The taxi drops us off halfway up a hill outside a long since closed convenience store. Plastic food wrappers and fencing wire litter the roadside. The road continues winding up towards the steep cliffs that demark the National Park. We didn't feel like paying the extra $60 to be driven the 12km to the trailhead, so we'll be walking from here. We drag our packs to a mound of dirt and sit down to eat some breakfast. The bread is stale. Should've bought it this morning I think to myself. We're both feeling pretty flat. The karaoke/chicken bar we were staying above was unreasonably upbeat for a Wednesday night and we're paying for it. After a time we exchange knowing glances, sling our bags over our shoulders and begin walking along the dusty road.
Rewind to yesterday morning. We arrived in charming Caraz early on the collectivo from Huaraz. Still feeling the buzz from our Huayhuash trek we have our sights set on another walk in these amazing mountains. Which one though? The Santa Cruz? too busy. Alpamayo? too long. We'll work it out. Tranquillo. We dump our bags in a hotel and go out for a walk through town. Our overinflated and forever empty hiking stomachs are groaning and they lead us straight to the market. It's heaven. Fresh fruit, bread, cheese, mystery meats and unidentifiable drinks pack the stalls. We wander for a few hours tasting everything. The live chickens and guinea pigs and the semi stale fish are about the only things not on the menu for us. Suitably satisfied we spend the afternoon researching our next couple of weeks and come up with a plan. Tomorrow we'll head to Laguna Paron for a couple of nights of relative R&R.
It's hell. The very embodiment of a slog. More than a few cars drive by and we try to grab a ride but to no avail. It only serves to further dampen the mood. A small walking trail cuts off some of the switchbacks the road takes, but for some reason every step is a drain. It doesn't make sense because we're not that high relative to where we've just been hiking? It's not fair. We play games to take our minds away but even that is an effort. We're sapped. The morning becomes afternoon and the ever reliable afternoon storm clouds gather overhead. Soon we're plodding along in drizzling rain. At least the weather matches our mood now. Its getting dark as we finally arrive at the trailhead proper and the releif is overwhelming. We set up our tent under the canopy of a disused refugio, cook dinner, and collapse cold and wet into our sleeping bags.
Total Distance: 30km
Type: Out and back/Basecamp
Average Stoke Factor: 7
We awake early the next morning and I pop my head out of the tent to find a fresh blanket of snow. But that's not what grabs me. We arrived the previous night in heavy cloud and couldn't see a thing. Now the golden light of the rising sun paints the clouds and peaks that surround our camp to the North East. Laguna Paron stretches out calm and blue towards the aptly named Mt. Piramide. Its the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen. I excitedly snap a few photos and return to our tent to make coffee as the early morning color begins to fade. Life is good again.
We excitedly pack our things away. We're keen to get going today. Yesterday is a distant memory. We set out along the lakeshore hoping to beat the clouds and catch a glimpse of the jewel in the crown of the area; Artesonraju. This 6000m peak is believed to be the mountain depicted in the Paramount Pictures logo. I'm not so sure about that, but I am sure that it is an absolute cracker. We catch our first glimpse as we round the Northern shore of Laguna Paron. It stops me in my tracks.
The mountain looks like a lone shark tooth against the fast moving clouds. Gravity defying spines of ice grip the wind swept peak before giving way to a jagged ridge that runs East to West. The main glacier is an imposing mass of crevasses and avalanche chutes.
We dump our bags under a tree at the end of the lake and start up a faint trail towards a better viewpoint of the glacier. We're in a race against the clouds now which seem to be getting heavier. They periodically enshroud the summit but that only serves to make it that much more beautiful. As we reach a high ridge the clouds finally win out and the mountain disappears. We still feel lucky. We rest, eat some lunch and enjoy being probably the only people in a 20km radius.
Returning to our bags we select a nice camp site and put up the tent. We spend the rest of the afternoon lounging in sporadic sunshine with our books, then retreating to the tent during rain showers. We make tea, go for a wander along the lake and just enjoy being in a wild and beautiful place.
The following day we wake to the sound of rain on the tent. It seems we had our shot yesterday. We have a tent bound breakfast then start packing our things for the walk out. I pray that someone will give us a ride down that cursed road. Sure enough we run into a group of 3 French tourists halfway along the lake. They are more than happy to share their taxi with us back to Caraz. We pile in. Even with numb legs and an aching back the bumpy road back is heaven compared to the grinding walk up. We have written our energy-less day up to a lack of sleep. Little do we know what awaits us...
MORE PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Stay & Eat in Caraz: San Marco Hotel is right next to the Plaza de Armas, has nice courtyards, is cheap and chill. We had our best meal in Peru at Inti Wasi Inn. You'll pay a bit more than the average restaurant but it's well worth it.
Supplies: The local market in Caraz is the best in the region. It has great quality produce. Caraz doesn't have the larger supermarkets or outdoor stores that you can find in Huaraz.
Cost: Being that Laguna Paron is in Huascaran National Park there is a small entry fee. It's the same whether your staying 1 day or 3. As stated above, it is not cheap to get a taxi to Laguna Paron. You might have better luck with a collectivo on a weekend or in the high season.