Burning muscles, cramps and even freaking diarrhoea – it may have been a beautiful Sunday, but this was no walk in the park. I’ve hiked almost 20km in a day, and even though it’s 6km one way, it’s the elevation that gets you (4,560m above sea level). Luckily, I had experienced hikers with me who calmed me down when I started to doubt myself, especially as the air grew thinner. Altitude sickness comes in many stages and symptoms – the mild version makes you breathless, and at my worst so far (which isn’t that bad to be honest), I’ve had jelly legs and felt dizzy enough that I had to sit down.
I met Joanna, Jorge’s Polish friend, before sunrise at Parque Ginebra.
It’s a place I knew well since it’s where I work. It was oddly quiet, yet so peaceful during that time of day. Usually people are just walking home after a night out and my friend, Martha, who lives in an apartment nearby, says that she often hears everything at all hours of the day and night. Joanna and I got chatting and found out that we had a lot in common: She’s a fellow Aries (her birthday only a few days from mine!), her sarcastic humour was on point, and of course, she too loved the mountains. Jorge was nowhere in sight, in fact he ended up meeting us over 20 minutes late. He had hurt his hands rock climbing the day before and said it took longer to get ready, but let’s be honest, he’s more often late than early.
We had been walking for about ten minutes when we managed to catch
a combi heading out to Willkawain. It costs S1.50 one way, and a cheap form of transport. The catch is that you need to be patient and flexible with your schedule. Also, if you have issues with people getting up in your personal space, then I suggest paying for a taxi instead. It takes about 30 minutes max, but it also depends how many stops it makes.
The start of the trail is just up the road from Willkawain, an archaeological site dating back to the Wari culture. Jorge said there were three different elevations that takes you up to the lookout, which is about 800m below the lake. There was a steep, rocky ascent, then a much flatter area with grass. The third is steeper still with lots of freaking stairs! Not wooden stairs, more like crude ones made of large rocks. My hiking poles definitely helped.
I must have asked Jorge and Joanna to leave me along the trail at least five times. They said no, every time. I got breathless, cramps, then dizziness set in, and I even got freaking diarrhoea! Yes, it was physically demanding, but for the most part, it was a big mental battle. There was one time when cramps were setting into my right thigh…and I couldn’t shake it. When I told Jorge, “This is it, I can’t shake it.” He just looked at me and said, “Are you sure, Ronna? It’s mind over body, ask your body for more. You can do it.” I really, really, really, wanted to slap him at the moment, but, he was right. I closed my eyes, found a way to shake off the cramp and kept going.
The view from the lookout was simply glorious. “I’m proud of you, Ronna.” Yeah, if I didn’t felt like I was vomit on two wobbly sticks, I would pat myself on the back too. To the left was the Cordillera Blanca, and by now I should know the names of the different mountains since Jorge has told me a hundred times. Maybe as I start ticking them off the list, I’ll make an effort to remember.
Only 800m to the lake, and I earned every step up that vertical slog! It was the rocks that get me, and again, I’m grateful that I invested in hiking poles. The sight of Laguna Ahuac left me breathless, not just because
the last 800m felt like I was crawling, but more because it was gorgeous. The way the sunlight hit the crystal-clear water and turned it into nature’s mirror – yet diving deep so you can see the jagged boulders that tempted you to dive into the lake. This is a glacial lake of course, and there wasn’t enough sun to tempt me that day!
I slipped a few times on the loose rocks on the way down. Jorge runs
this trail often (yes, he runs it!), so he basically walked down like some majestic mountain goat, almost like he was levitating as he cruised down the mountain. He even made several phone calls to Mexico and did an Instagram live feed, which I guess was pretty cool for his friends and family.
We almost managed to beat the afternoon rain, and got back into Huaraz around 5pm. It was close enough to dinner time, so we decided to go for a beer and pizzas. That’s what Huaraz has become for me, a place to connect with people with a mutual love of the mountains, sharing stories and making memories. Oh, and pizza. Glorious pizza.
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently travelling in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.