Saturday 1 June 2024

Cordillera Blanca: A hiker's paradise

Hello from up up up the Andes!

We are up in the Cordillera Blanca, spending a week doing the most crazy hikes. The Cordillera Blanca surrounds the mighty Huascaran Mountain (the highest costal mountain on Earth) and is made up of lakes, grassland and high, snowy peaks.

We spent a whole week here and we've done a number of amazing hikes, all very different but all very (and I mean VERY) high up. I'll tell you a bit about my three favourite ones.

First up, we climbed up Laguna 69 which is at 4,600 meters above sea level and is definitely worth the 6 hour hike, up and down, to a small but stunning turquoise lake with amazing views of the glacier above, feeding the lake daily with freezing, glacial melt. The walk was rewarding with beautiful views from above and and bellow. There were several tour groups with other people hiking up and we kept overtaking and being overtaken as we trekked up the valley of grassland, crossing two other lagoons, up a hill then into the mountain with Laguna 69 at the end to top it all. The lake had this amazing turquoise blue colour, as blue as blue can be, and looked almost like the Greek sea...but much much colder. 

My second most favourite hike was the one we did the day that our friend Maro came and just before she arrived. We did a speedy 6.5-hour hike to Laguna Shallap, which was at 4,300 meters high. We walked (or should I say ran?) through a wonderful green valley, with a few gigantic boulders and many cows enjoying the greenest grass I've ever seen. A little puzzle for you all: how can cows survive in such high altitude? Amazing really. 

When we arrived at the usually bright green lake, it seemed a bit dull and faded in the gloomy cloudy weather, but it was very atmospheric. Also at the end of the hike, right next to the lagoon, waiting for us were some curious (or aggressive?) cows so we had to flee the battle/cow field as quickly as we could. It was a wonderful hike through the valley and up the lagoon, and though we raced the last bit to get back to town in time for Maro's arrival, it was a lot of fun.

Finally, we did Laguna 513 with our friend Maro, who seemed to acclimatise to the high altitude really well as this 4,400 hike was on her second day in Huaraz (our home base which was at 3,050 meters above sea level). Isn't she super-strong or what? The hike started as a walk across swamp land and grassy areas until we entered an odd forest of gnarled twisted trees, then into a more rocky area until we reached Laguna Rajupaquina the first of the two lagoons.

Though Maro and Ioanna had acclimatized well they decided to turn back from there while Ismene, Dan and I continued onwards. Annoyingly, after a while I had to stop as I was getting a horrible headache from the altitude. But Dan and Ismene went on and they said Laguna 513 was really pretty and very different from all the others we've been together. On the way back, Dan and Ismene picked me up and then we raced down and arrived at our car to find Ioanna and Maro two hours later.

But hiking was not the only thing we did in Cordillera Blanca. We also walked up to a glacier - yes, you read that right... an actual glacier - called Pastoruri. Luckily for us, Pastoruri is one of the glaciers you can actually walk to in just one hour from the road. Unfortunately, the glacier has receded by more than 60% in the last 20 years, revealing several lakes that look like should have some sort of dinosaurs' tails sticking out of them. We read afterwards that it is actually not even considered a glacier anymore because it doesn't now accumulate enough snow in the winter - so it's a dying glacier. Despite all that, and despite feeling like my head is going to explode from the altitude (5,200 meters high!), it was very cool to be able to actually see a glacier from so close. Dan read that all the tropical glaciers in South America will disappear by 2050. I found that very sad...

I think the next couple of weeks will be very busy as there's a lot of places to visit, a lot of kilometres to cover and even more adventures to be had. But now we are five, nothing else matters!



  2. Χρόνια πολλά στην Ιωάννα να είναι πάντα καλά με υγεία από τον Πανο.

  3. Could you take wet suits and swim - like your Aunt Ioni? How much food, especially protein, do you need to eat to be able to do these walks. Maro is amazing, barely acclimatising and doing such altitudes. You are all amazing and so fit. Seeing the effects of climate change at such close hand does it make you want to campaign against climate change when you back to the UK. I can't help wonder what you will end up doing having seen at first hand such landscapes, such beauty, such hardship and poverty, such destruction of habitat and all that that entails. You and Ismene are going to be huge forces for good. Lots of love Mxx