Peru Expedition Report

On 25 Sep 8 cadets and 4 staff left for Peru on an expedition organised by 358 (Welling) Sqn, Kent Wing ATC, following best part of a years planning and some £20,000 in fundraising efforts. Just getting there was enough, plans having to be changed at the last minute due to the combined efforts of the earthquake which hit the SW area of Peru just 9 days before we departed, and Hurricane Erin threatening the coast of Texas, as we were flying via Houston in Texas.


On arrival we were straight into the programme, moving to Huaraz (3300m asl) for 3 days of acclimatisation, including two local walks to aid the process. In this we visited the village of Yungay, flattened by an avalanche in 1976, with the loss of over 25,000 lives.


On day 5 we left at 4am for the long and somewhat perilous drive along unmade mountainous roads to Quartelmain (via Llamac) and the start of the 9 day Huayhuash Trek. Day 1 was a massive wake-up call, only a short walk of some 9km but a climb from 4100m to a pass at over 4600m. The altitude affected many of the group, most with headaches and fatigue, but worryingly some even had sickness, which was not a good omen.


The next 8 days were aimed at completing a 104mile circular of a range known as the Cordillera Blanca (white mountains) which some 9 passes over 4500m and views including Yerapuja (second highest peak in Peru) and Siula Grande (of “Touching the Void” fame). Some of the group acclimatised better than others to the point that on day three half the group made the Siula Pass, a very steep climb to a high pass at 4830m, whilst the rest of the group took the “low-level” mule route to the overnight camp. The views of white snow-capped peaks were spectacular and the campsites as wild, but as awe-inspiring as you could get.


When we awoke on day 4 all was not well, Dave Erikson, our civilian guide was coughing up blood, and was feared to have Altitude Mountain Sickness. Whilst he was evacuated by horse to Catjambo , the nearest village some 2 days walk away, the rest of the group, in somewhat sombre mood walked to an overnight camp with a hot pool fed by a natural spring. We then had to take an additional rest day waiting for the other guide to return.


The down side was we then had two days walking to the next town where we could re-supply but only 24hrs rations. This meant we had a 25km walk the following day including a 4930m pass. Leaving at 6am we just beat sunset arriving exhausted at 5.30pm. The following day we had two 4800m passes to tackle, and were still feeling the effects of the previous day. Fortunately we were able to hire horses to get us over the passes, and then pick our route back up and on schedule.


Two more days walking and we got our first views of Llamac and the finish line. The trek was an exhilarating but exhausting experience, dogged with illness for nearly everyone, but the team toughed it out really well to finish and the sense of achievement at the end  and the views we encountered will never be forgotten.


The remaining 6 days were spent on R&R. Wwe visited the earthquake sites in Pisco and Ica, where we distributed clothing and medical supplies we had taken with us, but also had fun dune-buggying and sandboarding. We then flew down to Puno where we spent three days exploring Lake Titicaca. We visited Inca ruins, the Uros islands, a complex network of floating reed islands which were inhabited by some 2000 people still upholding the old traditions and in Llachon Pennisula we spent 24hrs staying with indigenous families, and learning about how they live – for some this was the highlight of the trip.


The long journey home was broken up with a 24hr stop-over in Houston (flights were cheaper this way) where we had the opportunity to visit the Johnson Space Centre (of “Houston we have a problem” fame) and a final meal at a very fine seafood restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.