Andes Trek Report: 1999
by Gregory J. Rummo
Standing in the shadow of Huascaran, Peru's highest peak
In July 1999, 25 of us began a 6-day, 60-mile walk from Cashapampa along the Santa Cruz trail to the Llanganuco region. The altitudes ranged between 10,000 and 15,500 feet. Twice we hiked up and over mountain passes. The scenery was spectacular. But the need of the people was the real reason we had come to this region of the Andes. To read a column I wrote about our 1999 trek, which ran locally in two New Jersey newspapers and on BIMI's South American Tour area of their website, click this link: "Bringing Hope to the Hidden Valleys of the Andes."
"Something hidden; go and find it; go and look beyond the ranges.
Something lost beyond the ranges, lost and waiting for you. Go!"
Quote by Rudyard Kipling
"Un poquito mas," shouted Adelid our Quechua guide above the roar of the wind. There was a distinctive ring of cheerfulness in his voice as he tried to encourage us. It was, quite frankly, a little annoying.
Yeah, right, I thought to myself, not wanting to speak because I had neither the strength nor the breath with which to form the words. Just a little further— he's been saying that all morning.
"Animo! Animo!" Adelid urged, trying to muster our courage.
But there wasn't a whole lot of either strength or courage left at this point.
We had already hiked close to 20 miles over the last two days at altitudes ranging between 10,000 and 13,700 feet. Here it was— day three. We were struggling up the last leg of a climb over Paso de Punta Union, a pass that took us over the south face of Taulliraju— one of the smaller snow capped mountains in the Peruvian Andes on the Continental Divide at a mere 18,974 feet.
Despite my schedule of aerobics back home— a 3-mile run, 6 days per week— my chest ached, my lungs burned and my legs cried for mercy. I felt as though I had been on a stair master for the last three hours with a plastic bag over my head.
Then, suddenly, we arrived at the summit. Agony turned to ecstasy.
Behind us now was the most difficult part of the climb.
Before us lay the reason we had come to the mountainous Ancash region of Peru— to spread the Word of God among the Quechua in villages with names like Huaripampa, Cashapampa, Colcabamba, Vaqueria and other small villages so far removed from civilization that gringos like ourselves were quite a rare sight.
The idea for this 6-day mountain trek began a little over two years ago. Phil Winfield, a missionary with BIMI, who lives in Lima was the brainchild.
Just before his son Phillip was ready to leave Peru for the States to attend college, the two of them decided to go on a father and son hike through the Andes Mountains on the Santa Cruz trail together. What they discovered along the way was village after village of Quechua— the Indians that are indigenous to the Andes Mountains. Few had ever heard of Jesus Christ. Fewer still had seen or read a Bible translated into their own dialect.
The sight of so many people without the Gospel message broke Winfield's heart. "The adults and children were clad in garments you wouldn't use to line your dog house in the winter," he told me. "My eyes filled with tears more than once as I realized how shall they hear without a preacher?"
He purposed to go back in the future with as many Bibles as he could carry.
In July 1999, twenty-six men from the States met in Winfield's home in Lima. I was privileged to be one of them.
From Lima we piled into two Chevy Suburbans and a Toyota passenger van, driving eight hours to the small town of Huaraz in the foothills of the Andes. A small truck followed behind with all our gear.
Huaraz lies at about 10,000 feet above sea level so it gave us some time to acclimate to the high altitude.
While in Huaraz we picked up cases of New Testaments and Gospels of Luke and Mark that had been translated by Wycliff Bible translators into both Spanish and the Quechua dialect.
From Huaraz, we were taken by bus to Cashapampa, a Quechua village that lies just outside of Huascaran National Park on the beginning of the Santa Cruz Trail. Here we were met by our two guides, six burro managers and 27 burros to help carry out tents, food, equipment and the Bibles.
The beauty of the Peruvian Andes is in stark contrast to the bleak desert that is Lima and its outskirts.
Hiking an average of six hours every day through rugged terrain, we passed snow-covered peaks and spectacular waterfalls. The sight, sound and taste of rushing water from ice cold rivers of glacier melt run-off was our constant companion throughout the 53-mile trek. Cactus, Lupine and other exquisite flora dotted the landscape, splashing it with color. Several times we saw an Andean Condor.
"The beauty and majesty of God's creation had us drunk with a desire to go on and see more," Winfield said.
But it was the Quechua who we had come to meet and with whom we had a burden to share the Word of God.
On the fourth day, we visited the village of Huaripampa, then split into two groups— one hiking to Vaqueria and the other walking a bit further to Colcabamba and Yanama.
We stopped at every adobe brick farm building on the trail, leaving a Gospel or a New Testament on a wall or a step. All along the way we had opportunities to speak to the people. We had candy and toys for the children.
When we arrived in Vaqueria, another BIMI missionary hiking with us, Roy Seals, was invited to speak to a group of school children. Afterwards, we were able to put copies of a New Testament and other Bible stories into the hands of almost 100 children.
In many cases, we gave the village the first copy of the Bible it had ever possessed. While most of the adults can't read, they have their children to read to them. It was amazing to see the adults make their children sit down and read to them from the Bible. Especially in light of my experience here in the States. Often, Gospel literature is refused or tossed on the street in disgust by those too busy of too affluent to care about their own souls.
I was reminded what James wrote in the new Testament book that bears his name in the second chapter and fifth verse: "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?"
Early on the sixth and final morning, after enduring a 90-minute sleet storm the previous evening, we set out on the last leg of our hike.
Climbing through Portachuelo de Llanganuco— another pass above 15,000 feet that cleaves two massive mountain— Yanapaccha and Chopicalqui— we reached the top, and started down the other side to catch the buses that would take us out of Huascaran National Park and back through Yungay to Huaraz.
The buses chugged and jerked their way down the sinuous dusty road. Each time we drove through a small village, we stopped to hand out more Gospels and New Testaments through the bus windows. In one small village, a group of about a dozen farmers, harvesting grain in a field realized what we were giving away and immediately dropped their tools and ran towards the bus to make sure they got a copy of a New Testament. Truly the harvest was ready in the Peruvian Andes.
"Gracias por el amor que demostro a nuestro pueblo," Adelid said with tears in his eyes later that evening as we said our good-byes in Huaraz. In all his years of guiding hikers through the mountains, Adelid told us not once had a group shown such love for his people in the villages along the trails through the Andes.
As a businessman whom God has blessed, I believe the least I can do is to share the blessings of God with those less fortunate than myself. Putting money in the collection plate in my church is simply not enough.
It was the experience of a lifetime for us— giving hope to the hopeless in the hidden valleys of the Andes.
Story & Photos by Gregory J. Rummo. To contact him, click here.