When I realised that I'd gone the wrong way this morning — to the Pisco high camp, instead of to the famous Laguna 69 — I thought that I wouldn't be able to make it to the laguna today. But as it turned out, I was able to have my cake and eat it too: I made it to Laguna 69; and boy, was it worth it. Quite a stunning place indeed.
For my 5th and final day hiking in the mountains, I intended to just go and visit the famous "Laguna 69" (no idea why it's called that — but it is a cool name!), which is about a 2½ hour walk from my campsite (from last night) of Cebollapampa. Nothing more: simply visit the lagoon, then come back. But instead, I accidentally took the route up the mountains, to the Pisco high camp. Anyway, all turned out well in the end, and I had a much bigger and better day than I originally bargained on.
The fourth day of the Santa Cruz hike was a short but interesting one, as well as being very scenic. Spent all morning continuing to hike down through the Huaripampa river valley; then I reached the teeny mountain town of Vaqueria, and from there caught a combi over to Llanganuco. I've reached the road, now: so I could have just gone back to Huaraz tonight, thus resulting in my skipping the fifth day of the hike; but why would I wanna do that? Still way too much fun to be had.
After getting back down from Punta Union, the rest of the hiking in day 3 of the Santa Cruz hike was very pleasant. From lunchtime onwards, it was all downhill, through the Huaripampa river valley, to the camp of Paria. Beautiful scenery, much-improved weather, and a steady pace all the way. Plus, I bumped into my friend Angel.
This morning — to start off the third day of the Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike — I climbed the pass of Punta Union, the hardest leg of the whole expedition. With the 2nd-night campsite of Taullipampa at 4250m (asl), and with Punta Union at 4750m, it's a fairly intense 500m climb. The weather still wasn't too good this morning: so although the area was snow-covered (unusual for this time of year), visibility was quite poor — a shame, since this spot is meant to offer the best views on the whole hike. Anyway, was good to reach the top of the pass, and was good to descend to the other side.
Big surprise, this being a hike and all: but funnily enough, today consisted of a lot more walking. Extremely flat all morning, then up and down after lunch. Today's walk finished off the first part of this hike, which consists of following the Santa Cruz river valley upstream, from west to east. Also had some amazing views of snow-capped mountains in the afternoon, when I ascended to the Alpamayo lookout area: the mountains around here are just something else.
Apart from the fun of getting there, and the donkey thing in the morning, day 1 of the Santa Cruz hike was basically just a lot of walking. Most of it gentle uphill, through the Santa Cruz river valley. Most of it alone — although I had company here and there. And most of it very scenic, and very beautiful indeed (fine weather was a blessing as well).
When I started out on the Santa Cruz hike this morning, I did it with the full intention of doing it alone, and of doing it without any help. Well, apparently doing it without any help at all is simply not how you do it. It seems that, at the least, virtually everyone hires a donkey to carry their gear. For the first hour or so of the hike, I constantly ran into random local dudes leading a bunch of donkeys, who kept asking me: "¿donkey, amigo?". Pretty soon, I got so tired of this, that every time I saw another donkey dude approaching, I just greeted him with: "hola no gracias" (lit: "hi no thanks").
This morning, being all prepared and geared up from yesterday afternoon, I left the town of Huaraz, and my 5-day Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike began. Didn't get quite as much sleep last night as I'd hoped for — as it took a while to pack my bags in the evening, and to sort out everything that I don't need for the hike and can leave in Huaraz — so I wasn't up until about 6:30am, and I wasn't on the combi out of Huaraz until 7am (all about an hour behind schedule). But it turned out that this wasn't too late at all: day 1 of the hike went fine, and I finished the first day's route with time to spare.
After doing some research today — on the Internet, and face-to-face with various other travellers — I've decided that for my time here in Huaraz, I'm going to do the Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike, and I'm going to do it alone. In order to prepare for this 5-day trek in the Cordillera Blanca (that's the mountain range that it passes through), this afternoon I hired all the gear that I'm going to need, and I bought all the food that I'm going to eat. This being Huaraz — the trekking and mountain-climbing capital of South America — getting all that stuff proved to be no problem at all.