When I first arrived in Huaraz and sat down to talk shop with Gary, I made it pretty clear that the reason I was here in Huaraz was to backpack as much as possible in the Cordillera Blanca. However, once Gary learned I was a climber, he rolled the dice.
“Julie. You definitely need to spend a few days at Hatun Machay. If you’re a climber, you’ll go.”
And here I am, one sweet backpacking jaunt under my belt and some day trips to boot, and as Gary predicted I’m up early on a Sunday morning heading to Hatun Machay (located off kilometer marker 131 in the southern end of the Cordillera Negra.) Adventure, commence!
My friend Luciano and I hopped on a combi, stacked our heavy packs on our laps, and squished into the back row between two other passengers. In the little town of Catac, we hired a taxi to drive us up to the refugio at Hatun Machay.
I’m an observant person. So, when a driver makes the sign of the cross and kisses his fingers before merging onto the highway, I notice.
Well, we made it onto the dirt road that zig zags up to the refugio. In fact, we even made it to the top of the rocky switch backs. But then the driver couldn’t shift into gear and we started rolling backwards. I started breathing again when he put on the parking brake. Once we made it over the hill, there was a large mud puddle. His car died. He said he wouldn’t drive us any further.
I guess we’re walking the rest of the way… The driver told us to head up the hill and veer left and then tried to get his motor to turn over for 10 minutes. Walk, we did. Up and up and up. And then the fog rolled in.
Seeing as neither of us has been to Hatun Machay before, the fog threw a screw into our plans. Where do we go? Unfortunately we could only see about 10 meters in front of us. So we parked it and layered up and sat in a little stone stacked half house, to wait out the fog.
There were two roads. Luciano walked into the fog on the left and said he would return. I sat and waited for a long time. When he returned, his report was simple:
I walked over the hill and didn’t see anything. It’s not that way.
The fog started to lift so we walked to the right. After walking for about 10 minutes, the skies cleared for an instant, and I spotted a building to the left…the direction that Luciano had explored.
We headed back to our packs, loaded up, and started walking. And I’ll be damned when I saw a person walking in the distance. In the thick fog.
Maybe that’s Heiko. (Our German climber friend from Laguna 69.) -luciano
No way. But that would be pretty awesome if it was. -me
That is Heiko. ¡¡HEIKO!! -luciano
…and the figure in the distance stopped. Turned towards us, and raised a hand.
Hey! What are you doing out here? You finally made it! You should have come yesterday. I am hiking out now, I have to go to Lima tonight. The climbing is awesome! -Heiko
Heiko! This is incredible — we’re so happy to see you! We’ve been sitting in the fog up on the hill for two hours! We were lost! -me
We said our farewells and Heiko walked off into the distance.
We finally arrived at the refugio and met Anna from Belgium who was kind to show us around and give us the skinny on life here at Hatun Machay. A handful of folks were staying at the refugio, but all were out climbing. We ate some soup and chatted with Anna for a while.
After putting on every layer we brought, we headed out on an evening stroll to explore the rock forest. True to its name:
We met Martin running back to the refugio for his camera. He’s been the refugio caretaker for the last two months. He’s from Argentina. He quickly gave us directions to the sunset viewing spot, and said he’d meet us there. Go fast!