Lauca National Park

Parinacota, Lauca, Chungara, Chile, volcano

Morning at Lago Chungará, one of the world's highest lakes, at 4517m elevation (14,820 ft).  The volcano Parinacota rises above to a height of 6042m (20807 ft).

Last week we spent several days in Lauca National Park. This area includes without doubt the most stunning landscapes we’ve seen in northern Chile, with the twin Payachata volcanoes rising above two broad lakes, all surrounded by well watered altiplano full of grazing vicuñas, llamas, and alpacas.

Parinacota, Lauca, Chungara, Chile, volcano

Parinacota Dawn Reflection : Prints Available

The 6042m (20807 ft) volcano Parinacota reflects in the calm waters of Lago Chungará.

I had one of those special moments of awe late one night when I walked to the shore of Lago Chungará, seeing the volcano’s black silhouette reflected in the calm water, with millions of twinkling stars all around, while listening to the chorus of Andean coots, geese, and flamingos that live at the lake.

Parinacota and Lago Cotacotani, Lauca National Park, Chile

Though Lago Chungará is generally considered the gem of the area, I thought that the neighboring Lago Cotacotani is really the most special and unique part of the park. Supposedly about 7,000 years ago, Parinacota erupted and the entire bulge of the volcano collapsed in a massive landslide, leaving all the debris that later eroded into the convoluted maze of hills seen above. Lago Cotacotani is located amongst all these volcanic hills, and its numerous islands, inlets, and lagoons create a highly unique landscape that I would consider to be amongst the most special on the planet.

Drained Lago Cotacotani, Lauca National Park, Chile

Unfortunately, not everything is postcard-perfect in Lauca National Park. Since 1962, before the area was designated as a national park, the water of Lago Cotacotani has been drained through the Lauca canal for hydroelectricity and irrigation for the Azapa Valley. This has significantly lowered the water level of the shallow lake, leaving entire lagoons barren and dry, causing irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystem. It is difficult to appreciate the remaining beauty of the lake without feeling a deep sense of shame and disappointment about how it looks now compared to how it might have looked before the plunder. The scale of the tragedy would be like draining Lake Tahoe or Crater Lake in Oregon… unthinkable!

Worse yet, Lago Chungará, the jewel lake of the park, has also been on the chopping block. Plans were made to drain that lake as well, even so far that the giant pumps were already installed. Fortunately in 1985 the supreme court forced the project to be abandoned in a landmark environmental step for Chile. But with the ever increasing thirst of Arica, it sounds like the fate of the lake still remains in a precarious situation, despite its national park protection.

Parinacota, Cotacotani, Lauca, Chile

Cotacotani Dusk : Prints Available

Parinacota volcano rises into the dusk light above Lago Cotacotani.

A Week in San Pedro de Atacama

Vicuña at Salar de Aguas Calientes, northern Chile.
Vicuña at Salar de Aguas Calientes, northern Chile.

After renting a 4×4 truck in Antofagasta, we’ve spent the last week camping and touring in the Atacama desert, based around the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. Read more about our adventures this week, and see LOTS more photos below! Continue reading “A Week in San Pedro de Atacama”

Heading North

Beach at La Serena, Chile
Beach at La Serena, Chile

We’re currently in the beach town of La Serena, north of Santiago, Chile. And we’re practicing “ping-pong” traveling at its best. This is a phrase coined by a friend of mine, to describe what happens when your travel plans change drastically based on factors beyond your control.

Long story short, we’ve spent the last couple weeks spinning our wheels, trying to figure out what to do in the Andes during the month of October with so much snow still in the mountains. Our initial idea was to slowly head south anyways, doing snow hikes and generally killing time until enough snow melts for the trekking season to get underway. We made it to Talca, south of Santiago, where we met Franz – mountaineer, guide, and owner at the beautiful Casa Chueca. With his extensive knowledge of the Andes, he quickly convinced us that our best strategy for October would be to instead head north to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. This is a region I’ve been wanting to visit for many years, but we were thinking that it was just too far to go to this trip. But with Franz’s encouragement we’re beelining it north on buses to spend three weeks in the Atacama.

The rough plan is to rent a 4×4 pickup truck in Antofagasta, stock up on supplies, then head over to the area around San Pedro de Atacama. We’ll spend a week or so around there, mostly camping around high lakes and hiking up small volcanoes. Then we’ll head even more north, to Lauca National Park – more beautiful lakes and volcanoes surrounded by desolate desert landscapes. To get a glimpse of some of the fantastic landscapes we’ll be traveling through during the next three weeks, take a look at Gerhard Hüdepohl’s photography of the Atacama. Stay tuned!

