Huascaran National Park, Peru
It was from the small city of Huaraz, in northern Peru, that I made a daytrip to the archaeological ruins of Chavin de Huantar. Maybe you read the story I wrote yesterday about the strange Chavin culture with the drug-fuelled religious leaders.
Huaraz itself it not much of a city. No great sights to speak of, a dusty place with obvious poverty and streets I was warned not to walk down at night. Even in the centre, you feel like the slums are not too far away. Places to sleep and places to eat are few, although there are enough good options to cope.
But Huaraz has more travellers here than you might expect for a city with not much to offer. That’s because it’s a base for the nature that surrounds it. High in the Andean ranges, the beauty of this region is in easy reach.
The highlight is the Huascaran National Park, an expansive region more than 340,000 hectares large. Many of those setting out for the park from Huaraz, backpacks filled with supplies, are heading there for hikes of several days. The number of foreigners in the supermarket buying canned goods and bottled water makes me think quite a few have that plan.
I, however, have just a day up my sleeve and set out with a group for one the park’s most popular hikes – to a place called Laguna 69.
It’s fair to say that I was underprepared. I really hadn’t done much research into this trek, just signed up for it because it seemed like something interesting to do. Most importantly, I didn’t understand the altitude that we would be going to. Huascaran Mountain, which the park is named after, is the fourth highest mountain outside of Asia at 6768 metres. I certainly had no intention to go that high but there’s no avoiding elevation in this park. My trek takes me to about 4600 metres – a height I think I’ve only reached previously with a movie and an inflight meal.
Breathing becomes difficult. It’s the uphill that is so hard. It’s a steep path I’m walking up, even with the bends back and forth to make it more manageable. Loose rocks slip under my shoes and my lungs feel like they want to burst. The first hour of the walk was fine – it was relatively flat and a bit lower down. The second hour was tough but I managed it. It’s this third hour that I am really struggling with. I walk for a minute and then stop for another. Walk for a minute then stop for another.
I had heard about the effects of altitude but never experienced it like this before. As soon as I stop walking, I can breathe easily again. It’s not like when you have been for a long run and it takes you a while to recover. In this case, the trekking uphill is so difficult but only while I’m doing it. I breathe fine as soon as I stop.
But it is, without a doubt, worth it. The final stop of my trek in Huarscaran National Park is at Laguna 69 and is, well, in a different way to the walk to it, breathtaking. The water is so clear with the most vibrant blue colour that seems to glow. Glaciers run down into it and mountain peaks peer over to get a glimpse themselves.
In fact, the whole walk has been quite spectacular. As I’ve moved up in elevation, the landscapes have slowly changed. The views out over the valleys have come and gone and been replaced with vistas across a whole land.
What I really want to do with this post is share some more of my photos, rather than take your time with words. So let me stop here and show you, rather than tell you. These photos are in ascending order by altitude, so you’ll hopefully be able to see some of the gradual changes I’ve referred to.