Huascarán Mountains & Laguna 69 Hike – Day 117

Tues 29th May

After virtually no sleep (approx 2 hours) due to the old guy in the form shouting out in his sleep every 20-30 mins, I awake before my alarm due to his now clambering about to go for a pee at 2am! I try to go back to sleep but to no avail with having to be up in 30 mins anyway.

I had packed all my stuff the night before and placed my smelliest and voyages by the bathroom door so I cd get ready with as little noise and disruption as possible. I grab my stuff and meet the group downstairs before getting into the bus.

We set off a little after 3am for the 3 hour journey to the Huascarán National Park. With so little sleep last night I was hoping to get some on the way but it just isn’t happening. I’m sure this isn’t the best way to start one of my toughest hikes to date!

We don’t know we’ve entered the park as it’s still dark but the long windy and twisty roads tell us we are and climbing fairly high. Near the stop and with the sun rising I gasp as I see the magnificent mountains up close for the first time, glistening away brightly in the glare of the rising sun.

The bus makes a quick stop so we can get some photos of this as we won’t get the same lighting effect by the time we stop for breakfast. The sight beholding me is simply breathtaking.

I could have stood there for hours but it was bloody freezing!

Back on the bus and a 20 minute drive or so and we are at the start point and breakfast point. Beings as it’s so cold outside, the guides dona great job of preparing breakfast and drinks and handing it out to everyone. Breakfast consisted of 2 fruit filled pancakes followed by toast and Nutella and my very first cup of coca leaf tea!

Breakfast done, we pile off the bus and gaze out over these mammoth mountains. Something I’ve stared at for days from afar, I’m now actually in amongst them. It’s so amazing it’s indescribable.

Huascarán National Park is made up of the Cordillera Blanca (the highest tropical mountain range) and part of the Central Andes. It covers 840,000 acres and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.

No amount of photos can do this place justice. The view and towering heights of these mammoth mountains is incredible.

The mountains include the Huascarán mountains…the North standing at 6653m and the taller South standing at 6768m and the tallest in all of Peru.

Back in 1962, a hanging glacier on the northern face broke and killed 6000 people in a village below. It was in 1908 that someone first scaled the northern peak and it was a further 24 years later for someone to summit the southern peak.

The next mountain range is the Huandoy which is made up of 4 peaks, the highest being 6395m. This was first scaled by a group of Germans in 1932.

Once we’ve all taken our fill of photos, it’s time to start the trek. A small ascent across a rocky terrain. It’s not a popular route and only Akilpo Tours run it (Panorama Tour) and other companies if u book it as a private tour. I’m at the front for this part of the trek, talking and following guide #1 (we have 3) who happens to be the receptionist from the hostel. He stops to check back on the group every now and again which is quite nice as u get chance to have a bit of a breather, take in the views and get a few more snaps. That was until a girl in the group tells him to not stop so often. I think this was a bit of a red rag, as not only do we now not stop but it feels as thou the pace has quickened.

It’s most welcome when we get to the Mirador point to get ur breath back first then take in the astounding and spectacular landscape all around us. This tour definitely lives up to its name as the panoramic views are out of this world.

More photos added to the 100s already taken and we now get a great view of the Chacraraju mountain range which stands at 6108m.

Now it’s time to descend. It’s a bit of an off piste path but isn’t too bad. We could choose to use hiking poles if we wanted and these are a great help in the rocky, gravelly and grassy passages that lead us down.

Without realising, I’ve now joined the normal Laguna 69 trail path. It’s only dawned on me because I’m on an ascend rather than was a descend. It isn’t to bad to start with but I lose my front space following a break as I was engrossed in a conversation with some Brits and one who is from Bristol.

I push my pace to try and catch the people up I was originally walking with but it’s impossible. The harder I try, the tougher the hike becomes and the more shallowed and difficult my breathing becomes. By the time I get to the rest point, the front runners are then moving on. To try and not fall further behind, whilst some of the others rest, I decide (stupidly) to keep going. The increased pace, lack of breaks and rising altitude finally takes its toll on me and I find myself really struggling to breath. This causes panic to set in and now suffering a small panic attack I find myself really struggling. I’m gasping fast and can’t get any air into my lungs at all. The guide rushes to get the oxygen canister for me but not wanting to be known as the girl who has to have oxygen, I calm myself down and get my breathing under control by remembering some breathing techniques from my spin classes. Slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Thanks James, ur breathing techniques really helped me out of a tight spot there!

I now have no other choice but to take it steady and walk at a pace that is as comfortable as can be.

Not long after this, we stop at a lake to enjoy the view and some chocolate the guides are handing out. I have zero appetite and a banging head so just drink some water and take 2 paracetamol. The other 2 guides are now aware of what has happened and also a few in my group who come to check I’m ok.