A View of Aconcagua

Aconcagua, Andes, Argentina, Rio Horcones

Aconcagua Dawn : Prints Available

Aconcagua and the Rio Horcones valley at dawn. At a height of 6962m (22,841 ft.) Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. Read more about the hike behind this photo here.

One of the reasons for heading through Mendoza on this trip was to photograph Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. Though I have little desire to actually climb the peak, I was hoping to do some hikes in the valleys around the peak. Unfortunately, however, we discovered that the park is for all intents and purposes “closed” until mid-November… something about too much snow and a general getting tired of winter rescues.

So, with that option off the table, I researched the map, did some scouting on Google Earth, and decided that a good alternative plan would be to shoot a sunrise from Cerro Banderitas Sur, a 4184m peak across the valley to the south of Aconcagua park. It was quite an adventure to get up there… read more about it and see more photos below! Continue reading “A View of Aconcagua”

Mendoza

Trees in Mendoza, Argentina

Claudia and I have been hanging out in the city of Mendoza, Argentina this week. It’s a beautiful city; every street is lined with tall trees that arch over the streets and sidewalks, providing shade in this otherwise hot and sunny region.

Mendoza, Argentina

We haven’t been doing much so far – just walking around a lot, getting the hang of how things work around here, trying to find information about the mountains, and drinking our fair share of Malbec! We haven’t yet done any winery tours, but we’ve found a great little wine tasting bar in Mendoza where we’ll surely be spending some more time.

Plaza Independencia, Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza has a really nice layout, with the large Plaza Independencia in the center of town, and four smaller plazas a few blocks from each corner. There seems to always be a nice plaza nearby to relax in! My only gripe about the town is the constant traffic – there’s a steady stream of cars zooming around at all hours of the day and night. There’s one pedestrian street through the center of town, with lots of cafes and shops. If I were king I would make four or five of the streets around here pedestrian streets… that would be amazing!

Anyhow, tomorrow we’re finally heading up into the mountains for four days! It looks like there’s a lot of snow up there still, but we’ve got our crampons and ice axes and we’ll see how it goes…

Andes Adventure!

Chaltén, Monte Fitz Roy, Laguna de los Tres, Argentina, Patagonia

Monte Fitz Roy Alpenglow : Prints Available

Brilliant sunrise alpenglow on Chaltén (aka Monte Fitz Roy) and Cerro Poincenot, as seen from Laguna de los Tres. Parque Nacional los Glaciares, Argentina - November.

On Friday my fiancé Claudia and I are heading out on a big adventure to South America for three months! We’re flying to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where we’ll hang out for a few days, then we head west to the city of Mendoza, which lies at the foot of the high Andes near Aconcagua (the tallest mountain in the western hemisphere!) Mendoza is one of my favorite cities and I look forward to relaxing there for a while, sampling the local Malbecs, and scoping out the situation in the mountains. Early October is springtime there so I’m not sure how much snow will be in the mountains still. I’m assuming quite a bit.

Anyhow, the rough plan is to work our way down the Andes, on both the Argentine and Chilean sides, doing as much trekking as possible along the way, eventually ending up in Ushuaia at the tip of Patagonia by January. I am excited to visit a bunch of new places, including the volcanoes of the Lakes District, the lush forests of the Aisén region of Chile, and who knows what else. And of course we’ll have to return to the popular and spectacular mountain ranges of Torres del Paine and El Chaltén (above).

I’ll be posting regularly on my blog while we’re traveling down there, so be sure to check back often. You can also follow me on Facebook!

¡Hasta luego!

Memories of Peru

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru, Yerupaja, Jirishanca, reflection, sunrise, Laguna Carhuacocha

Carhuacocha Sunrise : Prints Available

Brilliant sunrise alpenglow on the tallest peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash (Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico, and Jirishanca),  reflected in Laguna Carhuacocha - June.

Here are a few photos “from the vault”, from my trip to Peru a year ago. Both were taken along our trek around the Cordillera Huayhuash. One of my favorite shots from the trek was from this same spot but at sunset. Because I liked that one better, with its softer, calmer light and clouds, I never posted this version from sunrise. But this one definitely has some pop, eh?

