Previous post: Walking in the Wilderness: Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit
Next post: Back to the Ocean: The Canon del Pato, Lima and the Coastal Roads to Ecuador
What we did
- Days taken: 5 (including one travelling day)
- Distance walked: 66 km
- Total elevation gain: 2,466m
- Max daily distance: 23km
- Max daily elevation gain: 847m
- Max altitude reached: 4,760m
- Max altitude slept at: 4,314m
- Nights spend under a roof (in a tent): 3 (1)
Our final escapade in Peru’s highlands was the one we’d been looking forward to the most, since long before we touched down in Rio airport six months ago. The Cordillera Blanca is popularly known as the highest mountain range outside the Himalayas, and with more than 35 peaks over 6,000m (North America has 1, Europe none), it’s hard to argue with that. We could see a lot of them from our amazing terrace at Joe’s Place hostel in Huaraz, where we spent almost the whole of our three rest days after the Huayhuash trek (mostly drowning our sorrows after the Trump victory), but once we finally got off our backsides we headed a hundred or so kilometers further north to the bigger peaks.
Our target was the Santa Cruz trek – the most popular multi-day hike in the area – and we decided to combine it with the even-more-popular day hike to the curiously-named Laguna 69, doing the latter as part of a tour group to save on our transport costs.
To cut a long story short, against all odds, given it was supposed to be pissing it down in November, the weather was amazing and we barely saw a cloud for four days. Neither trek was particularly challenging for our well-acclimatised selves, so we managed to do a little more than planned, making a detour during the Santa Cruz trek to the base camp of mount Alpamayo – supposedly the world’s most beautiful mountain. The setting indeed was pretty phenomenal, and this was my favourite night’s camping of our trip so far, with just a few huge mountains, a meadow full of cattle, the light of a few million stars and, of course, a couple of dogs (how did they get there?) for company.
I don’t need to say much more about them – just check out the photos!
Oh yeah, and upon returning to Huaraz we found the time to hit the tiles (i.e. the local pizza restaurant) and celebrate making it six months on the road! I really can’t believe we made it this far – and long may it continue.
Route map and altitude profile
Altitude Profile for the Laguna 69 trek – in perfect symmetry
Altitude Profile for the Santa Cruz trek
On the road to the Laguna 69 trailhead, we passed the beautiful Llanganuco lagunas. Unfortunately, Charlie got in the way of my photo
Skipping forward a bit, here is the gorgeous view of mount Chakrarahu from halfway along the trek. Unfortunately, Charlie got in the way of the photo again.
Spectacular view looking back down back the valley
And here’s Laguna 69
Just kidding! This is the real thing. Being the fast walkers that we are, we were the first to the top so managed to get this snap before about 20 or so other walkers joined us
We walked halfway around the lake to get some peace and quiet and settle down to a good book. And we were treated to this view of Chopicalqui. You might recognise it – it’s actually the mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo!
Now on the way back, and this is as cloudy as it got all day
View down the road back to Yungay – our dropping off point for the Santa Cruz trek, which we started the following day
To get to the trailhead for the Santa Cruz trek, we first had to catch a ‘collectivo’ (shared minivan) over the Portachuelo de Llanganuco pass. The view from the top was something special
We finally began the trek I’d been most looking forward to, in brilliant sunshine
These were some of the last buildings we’d see for the next three days
We found a beautiful camping spot just before the sun went down, near the base of the main Punta Union pass
Charlie on the climb the following morning
We made the pass (4,760 m) by mid-morning. This is the awesome view back towards the trailhead
We made it!
Me looking smug. I think I’ve been wearing the same outfit in every photo for the past six months
The view over the other side was just as jaw-dropping
We found a spot just above the pass all to ourselves. Not that we really needed it – there were barely any other trekkers owing to this being the ‘rainy’ season
We stayed up there for a good couple of hours, but eventually had to start the descent. This is the view looking back to the pass
Even with the long stop, we were so far ahead of schedule that we decided to do a side-trip to the base camp of Alpamayo, the mountain in the middle here
Charlie walks towards the mountains
No one really climbs the big Cordillera peaks outside of dry season, so there was no one around when we set up camp. And we managed to find a nice spot!
Looking back towards the main trail, a few hundred metres below down the valley
We climbed up to another beautiful laguna, which we had all to ourselves in the beautiful evening light
I would have jumped, but the water was pretty chilly!
Despite being a full 25 kilometers from any civilisation, this fella showed up to briefly keep us awake that night
It was a long trek back to said civilisation the next day
There was just time for one more beautiful lake. That mass of stones to the left is actually the ‘path’, which we followed/scrambled down to the village of Cashapampa, from where we caught the bus back to Huaraz