Hiking in the Andes – Huaraz, Peru
May 27, 2014 – Jun 2, 2014
Our next stop was the city of Huaraz high in the Peruvian Andes were we would prepare for our 10 day trek around the Huayhuash mountain range. Huaraz is a great central location for anyone interested in hiking or trekking the Andes, with countless day hikes and treks ranging up to eighteen days or even longer, the sites and possibilities for hiking or climbing are endless. Simply arriving in the city on the bus can be a challenge for some as the city sits at 3,052 meters (10,013 ft) and many have issues with altitude sickness, especially if coming straight from sea level.
We did arrive from sea level but our time spent in the northern Peruvian Andes paid off and we did not lose our acclimation to high altitudes with our one day stop at sea level. We would however need to adjust to much higher altitudes for our upcoming 10 day Huayhuash trek. Several day hikes to gradually increasing altitudes is encouraged as the Huayhuash trail ranges from 14,000 – 16,000+ feet above sea level.
Our first impression of Huaraz was that it is cold! Our night bus arrived bright and early in the morning and stepping outside at over 10,000 feet, it was freezing! We decided to walk to our hostel even though we weren’t exactly sure where it was, it turned out to be a long 20+ block walk with our heavy packs. Our second impression of Huaraz was that it is beautiful. It is surrounded by snow capped peaks, and Peru’s highest peak Huascaran, at 6,768 meters (22,205 ft) sits a short distance to the north, and is clearly visible from almost everywhere in the city.
After staying a night in a not so pleasant hostel we looked around and found one of the best hostels on our trip so far. The Jacal Guesthouse in Huaraz had great rooms, steaming hot water and good wifi, both are rarities in South America. The rooftop terrace offered great views of the city and the surrounding mountains. We highly recommend it if you are in Huaraz.
We spent a couple days researching different trekking companies for Huayhuash. Since we would be trekking for 10 days, we would need supplies and donkeys to carry those supplies There are dozens of companies around the city offering roughly the same things, we settled on a company named Huascaran which had both good ratings and a favorable departure date, and would give us a week in Huaraz before we started the trek. It is the longest amount of time we have spent in one place and was a nice break from always being on the go.
Before we left however we would need to get acclimated to altitudes as high as 16,000 feet. Luckily there are dozens of day hikes around Huaraz that would fit the bill. Our first acclimation hike was to Wilkacocha Lagoon at 3725 meters (12,218 ft), the trailhead was an easy 45 minute bus ride out of town.
This friendly burro posed for a few pictures at the lake.
Our next hike was to the stunningly blue Laguna 69 at around 4610 meters (15,125 ft). It is one of the most popular day hikes in Peru and the best day hike we have ever been on. There are lots of companies offering transportation to Laguna 69 daily, about a 3 hour drive from Huaraz. There are stunning views in every direction and for the first half of the hike Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak, is plainly visible. The lake itself is the bluest lake I have ever seen.
This cow apparently liked the lake as well.
Churup Lagoon was our third day hike, another beautiful lake located just a short hour long combi van ride up into the mountains from town. Krista got a terrible altitude induced headache after hiking up to Laguna 69 (which was easily resolved by ibuprofen), so we took a day off of hiking and then decided our third destination would be a bit lower. At 4,500 meters (14,750 ft) Laguna Churup is lower than Laguna 69, and a bit easier to reach.
Churup Lagoon, 4,500 meters (14,750 ft).
We did not however have a combi van ride back down into town so we had to walk for several kilometers down the road until we ran into a collectivo/taxi which turned out to an ancient car and equally ancient driver, the inside of the car smelled strongly of gasoline as the cars gas tank was a red plastic gas container in the front passenger seat. In order to save what little gas hadn’t yet evaporated the driver just put the car in neutral and turned off the engine and let the car drift down the incredibly bumpy road all the way to town, just turning it on occasionally for short stretches of the road that were not downhill.
Our last and highest acclimation hike was to the Pastoruri Glacier at 5,250 meters (17,200 feet) which is actually higher than most of the Huayhaush hike, so we knew if we were okay at that altitude then we would be fine during our hike. Along the way to the glacier we stopped to see the Puya Raimondi, the worlds tallest flowering plant, which can reach up to 11 meters in height. It will sit for up to 40 years as a large round bush, which is still taller than a person, then when it is ready to flower the large flowering stock grows reaching up to 11 meters in height. The flowering stock which grows up from the center is the final stage in the plants life however, soon after the flowers bloom – up to 3,000 of them, it will release around 6 million seeds and then die shortly thereafter.
The Pastoruri Glacier itself has shrunk significantly due to global warming, and was great to see before it disappears forever.
With our final acclimation hike complete without issue, we were ready to start our 10 day, 182 kilometer hike around the Huayhaush mountains in the Peruvian Andes. To be continued…