Santa Cruz Trek Day 4: The Final Day
**An older version of this post originally appeared in 2015 on the old legacy blog. We hope you enjoy this updated version!
The last day of our hike is here!
I emerged from the tent to clear blue skies and three freshly deposited cow turds. Folks I will say this up front…if you have problems will animal manure this is not you hike. I’ve said the necessary so let’s move on.
On the other hand if you love hikes with staggering views then no hike could be better, and we had them every day of this trip…this day being no exception. Sylvia, feeling an intense desire to be back in the land of hair driers and flush toilets, was very keen to get going. Some people!
Our guide Freddie informed us that there would be no detours this day…there was only one way to go, and that was down. He estimated we would be finished by about noon. Which of course did not mean being home by any means, we were still a good two hour plus drive from Huaraz which is itself not exactly Malibu Colony.
Right away the downhill got intense. The valley of the Santa Cruise River quickly narrowed and became a gorge, through which the river tumbled down in a seemingly endless series of cataracts. The trail wound along the leftmost edge of this canyon…the views above constricted until we could no longer see white capped mountains, just the rugged walls of rock towering above us, and a wedge of sky blue overhead. Speaking of sky, some weather had moved in behind us from the high peaks and it looked, for a while, like rain might overtake us. But ahead all was clear blue, and the rain never did catch up.
This was a steep trail, at times ridiculously steep. Every time we passed somebody (or some heavily laden mule) laboring up I felt sorry for them. I was not happy to be walking down this slope on my Herman Munster like ‘trick’ knees, but I am sure glad we did not come UP this way. The incline just seemed never ending. Good choice by the guides to go THIS way. Most itineraries do the opposite.
And the slide zones we crossed…every quarter mile or so another one, some clearly older with moss covering the strewn boulders and others seemingly having happened overnight. Many were gravel, others sand. There were some dicey bits particularly when the trail went around blind corners, but we kept moving without mishap. I did stumble a few times.
We hiked a good two hours like this, and while it was hard on the knees, one good thing about going down is, you go fast. Sometimes the river ran right beside us, and sometimes it was two hundred feet below us. Always it seemed to be running away.
And then around the bend the valley opened up and beyond lay our destination…Cashapampa, a dot on the map of the Andes but it was where we needed to go. We steadily watched it approach with mixed feelings. I was tired and ready to be done and go ice up my knees, but I also wished to be back in those mountains for one more day…would another day sepnt with the Alpamayo, with Nevado Santa Cruz, and with gleaming Huascarin be so bad? But it was not to be, civilization lay ahead. Sylvia’s feelings were shall we say less mixed. She was missing the views to be sure, but what she really wanted was a view of a real bathroom.
Soon enough we were there. We passed through a livestock gate that led under the town’s aqueduct, which we then walked beside for a while. We were now back in farm country and on each side of us were fields of potatoes, wheat and Quinoa. Soon we saw a shrine up ahead of it and to the right a Ranger Station. Here it was at last! Cashapampa, the end of the trail.
Most people actually begin the hike here and go in the opposite direction, and so there is a sign here, outlining the hole hike. Near it we saw another sign, this one not official…it read, “Stay here drink beer.” A statement dear to my own heart, but I was not quite ready for a Cusquena yet…once we were back in Huaraz, then I would indulge.
We reached the bottom of the hill where there was a friendly store. The guides did in fact sit down for a well-earned beer while we had cold water and, to my great astonishment, an ice cold Coke. (Coca Cola is not rare even in the Andes, but what they consider cold there is what I might generously term luke-warm.)
Sylvia also made another finding…There was a toilet! True it was out back in the middle of a field behind a construction site, and like many an Andean toilet it was curiously lacking a seat, but still it was an extravagance compared to what we had been seeing. Sylva pronounced this the greatest ‘throne’ ever.
Oswaldo, our tour arranger, soon showed up with the car. Me, Sylvia, Freddie and Edwin piled in for the journey out. This road was not quite as steep or precipitous as the one inbound but…it was still pretty damned nerve wracking. There was a lot more traffic on this road, and all of it seemed to pass us just as the car turned into a blind corner, or in a narrow stretch between adobe walls where seemingly just one car could pass. Peruvian drivers have an unusual method of dealing with these situations. Both drivers simply continue heading straight for one another; at the last minute, both cars somehow miss, and both drivers continue on without any visible reaction.
At one point, we had to back up and let a gigantic ten wheel truck go by. As the truck slid past just a hair’s breadth from the window I saw, incongruously, that the driver had stenciled one of those family logos you see on minivans to the side of the truck…daddy, mommy, kids, dog cat.
Oswaldo skillfully had us down to blacktop in about an hour and then it was yet another hour to Huaraz…stopping for ice cream along the way. I can only express tremendous gratitude to him, and to Freddie our guide, to Edwin our cook, to our mule driver Ariero and to Sylvia, above all, for putting up with this. How many women who are not exactly dedicated hikers would have parted with running water and bathroom facilities for most of four days? But even she agreed the views were worth it.
This sort of trekking is not for everyone – though in my opinion, anyone who is reasonably healthy could do it. The challenges and obstacles are mental as much as physical. Travelling in Peru is exhausting and takes a great deal of patience, and sometimes things do go wrong, but the rewards are obvious. We did what we set out to do…we hiked in the second highest mountain range on earth. It was everything I ever wanted to do. And I did it with the person I love most.
The end was a downer, of course…but still, what ending could have been better?
(And yes the hot water back atn the hotel worked for a change.)
NEXT UP: Can Anyone do the Santa Cruz Trek?