Last chance to get high in South America!

Trip Start Jun 08, 2012
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, June 2, 2013

I had heard about Huaraz from Anna when I last caught up with her in Cusco, and instantly knew that this is where I wanted to spend my last few days in Peru - hiking in the Cordillera Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world (after the Himalayas), with beauty to apparantely rival Patagonia - I had to go and check this out!

By the time I managed to get from Nasca to Lima (7.5 hours on a bus) and from Lima to Huaraz (another 8 hours on a bus) all in the same day, I arrived with only 3 full days left to spend in Huaraz at 7am in the morning, so over some breakfast in the hostel I got chatting with other backpackers there to see who was doing what that day and took up an offer from a young British couple to join them hiking up to Charrup lake.  I had read that this was meant to be a great acclimatisation hike, although alarm bells should have starated going off in my head at the word "acclimitisation", and more alarm bells should have started going off when I looked more closely at the young Brits I would be walking with...  they were a couple on a gap year straight from uni, both from the yorkshire dales, both super lean and fit looking and very long limbed, and both having just spent 7 days already hiking in the region.... 

Not realising quite what I had let myself in for, we set out and took the overcrowded collectivo to our starting point, and argued with the driver over the price as he had decided to double it over the duration of the drive before paying him the original agreed price and leaving him stood there angrily shouting after us!  And then the pain began....  3 hours of walking straight uphill, at an altitude of 4,500 meters!  Having spent the pretty much the last month at over 2,500 meters and never having suffered from being at high altitude before I hadn't expected any problems, but it turns out that those extra 2,000 meters make a huge difference, and even more so after just spending 3 days back down at almost sea level!  Before long, I was feeling sick, had a throbbing headache, my head was spinning like I had vertigo, and every step became heavy and painful with my lungs feeling like they were going to explode.  I tried to counteract this by sucking on coca sweets which helped with the head problems, but for the rest, I just had to take it very slowly and stop every 20 steps to let my legs and lungs catch up!  The last part of the hike was also a shock, as the path disappeared and was replaced with a wet rock wall with some cable ropes attached to help you rock climb your way up... my first introduction to rock climbing!  

It was all worth it when I finally got to the lake up the top.  A stunning blue lake encased by the higher snowy capped peaks of the surrounding cordillera, with pretty green views looking back down into the valley from where we had started.  The walk back down was much easier and took half the time, although I still couldn't catch the British couple, who I had then decided were definitely re-incarnated mountain goats!

The following morning I had an early start to go for a hike to Lake 69.  The starting point of this hike was a 3 hour drive away so it meant leaving the hostel at 6am!  Kindly, the owner of the hostel got up early and provided all of us going with an early breakfast to fuel us for the long day ahead.  The hike was even prettier than the one the day before, starting in a valley full of blue and yellow flowers and lots of cows with scarily big horns, before climbing up two hills to get to an even bluer and prettier lake than the day before.  I've no idea why it's called lake 69 before anyone asks!  Thankfully the day before had prepared me well, the hike itself was far easier and would have made a better acclimatisation hike, and my lungs and head had adjsuted themselves well enough to cope with the demands!

I hadn't made any plans for my last day in Huaraz, and over breakfast I hooked up with two German girls that were taking a day tour to Pastoruri glacier.  It was odd being on a tour bus that had been designed for older clientele, making stops at places we didn't think were worth stopping at, including a breakfast stop and a very late lunch stop at the same place on the way back, and a stop to see some bubbles in a pond (as the tour was in Spanish I never really understood the significance of this!).  We aso stopped to see some Puya Raimondi plants, which are meant to be a prehistroic plant that lives up to 80 years old, grows up to 30 feet high, and only flowers in the last 3 months of its´ life.  One of the other stops on the way was to look at a mountain that you are suppoed to be able to see the face of Christ in, and if you can´t see it then your life is apparantely full of sin....  Have a look at the photo and see if you´re a sinner!  The glacier is definitely not the most incredible glacier I have ever seen, especially after the glaciers of New Zealand and Patagonia, but at 5,240m it's the highest glacier I've ever been to (and I think the highest peak I've ever been to come to think of it), and gave me my final taste of winter and snowfall too before I left the following day to fly north to a new part of the world.... Mexcio! 

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