Huaraz is a bustling city sandwiched between two thick cordillera slices, making it the perfect starting-point to climb one of the many 6,000-plus metre peaks in the vicinity. Unfortunately, or perhaps luckily for me, I was barely trained for this kind of a work-out, and was little inclined to hiking at high altitude.
Considering its position, the town is surprisingly less tourist-oriented than other towns like Cuzco. Plenty of poverty exists within the city and in the surrounding mountain towns. There is an unbearable predominance of disabled beggars on the streets screeching with desperation.
It is a contrast to the tranquillity of the surrounding open fields and regal snow-tipped mountains reigning over the city.
In the spirit of adventure I decided to go the popular day hike to Laguna 69 (don’t start cackling; the name solely coming from the lagoon’s designated number among the 200 or so lakes in the region).
Before the hike even began, the tour group, myself included, was able to marvel at some of the spectacular landscape in this region, including the twin-peaks of Peru’s highest mountain, Huascaran. Another highlight was the stunning ravine boasting the marvellously turquoise Lake Llanganuco. This lagoon is positioned between two vertical cliffs down which numerous glacial waterfalls tumble; beyond that, snowy mountaintops peak curiously over the cliffs.
We commenced our hike at some 3,900m. Now as I’ve said before, a gal from the seaside is most definitely not conditioned to the apparent absence of oxygen up at this height, so even though the walk began on relatively mild undulating plains, I felt out of breath and dizzy within minutes.
Strangely enough, this affliction didn’t affect me for long and once we began climbing substantially higher, I had no respiration problems and instead only noticed the heaviness of my legs.
We headed towards a steep incline where two mountainsides met. Beyond towered the sheer cliff of ice that was Mount Chacraraju (6,108m). Little did I know that just below that magnificent ice wall was our destination.
We suffered a short, steep inclination with a few switch-backs before entering another plain. Then another longer and steeper inclination; the kind where you fear to stop lest your legs collapse under you, where your body and backpack become lead, where you curse yourself for opting to do this and where not the scenery but the thought of lying down and sleeping is the only thing compelling you onwards.
Had I known what a jewel waited beyond, I probably would have cared less for the rest and more for the spectacular destination I was about to witness.
Firstly, it appeared as just a small sparkling dot of brilliant blue amid a barren landscape of brown and grey rocks and white ice above. Little by little, Laguna 69 revealed itself to us, a dazzle of azure and a thin icy waterfall plummeting from the heavens.
Suddenly we were simply there, staring at the grandeur of Chacraraju above this incredibly turquoise lake, appearing especially more vivid because of its monotone surroundings. Here, at 4,560m, we chowed down lunch and listened to the thunderous cracks from the ice shelf above us.
The descent, far easier, aroused amazement at just how far we had actually climbed and I constantly wondered how I had managed to ascend so high and steep a path.
I felt a sense of empowerment and freedom that can only come from walking in valleys and up high slopes undisturbed by passing cars, exhaust pipes, or honking horns. Here, it’s all about the feet, and that adds to the allure of such a destination to no end.
More South American adventures…
There are so many things to see and do in South America, it’s impossible to list them all here. Here’s just a peak:
- Admire the Iguazu Falls in Argentina
- Marvel at glaciers in Bariloche
- Enjoy the vast stretch of white in the Bolivian salt flats
- Soak up the sun at Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca
- Hike down the world’s second deepest canyon in Peru