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Trails of the Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash of Peru

Trails of the Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash of Peru, by Jim Bartle. Published by the author, 1980 (Peruvian edition) and 1981 (US edition). 159 pages, 33 illustrations, including 18 color photographs and 15 sketch maps, plus one separate folded map sheet.

The magnificent peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash have been well known objectives for American climbers since the pioneering Yerupajâ expedition of 1950. Within the last 15 or 20 years, these high ranges have also become the location of innumerable backpacking and trekking trips. Many of the climbing trips required extensive planning and were “large, unwieldy groups” to use this author’s description. For those who wish only to hike the trails, Jim Bartle states that, “This sort of expedition in not necessary. Well prepared small groups or individuals can visit virtually any part … without difficulty. The only obstacle has been in obtaining enough reliable information to choose a trip and then do it without needing to hire a guide. The purpose of this book is to provide this information.”

The hiking guidebook which Bartle has produced has three parts. First are 30 pages of general descriptive introduction containing much good information. The main portion of the book consists of eighteen trail-system descriptions, each usually containing three subsections: an introduction, a table of distances and altitudes, and the trail route description itself. The final 30 pages contain an exceptional amount of information on the numerous buses, trucks, colectivos on which the visitor must depend to approach the canyons, peaks, and trails. However, in a guidebook of this sort there is danger in including too much detailed information on transportation since it changes with time. Thus the author should either explain clearly how to find current information, or be prepared to provide almost annual updates to the guidebook. This type of information is valuable as a general guide, but with each passing year will become more and more out of date. Another problem associated with Battle’s transportation information is that it is addressed to those who have no schedule to meet. Many climbers or hikers have limited vacation time, in which each day must count. Many times trucks will have to be hired to make a special trip. More attention to this aspect of the problem would have been helpful.

With the addition of Bartle’s book, the prospective traveller to these ranges now has four guidebooks available. The first book of this sort. Backpacking and Trekking in Peru & Bolivia, by Hilary and George Bradt covered much broader ground, while John Ricker’s Yuraq Janka provided the definitive climbing guidebook to the Cordilleras Blanca and Rosko in 1977. The encyclopedic South American Handbook covers among many other areas the region about the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash, and is revised almost annually. How many of these books does the hiker in the Blanca or Huayhuash need? For the climber intent on reaching any summits in the range, only Ricker’s book provides information on climbing routes and conditions. The traveller who wishes to travel through the country and visit the towns, even very remote towns, will find that the impressive Handbook will suffice. But for the serious hiker who wants to see the inner splendor of the Andes from a viewpoint closer than the Plaza de Armas, then a book such as that of Bartle or the Bradts is very useful indeed. The Bradt book describes three of the trails in the Cordillera Blanca, while Bartle is much more thorough in his coverage of this limited region. Indeed this book by Jim Bartle may be the only place where the extraordinary circuit of the Cordillera Huayhuash is described. Comparison of these books shows a few weaknesses of the Bartle book. Although his book is not intended to be either scientific or cultural, it would be a stronger reference if it contained more discussion of the ancient Andean cultures, the history of its exploration, the flora and fauna, and the present culture, including the various colorful fiestas. Topics which are inadequately treated include recommended equipment and what to do in case of medical emergency. The general unavailability of rapid rescue should be emphasized.

How well could a first-time visitor get along, using nothing but the Bartle book? The answer depends upon the visitor’s command of the Spanish language. The author correctly states that a visitor should not expect a Peruvian to speak English, but getting along easily without the assistance of a local friend or hired porter requires considerable facility with the language. There is an excellent chance that the person you meet on the trail, of whom you would like to ask directions, will speak only Quechua. The importance of maps also is underestimated by the author, who implies that the hiker will need nothing more than the ones in his book, or perhaps the Ingemmet sheets. While Ingemmet does produce two blue-line sheets for a very reasonable price, they contain inadequate detail. The individual sheets produced by the Instituto Geográfico Nacional (now with an office on the Plaza San Martin in Lima) provide much more detail but many unorthodox names. In many ways the three sheets produced by the German-Austrian expeditions in the 1930’s—Cordillera Blanca, Cordillera Blanca Parte Sur and Cordillera Huayhuash—are still the most useful. Even Bartle uses some names from these maps rather than from the Ingem- met sheets.

Basic questions concerning a guidebook, either to climbing routes or to hiking routes, are necessity and clarity. If the topography is complex or if there are several “main” trails, words can be very useful. For some of the trails in this guidebook, however, it can be argued that no description is needed, and that a detailed map is sufficient. Other descriptions, such as the words covering the trail from the Alto de Pucaraju to Pomabamba, are either hard to understand, cannot easily be followed, or both. In such cases a better solution is to use a good map, combined with local inquiry via Quechua. Two other difficulties recur in Bartle’s trail descriptions. Villages and lakes are mentioned which do not appear on his maps. Terminology such as “200m above Pitec” or “200m past the village” does not permit a unique interpretation. It is not clear whether the author means 200 meters in elevation, or 200 meters in lateral distance along the trail.

Every year brings additional hundreds and thousands of foreign visitors to these splendid mountains. While this can be viewed with a tinge of regret by those of us who remember the days when each gringo was a curiosity, it is for the most part welcomed by the local economy. For this reviewer, the specific intent of Bartle to assist the small group or individual hiker is commendable indeed, and stands in clear and favorable contrast to the commercial purpose of the numerous trekking organizations. In summary, this small book by Bartle is sufficiently useful to be recommended. Indeed, it has already become the standard reference for visitors to Huaraz and points beyond, but the complete traveller must augment Bartle’s trail information with additional maps and “scientific and cultural” references to extract the most from his trip to Peru. Climbers must also have Ricker’s Yuraq Janka, but they would be well-advised to buy a copy of this book for its transportation information. Since Jim Bartle has continued to visit Peru in the years since the first publication of this book, it is to be hoped that newer, updated, and more complete versions of this book will appear in the future. In these ranges there are more splendid trails and beautiful campsites than this book reveals!

Leigh n. Ortenburger