Snow pelted against my poncho.
Thunder rumbled in the skies.
A curtain of white blanketed the landscape.
I cursed at the weather, lowered my head and continued walking towards my destination: the Pastoruri Glacier.
“The weather up there at 5000m is like my ex-wife,” said Roger, my guide. “Crazy and unpredictable.”
It’s true. It was hot and sunny just an hour ago but at the glacier, my hands were freezing.
It was my third day at Huaraz, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the high-altitude Santa Cruz trek. I struggled during the day hike to Laguna 69 the previous day.
Rather than acclimatising to the altitude in the city, I decided to bring it up a level – literally to 5000m.
I’ve been in Peru for almost two months. I’ve seen lots of ruins, mountains and canyons. I wanted something different; a glacier fit the bill.
Pastoruri Glacier is located a few hours from Huaraz, in Peru’s unbelievably beautiful Cordillera Blanca. It would’ve been very hard to get to the isolated location independently, so a guided tour is the best choice.
I signed up for a tour to the Pastoruri Glacier at my hostel, Raju Guest House, and got picked up at 9am the next day.
While waiting for the bus to be filled up, many street vendors tried selling us stuff: poncho for the unpredictable weather, coca leaves and candies for the altitude and selfie sticks for the narcissistic travellers - like me.
They were smart vendors, targeting the right market. I bought a poncho for PEN $5 and I was glad I did.
We first stopped at a village for breakfast and a chance to reserve our very late lunch. The menu was overpriced as the restaurant serves exclusively tourists. I prepared myself with a cup of coca tea.
Back in the bus, we drove through winding mountain roads, passed by increasingly remote countryside, fell asleep and woke up several times.
Roger collected PEN $10 for the one-day ticket to the Huascaran National Park. I should’ve bought a 21-day pass for PEN $65, having already paid PEN $10 the previous day and am planning to do a multi-day trek anyways.
I was surprised that the tour had multiple stops along the way; the first being Lake Patococha.
This reflective black lake is known for its birdlife – ducks, flamingos and seagulls are known to flock here. ‘Pato’ means duck in Spanish and ‘cocha’ - lake in Quechua. We only had 10 min and saw only ducks, but it was still a welcome break from the hours-long bus ride.
Cacti, dried bushes and lakes filled the landscape as we continued the bus ride up the mountains. It was hot and sunny, fit for such plants.
The second stop was much more interesting. Pumapampa is the name of the great endless plains and Pumashimi is a little heart-shaped pond (or shape of the puma’s mouth) with supposedly seven shades of blue.
They are known as the world’s largest bromeliad: a type of plant in the Pineapple family. I can see the resemblance. Interestingly, they only bloom fruits once in their lifetime of 100 years.
We also stopped at a ‘7 Colours Lake’ and a gaseous pond. The lake was almost dried up and the colours were not obvious. The gaseous pond was just a small waterbody that was constantly bubbling. Very forgettable.
Dried up pond, giant cacti plants and a golden barren landscape seemed fitting under the radiant sun.
Just as Roger mentioned about his ex-wife’s temperament, the weather changed drastically. The yellow landscape was replaced by towering mountain peaks.
As we got off the bus at the carpark right at the trailhead to the glacier, it snowed. Like a heavy drizzle, it snowed constantly.
It was actually one of the heaviest snowfall I encountered. That being said, I haven’t been to many winter countries.
Fortunately, I just bought a poncho that morning. I put on my green trash-bag poncho and strutted towards the glacier.
It snowed heavier and heavier. Thunders cracked in the distance. Winds picked up.
The landscape ahead of me was a curtain of white, hardly visible in the snow and clouds. Kids were throwing snowballs at each other. The grey mountains wore a giant white-cap.
I cursed. Then I prayed. Finally, I accepted.
Come to think of it, it wasn’t a totally bad thing. Snowing when visiting a glacier seemed like a perfect combination – like a song of Ice and Fire Snow.
The path from the carpark to the glacier is 1.5km and ends with the glacier at 5000m, an elevation gain of 100m.
Compared to the hike to the Rainbow Mountain, also above 5000m, this was a piece of cake. It was touted as a 40min walk, and I did it in 25min. When I reached the glacier, I wasn’t sure I was done (as there was another road further in).
I guessed the coca tea helped. Or I was just fully acclimatised. Nevertheless, others were struggling. People from my group were still walking up when I left after a good half hour at the glacier.
According to Roger, the Pastoruri Glacier was at sea-level millions of years ago. Climate change and lots of time caused it to rise to 5000m presently.
In less than 20 years, Pastoruri has shrunk in half, and now spans only 0.9 square kilometres. Compared to the 250 square kilometres Perito Moreno glacier that I trekked on, the Pastoruri is puny.
In fact, Pastoruri is technically no longer a glacier. It does not build up ice in winter to release in the summer. Now, it’s just a gigantic piece of ice.
It’s a sad reminder of what climate change does to nature. Melting ice has given way to slabs of black rocks and officials have banned climbing on the glacier.
A piece of rope now stands between us and the glacier. We couldn’t even touch it.
Researchers have predicted that Pastoruri might disappear in 10 years. Locals are using this prediction to lure tourists back to Pastoruri – before it is gone completely.
In fact, the Pastoruri Glacier is being rebranded as a place to see climate change in action.
I stood before the glacier, like a kid staring at a dying giant. The jagged angles of the towering wall, the clear white and a tinge of blue, the cracks in the ice…they still looked magnificent to me.
The snow pelted on me and I was starting to freeze. I had my alone time and tourists-free photos before the others arrived.
Perks of being acclimatised and walking fast.
I turned back and walked towards the bus waiting for us at the carpark.
Just like every unlucky person on Earth, the skies cleared and the clouds parted as I reached the trailhead. I turned back to look at the glacier.
From the distance, the size of the massive glacier seemed more apparent. And I am glad I got to see this natural wonder before it is gone completely.
A few people in my group got hit by the altitude and motion sickness on the bus ride back along the winding roads. They vomited and the bus stopped multiple times, causing our lunch to be delayed.
If you want to visit the Pastoruri glacier and are not able to walk at such high altitudes, horses are available for rent at the trailhead. You need to find a partner though; it costs PEN $15 for 2 horses.
You can also rent rain jackets and buy hot food/tea at the stores near the carpark.
I felt this was a good acclimatisation for any of the longer treks near Huaraz. The views were great and the tour was good for value!
Here's a photo of the Pastoruri Glacier on a clear day:
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