Santa Cruz, Huaraz

When in Peru, or, Suffering from Altitude Sickness at 4700m

Walking up the snow-topped peak, boots biting delightfully into the crunchy snow, I looked around and breathed in the crispy Huascarán National Park Peruvian air…

(Wait, no, that wasn’t it.  Let’s try again.)

Lactic acid building hatefully in my calf and gluts, I paused to stretch my back and stare at the craggy mountains surrounding the granite rock I thought I might soon puke all over…

(Ok, now we’re getting there.  Last try.)


Sloppy pancake breakfast still cramping in my gut, and tent-sleeping bank injury claiming its fair share of my sanity, I took a break on a granite slope overlooking the trail below us.  Seeing two of my group coming up behind, I waited for them and rummaged through their pack for the wad of loo roll I’d forgotten to take with me.  Ahh, finally – a moment behind one of the sparse bushes dotting the mountain awaited me…though of course, swatting while one’s back threatens to divorce itself from one’s body is not fun; and I felt new respect for the elderly and arthritic as I assumed the appropriate position.

So bitchy was my tent-sleeping injury that I began to wonder how I’d possibly get up again, imagining my frozen corpse being found by archaeologists thousands of years from now.

“This is an adult female between 20 and 30 years of age.  From her posture and grimace, we can conclude that she froze to death mid-pee stream.”

How embarrassing.

Not wanting to be a point of interest for as yet unborn scientists, I decided that instead of visualising that fate, I’d try to talk myself into forgetting the fact that I was mooning at who knew how many hikers further up the slope.

Some sort of insanely happy fairy inside me realised it was her turn to motivate the troops:

“Just look where you’re peeing!  Have you ever been treated to a loo with such a beautiful view?”

It kinda sorta worked.  Finishing up and joining my crew, we stuffed ourselves with a couple of nut bars and got ready to continue on, trying to look if a little bit like an ad for The North Face.

But the weather had other ideas.  Not five minutes after my toilet pep talk had gotten me back on track, did Mother Nature bring me crashing down again.

A cold shot of air blew…

Drops of rain starting falling…

The spitting rain took on a distinctly more solid appearance…

And *bang!* we were crossing the 4700 metre pass we’d been working towards all morning under a blanket of icy snow brought in by a whistling wind.

My first bout of altitude sickness kicked in with a giddy laugh.  Out of nowhere – and a mere two minutes after my toilet fairy tried to save the day – a sudden dizziness and the desire to hurl up those horrid pancakes surfaced.  Combined with the snow storm, my mind was soon conjuring up newspaper-like images of my friends having to lug my chattering body down the slope, rendered inane and tongue-tied by a bunch of pissy snowflakes.

(That was not how I imagined my Tuesday afternoon.)


I did the Santa Cruz trek (Peru’s Huascarán National Park in Huaraz) with a lively bunch of Swiss folk.  They were barely perturbed by the snow (being Swiss and all, ya see) and once we’d got ourselves up and over the pass, life was good again.  I will sadly admit that my success was due entirely to a loaned headband and a handful of coca leaves to ward off the sensation that I was about to die.  It was not at all the Lara Croft sort of day I’d imagined for myself.

Huaraz is dotted with agencies all ready to sell you packaged trek-tours.  As we were a group of 6, organising it ourselves was more than possible.

Stay tuned for another post on how to organise your own trek…

Blue Skies, Valley
Off we gooooo.

8 thoughts on “When in Peru, or, Suffering from Altitude Sickness at 4700m

  1. Great post! I´ve been following your travels for the last few weeks. My boyfriend and I (fellow Australians) have been travelling for the past 8 months. We´ve just arrived in Peru and planning to do the santa cruz trek independantly.

    I was wondering how long ago you did the trek? I have read it´s the wet season now and it may be very wet there. We would be planning to be in the Huaraz area in the next few weeks.

    Id love to hear what the weather was like for you. Also did you hire a pack animal? I assume you guys didn´t have a guide.

    Cheers Lotus


    1. Hey Lotus! Awww, thanks for reading along! I was in Huaraz about three weeks ago – and I believe yes, the wet season has technically started, though it didn’t affect our hike (of course, carrying the appropriate gear!).

      Weather was cloudy and cool the first day, snow storm (and a bit of rain) the second and gorgeous as pie the last two.

      In Huaraz, they rent you quite old equipment making it very difficult to carry it yourself (stove was a huge box thing, sleeping bags half the size of your pack etc, mammoth tents etc). For that reason, we hired donkeys and felt pretty lame when we saw other independent hikers with niftier, lighter equipment on the trail. If you have your own light-weight stuff, you can get by without pack animals.

      If you do decide to rent them, you’ll need to rent a donkey-handler too (no one wants to be responsible for a stubborn beast without some sort of training, eh?!).

      Guides aren’t really necessary. Your mule driver will know the trail like the back of their hand.

      Hope that helps for now! Another post’ll be up soon with more details! Welcome to Peru 🙂

      1. Lotus, I’ve just posted the follow up to this intro about the Santa Cruz, complete with prices we were quoted and a few tips. I hope it helps! Happy travels!!

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