Despite the fact that I had been acclimatising to the altitude in Huaraz for 4 days I still wasn’t coping very well with the 3052m altitude. I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to do the Laguna 69 trek. It felt like someone was squeezing my head, the same pressure you feel when you dive into deep water except it was relentless. Eventually the feeling caused nausea and just a general dip in energy. I drank coca tea all day and chewed coca leaves but it only provided temporary relief. It is effective against altitude sickness and alleviating headaches or general pain.
The Bus Ride
Only 3 days of my time in Huaraz remained and I desperately wanted to see Laguna 69. I booked my tour for the next day. The bus collected me at 5.30am and we picked up other people from their hotels and hostels. Driving through the cordilleras was beautiful, the scenery was amazing and I had to convince myself to save my camera battery for the lagoon. We stopped for breakfast at about 7.30 and began the trek at 9ish.
The Trek to Laguna 69
The trek started at 3800m altitude, I could really feel the difference but I ignored it and began the walk. I started feeling nauseous and told the group to go ahead so I could walk at my own pace. The first 30 minutes was pretty flat and I focused on the beautiful surroundings; mountains, rivers, waterfalls and greenery. As the incline began I realised I might not make it to Laguna 69 as I began puking and my head was pounding. I sat down by a lovely lake, it was actually freezing cold and it began to snow, I realised I should keep moving even if it is slowly.
It was only 9km but once the incline began it was steep, I had probably walked 4km or so already which meant in the remaining 5 I had to climb to 700m as the laguna was at 4500m. I felt quite breathless but I continued walking slowly, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t continue. Some parts were so steep you had to climb on all fours, I found a girl crying on a rock. I stopped and sat with her, I told her I felt her pain but we should continue. We were probably only 2km away so I convinced her to walk with me as it would be a shame not to see it. I still had 3 hours until my bus left and I was convinced I would make it so I continued.
As we reached the summit I got a burst of energy! In just a few steps I would look down and see the sparkling jewel that was Laguna 69. As it came into view, I gasped! Me and the other slowcoach hugged each other, we were super happy! It was absolutely stunning, a colour that was so unique I had never seen that shade of blue. The water was crystal clear and as I got there it stopped snowing and the sun came through the clouds, intensifying the colour. I walked down, sat on a stack of rocks and took in all of mother natures glory! Black and white mountains for miles with this beautiful turquoise lagoon nestled amongst it all. I saw the last people from my group beginning to head back and I followed shortly after.
Walking down was painful, my shoes were killing me and I felt like my feet were bleeding, I stopped to check and they were badly blistered. I also was feeling more sick…stopping to puke at regular intervals. A local lady was walking down and began talking to me in Spanish, she was called Maria. She told me she would walk with me and gave me a stick she was using for support. She gave me more coca leaves and told me I was supposed to chew them continuously to feel any benefit. Somehow I felt the altitude more as we went back down. She told me that she was with all of her family, they lived in a nearby village and did the trek annually as a family trip. She was so nice and I got to understand a little better how people lived in the Cordillera mountain range.
As we got back I realised my bus had gone…I was only 15 minutes late! It was raining and there was only one bus left, all the other groups had finished and gone. Maria told me that was the bus her family had rented. Luckily they offered to drop me somewhere that I could get transport. We stopped in Yungay, that was the city which got buried alive in the 70’s due to an avalanche, people go there just to see that! It had better transport links as it was a hub for the Cordilleras. I felt too ill to change 3 buses so I bargained with a taxi driver for a decent fare.
Laguna 69 Complete!
I was so happy that I completed the trek! To be honest, I was a little annoyed that I got left behind but I suppose that was all part of the adventure and I was late so I couldn’t blame them. I learned how much of an effect altitude can have on me. I done a 18km trek just a few weeks before which was absolutely fine but the altitude made all the difference! Despite the lows I would 100% recommend Laguna 69, make sure you take a few days to acclimatise as I don’t think I would have been able to finish it if I hadn’t.