SKI-MOUNTAINEERING EXPEDITION IN PERU
(LANDSCAPE AND STREET PHOTOGRAPHY IN HUARAZ)
I’ve always dreamed of exploring the highest parts of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Peru. Some of its peaks are legendary. Some are even considered as the most beautiful ones on Earth…
This mountain range is the highest one in Peru, with Huascaran as its highest peak (6,768m). I have been in Huaraz and in the region twice already, but I had never had the time nor the opportunity to climb anything.
In May 2023, my wife and I embarked on a ski-mountaineering expedition, where we had planned to climb Vallunaraju and Pisco mountains, which respectively have an altitude of 5,686 and 5,752 meters above the sea level.
But first of all, we had to get prepared before attempting these summits. So we spent a few days in Huaraz city acclimatizing to the altitude. Huaraz lies on 3,200 meters above the sea level.
HUARAZ STREET PHOTOGRAPHY :
It’s a colorful town, with a great diversity of people. Life around the central market is absolutely amazing! Street photography opportunities are everywhere. In my mind, I had come to Huaraz for the mountains, but I’ve found myself even more drawn to shoot streets here…
There’s one central market, but there are also a lot of street vendors everywhere. So I never went out for a walk without my camera. We also always prefer supporting the local economy and buying what we need to those who live from the streets.
If you’ve followed my work, you should know that I’ve rarely shot street photography in my life. I’ve mainly shot landscapes and people since the beginning of my photographic journey. And I remember that, back in 2020, right before the pandemic, I started to get more and more interested in street photography. So I had set a goal to myself at that time : to practice and try to develop new skills in that genre. Unfortunately, Covid 19 hit the world, and masked faces were absolutely everywhere, which was not photographically attractive to my eye at all. So I’ve had to wait a long time before being able to work on that new goal of mine…
However, I’ve really had time to study the work of some photographers who inspire me, such as Alex Webb, Jonathan Jasberg, Michal Novotný or Maciej Dakowicz for instance. If you don’t know them, go check out their work. It’s always good to have some new inspiration and learn from some of the best in this field.
I’ve found the exercise pretty difficult but very rewarding! My ultimate goal was to try to create more complex kinds of images, with a lot of things happening in them. I think I’ve managed to find some sort of order in the overall chaos of the streets with this one image above. I like the composition, the different layers, the play of light on people’s faces/eyes… It was a good start and quite encouraging for me!
After three days in Huaraz, it was time to get prepared for more serious things. I don’t know how familiar you are with mountaineering, but before attemptings these peaks and reaching these high altitudes, one has to acclimatize his body to the lack of oxygen. It’s recommended to go higher and spend some time above 4,000 meters. So we decided to go on a one-day excursion for a hike to the “Laguna 69” which stands at 4,600 meters high.
ACCLIMATIZATION AT LAGUNA 69 :
We first reached Llanganuco valley, where one can enjoy the turquoise color of two lagoons and the presence of amazing trees called “Quiñuales”. Then we started hiking.
Once we reached the Laguna 69, after 2,5 hours of ascent, it was unfortunately packed with local tourists. Even though the lagoon and the surrounding peaks are amazing, the presence of people who are more interested in themselves and in their image just spoiled the overall experience. As I’ve worked in tourism for several years, I’ve been everyday confronted to this selfie trend, and this culture of travelling the world just to collect places that one has ticked off on a bucket list… I can’t stand it no more, but what can I do ?
I ignored that and focused on getting physically prepared for the next real challenge : Vallunaraju mountain (5,686 meters)!
VALLUNARAJU ASCENT :
It’s a two-day climb, with a night in a tent around 5,000 meters high. the real challenge was the weight that we were carrying. We had no porter nor any mules to carry our stuff. Iza’s bag was about 20-25 kilos, and mine was close to 35 kg… But we faced that challenge with determination.
