Trekking Above the Clouds

The air is cold and just light enough to show the outline of a lake lined by bent and crooked silhouettes like old spirits crowding the shoreline in the predawn mist. The vehicle swirls of the air and moves the mist at times to reveal high and towering shadows of some of the highest peaks, still over 3,000m above us. Still ascending, we gradually get more hemmed in by forest, alpine grass and large boulders with glacial streams bubbling over onto the dirt track. Windows frosted over, everyone’s been woken up by the bumpy ascent and trying to see the views still stubbornly hidden by the early mountain fog.

And then we stop...the guide telling us that soon we’ll be able to have some hot coffee, tea or coca tea, the natural high altitude med for those who might not feel well at this altitude. We’ve just arrived at about 4,700m above sea level in the Cordillera Blanca, the highest snow-covered mountain range in the tropics. As he talks, the light outside goes bright and he quickly loses everyone’s attention momentarily as there’s a frantic wiping of windows to see outside but not to be worried, he opens the door to the icy air and with thick layers of clothing there’s almost a rush to photograph the first sun’s rays against Peru’s highest mountains - Huascarán with its two peaks, the highest at 6,768m in Peru. Across the Llanganuco valley, the various peaks of the Huandoy Massif, Pisco and Chacraraju are being lit up by the morning sun.

Time for our pre-trek breakfast with scrambled eggs, toast, fruit salad and juice - and more coffee or tea for those hot drink fiends. Finishing off we get the trail briefing and then also importantly, briefing on what to do if anybody starts feeling the effects of the high altitude...drinking water and staying hydrated up here at altitude is one of the most important things to remember. As this trek starts at a high altitude, there’s no opportunity for acclimatisation on the trek like some of the other popular treks here in the Cordillera Blanca. 
With patches of snow around, parts of the trail are icy so we move a bit more carefully, especially some of the rocks that are covered in ice. Other than for the altitude, the first section is not difficult as it starts off level along a little trail until there’s an ascent where the trail disappears at times between the rocks. Here you might feel the altitude a bit on your breathing which is why it’s important to only go on this trek once you’ve acclimatised more to high altitude. 

This little ascent will bring you to one of the best viewpoints on this trek with views down the Llanganuco Valley and its lakes, Chinancocha and Orconcocha, and then views across to Refugio Peru (ascent to Pisco) and the glacier of Yanapaccha “behind” you. The rest of the view includes the peaks of Chacraraju and Pisco (where Laguna 69 is situated), the Huandoy Massif, two peaks of Huascaran and the almost pyramid shape of Chopicalqui.

After all the group shots and inevitable selfies, we continue on the trail in the direction of the Yanapaccha glacier and a winding descent through grass and rock. Keep your eyes open for the deer in and around the queñual forest (Polylepis sp.) further up and the early viscachas warming themselves on some sunny rocks.

Due to there being very few people who pass along this route, there’s still a fair amount of wildlife here, not to talk of all the birdlife. The descent continues through a patch of queñual forest and over a ridge where we get our first view of the pale green lake at the foot of Yanapaccha and its glacial streams. In very cold weather, it’s not unusual to have ice on the lake surface.

Snack time! ...and time for more photos. From here we only have a short distance of up and downs before we join the main trail to Laguna 69 at 4,200m altitude. This is a lovely section though and one of my favourites with the small river descending from the small lake we were just at, patches of very tall grass and some forest. Of course, there might very well be some local cows enjoying the juicy vegetation but there’s also a fair amount of viscachas around and I’ve twice already come across some puma tracks here - so keep your eyes open.

There’s no mistaking the main trail to Laguna 69 when we reach it, a wide trail where we might already encounter some of the early/quicker day hikers making their way up. Reaching a little open spot, sort out our clothing - taking off jackets if it’s getting warm or putting on other gear, all depending on the gear. This is also where anybody not feeling up for the next hour, hour and a half ascent to Laguna 69, can start descending and enjoy some time down at the Llanganuco lakes. Many will also remember this as the end of the most spectacular part of the trek which very few people have the opportunity of seeing although, the rest of the trek to Laguna 69 at 4,650m is hardly boring. Not easy, but worth every step. You can read more about the Laguna 69 trek on my post “How Blue is Blue?

This trek is only offered by Akilpo and for trekkers that are already acclimatised to trekking at high altitude. If you’re not sure, have a chat with them as they also offer various other 1-day treks that will help you acclimatise.

Included with this trek is the transport to and from the trek start and end points, breakfast and an experienced mountain trekking guide qualified in First Aid. You will also be provided with a list of clothing etc required for the trek; if needs be, some can be rented from Akilpo as well.

Contact Akilpo:  via their Facebook page @akilpohuaraz to message or e-mail them.

Instagram: @akilpo_trek

Office: Parque Ginebra 30-B, 02001 Huaraz (Ancash, Peru)
Tel:  +51 433 906


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