Yerupaja, panorama, Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru, Jirishanca

Yerupaja Panorama : Prints Available

A panoramic view of the Cordillera Huayhuash around Yerupaja (6617m, 21,709 ft.), the second tallest mountain in Peru.   Jirishanca (6094m) is towards the left side.  June 2010.

>> SEE LARGER VERSION HERE <<

I took this panorama during one of the more spectacular bits of hiking during the 11-day trek. That day we came from over a pass off the right side of the photo, but instead of taking the standard trail down through the valley, we hiked along this high ridgeline, with a huge views of the mountain range the whole way. We ended up at a lake down in the valley on the left side of the photo, under impressive peak of Jirishanca.

My spontaneous three week trip to Peru last June ended up being a wonderful decision, not the least because I met my girlfriend Claudia on this trek! I would have never guessed before this that I’d soon be spending six months in the Alps to be with her. And she arrives to Colorado on Monday!!! So thank you, Peru!

Jirishanca, Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru, stream, lake

Quilcayhuanca/Cojup Loop

After our big Cordillera Huayhuash trek, followed by a rest day in Huaraz, four of us headed out into the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz for a three day hike up the Quilcayhuanca valley, over a high pass, and down the Cojup valley. This time we would not have burros to carry our gear for us! Also unlike the Huayhuash trek, we would have some challenging weather this time.

Tullparaju Moonlight Campfire

It rained for the last several hours of our hike in towards Laguna Tullpacocha, and we got a bit off track from the “trail”. But we found a nice hidden campsite and managed to get a good bonfire going despite the wet wood. Once the clouds cleared that evening, the glaciated peaks surrounding us shone in the bright moonlight, and we slept under the stars that night (along with a local cow who had been trying to enjoy our campfire with us).

hiking in the cordillera blanca

The next day we had to hike over a ~5100m (16,732 ft.) pass. Turns out that this is much harder to do without burros carrying half your stuff. But Erik was still stylin in his city jeans, with Nevado Pucaranra behind (6156m).

nevado san juan

Claudia keeps going. In the background is (I believe) Nevado San Juan (5843m).

Ranrapalca

From the top of the pass, the view of the massive Nevado Ranrapalca (6162m, 20,217 ft.) was impressive. Notice how easy it is to see how the glaciers have recently receded.

Moonlight camping in Cojup valley

Just as we got down off the pass and arrived in the Cojup valley, the clouds unleashed with pelting hail. We set up our camp and made dinner in the freezing cold. Nevado Palcaraju (6110m) shines in the moonlight during a break in the clouds. Notice the huge glacial moraines in the center of the valley below the glaciers.

After a lazy morning start, and a somewhat confused hike out the valley, we were eventually all back in Huaraz again that night to celebrate with fine Peruvian wine and food!

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

A few weeks ago I fulfilled one of my dreams – to trek around the remote and rugged Cordillera Huayhuash mountain range in Peru. In the city of Huaraz, the base for most of the expeditions in the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash, I signed on to a 10 day trek with burros to carry all our camping gear, an arriero (burro driver), a guide, and a cook for all our meals! Deluxe! Not only that, but our random assortment of people turned out to be a good group and we all had a great time together. Below are a bunch of snapshots from the trek, in chronological order.

You can also see my gallery of landscape photos from the Huayhuash here.

Huayhuash burros

An arriero guides his burros over our first pass in the Cordillera Huayhash.

Janca camp with Jirishanca

Our second camp, at Janca. Jirishanca towers behind.

Jirishanca Ridge Hike

Hiking a beautiful knife ridge with a spectacular view of Jirishanca.

Lots more photos below the fold… don’t miss it!
Continue reading “Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit”

Laguna 69

I am back home after my 3 week trip to Peru! Due to the huge amount of photos I took, I did not have time to post all my blog entries while I was down there, so I am going to post them in a belated fashion over the next week or so. The first one here is from a day trip to Laguna 69, a beautiful alpine lake at ~4600m elevation (~15,000 feet) in the Cordillera Blanca.

Nevado Chacraraju, Peru

Unfortunately most of our views of the high peaks that day were obscured by clouds; however, they parted for just long enough for me to snap this photo of (I think?) Nevado Chacraraju (6112m, 20,052 ft).

Laguna 69, Peru

Laguna 69, looking like a slice of paradise in a harsh, icy environment.

Next up: a heap of photos from an 11-day trek around the Cordillera Huayhuash! This one will take some time…