Santa Cruz / Base camp


PERU, White Cordillera, Ancash region.

An exploration with Victor Escudero, photographer of the Cordillera Blanca.

The Santa Cruz trail crosses the heart of the Cordillera Blanca. It unfolds over 43 kilometers as an arterial network of major and minor gorges, connecting snow-capped complexes and turquoise lagoons that silently inhabit the Huascaran National Park. The first steps are taken at 3,700 meters above sea level, and become more distant from each other at an increasingly leisurely pace as one ascends toward the trail's summit, Punta Union, an immense spine of rock that splits the Santa Cruz Valley in two. Here, at 4,750 meters, the effort of breathing that increasingly cold and thin air, reminds us how far we are from the coast, while our gaze is lost on an esplanade of snow-capped peaks that seems to have no end and that extends like a sea from all sides.

The first time Victor hiked the Santa Cruz trail was in 1975, when it was just beginning to be visited by a handful of amateur climbers. That time, he recalls, he was caught in the night and, enveloped in darkness, he had no choice but to pitch his tent without really knowing where he was in the ravine. Suddenly a light came on over Nevado Quitarraju and remained for several minutes illuminating its summit on a moonless night. From that time, he was left with the mystery and also the amazement of finding himself on the route, with other faces of the snow-capped mountains, secret angles that can only be seen from this side of the ravine.

Since then, Victor has returned at least fifteen times with the same excitement as the first. Whenever he can, he takes a different route, entering a different gorge, making sure to leave no trail untraveled. The golden forests of wise queñuals welcome him like an old friend who keeps them company while he takes a habitual pause to recognize this ecosystem that shelters and restores him from the chaos of the city. Next to him, a stream carves its way through the stones without stopping and Victor prepares to continue his journey and meet again with the snow-capped mountains that inspire him and reaffirm his vocation.