Day 0: Laguna 69 for Acclimatization
We arrived to Huaraz on an overnight bus yesterday morning. Unfortunately, my backpack with our trekking gear was still in Mexico City. It was lost during our layover and we spent two hours at the luggage retrieving desk in Lima airport with an agent who patiently reassured us that it will be delivered to our hotel in Huaraz. He was too nice and too smiley. I didn’t like it. He told us that my bag would arrive Lima that night at 11 pm, but we had to keep going: we needed to leave for Huaraz, which is located 10,000 feet above sea level, that night to acclimatize.
Today marked our second day of acclimatization. We were testing our bodies by going to Laguna 69 which is 15,000 feet above sea level.
We woke up at 4:30 am for a group tour bus which was supposed to pick us up at 5 am. It showed up around 5:30 am. We were too tired to complain and promptly passed out when we sat down. By 8 am the bus arrived at a restaurant for a 30 minutes breakfast. Around 9 am we arrived to Laguna Llanganuco for a quick break before finally getting to the trailhead of Laguna 69 around 9:30 am.
Even though I only had my jeans and tennis shoes, I still found Laguna 69 a very enjoyable hike. The scenery was stunning. Both of us felt the altitude in that we were breathing harder and our hearts were beating faster than usual. But neither of us had any altitude sickness symptoms. It was reassuring.
It was 2 hours 45 minutes hiking to Laguna 69 at a leisurely pace. The azure laguna is beautiful. We ate our snacks and took a nap by the lake.
The downside of joining a group on a hike like this is that you have to wait for the slowest person in the group to come back to the bus. We waited a little over an hour until the sun disappeared behind the hills when the last member of our tour group emerged. Her friends were carrying her. She was pale, short of breath and complained of massive headaches– she was obviously suffering from altitude sickness. We hopped on the bus right away and started our descent.
We got back to Huaraz after 7pm. Tricia and I immediately headed to Cruz Del Sur bus station where we found my beautiful blue Osprey backpack sitting quietly in the corner of the storage room wrapped up in siren wrap. Yes! We are ready for Huayhuash!
After picking up my backpack, we went straight back to our hotel room to repack for the trek. My backpack was loaded with 10 days of food, clothing, tent, stove, water, and various gear. It was heavy. At 10,000 feet above sea, I was gassed carrying it up three flights of stairs. I remember thinking that my body needed more time to acclimatize. But it was almost 11:30 pm and I needed to sleep.
We woke up to my alarm at 4:30 am. The private vehicle that was supposed to take us to Quartelhuain never arrived. The travel agent, Jhonny Tours, lied. Instead, a representative from Jhonny Tours took us to the El Rapido bus station for a public bus to Chiquian, a town where we there was a scheduled connection bus to Llamac, where we would start our trek.
In Chiquian we found friends, fellow trekkers looking for access to this mountain wilderness. The contingent included a French duo– Cedrick and Mattiu– on our bus to Chiquian, a Spaniard solo trekker Javier, and three amigos– Carrick from US, Mody from Israel and Claudio from Italy– who found each other in Huaraz by leaving posts in cafes. We banded together on a joint conquest. The Spaniard, the only person who did not struggle with a language barrier, did most of the haggling for the group. Soon enough we learned that there was a way to be delivered directly to Quartelhuain: in the trunk of a truck transporting cement powder for 180 soles total. Sure, why not?
At around 9 am, we all piled into the trunk of the cement truck. It was spacious with wooden planks to sit on, almost like riding a convertible with top down. Enjoy the wind in your hair while you can!
We got to Llamac a little after 10 am where we picked up Annie, a retired English solo trekker doing the mini-Huayhuash loop. A little after 11 am, the truck stopped at a river crossing. The driver hopped off the truck and pointed at a sign that read “Kuartel Wain.” We’ve arrived.
The trail in front of us had a 30 degree incline which quickly raised to a 45 degree slope leading directly towards a mountain pass. I gasped at the sight.
Members of our group who were better acclimatized to the altitude took off in front of us. The Spaniard wanted to get over two passes that day and was gone before I even finished setting up my backpack. We never saw him again. The three amigos followed him, and the French duo trailed the three amigos. We were left in the back with Annie.
It took us almost 3 hours to get to the top of the pass and another 2 hours to Janca campsite. The French guys took an alternative trekking route along the edge of the cliff to Laguna Mitococha. They later reported that the route was difficult to find and the view was not much better that what we could see at the campsite. They also went directly to Laguna Mitococha to camp but were told that the campsite is private and requires a 40 soles “mule fee.” They were so turned off by the unreasonable demands that they broke camp and came to join us in Janca that night.