Photographically speaking, I didn’t shoot a lot. The first reason was because I was mainly filming the climb. But the second reason was because we left the tent quite late for the summit push, and when the light turned nice for landscape photography, there were not too many photo compositions around. Most of the ascent was in the shade of the mountain, with no clear open views…
Near the top, the mountain range revealed itself, so we could finally have amazing clear panoramas on some of the most beautiful peaks of the Cordillera Blanca. I particularly loved this mountain, called Huantsan (6,400 meters).
At the top, we also took some pictures of ourselves for the brands that sponsored us for this trip. We had indeed received new Atomic skis and technical clothing from Jack Wolfskin before leaving Europe. Being well equipped for this kind of adventure really made things easier for us.
The ski descent was then pure joy. We were proud of ourselves and motivated to explore the second mountain that we had planned to climb…
BACK TO HUARAZ :
One day of rest only before heading to Pisco mountain! After the fresh air and the heights of Vallunaraju, it felt good to be back to the warmth and the agitation of Huaraz city. Once again, I took my camera with me and practiced even more my street photography.
I found it more challenging than the first time to get some decent shots. I missed most of them. But I know that this is part of the game. Nevertheless, I did not give up, and I ended up having a few nice images from this afternoon.
This time, I spent more time inside the market, that I found so fascinating!
However, this is not a place for everyone. Sensitive hearts or vegans would not like to wander there too long…
I’m quite okay with that. I actuallly think that it’s good to be sometimes confronted to this reality and reminded where the food we consume comes from. Our modern societies tend to get disconnected since nowadays, one only sees the final packed up product nicely presented in the supermarket shelves…
Coming back to the hotel, I took one last image that I like. The action was funny. A group of traditional dancers and musicians walked down a street of potato vendors. A Quechua woman was also there in the scene, shouting something to someone across the street. Then it was time to get some good rest and spend a good night before the next challenge, which seemed to be more difficult than the first one…
PISCO ASCENT :
For the first two hours of walking, we were able to hire the services of mules this time. This helped us a lot because the distance to the base camp was much longer and the path much more difficult and technical than for Vallunaraju. In total, we walked from 9am to 4pm, having to carry our heavy bags again after these first two hours…
Once at basecamp, I fell in love with one mountain in particular, which was “playing hide and seek” with the clouds. It’s one of the peaks of Huandoy, the hardest mountain to climb in the Cordillera Blanca.
I ended up taking a lot of photos of it. The atmosphere was amazing for photography this afternoon! All the ingredients were there : fog, clouds, light…etc Then we went to sleep quite early, around 7pm if I remember well. This time, we wanted to leave the tent earlier, which I was happy about. I hoped for better light conditions and open views during the ascent.
Around 5:30am, we were already high on Pisco, and the conditions were looking promising! At least we had clear views on the peaks despite the clouds.
The more we climbed, the better it got. The clouds were slowly taking some nice colors…
I particularly liked this view of Mount Chopicalqui (6,354 meters), and the road leading to the Portachuelo pass (4,700 m) that I had traveled alone a year ago, with my Colombian motorcycle..
At the top, the views were looking gorgeous! I especially enjoyed the shapes of the mountains and this morning light, bursting out from behind the clouds…
Suddenly, some magic happened! The best was yet to come. It started to snow while the sun was still shining and illumating the surounding peaks!
I was living a photographer’s dream up there. What more could I hope for from such a hard and tiring ascent than to witness this magic of light with the elements of the landscapes?
On my way down, I had to stop and get my camera out again. The Artesonraju (6,025m), known as the Paramount Pictures Film Production mountain, was nicely enveloped by a sea of clouds… It was too beautiful to be true!
A big thank you if you read the entire article. It shows your real interest in my photography and my approach to it.
If by any chance, you think you could learn from me and would like to know how I make these images, I created a complete TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE that you can find on my website.
You also may be interested in joining me on a PHOTO TOUR that I organize and lead myself in Peru! The next one is in October this year (2023), and you’ll find all the information HERE. I co-lead this trip with a great photographer : TOM BOURDON, and we have only 2 places left !
You can follow my adventures on my social medias. Here’s my instagram account :
IG : @nicolascastermans
I also have a 500px account where I mostly showcase my landscape photography : https://500px.com/nicolas-castermans
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