Huaraz is the main city of the Cordillera Blanca, America’s highest mountain range and part of the Andes. At an elevation of 3’100masl and surrounded by inumerous peaks and embedded lagunas, it is a mekka for hiking and trekking.
Coming right up from sea level overnight, the height difference was noticeable to say the least and the short walk from the first hostel, which was fully booked, to the second one left me out of breath. But I’m not usually one to let my body tell me where to stop. Where would we get if we listened to our bodies, right? No, I just prepared my daypack, stored my luggage and ran to the next corner where I should find a colectivo that takes me up to Pitec, a place with a few farmhouses at about 3’800masl. Together with two English guys that also waited for the colectivo to fill up with locals and boxes containing live poultry I convinced the driver to charge us no more than ten Soles each (about USD 2.80) for the one hour ride. Once he dropped us off we checked in with the National Park Ranger (10 Soles entrance fee) and started what I thought would be a rather easy hike and a good choice to acclimatize. Yeah, not quite. For about one and a half hours the trail led steeply upwards. Then it got even steeper for the last thirty minutes, including some proper climbing and pulling my tired body up on a wire rope.
I was tired from the overnight trip, not used to the height, clearly didn’t drink enough water and the sign in front of the Laguna read 4’450masl. A slight headache was creeping in. But the staggering views and the peacefulness of that beautiful spot let me forget my bodily discomfort for some time.
We took it all in and stayed for a while to relax and to have a little snack. What I knew from the unpleasantness altitude can cause was that it should get better once you descend. Somehow it didn’t and by the time I sat in the colectivo again I had troubles to keep up with the discussions we had about different concepts of truth, liberation through acknowledgment of the inevitable perishability of life itself and other philosophical crap.
Remember what I said about not listening to my body? Stupid. Did I learn anything from it? Hell no! After feeling miserable for the rest of the evening and not having dinner because I couldn’t get out of the bed anymore I got up at four o’clock the next morning to start my tour to Laguna 69. The perfect preparation for a seven hour hike from 3’800masl up to 4’600masl and down again.
As soloing the Laguna 69 trek might actually take you longer and cost more than taking advantage of an organized transportation with breakfast stop etc. I opted for the tour. The shuttle picked me up at the hostel at 4.30am, collected a few more hikers around the city centre and then drove off towards the mountains. At some point we stopped for breakfast and later at this pretty laguna for some pictures.
Until we arrived at the trailhead my own batteries felt almost re-charged. The napping on the bus and the breakfast seemed to have worked. But I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy hike. It started slowly with about 45 minutes through a gorgeous and almost flat, grassy river landscape. Then it started. Zig-zagging uphill for about an hour to the next high plateau. By then, some fatigue has started to kick in. Let’s not forget, at 4’400masl your body has a harder time getting the oxygen it needs. So, the last 30 to 40 minutes were no walk in the park as the trail got once again steeper. At the top I lied down exhausted and slept for twenty minutes. When I woke up again the last part of the group wouldn’t arrive for almost another hour. I was finally ready to enjoy the jaw-drapping scenery in front of me.
The way down was like a picnic compared to the ascend. Tired but happy I sat in the bus back to Huaraz. A beautiful day was coming to an end and Huascarán, Peru’s highest mountain glowed as the sun went down.
Now it was time to rest and recover, right? Wrong. The nightbus to Lima was waiting for me.