I had only a little more than a week until my first Ultra Marathon and was too lazy to go on big multi day hikes around Huaraz. But the hike to Laguna 69 is the ‘must-do’ while in Huaraz and the extension over Pisco base camp makes it possible to avoid all the other ‘must-doers’ in the area. But first a bit of context.
We spent a lot of time in and around Cusco but for me, there was something missing. The mountains were awesome, don’t get me wrong. But if you are used to climbing high mountains in Europe or similar places, it is different. This sense of extreme remoteness and feeling of how small you are is hard to get when everywhere you go, there are cows, mules, and alpacas around you. If you are like me and this is in fact what you are after, welcome to Huaraz 🙂 More specifically the whole department of Ancash – it is just a paradise for mountain lovers. We did the laguna 69 hike in two days:
Day 1: Huaraz – Yungay – Pisco Base Camp
Everyone told us we should get the collectivo from Huaraz to Yungay around six. Because it was a Saturday we decided that 8 is technically ‘around’ 6. A Little advice, take it at six 😉 We spent two hours in a traffic jam and therefore the one hour ride to Yungay took us about two and a half. If the numbers don’t add up for you, it is because once the traffic jam let us free, the driver took off. Trying to catch up with his delayed income, he was rolling. People jumping on and off while moving, flapping in the wind barely holding on on the open sliding doors.
Anyways, we got safely to Yungay for the price of 5 soles and 7 years off of our lives. If you are looking for the collectivo station in Huaraz to catch this ride it is easiest to just tell a cab driver to get you there. They know where it is 😉
From Yungay you have some more driving to do before you get to the mountains. Because of our delayed start, we had missed all the collectivos going through the valley and over the pass to the village of Yanama. We joined a shared taxi ride for 20 soles with a Peruvian couple going for a picnic to the mountains. You would think showering is a standard for a romantic day out with your lady, but this fella didn’t give a shit. He might have put one in his jacket pocket judging by the odor, but he definitely did not give any. The taxi leaves right from the bus station you will arrive at. So it really is all easy-peasy.
Starting To Hike
The 20km ride took about 80 minutes until we got off at Cebolla Pampa. This small parking lot is where everyone parks/gets dropped off for the hikes in the area. It is pretty hard to miss. Jamie was cranky from the bumpy stink-ride. “Go and wait for me on the top” was her recommendation, which I didn’t follow. As I later realized, this was a good move, since she thought the hike to Pisco base camp would be 1.5 hours instead of the actual 4.
The trail was changing between quite steep and Inca flat (I am not allowed to call it actually flat :-)). The surroundings were stunning with the backdrop of Huascaran (the highest mountain in Peru) and a bunch of other 6000m peaks. After some guilty almost vegetarian (wink wink) tuna fish for lunch, we continued upwards. The scenery turned to a lot more barren alpine environment and we were approaching the heads of the glaciers coming down from Pisco and the neighboring mountains.
Our place for the night was Refugio Peru, a small mountain hut of very European style, nestled in the middle of a glacial moraine with a view of everything there is to see in this valley. You can also bring your tent and camp out, but 90 soles for two people including the dinner and breakfast seemed like a very fair price for the added comfort. We spent the afternoon playing Monopoly and drinking beer, with incredible views of the mountains around us. To make a reservation in the refuge it is best to do this from Huaraz. You go to the Casa De Guias and it is all easy to handle, they even speak English.
Day 2: Pisco – Laguna 69 – Huaraz
We went to bed early and naturally got an early start in the morning. The night was freezing and the refuge only provides thin wool blankets. In Huaraz, we got advised to take our sleeping bags – thank heavens we did. After breakfast, we started heading in the direction of Laguna 69. We were taking a path traversing the side of the mountains, sometimes also called the ‘Pisco high route’.
Right from the start, we went through an old glacial moraine. With the walls of the moraine sometimes 100 meters above our heads, we felt super insignificant in comparison. The path was winding up and down through the rock fields, around small glacial lagoons. When it finally started heading up the slope to a little pass, we were glad to be out of that maze and enjoy the view from the top. The valley under Pisco looks super barren and gray from the top, with our hut from last night barely recognizable in the middle of it all.
The pass was at almost 5000 meters elevation and the way to it beautiful but seemingly endless. We thought we were on the top couple of times before it was actually true. But when it finally was, it was worth it. The pass is exactly on the spot to reveal the entire view of the Laguna 69 at once. You can see the Laguna itself and a bunch of other lakes in the adjacent valleys. We also spotted a line of people, crawling up the valley to the Laguna 69 like ants on a mission.
We did not lose any time and went on. Hoping to catch some solitude before the selfie-taking crowds arrived. The Laguna 69 did not disappoint. It was exactly as blue and silent and intimidating as I had imagined. We got about 15 minutes alone there. Just enough to take some pictures, eat a snack and rock on down the valley.
I was counting the people we met going in the opposite direction. Just for fun. By the time we got back down to the Cebolla Pampa (2 hours away), I counted almost 300 day hikers. That might not sound like a lot if you compare it to Machu Picchu or other places. But on a hike in 4500 meters elevation it is plenty, and a lot of the people had no place being there.
The Long Way Down and How To Get Back
We were a little worried about catching a ride back to Yungay, but as usual for no reason. There was a taxi-shark already waiting for his prey at Cebolla Pampa, fishing for the people returning from Laguna 69. A piece of advice here: don’t put your stuff into the car until you are actually leaving. They always have a tendency to wait for the car to fill up and if a bus comes by while you wait, you have a chance to hop in and get the ride for half the price. If you have your backpack in the car, you will not be fast enough and the driver will ‘Vamos Vamos’ you into leaving with him 😉
We tried to have a lunch in Yungay before going back to Huaraz. If you are a vegetarian, just wait until Huaraz. Otherwise, if your stomach is just too empty to wait for an hour, you can get very cheap (and below-average) food in Yungay as well. Your stomach might not thank you for it though 😀 Share your experience with Laguna 69 in the comments and check out our gallery if you want to see more pictures.
Also published on Medium.