After knocking the sand out of our hair and every other possible place from the dry, dusty coast of Peru we headed into the Andes mountains to do some power hiking! After a windy six hour drive past farms and apple orchards, we arrived in Huaraz, the base town for our hiking adventures in the Cordillera Blanca. Although anxious to get out of the hustle and bustle of Huaraz and into the peaceful mountains, we were advised to take it easy for a few days in order to acclimate to the 10,000ft altitude after arriving from sea level.
After two days of acclimating and stocking up on supplies in Huaraz, we drove past the little town of Yungay to Llanganuco Lakes, two beautiful blue lakes in a narrow mountain valley in the shadow of Mt. Huscaran, the highest peak in Peru. We stopped to admire Chinancocha Lake and drove along a narrow dirt road past Orconcocha Lake before we reached a grassy campground in the middle of a bunch of grazing high altitude cows. One of them actually ate our doormat while we were sleeping… Anyhow, we made a quick dinner as the sun set and the temperature quickly dropped before waking up early the next day to do a long day hike to Lake 69, one of the most beautiful sights in the Cordillera Blanca.
We set out hiking along the river in the valley before climbing higher and higher into the mountains. When the clouds cleared for a bit we could see the peaks of the some of the monstrous mountains around us, including the two peaks of Huascaran. In 1970, an earthquake caused a portion of Huascaran to collapse, sending a landslide of ice and rock down the valley and burying the entire town of Yungay below, killing 20,000 people – heavy stuff.
After four hours of spectacular scenery and shortness of breath, we were rewarded with the literally breathtaking sight of Lake 69. Purest of turquoise and seated below snowy peaks and glaciers, it was an unreal setting unlike anything we have ever seen before.
The next day after resting our weary legs we drove back through Huaraz and into the mountains just outside the city to camp at The Hof Hostel. The Hof is a non profit that works with the Quechua indigenous community to spread the practice of sustainable building and permaculture. It also happened to be the perfect starting point for a number of hikes in the area- pretty darn cool.
With our new friend Philip from Wyoming (more commonly known as Onion), we set out to do another acclimatization hike to Lake Churup in order to warm up for a tough three day trek that we would be starting together the next day.
After enjoying some lunch at the lake, we made our way back to the Hof to get some rest for the big excursion the next day. The three day trek would take us through Quilcayhuanca Valley, over a 16,660ft pass, and down through Cojup Valley back to the Hof with about nine hours of hiking each day. We set off early in the morning and enjoyed a leisurely section of the hike through the flat river valley dotted with grazing cows before starting to steadily climb.
The second day of the hike took us higher and higher until we reached the level of the snow and glaciers on the surrounding mountains.
Then came the moment we had been dreading, climbing over the 16,660ft pass. Not only does this involve scrambling up a steep mountainside over loose rocks and debris with the chance of getting lost or falling to our deaths, but we had heard firsthand of other hikers getting altitude sickness or dealing with serious pounding headaches and disorientation here. Well, we had come this far and there was no turning back. As we climbed higher the air got thinner and colder. When we hit the scree, or section of loose rocks, we had to tread carefully in order not to go sliding down while nervously looking up at huge boulders on the steep ridge above, hoping that nothing would come loose and roll down at us. Not gonna lie, we are smiling in the photo below but it was pretty frightening.
Despite the height, the thin air, our fears, and the rocky terrain, we made it to the top! Our reward was a sense of accomplishment and spectacular views of the valley below. Anything is possible!