‘It takes awhile to get used to” smiled Nito as i attempted to suck back the thin air. I’d walked all of 100m at altitude and the thin air did not agree with me. Peru has a vast countryside littered with fantastic hikes. I was in the North and had set out on a popular day trip to Laguna 69 (also known as Lake 69). It’s a 12 hour return journey from Huaraz, the easiest place for trekkers and backpackers to set up base.
The Laguna 69 trek is a great introduction to all the treks available around Huaraz, but for the uninitiated, the altitude will make you question you’re life. That’s because Huaraz sits at 3052m (10,100ft) and Laguna 69 finishes up at 4652m (15,090ft). However, at the end of the day it is well worth it. I saw the photos on the walls of my hostel and Laguna 69 certainly did look majestic. Snow capped mountains perched over creamy aqua water. Peruvian beauty, i had to see it!
Three hours later and what felt like a thousand bumps, i arrived at the walking trail. My tour was a group of 12 and Nito was our guide. He explained that the timeframe was three hours to walk up, half an hour to rest and two and a half hours to walk back. Easily done i thought. The first sign that maybe i had underestimated this walk was when i noticed the rest of the group wore hiking boots, cargo pants and winder breaker jackets. Two even had walking sticks. I just hoped my nike gym gear would stack up.
I walked along the valley path, next to the winding river and under sprawling trees. The cows looked up in between bites of grass, totally unbothered by the sprawl of humans. Two donkeys stood on the path and didn’t even flinch as i brushed past. The river trickled by, swirling into pools and continuing downwards, crystal clear and icy cold. Looking into the distance, rock walls rose from the valley culminating in snow capped peaks. There were multiple waterfalls on either side, glacial water gushing from big cracks, feeding the river i was walking next to.
An hour later and i made it up to the first waterfall. The small trail continued to wind up the hill face, wrapping around trees and rocks. It was loose underfoot and heavy on the lungs. I walked past people stopped on the trail, either trying to catch their breath or capture the surrounding beauty. The panoramic view back along the valley showed the considerable distance already walked.
Looking up, the mountain flattened out and i thought to myself, i’m gonna make it. Breaching over it, i found yet another flat valley. This valley was a basin of brown vegetation and steep grey cliffs. I had entered through a cut-out, but other than that, the mountains rose up on al sides towards the clouds. The sky was a bold blue, welcoming me to reach up and touch it. Clouds slowly moved by, in total contrast to the wind ripping along the valley floor. Underfoot was barren, a mixture of rock and grass, with the odd desert plant. The flat land was much easier to walk along and a nice reprieve from the steep trail testing the lungs and calves.
Rising out of the valley, the steeper the trail got, the more i struggled to breath. I felt my heart pumping, my lungs screaming and my head thinking, ‘what the fuck is happening’. With each step i thought about the photos from the hostel. I knew i was close and Nito confirmed that i did not have far to go. I tried to walk faster, but i ended up walking slower as each step decreased in size and frequency. The valley below was a mixture of contrasting colours, a line of black dots slowly meandering along the trail i had already walked. I was still drawn to the bold sky and looked up for relief. As i saw the snow capped peaks and creamy aqua water i stopped.
It truly is stunning.
I sat on the lakes edge with the thought, ‘You only live once!’ I knew i’d never be back and i didn’t walk all the way to only look, I had to feel. Stripping down to my boxers, i could hear the gasps of people realising what i was about to do. I took two steps and dove in head first. As i broke the surface and went to take a breath of air, not much really happened. My heart skipped a beat and my lungs closed down. My arms became heavy and eyes flashed. I took in half a breath and felt alive! On the edge of death, but truly alive. I got out, stood there taking it all in, and jumped back in.
Laguna 69, a majestic journey that takes your breath away!
Big thanks to Cass from @cassbearsomewhere for the photos. You know what to do; like, follow and share.