Off we go again and the guide walking with me and some others, keeps reminding me to just take it slow, enjoy the view and take in my surroundings. Putting one foot in front of the other is about all I can muster at this point though to be honest. A lovely girl from the UK holds back from her partner to walk with me too which is so kind and I’m very thankful.

The last part of the ascent is made up of 3 switchbacks.

Normally they wdnt be particularly difficult but today they’re a killer. My guide tells me I’m on the last one, and although none are long, they are quite steep…especially the last one. It feels like every 5 steps, I need to take a breather.

Finally we’re onto a flat pass and in the distance u can just make out a tiny patch of the most bluest, turquoise, azure water ever.

As more and more of the lake comes into view, it’s captivating. I muster the energy to walk down to the rocks and have a photo taken. IV’E MADE IT!!!

The guides lead us across the rocks away from the busy and soon to be bustling entry point to a part less crowded so we can enjoy the view.

A flat rock found, I lie back and collapse. It’s about half 11 and lunch time but I still have no appetite (not even for the Dairy Milk I’ve brought with me!) and a really bad head. In this place of enormous natural beauty, my energy, enthusiasm and passion for photography has waned and I only manage to get a few (rather rubbish) snaps of this beautiful place (something I now regret but didn’t have the energy to move around up there)!

Laguna 69 is one of 474 lakes in the park. Not all were named and the National Park took over and listed all the lakes, the ones without names were given numbers. Laguna 69 was 69th on the list…hence the unimaginative name it now has.

The snow capped Chacraraju in the background is what nourishes and fills this beautiful lake.

There’s the opportunity to ascend further to the mirador point of the mountain behind us – something I’m most certainly not up to! I was told beforehand that this was over 5000m and so was definitely something I wanted to achieve. I’ve now been told that it’s only (only she says) 4850m, having scaled slightly higher than this in Ecuador I don’t feel too bad about not being able to do it today. I would have liked to have seen the view from above though.

Whilst we wait for the others to come down from above, I’m happy just led on my rock in the sun. It’s bloody hot up here considering how freezing it was at sunrise.

Another girl in the group is really struggling. She has been hit hard by the altitude and she’s feeling 10 x worse than me – really bad head, stomach, nausea…the lot. The guide gives her an attitude sickness tablet and see how she goes…

Now the others are back, it’s time to start the 2 hour descent back to the bus and first off are those that are feeling pants which is nice. Walking down isn’t as tough as some I’ve done in the past and again the walking was a great help. Apart from my bad head, I’m feeling loads better on the way down – except for the fact I’m sure my trusty boots are giving me blisters!

You get some great views of The Valley below and of a great waterfall running down the side of a huge mountain face.

I have a nice chat with another of the guides on the way down – about our respective countries, families and jobs etc. It was good to be chatting Spanish again…it’s been quite rare over last few weeks.

We’re on flat land and a river running parallel to us…we must surely now neatly be back! There’s a park at the bottom that we sit and wait for everyone to catch up then it’s a 2 min walk to the bus. The most welcome sight ever after a tough 14km hike!

Before boarding, the guides hand out a cold beer to us all. I’m not sure this is the best thing for an altitude headache but I’ve earned it so join the others in a toast with a big bloody well done to everyone!

On entry to the park this morning we didn’t see the Langanuco lakes so it’s lovely to see them as we drive out this afternoon. We stop at Chinancocha Lake to take a picture and the one most of us get appears to be the same as the official photo used for the National Park – maybe that’s why we stopped here!

Back on the bus and it’s time for the 3 hour journey back to Huaraz. Even the mountain views as we are awesome…these are enormous!

A girl in front of me gives me an altitude sickness tablet which gets rid of my headache in about 30 mins…boy do I wish I’d taken one of these hours ago instead if paracetamol!

There’s a bit of chatter to start then I think everyone just zonks out!

Despite the effects of the altitude, this was one of the best days of my trip so far. I absolutely loved being in such amazing scenery and spectacular mountains. There just aren’t words enough to describe how awesome this place is. Don’t let the altitude put u off…as long as u go slow and listen to ur body (unlike me), you’ll be one and will get to the lake.

The cost was 120 soles and should have included the a 30 soles park entry fee but because we arrived so early, not being open, we didn’t have to pay. It was more than worth every penny spent. The tour was amazing, the guides were great and despite being ill, I’d definitely do it all again!

It’s a long day – we left at 0300 and got back around 1800. In that, we walked from about 0800 to 1130 and 1300 until 1430.

All tour companies in Huaraz run the Laguna 69 Tour but only Akilpo Tours (associated with Akilpo Hostel) run this epic Panorama Tour. I would definitely suggest looking into this one.

Back at the hostel and after a well needed hot shower and a change of clothes I Lee in in the hike…he’s doing the Laguna 69 one tomorrow. Now in need of some nourishment, we go back to Chilli Heaven for some dinner and I have another of their awesome curries.

I pass out pretty quickly when my head hits the pillow tonight!

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