It was just going to be a weekend break from my routine in Trujillo. However, adventure follows me wherever I go… or is it me that unconsciously look after it? My friend Alfredo told me about an Andean party he was invited to, called Yunza, where people dance around a tree and hit it until it falls. I thought yeah, I want to go too!!! “Since we’re going there, can’t we just hike to lake 69 as well?” -I said to Alfredo. He has worked as a guide in Huaraz and knew those mountains very well. This trip was the perfect opportunity for me to see Lake 69 with a former guide and get a good discount on the tour.
So I booked my bus ticket last minute on Friday. The night bus left Trujillo on Saturday evening and arrived to in Huaraz at around 5 am.
After leaving my backpack at the hostel, I leave on a tour to the mountains. My trip goes to Yungay where we eat breakfast, and then a short stop at the Llanganuco lake to admire its beauty.
Altitude? I’m fine!
Since I had just arrived from the coast, I was a bit concerned with altitude sickness and hoping I would not get it… I recall when I suddenly fainted in Cusco the very first day of my arrival… But this time I was prepared, I had bought some pills against altitude sickness before traveling, and got a little bag with coca leaves from the hostel.
So here I am, at 3900 m.a.s.l., at Pisco base camp in the Huascarán National Park. It’s 10.30 am, and I am ready to hike 700+ meters. Yes, I know I am crazy, and Yes, I’ve been warned. But you only live once right? I am going to see Lake 69 or die!
The tour guide (not my friend Alfredo) explains the route we’re going to take. He says it takes 3 hours to reach the lake; some use 3 ½ hours and the slowest use 4. Then he adds: “If you arrive in three hours, you can take a 1-hour break at the lake before returning. If you take 3 ½ hours, you will have only half an hour to pause. If you use 4 hours, you will only get 1 minute there! The bus leaves at 4 pm”.
Since I have been hitting the gym often, I believe I am in good shape. The beginning of the trail is quite easy. As the altitude starts to hit me, the coca leaves keep me up and going. I had not slept well at the bus the night before, but that will not prevent me from reaching my goal.
Lake 69: The most beautiful 1-day-trek in the world!
This trail is considered one of the most beautiful ones. The waterfalls along the path are stunning. The vegetation is exuberant. I wish I had a better camera to be fair with the landscape.
Then the trail gets steep. We find many cows along our path that kindly let us continue our walk. As I ascend, my breath gets harder and my step slower. My heart beats like if I were running the marathon…. Alfredo wasn’t feeling that well either, although he was doing his best to keep up his “macho” facade.
Yes we can!
I had been reluctant to pause during the hike because I felt it would make it harder to continue walking. With a lot of effort, we arrived at Lake 68. Alfredo had to lie down for a while, and I was hungry. It was around 12:30 so we didn’t have much time to pause…
The rest of the hike was even harder. The higher I reached the slower I was, the harder my heartbeat, and the more I had to focus. The last part of the hike was not that steep, but it was really tough due to the altitude. The other hikers who had started walking down were cheering me up. Suddenly, I met my tour guide who angrily said to me “You walk too slow! The bus leaves at 4 pm; I will leave you!” He was very serious, and said to Alfredo “You know the mountains, so you can get out of here!”
I was completely pissed off. The guide was being an asshole. How can he threaten to leave me in the mountains?!?! Can’t he see I’m struggling to walk? I can’t be the first one that hikes slowly! Angrily I replied: “If you want to leave me, then go! I will manage myself out of here!”
I gathered my strength, my determination, and my coca leaves and made the last effort to the top. I reached the 4700 m.a.s.l. the highest altitude I’ve been in my life. And there it was, my big reward: the stunning lake 69 in all its glory and beauty. I cried…
My glory lasted only a few minutes. The fog started to fill the mountain. Bad weather was on its way… What now? How the hell am I going to get out of here? Did my guide really leave me? Let’s go!!!
Reverse altitude sickness sucks!
The first part of the downhill hike went quite well. I walked pretty fast until we reached Lake 68. All of a sudden, the bad weather hit us. The rain and the fog made it difficult to walk. Alfredo covered my hands and feet with plastic bags so I would not freeze. He walked in front of me to show the way. After some more meters, I started to feel dizzy and tired…
I didn’t know there was a “reverse (high to low) altitude sickness” that happens when you descend fast without giving your body enough time to rest and recover. Some of the symptoms are: headache, dizziness, and extreme fatigue.
So I continued my descending, but slower and slower, walking almost like if I were drunk. The coca leaves weren’t doing much effect, or were they? I felt like fainting, but I refused to. I said to myself repeatedly: I am fine!
The night and the rain were falling on us… as we reached back to 4000 meters, our guide found us. He hadn’t left us! I continue walking almost like a zombie until we reach the bus. I did it!