I was up early with a group of others for a day trip out to Lake 69. We were to climb up the lower slopes of Chacraraju in the Cordillera Blanca, the local name for this area of the Andes. There were six of us; Danny, Albert, Angie, Michelle, Janet and myself. There was a small mix up with the guide and transport which saw us depart on the hour and a half drive to the mountain just after 8am.
We arrived in the Parque Nacional Huascaran and after registering for entry drove another twenty minutes up the dirt road towards the start of the walk. We passed some large lakes at the foot of impressive peaks before pulling up at the head of a valley. We were now at an altitude of around 4100 metres and this would be the first proper walk at such a height that any of us had attempted. We would be walking about 10kms in total while ascending for 800 metres to Lake 69.
One of the lakes as we drove up to our starting point
We walked down through a small stand of trees, crossed a stream and were then on the green grass of the valley floor. Our guide checked we were all ready and then we were off. On the drive up I had somehow managed to get a pain in my chest, Keryn later said that it was probably a rib coming out of alignment. Every time I tried to breathe deeply my left lung would hurt so I was restricted to normal breathes and I hoped this wouldn’t be a problem. Danny and I set the early pace walking quite fast as the valley was only a shallow slope. This proved to be a mistake for me, I simply couldn’t get enough breath to keep the same speed as Danny and also talk at the same time. I dropped back when we stopped for a rest and found that a slower pace was much more manageable.
We crossed a couple of streams and passed log trees and shrubs before coming to the end of the valley and a series of switchbacks rising up the much steeper slope. The path here was marked with gravel and wasn’t too taxing but we still took plenty of rest stops. The wind was picking up on the more exposed path making it a little cool, even with the sun shining down on us. We could see a few impressive waterfalls as we climbed, one on each side of the valley slope. The valley was surrounded by high peaks, the tallest covered in snow and quite majestic. I was walking with Janet, Michelle and the guide behind and the others ahead, Danny well in advance. We spotted Danny cresting the path, hands in the air as he ran towards whatever it was that awaited us above.
Looking to the peaks
At a slower pace we continued and eventually made the crest ourselves to find ourselves at the head of a plateau, the path skirting around a small dark lake. We sat by the lake for a while to catch our breath and moved on when we were caught by another group of hikers. Looking back I could see someone from the other group posing for a photo on a large bolder next to the lake.
From the lake we descended a short way and continued along a flat, slightly swampy and grassy area. Ahead of us we could see the peak pushing into the sky. The plateau was easier to walk along and we needed less rest time, though we did stop to let out guide catch us up. Michelle was still behind, slowly coming along at her own pace. With the guide we approached the end of this shorter valley and found the next set of switchbacks that would take us up to Lake 69. This section of path was much harder, we were stopping at each turn in the path and often in the middle of each stretch. It was an effort of will to push along the last section which seemed to be never ending, stopping every ten metres or so. The guide was ahead and encouraged us telling us we didn’t have far to go.
Near the top of the path I started moving a bit faster than Janet and came to a rocky area and ahead I could just see a sliver of sapphire blue water. With the goal visible I accelerated and after a few minutes was sitting down with the others, taking off my shoes and relaxing by the beautiful lake. The water was an intense blue, lighter than the sky above. The peak of the mountain rose above the lake, further peaks visible to the left and right. Janet soon arrived and we all had lunch, though we weren’t all that hungry which is something that happens at higher altitudes.
Resting at Lake 69
Our guide reflects
There was a group of French walkers already at the lake and we were joined by the group that Janet and I had seen previously. There were three in this group, two from Costa Rica and one from Canada. I helped take some photos of the three of them doing handstands with the lake and mountain as a backdrop. The French group left and we weren’t too far behind.
Two Costa Rican’s and a Canadian
We found Michelle on the plateau sitting down and having a rest. There were a few other groups that were passed on the return, we said a few words to a couple of woman, one German and the other Irish. They had been trekking for a few days and this was their last walk before continuing their holiday elsewhere. The return was (for me anyway) much easier than the ascent. Passing along the final valley we saw lots of cows that had been led up for grazing. I spied a campsite set up in the time since we had last passed this way but all in all we hadn’t seen many people. It took just over five hours for us to find ourselves back at the van, tired but happy with our days walk.
Heading across the plateau
One of the waterfalls falling into the lower valley
A cow in the lower valley
Together at the end
I slept for much of the trip back into Huaraz and spent the evening huddled in warm clothes, I don’t think I had been drinking enough water in the afternoon and was suffering a mild form of altitude sickness. Dinner was again pizza and I was off to bed as early as possible.