Thursday, April 7, 2011

Altitude Sickness and Hitchhiking (Dad, don´t read)

Warning: This blog post is very long. Good story, but long. Read the captions of the pictures to get the whole idea.

So, as there are so many things to do around Huaraz as briefly noted in this post, we chose to do something with Kyle that he hadn´t done before, that would only take a day so he wasn´t away from his Peace Corps site too long. That happened to be a hike to Laguna 69. It was supposed to be a beautiful lake that doesn´t get too much foot traffic.

Also, yes, that is the real name of the lake we were hiking to - past, Lake Llanganuco to Lake 69. No one gave us a very good answer or reason why it was called that. The only one we understood was that it was some sort of counting system, that it was 69 something away from something...yeah, not a great answer, especially since there were no other numbered lakes....

So the adventure began at 6am. We caught a combi (van that has 15 or so seats and then standing room) to Kyle´s site of Marcara, about an hour away. Then, the three of us jumped on a different combi to Yungay. This took another hour or so. In Yungay, we hired a taxi to drive us the grueling 32km along one of the bumpiest roads I have ever been on, up to the trailhead for the Lake 69 hike, where the taxi would wait until we returned at the agreed time, between 2-3pm.

About 13-14 kilometers before we were dropped off at the trailhead for the hike, we bought our park pass and just a few kilometers before the trail head we passed Lake Llanganuco, which is actually two lakes.

Unfortunatey, this was the only picture I got of Lake Llanganuco, while in the taxi.

I couldn´t help but google image a better picture to show how beautiful in color the lake really is - especially on a sunny day!

Once we finally arrived at the trailhead, another hour later (total of 3 hours) we were presented with this scene.

Sorry for the bluriness, but we were told to stay to the right of the river and we would find it. Easy enough.

So we started hiking. And hiking and hiking through the trees, seen above, through the vast green, cow-pie filled pasture. I wondered to myself if I would spend 3 hours via transport to get to a trailhead to hike to a lake anywhere else in the world.

There were so many cows and hence, their droppings everywhere. We came across these deserted little huts. I wish I knew the story behind them.

At this point, I just kept thinking that the infamous Lake 69 would be just beyond the next ridge. It´s not like it was a grueling hike at this point, but I just felt that it should be just around the next bend. We had not passed a single person at this point, probably about an hour in. 

We hiked around the little hill on the left, then around the one on the right before coming to the end of the pasture valley, with our only option to be to go up.

And up we went.

So we had to hike dozens of switchbacks, more to the right of this picture, but eventually ending up just over the middle part of this picture.

It was quite a beautiful hike and despite the overcast look to all the pictures, not too cold. We took plenty of breaks, mostly when I needed to. It was hard and just disappointing every time we came around a ridge or bend expecting a beautiful lake to appear.

But, it made the hike a bit easier seeing beautiful waterfalls along the way.

So, just as we make it to the top of the peak in the picture, where we had our hearts set on the lake being, we came to a puny, little, dark lake.......It couldn´t have been it and so we trekked on, disappointed again. Soon, we came upon two signs, arrows pointing in two different directions, one indicating which way to Lake 69. This was 2+ hours in, so it was reassuring to see we were still on the right path.

At this point, above the peak in the picture, there is a large flat pasture area for a little bit before more mountains sky rocket into the clouds. I was exhausted, hiking at nearly 14,000 feet by now. Kyle and Andy got quite a bit ahead of me. We all had climbed this ridge, that yet again, we were sure the lake was just beyond. Nope. On two different sides of the circular ridge, the boys were a little higher than I was and yelled/pointed toward a ¨trail¨ they could see and said to take it up toward the lake. So, I did, thinking the trail would be easier than the side of the ridge they were trying to climb. Not the smartest move to split up, but I figured we´d meet up quickly enough.

Wrong again. After hiking up the trail until I could no longer see the trail on the flat pasture where the sign split was, I got really nervous about being so far apart from them. Definitely too far away to yell or see them. So I descended down and waited at the sign for them. Not longer than a half hour after I had been resting at the sign, I heard Kyle´s voice yelling my name which was a huge relief. I started walking toward it to find him on the other side of the river, having descended the ridge they had climbed earlier.

Kyle looked anxious and Andy was not in sight. He informed me they made it to Lake 69 and just as they were descending Andy got altitude sickness. Oh boy. If you recall, we were supposed to meet the taxi between 2-3pm back at the trailhead. We were quite a ways away (at least 2 hours) and Andy was in no condition to move fast at all. It was decided that Kyle would go back as fast as he could to stop the taxi and Andy and I would descend as fast as Andy was comfortable.

I´ve never been around anyone with altitude sickness, but we all knew the only way to make it better was to get to lower elevations, or it can get bad fast - like loss of eyesight, severe dehydration, etc. To spare the gruesome details you can find on Andy´s rendition of this story, it was so tough to watch him throw up again, and again with nothing left in his stomach. He said his head felt like it was going to explode. I said a couple prayers and thankfully, Andy was able to move enough through the pasture up high, past the dinky fake lake and finally down. Once we started going down, he didn´t puke again and felt better, just really weak, so we weren´t moving too fast. The long, cow-pie pasture felt like forever and it started raining on us for the last half of the hike. It wasn´t bad because I was just so thankful he was okay. We didn´t talk much, just focused on one foot in front of the other. I had a pretty bad headache at this point since we never stopped to eat lunch at the lake.
So, once we got up to where the taxi dropped us off, we were beyond disappointed when there was no taxi and only Kyle huddled under a tree trying to stay dry. He got back at 2:30 and the taxi had ditched us. Awesome. Here we were, soaked, exahusted, and it was getting dark, 32km up a rough road from the nearest town. We did not pass a single person the entire day. Very few cars make it on this crappy road, so we did the only thing we could and kept walking down, saying a few prayers. Within 20 minutes, I saw a white truck on the switchback above us.

This is where the story gets just a bit scarier, but at the time, was so relieving. Never would I really suggest hitchhiking, particularly in a foreign country in the mountains. But, considering all the circumstances, it sounded perfect if we could just get in a car to get down the mountain.

The truck stopped. It was an extended cab, in quite nice condition with 3 men in it. In we climbed, Andy and I sitting next to one guy in the back cab, 2 men up front and Kyle jumped in the bed of the truck. We flew down that mountin. We went between 10-20kph up the hill in the taxi and between 50-60kph on the way down, passing nearly every car. It was bumpy, but the guys were nice, asked us what we were doing in Peru, etc.

The only sketch moment was when we were going toward a national police truck, we nearly came to a stop. The driver sucked his breath heavily in through his teeth, gripping the steering wheel tightly. While this was happening the guy next to me started quickly zipping up the backpack between his feet and shoving it under the seat. Okay. Maybe drug dealers? Who knows. Maybe not. But they were the nicest drug dealers we could have asked to pick us up and take us safely back to Yungay.

Once in Yungay, we ate and hopped on combis back to Huaraz. Since you stuck around this long, below are pictures of Lake 69 that I didn´t get to see.

Yeah, of course this is pretty, but I wasn´t too upset I missed it, as the hike itself was gorgeous. I had just created huge expectations in my head before we left for this magnificent lake.
 Only until I google imaged ¨Lake 69 Peru¨ was I even slightly bummed I didn´t get to see it. It was too cloudy when we went to get any sort of view like this.

Maybe another time. In the summer time. Oh yeah, and this lake sits just above 15,000 feet!

That was a long one! If you made it this far, congrats! Hope you enjoyed the scariest story I´ve had so far (and actually hope to have) while I´m in Peru.

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