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Mountain Passes

Day 9: looking onto Jahuacocha, the first night's campsite - back again
Day 9: looking onto Jahuacocha, the first night's campsite - back again
Each day on the Huayhuash follows a familiar pattern.  6:30 wake-up call with coffee and tea at the tent.  7:00 breakfast in the cook tent.  8:00 it's time to hit the trail.  Even the trail follows a pattern.  As the campsites are located in valley bottoms, each day you start out by climbing from the valley floor to a pass 2,000-4,000 feet above.  At the passes, the views open up and you can see jagged, icecapped mountain peaks before you.  The afternoon is spent descending to the next valley where the tents are already set up for you at the campsite.

On our route, we had 10 passes to cover.  They were all beautiful, but there is one pass that is infamous in its striking landscapes.  Do a quick Google Image search for "San Antonio Pass Peru" and you'll see what I mean.  For the 3 days prior to San Antonio, we had majorly inclement weather.  It rained, snowed or sleeted on us for 3 days straight.  We mostly missed seeing Siula Punta, the other well-known vista, as it was shrowded in clouds.  In my heart, I was trying not to be disappointed as I knew there was the potential for the weather to be crappy for the rest of the trip.  

Fortunately for us, the day before San Antonio Pass, the clouds parted and we had perfectly blue skies.  We even had time to hike to the top of the alternate pass, Santa Elena, so that we could get double the vistas.  Santa Elena was a bit precarious as it isn't part of the normal route anymore and the trail isn't often used.  Towards the top, we encountered some fresh snow and slippery slopes.  Walking across the steep scree field with a good amount of exposure rattled my nerves a bit.  The view from above was nothing short of exquisite.  The winds were howling at a good 50 miles per hour.  I piled on all of my available clothing and shot as many photos as I could.  

As we stood at the top of Santa Elena, I saw a quick moving white shape heading up the valley towards us.  Justino had mentioned that foxes were the only predator in the area, so I figured it was a fox.  I wondered what it would do when it ran into us.  As it came closer, I realized it was actually a white dog fairly sprinting up the mountain.  Why in the world was this white dog way up here in the middle of nowhere on this unused trail?  It ran straight up to us, obviously following our scent and hung out with us contentedly as we snapped photos.  I was still a little rattled from the climb and was happy for a comforting presence.  The dog was super friendly, happy to have part of my energy bar and a few pets.  I decided he was my spirit animal, right then and there.

Our friendly white companion led the way back to the campsite that afternoon.  I figured he would head back to his sheep in the morning, but he followed us for the next two days, always showing us the way down the trail.  Eventually, we came to a village called Huayallpa and he disappeared.  I hope that our mountaineer dog was just heading home to his people.  

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