The other night I grabbed a night bus up to Huaraz. Arriving at 6:30 in the morning, I was quick to call my hostel, Caroline Lodging, to have someone pick me up and show me to my room! I spent the majority of the day sleeping. Rising from sea level to the high-altitude town of Huaraz overnight, plus not sleeping that great on the bus anyways, took its toll on me. It was the first time I could actually feel the altitude (I even woke up on the bus at one point realizing it was harder to breathe).
After a day of mostly sleeping (walking around and exploring town didn’t take too long), I was ready to get out and see the Huascarán National Park and Cordillera Blanca mountains. So I decided on a daytrip to the famous Laguna 69. Being a daytrip, I didn’t expect it to be too difficult. I was in for a bit of a surprise!
Our day began at about 6:30 when we loaded into the van for a three hour drive to the park and the start of our trek to the lagoon. Almost as soon as we started walking (on the first part, which is “flat”) I could already feel the straining in my calves. It wasn’t at all what I’d call steep, but it was a consistent slight incline that at first I could really feel. Eventually that was fine, but there wasn’t really much of a trail per se, and we were just a group of us from the hostel without any guide, just a map the hostel had given us. We had a few moments of confusion about which way to go, and there were a couple times we had to cross a river or two and had to scout out a good place to cross.
After crossing the river we left the grassy and forested valley area (full of cows!) and traipsed across some rocky terrain to what was the second part of the trek. At the briefing the night before we hadn’t really been told much about the second part, so I just assumed it would be easy, as the third part was described as the steep switchback part. Well, the second part wasn’t easy! In fact, it was steep and switchbacked in itself! And long!
We had been told that we would eventually reach a small lake and that would be the halfway point of the trek and the beginning of the third and final part. Huffing and puffing up the second part (like I said, I was really feeling the altitude at this point — and feeling a bit lightheaded and having extra trouble breathing from my cold as well!), I kept anxiously anticipating this lake.
Finally I reached the lake (I was at the head of the group, except for a crazy Frenchman who had missed the crossing at the river, taken the wrong way, and yet still somehow passed me on the second part and jaunted off ahead) and sat for maybe five minutes to catch my breath and relax.
Then I was off again, ready for the final part. First you are in a big grassy area, and unfortunately here I got a bit lost as I couldn’t find where the trail up the mountain started. So I waited a bit and eventually the Swiss guy and Swedish couple from my group caught up and found the path (I had dropped my map somewhere, why I couldn’t find it). Soon I was ahead again, but I was really really feeling this trek! It seemed like an incredibly difficult one!
We had been told that the trek would take about 3 1/2 hours, and that the fastest time someone’s done was two hours and 15 minutes. So I was thinking maybe I would be able to do it in three hours since I am fast. But after two hours of walking I was starting to feel exhausted. Another hour of this? Steep uphill with switchbacks…it seemed endless. Then I saw the crazy French guy ahead of me, standing on a rock. I went up and asked him if he had already been to the lake and he said yes, it took him only one hour and 40-some minutes! I told him he was crazy, then he told me it was only another 50 meters up and then a short flat walk to the lagoon.
This is why I call him my beacon of hope! Haha. So after that I felt totally rejuvenated and rocked up the last bit of uphill, finding myself soon at the most incredible sight! Laguna 69 (no idea why that’s the name) is absolutely gorgeous. The water is the most unbelievable blue color. This is pure water straight from the glacier above! And there are waterfalls all around, with impressive snow-covered mountains on all sides.
Soon the Swiss and the Swedish arrived as well, along with the Frenchman again, and we all took our requisite pictures and sat gazing in awe at the sight before us. Then I heard this loud noise that sounded like thunder. My first thought was, “Great, a storm is coming.” But then I looked up and saw a gigantic rush of water burst forth at the top of the mountain. I had literally just witnessed the birth of a waterfall from a glacier! It was seriously one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! Before I knew it a full-fledged waterfall existed where none had just moments before. As the Swedish girl said, “Global warming in action.” Yikes!
Because we had done the trek so fast, we were able to relax for over an hour at the lagoon (which is at 4,800m by the way, or 15,700ft). The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. We each found a rock to lay and just rest and admire our surroundings. Eventually five of the other six in the group made it (one older woman gave up halfway and turned back). We were told it often rained in the afternoons so the Frenchie, Swiss, a Spanish girl, and I all then started back the same way we’d came.
The walk back flew by compared to coming up! Of course going so much downhill is still a bit of a challenge and hard on your knees, but we chatted and concentrated on the walk ahead of us and it went by quickly. The hardest part was finding our way back once we had to cross the river. We couldn’t find where we’d originally crossed, so we had to find a somewhat doable replacement crossing and then kind of bushwhack our way through some prickly trees until we eventually reached the “path.”
The hardest part, in fact, was the very last maybe three minutes or so that we had to climb up big stone steps to get to the road! Since the Frenchman and I reached the end first, we go to watch everyone’s unhappy faces as they did that last aching climb! Haha. Then our bus, which was supposed to be waiting for us the whole time, wasn’t there and we had to wait for him to come back. (He told us we should be back by 3:30 at the latest, and then he didn’t even arrive until after then, once everyone was back!) But lucky for him, it hadn’t started raining or else we would have been much more upset about it.
Overall it was a really great day! I was a bit sick on the loooong (bumpy!) drive back to Huaraz. All I’d had was crackers and a small bag of yucca chips, and I was starting to get a migraine (probably from the quick and extreme changes in altitude, complemented by the lack of substantial food). I thought I was going to throw up or pass out before we got back to the hostel, but luckily we arrived in time and I nearly ran into town (a feat in itself, as here our hostel is at the bottom of a huge bank of stairs that are killer and leave you breathless even in normal circumstances!) and got a gigantic plate of a delicious burger and fries for only 7 soles at a place called La Brasa Roja, which had been recommended to me by a couple girls the night before.
In the end, I think I’m ready to take a break from trekking for a while and head to the beach! Tonight I will catch a bus to Trujillo/Huanchaco and visit the Chan Chan ruins, then Friday night I will catch a bus to Mancora. There I will bunk up in my fave hostel chain, Loki, meet up with a couple friends, and spend a few wonderful days relaxing on the beach before heading into Ecuador. Already I feel my trip is almost winding down — it’s been almost two months now (in 3 days!) and just over five weeks left. Unbelievable!
Accomodation: Caroline Lodging – 13 soles!/nt in dorm – Really great place to stay, for such a good price! And they will pick you up and drop you off at the bus station. Decent place to meet people, help arrange treks and daytrips, good breakfast (bread and jam plus a “surprise” — pancakes, cake, etc — addition every morning). Decent rooms and bathrooms. Only downside: pay internet, no wifi.