The Long and Unsurpassed Journey to Laguna Churup

The plan was simple. Shannon and I would spend our last day of our week in the mountainous region of Ancash hiking to Laguna Churup. All of the tour books, other travelers and online reviews say that though the hike up to the Laguna is long and some points demanding that it is a worthwhile hike and that the Laguna which is 4450 meters above sea level is a must see. The first half of our trip went without any major glitches. After a lovely breakfast at Café California it was time for us to find the collectivo to the town of Yungay. Already behind schedule we were now left with the daunting task of finding the exact location of where the collectivo’s were parked as there is no official pick up/ drop-off location. After circling the blocks a few times with a helpful local, a man finally walked up to us informing us that he was collectivo driver on his way up to Yungay. From Yungay we would walk to the town of Pitec which is where the trail begins.

Our initial assent up was nothing unexpected; steep at times but overall generally pleasant. The sun was shining and the views of the valley and the surrounding snow-capped mountains were phenomenal and was just the motivation I needed to keep on trekking. We expected that we would reach the Laguna in about 3-4 hours but really had no indication of how we were faring, as there were no markers and we did not see other people on the trail.

At about 2 hours in we reached a swampy field-like area at the base of a waterfall. Ahead of us was sheer rock. We followed a trail to the left of the waterfall which led us up the rocks- basically scaling the side of the waterfall. Naturally we were not feeling very comfortable about this feat. Were we even going in the right direction? How on earth were we going to get back down? Instinctually I knew that the Laguna had to be right above this cliff. After all, I was looking at water coming surging down to the right of me. Where else could it be coming from? But the question was- was this really the right way? Eventually we decided that scaling rocks wasn’t the safest idea and went back down to the base of the cliffs. From there I noticed another path that crossed over the swampy area and went up alongside the right side of the waterfall. Though it was still pure rock we decided that maybe this would be a safer bet than the other side. We started our assent back up the steep unforgiving cliff not even sure that we were headed in the right direction.

steep

This decision ended up being a success. After the majority of the climb we were rewarded by seeing a few other hikers. Anxiously, we asked them how much further the Laguna and the man responded with a brilliant “5 minutes!” A few more steps up and there it was. And it really was all worth it. The Laguna is filled with clear icy water and when the sun hits in the right spots the water looks as though it is aqua blue and bright green. There also is a beautiful snow-capped mountain right behind the Laguna which also reflects off the water if the sun is hitting at the right time.

Laguna Churup
Laguna Churup

After taking in the views and refueling on peanuts, animal crackers and Gatorade it was time to head back down. The walk down was frightening to say the least, much more so than the walk up but at least we knew where we were going!

At about half way down both Shannon and I noticed the ominous clouds around us. At the time the clouds under us were still blue but completely encircling us were dark storm clouds. I knew that there would be no escaping but at the same time felt that if we could just make it back to Pitec before the rain hit we would be safe.

Side Note: Pitec isn’t really a town as you may imagine it. I believe we saw one woman and two houses. There wasn’t going to be any shelter for us to hide from the storm.

The "town" of Pitec
The "town" of Pitec

We didn’t make it to Pitec or much further, for that matter, without being rained and hailed on. In reality the following three hours were spent freezing, in pouring rain. On our way back down to Yungay we chose to take the “road,” opposed to the same trail we had taken earlier, in case we could possibly catch a ride down. The road led us to grassy swampy fields that had no end in sight. It certainly wasn’t going back to Yungay. At this point all I could think about was how I was going to go into hypothermic shock and never make it down to Huaraz, nevertheless catch our bus later that evening. In the distance we could see a row of small huts and we both felt as though someone there would be able to guide us back down (in all truth though I was hoping someone would see how cold I was and sit me in front of a fire and wrap a big alpaca blanket around me.) The man told us to follow the stream-like path through the soft grounded cow fields and we would be back in Yungay in 30 minutes. After leaving the man, (his fire and dry shelter) we also left the so-called path that he told us about. But never fear, we came along another little community of small houses which we also barged into desperately asking for help. This man told us to follow the river and as we headed down the slippery hill, he just kept yelling down to us “en frente” (in front.)

To call the second half of this adventure miserable is quite the understatement. With each step forward I kept on thinking that there would be no end in-sight. We did eventually make it back to Yungay and furthermore Huaraz. The journey was long and painful but in the end I saw one of the most beautiful sites ever, went for a challenging hike and made sure that my fight or flight response was in check.

Sophie Ball

Hi all- My name is Sophie, originally from Charlotte, Vermont. I graduated from the University of Vermont in the spring of 2007 and for the last two years I have been living and working in New York City. Within the last couple of years I have become deeply interested in ethnic cuisine and therefore will be researching and writing about all that Peruvian cooking has to offer while I volunteer with Perupedia. I am thrilled about this opporuntity and hope that my research will help expand all of your knowledge about Peru.

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