Saturday, August 12, 2017

Beauty and Grandeur Once Again -- the Cajas National Park

After a recent hike in the Cajas, I was researching some potential areas for future hikes and ran across the following video. Not only is it a great demonstration of one of the positive uses for drone technology -- it amply captures some of the awesomeness of the Cajas. Of course, as with any place in nature, being in the picture gives one the most "wow."  But the Cajas never fails to delight at any scale -- from high above, as in this video, it's amazing -- but equally so, as you get closer, the wonderment only grows. Close-up, one can experience the infinite shades of emerald and turquoise lake waters, the profusion of tiny yellow, orange, blue, and purple flowers, or the rare but quite possible sight of a soaring hawk or condor.

What follows are a couple of pics from my most recent hike with a good friend. This area of the Cajas is actually outside the formal park boundary on the western side of the mountains near the village of Rio Blanco. It is also near Cerro Arquitectos, the highest peak in the Cajas at 14,656 ft. The final lake we arrived at on this day was about a 1,000 ft. lower than the highest peak. We're planning on heading towards "Architect's Hill" on a future day. Here's looking back on the second lake we climbed to:

Upper Lake - Cajas

An example of the quinoa trees and rocks we navigated on our way up:

Among Trees and Rocks

 A lakeside quinoa tree and the crystal clear, blue and emerald waters:

Tree By Lake

And approaching the highest lake we got to -- there was no way beyond this lake without some heavy-duty climbing. The pattern of the icy winds, common at this altitude in the Cajas, plus the clouds blowing in fast from the east confirmed for us that wet cloud-cover would be moving in within a couple hours so we headed back down from here.

High Lake - Cajas

Resting at the high lake

resting by the last lake

Some parts of the journey up were steep, through dense brush and trees and over rocks -- but at other times wide vistas would open up as we came over a rise to find elevated plateaus. In many places throughout the Cajas, one will find a series of lakes positioned in steps, ever higher, each one feeding the lakes below via streams meandering through these isolated plateaus:

Tree Before Ridgeline

We came down a different way than going up. Entering, we followed a cascading creek and had to find our way through trees and rocks. Even so, we made a 1k elevation gain in the first hour. Since it was our first time exploring this area, we wanted to get a broader lay of the land and the potential alternate routes for entering and exiting the area. Looking west towards Guayaquil, the view of horses grazing on the high plateau was a nice surprise.

High Plateau - Cajas

And I found a drone video that flies over the exact area where I was hiking....