Another post for the Cordillera Blanca hike ‘n bike series, expanded from my original entry on the area’s amazing singletrack…
From what I’ve seen, if there’s one hike you should to do in the Cordillera Blanca, this is it: Laguna 69. Although the lake itself is undeniably beautifully, set within a snowy thrownroom of the magical Huascaran National Park, it’s the trail leading there that really seals the deal.
In terms of riding, well… expect some serious portage. Over the 700m climb, two grassy pampas provide welcome respite. But know you’ll be shouldering the bike as soon as the rocky zig zags start – of which there are two sizeable stairwells. My advice: bring the right kind of footware, like a good all purpose mountain biking shoe, or even flat pedals. My stiff-soled, cross country race slippers were completely impractible, so I carried a pair of lightweight Vibram FiveFingers too.
As for the descent… Incredible! It ranks as one of the most thrilling, scenic and technical bouts of downhill riding I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy. Maybe 90 per cent is manageable, even on my rigid 29er – though I’d have welcomed the addition of some bounce up front. As it is, this is definite ‘saddle down’ territory, and finding comfort within a relentless barrage of steps, slabs and babyheads is a prerequisite. Punctuating the plummet, grassy pampas offer a rest for both braking fingers and brain, with slivers of beautifully flowy, smile-inducing singletrack.
Again, my partner in crime was Llanganuco Lodge’s Carlos Good (and his rock-munching Scott Strike), who I must thank for talking me into this crazy day of hike ‘n biking.
The need to know bit:
It’s 5 sol to enter the park for the day (no overnighting), or you can pay 65 sol for a month, which covers camping too.
We caught a ride to the beginning of the hike, Cebollapampa (3900m) hiked up to the Laguna 69 (4600m), rode down, then continued on back to Llanganuco Lodge (3500m) – where I was staying with my mum.
From Cebollapampa, you can eek out some more singletrack by turning right after the wooden bridge, before rejoining the main dirt road down the valley. Then, if you still have the energy, you can ride the slabby, techy, bromeliad-overrun trail down from Quinancocha Laguna, popping out near the park entrance.
If you leave early, you’ll have the lake to yourself before the groups arrive from Huaraz. They tend to start the hike at 9am. You can camp at the base of the hike, at Cebollapampa (nice spot with crystal clear stream), or at Organcocha, the second of the two lakes.