Peru is famous for trekking and adventures as it home to some epic landscapes and diverse nature. We were looking forward to doing some hiking here as we had heard all good things, and hiking hadn´t been one of our most common activities while in Central America. I imagined chilly walks up snow capped mountains, no heat or humidity like we had been experiencing on our jungle hikes. The one thing I didn´t imagine, or think about (looking back, silly me for not thinking about it) was the altitude.
Ty and I are fairly experienced hikers now. I won´t say expert, whatever an expert hiker is. Perhaps once you´ve climbed Everest I suppose you could call that expert level right? Anyway, we have done a fair amount of hiking over the last few years, mostly in South Africa in the Drakensburg, which is also a mountainous region. So how could these mountains be much harder?
Huaraz, our first mountain town stop in Peru. We had only been in Peru for maybe 4 days before we got to Huaraz and didn´t know much about it. I tend to do rather last minute research on places to go, and Ty doesn´t do any research… so we didn´t know a lot about the place or what to expect, just that there were some nice treks. Well, first things first, the town itself sits about 3050m above sea level. I was personally finding it harder to breath on the bus journey up, let alone when we arrived. Of course there´s many places around the world at the same or higher altitudes, I´ve been skiing in Austria which is also up high, but the thing with altitude is that you can experience different effects from it throughout your life at different times. And there´s no telling why. Sometimes our bodies just decide this time, actually, I´m going to be a bit pathetic and struggle with the lower levels of oxygen. Which is exactly what my body decided to do.
Hike number one.
I had read online by now about the different hikes to do around Huaraz. There is the Huascaran National Park and then there were a few free hikes surrounding the town, overlooking the snow capped mountains of the national park while not actually being in it. I also read that it´s best to acclimatise the first few days and start with a hike at a lower altitude. So Laguna Wilconchaca was to be the first one. Starting at around the same level as the town and climbing to around 3400m above sea level, it wasn´t too bad.
Or, rather for my pathetic body, it became the hardest hike I have ever done in my life. It is usually just a few hours up, maybe an hour down, not too difficult, labelled EASY on the blog post I read about it on. Ha. I guess I should mention actually that Ty did find it easy, and didn´t struggle at all. I almost wanted him too just so that I wouldn´t feel like the only pathetic one. After getting dropped off by the local bus at the start of the trail, only 5 minutes into the hike and after seeing some locals walking a donkey down the dirt road, I already felt like I was struggling. The whole trail can be done entirely on a dirt road too for the non steep option, so cars can technically drive up, there was a small rural, local community dotted along the road all the way. So there were people living up there and walking up often, which just added to me feeling pathetic, it´s not like we were somewhere extreme in the middle of no where.
Maybe 15 minutes into the hike I had already had to stop for a few minutes break. By then, my heart was pounding, I felt a bit dizzy, I could barely breath and it felt like no oxygen was getting into my lungs. This was literally what I felt the entire way up. It only got worse as my body (I think) preserved what oxygen I did have for my important stuff and took it away from my extremities, which meant my arms and legs started to ache and feel really heavy, so every step up was 10x harder. The whole hike was up hill, it was ascending to the peak where the Laguna was and this particular hike had no lovely flat relief parts, typical. Literally every few minutes, throughout the entire hike, I had to stop and sit or lay down, wait for my heart to stop pumping and have a sip of water. It´s safe to say Ty got little bit fed up but he was a sweetie and carried both of our bags in the end and helped where he could. Writing this now it sounds very dramatic and very pathetic, but at the time it felt like the hardest thing in the world. Getting to the top was the biggest relief but sadly not the greatest reward, it wasn´t the most impressive Lagoon and the view was not as spectacular as we had hoped. But Ty had his picnic, (I couldn´t stomach any food yet) I had a nap, we took a few obligatory pictures and then made our way back down.
For the experience, I am so glad I did it. It´s now quite funny to think back to, we refer to it as the hike I almost died on. But most of all, it was all worth it as it probably did help me to acclimatise for the next days hike, to Laguna 69, at 4700m above sea level.
Hike number 2.
This one was a lot less dramatic. Although from my experience of the first hike, I was almost convinced I wasn´t going to be able to do it. But that didn´t stop me! I will admit only after the nightmare hike did I learn about altitude sickness pills and then quickly dashed out to get some in preparation for our 5am start the next day.
It was a very cold morning at 5am, the time we were told we were going to be picked up, but this is Peru, at 5.30am the bus finally arrived and we got on. I was still a little worried perhaps, but by now there was no turning back. Before we even arrived at the start of this hike in the Huascaran National Park we drove through some of the most impressive mountain scenery´s we´ve seen, and had a taster of our first blue lagoon! So before we even started, I was already blown away.
The whole hike from start to finish was incredible. It was everything we had wanted from a Peruvian hike. Incredible scenery, snow capped mountains surrounding us, walking alongside a river in a massive valley that felt like paradise. The hike had a nice balance of steep up hills and flat parts to get used to the altitude as you climbed up. And rightfully so, the highlight of the hike was the Laguna 69, an even more impressively blue lagoon. Really blue. With snowy mountains surrounding the lagoon it was the most picturesque location. Here at the lagoon we got to relax and have our picnic for about an hour before we decided to make our way back down, which had as equally as impressive views all the way.
Somehow in the space of those 2 days, I experienced my worst and possibly one of, if not the best hike I have ever done. It´s a shame we did not have more time in Huaraz to try more hikes because I wonder what other adventures they hold. But for now, these hikes were adventures enough.