Situated at 4,600 meters (15,100 feet) above sea level, an elevation that exceeds the tallest summit in the Lower 48 states, Laguna 69 is an impressive and popular alpine lake located in the Cordillera Blanca Range of the Peruvian Andes. While many complete a hike to the lake as a day trip, this loop offers a unique way to beat the crowds. Those who are willing to get an early start from camp will be rewarded with views of glacier-capped 5,000-meter peaks, waterfalls, and of course, the impressive glacier-fed lake, without having to share it with a large number of other hikers.
Although the well-graded switchbacks help make this hike palatable, the altitude presents difficulties even for those in good shape. It is recommended that hikers spend at least a few days in Huaraz, the main hub for outdoor activities in the area, in order to acclimate before attempting to hike to the lake.
Soon after leaving the trailhead, this route begins its ascent toward the Nevado Pisco base camp, while the heavily-traveled route continues along the valley floor on a direct route toward the lake. As the crowds begin to disappear below, views of Pisco and Huandoy, 5,000-meter and 6,000-meter summits, soon come into sight. From camp, the route follows cairns past another small alpine lake, over a ridge, and across a moraine before descending toward Laguna 69. Although the lake can get crowded at times, there are usually no people earlier in the morning.
The best time to hike and climb in the Cordillera Blanca is during Peru’s winter (May through September), which is also the country's dry season. While some do climb and hike during the wet season, a daily afternoon rain makes it much more difficult. The clear skies that are often experienced make this an extremely scenic and memorable high-altitude hike during the dry season.