I woke up to sunlight shining on our tent. I patted around my pillow for my cell phone to check the time. It was 7 am. I could hear people moving around the campsite: tent zipping and unzipping, sleeping bag rustling, gas stove burning, a spoon stirring a pot, and people whispering in the distance.
People were up early. We chatted with Annie who was getting over a cold. This was her “down the memory lane trip” in Peru. 20 years ago, she was in this region “bagging as many peaks as she could.” Whatever that meant, she seemed very fit for her age (around 60?) and very brave to trek here solo. She didn’t seem out of her element.
We broke camp around 9 am after everyone else had already left. The ascent to Carhuac (15,190 feet) today was gentler than Cacananpunta (15,387ft) on the first day. Tricia and I both felt more acclimatized.
We arrived to Laguna Carhuacocha a little after 1 pm. Our view opened up in front of the lake. Massive glaciers on Mt. Yerupaja (21,768 ft) and Mt. Jirishanca (20,098 ft) unveiled themselves on our right side towering over a calm Laguna Carhuacocha which was glistening in the afternoon sun.
We found the three amigos by a campsite on the southwest corner of the lake. They planned to get to Huayhuash campsite today, but Claudio was sick. He stayed up most of the night having bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. He looked defeated at the camp, passed out next to his backpack while covering his face with a t-shirt. We discussed his medical options with Carrick and Mody, who had decided to stay put for the night.
While Tricia was taking a snack break at the southwest campsite, I rounded the corner to visit the French guys. Mattieu had brought out his fly fishing gear and hooked trout after trout from the stream. With the green onion and lime they were carrying, I had to admit that these French guys knew how to live it up even in the most rugged environment.
Back in the southwest campsite, Tricia made friends with a young German couple who hiked in that day from a village about 5 km to the northeast. They planned to hike to Siule Grande and back in three days without carrying any cash. Risky move, friends!
On the northwest side of the lake, we found a second campsite with perfectly terraced ground, protective stone short walls, and (possibly protective) pigs and chickens. There was no one else there and we made it our home for the night.
Day 3: Three Lakes for the Win!
I woke up to my alarm this morning. We had planned to get to Huayhuash campsite today which, if we succeed, would have been one of the longest days on this trek. I crawled out of the tent and found the French duo had already broken camp and were ready to head out.
Thunderous noise of cracking ice and avalanches from the massive glaciers across the lake could be heard every ten to fifteen minutes. It had drizzled slightly over night. Clouds were still covering the mountains in the morning but they were slowly scattering.
We watched the mountains emerging from the thinning clouds while eating a hot breakfast. Everyone else had already packed up. Even donkeys for the guided group were loaded up. The donkeys were taking a different route than trekkers today. The trail for trekkers would be gorgeous but far too narrow and dangerous for the animals.
We were the last trekkers to break camp again. Clouds had already completely scattered revealing the towering glaciated peaks that left pristine reflections in Laguna Carhuacocha. The trail along the south edge of the lake was flat, but we started climbing steeply as soon as we started to head away from the lake.
According to my GPS, we should’ve encountered Laguna Gangrajanca, the first of a string of three lakes, fairly quickly on a plateau. Instead we encountered a small pond. For a few minutes, I thought my GPS was wrong, but then I realized that the laguna was located on the other side of a ridge to our right. Even though it’s not far from us in an aerial view, we had to scramble over a ridge to see it.
Before I have time to lament not having a close encounter with Laguna Gangrajanca, Laguna Ciula– the second lake– came into view. The trail led us down the east side of the lake while Mt. Siula Grande casted a perfect reflection on the lake’s calm surface.
The trail approached the hillside on our left and started on a drastic incline of 45 degrees. Tricia, being a fitter climber, led the way while I slowed my pace trying to maintain an adequate heart rate and respiratory rate. Within an hour, we heard human voices and we knew the lookout was near.
Three amigos and the German couple were taking a break at the lookout. The German couple had miraculously avoided the fee collectors and set up a camp on the edge of Laguna Ciula overnight. They went up to Siula Punta with their day packs in the morning. They would turn around this afternoon and try to stay elusive one more night near Laguna Carhuacocha. Good luck, friends.
We lingered at the lookout for an hour taking pictures, eating snacks and rehydrating. It was an exhausting climb up the lookout. At noon, we picked up our packs and started to climb up towards Siula Punta, the pass (15,846 ft).
We had no idea how difficult it was going to be to summit the pass from the three lakes lookout. The trail became a scree field that got steeper and steeper. Eventually, we found ourselves zigzagging on a slope that appeared to be 60 degrees in incline. It made summiting the pass even sweeter.
The trek for the day wasn’t over though. In the next three hours, we trekked downhill through scree fields and swappy patches. The land formation was so peculiar at times. We passed ponds filled with circular shaped hard soil covered by a firm moss that we named frog patches. We also passed miles of ground coated with a short moss that looked like a perfect putting green for a golf field.
By 4pm, we finally arrived to Huayhuash campsite. We set up a tent near a stream not far from our friends. Mattieu, being the expert fisherman, had already hooked four or five trout for dinner that night. The campsite was windy. Without cloud covering, we knew it was going to be a cold night. Tricia and I immediately split up tasks, with one person setting up camp and the other filtering water and soaking food.
By sunset, all the independent trekkers gathered around a pile of boulders and had a community dinner. I stir fried some salami with re-hydrated vegetables and sliced fresh carrots and instant noodles. Tricia made a small pot of re-hydrated beans, vegetables, sliced fresh carrots in salami grease. Claudio, feeling better today, made a powdered asparagus soup. Mody wasn’t feeling well so he also stuck with soup of some sort. Carrick had powdered mash potatoes. The French duo made their world famous trout in diced cebollas and lime.