Friend of Coffee Outdoors, Moss, is on the trip of a lifetime in South America. His Instagram updates of Peruvian landscapes bring relief in between the influx of snaps of the Eiffel Tower, parks in London and European Piazzas that are filling our social media feeds in New Zealand's winter. We asked Moss if we could live through him on his recent thru-hike of the CBT and he obliged, teaming his memoir with film snaps of his experience, unintentionally date stamped as 1993:
The Cordillera Blanca range runs 200km down the Northern Peruvian Andes. The relative position, near the equator, makes it the tallest tropical mountain range in the world. It boasts around 722 glaciers and multiple peaks above 6000m.
In late July of this year, my friend Mika and I through-hiked the length of the range. It was gruelling and inspiring and sometimes both at once. The route we followed through the range was first written up on in 2016 by Australian hiking machine Cam. It has since received little traffic on account of its 400k length, variable conditions on the route and the dizzying altitude of some of the passes along the way.
With ultralight packs, smelly backs and not enough snacks, we set out on the CBT track.
The nature of thru-hikes like this, which cover so much ground in so much different terrain, makes for a whole range of trail walking, dusty roads, through swamps, skirting around alpine lakes and winding along some of the most scenic donkey trails imaginable. The encounters we had along the way were equally diverse. All of which is to say, the Cordillera Blanca trip brings new meanings to “peaks and pits”. The literal high points provide many of the highlights, such as walking across Ishinca glacier at 5300m with incredible vistas over the range. The big pit was Mika having a 6 day stomach bug after eating a suspect chicken dinner on what was supposed to be our last rest day, cooked by yours truly. This almost ended our trek with a trip to the hospital. Thankfully, the trail gods put an end to the bug and we finished 3 days later, grinning and winning!
Highs and lows, fast and slow, in sun and snow, trail gods willing. We walk, we go.
Another massive highlight were the many local people who live and breathe the Cordillera Blanca. From mountain guides to farmers we were constantly humbled by the kindness and the generosity we experienced through the many conversations we had. Having people share with us their generational knowledge and reverence of these mountains was such a privilege. Everywhere we went, we felt welcomed. We were often fed and we were always given information about the coming pass or trail quality on our route. We passed a Guide carrying a lamb. He asked for a “cord”. In my confused Spanish I thought it meant “cut”, thinking he meant to slaughter the lamb then and there. I offered him my knife. He laughed and asked again for a “cord”. A “cord” - oh I see. I rummage around and find my spare guy rope. Wishing us well he tied it to the lamb and led it away through the mountains.
Like all glaciers in the world the Cordillera Blanca’s are retreating. This fact is depressingly obvious with most having lost roughly half of their ice since the 1970s. These glaciers feed rivers which provide power to around 5% of Peru and supply much of the North of the country with water. The significance of the loss of these glaciers is heartbreaking. It's hard to imagine the fragility of something so immense as a glacier. But, it is the sad truth that we are heading towards a world without glacial ice. The prospect of this and the many potential impacts are hard to understand, especially to Peru's population.
Like an ageing man’s receding hairline, glaciers retreat. Once reminders of our insignificance in the face of nature. Now the very opposite. We have never looked so big.
The CBT is a challenge, but a beautiful challenge: its 400 kilometres present a confronting test for the body and mind. Mika and I both highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys giving in to the “trail life”, to anyone who is willing to get to know themself the incredible mountains, and the people of the Cordillera Blanca.
And what a way to end a day.
In the shadow of the mountains. The comfort of a campsite near a river. Sharing the musings from our day of walking. The sunset signals the time to retreat, into the comfort of our sleeping bags.
What a way to end a day.
Words and photographs: Moss Grenfell