, running, pulling, yelling, slipping and sliding for over 12 hours at an incredible pace at altitude. After bidding new friends farewell we got back in the car and headed to town. We soon realized that the majority of the other locals we saw that day were walking back to town…over 3,000 feet and 6+ miles more. It made my feet and my ego hurt.
No matter how fit you are, most of these guys and gals do this activity monthly, and seem unfazed by its difficulty. Hiking and running with livestock in cotton and wool clothing, some of them wearing loafers and other footwear we would deem “inappropriate” for a long day in the mountains; yet a smile never left their faces despite the challenges encountered throughout the day.
Joel and his family thanked us profusely for the “help” we had provided on this mission. It was definitely a surprise to them that we were so enthusiastic throughout the day, and that we were able to hike so far. And even though we were worn down, it was apparent that our involvement really was helpful. It was such an incredible and raw experience for us and a day we will not soon forget, that’s for certain.
Upon returning to Huaraz, Joel said he would set up a big gathering for the donations the following day, and everyone would contribute to a delicious pachamanca. Clearly we “passed” whatever test that we had taken that day and Joel, his family and friends seemed to welcome us into their family. We were honored and now very excited for the next day’s event.
Stay tuned for more reports on our trip to Peru. Thanks for reading!