8 days of trekking Huayhuash!
Trip Start Apr 21, 2013
32Trip End Jun 30, 2013
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
We spent four days in the city of Huaraz. Initially we needed to decide which trek to do and we narrowed it down to two options. The Santa Cruz trek which would take four days, and is very popular with hikers, or the remote Huayhuash trek which takes at least eight days and is far less popular as it is harder and longer. Naturally, we really wanted to attempt the Huayhuash circuit but the more we researched the more we heard/read phrases such as "challenging", "very difficult", "only to be undertaken by robust, experienced, high altitude hikers", "demanding", "forbiddingly remote", "dangerous", "only to be attempted with local guides", "rugged and remote territory, where strenuous high passes throw down the gauntlet to the hardiest of trekkers" and then we would repeatedly read "one of the top 10 hikes in the world, possibly number one"......well, that was enough research done, it was decided, Huayhuash it was!! Thankfully Peter is as gung-ho as I am and suddenly there was no looking back, we were preparing for an 8 day trek, which would cover 9 mountain passes and involve over 6000m of climbing, all of which would be over 4000m above sea level.
During our four days in Huaraz, we spent time choosing and renting tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, roll mats, a stove, pots and pans, and numerous other bits and pieces
The bus set us down in Llamac (3250m), and as we pulled our heavy backpacks on for the first time, we gave each other a look of "so, we are really doing this then?"
The first day was tough going and we were both concerned about what we had embarked upon. Although we opted for the "easier option" of walking along the road, which is used by mining trucks, we still found it a difficult and long slog. The road was a dirt track, but thankfully had minimal traffic. We stopped numerous times to readjust our backpacks and try to get them to sit more comfortably on our shoulders and hips. Of course, our bags were the heaviest they would be for the whole trek, and it felt like we had jumped in at the deep end, as we climbed almost 1000m and covered around 22km. We still managed to enjoy the beautiful valley, which was dotted with a couple of small villages, and was a patchwork of stone walled fields. We stopped each time we saw a local person farming the fields, as they were always eager to chat. They didn't have much else to do, as they watched their animals grazing and welcomed chatting to us about our plans. The first questions would always be about our nationalities, and why we weren't a couple
The first campsite was set in the valley that we had walked along all day, and positioned right beside the road. We could have jumped into the back of any of the pick up trucks that passed us during the day, but Peter and I stubbornly agreed that the Huayhuash circuit was a "circuit" and taking a truck would be cheating. After we set up our tent for the first time, and brewed some tea, to warm our fingers, we looked around at our surroundings. We were awarded the spectacular view of Rondoy mountain, which sits at almost 6000m above sea level. We camped near the stream which winds its way down through the valley that we had slogged up all day and we could see some stone walled fields where farmers kept their hardy stock during the night. The campsite was basic, with three really dirty and smelly drop toilets, and a dug out pit where you could throw your rubbish. Peter and I could not bring ourselves to litter such a beautiful landscape, and didn't agree with the landfill option that was provided, so carried all of our rubbish until the end of the trek
We woke on the second day to a hard, frost covered tent. As I walked to the stream for water my fingers were freezing as they held the metal pots and I could see my breath in front of my face, but I was excited and shouted out to Peter that he should get up to enjoy the amazing views. The mountains looked so clear and the setting was picturesque. As we packed up the tent, and enjoyed a warming breakfast, the sun came over the mountains and we were eager to start the day. The route would lead us away from the road and into the mountain range for the first time. We would climb over two mountain passes (4690m and 4630m), before descending to our campsite for the night at 4138m. On reflection I think we may have been too eager, as half an hour later I realised we had approached the pass from a slightly different angle and the trail we were following was significantly more difficult. Thankfully the route still took us to the pass and we didn't have to turn around, but it was a good lesson for us to actually pay more attention and consult the map more regularly.
I found the second day much easier, as we had more of an idea about distances and we could follow our progress on the map. We climbed two passes, which provided us with spectacular views of farmed valleys, with lakes scattering the lower levels and various types of grasses and mosses under foot
The third day was a gift, which I will cherish for a long time. We walked through a valley, that had three large, beautiful, glacial fed lakes, which made them shimmer with a shade of intensely bright blue water. Above the lakes were seven mountains standing shoulder to shoulder, covered in snow and looming over the lakes like protective brothers. The scenery was jaw droppingly beautiful and although we took many photos we just couldn't do the views justice. We plodded up the pass for the day (4830m), eagerly anticipating the views from the top, and I was taken aback to be met my a local lady who was sitting there. She was waiting at the pass, with her dog and a collection of soft drinks and beers. As she asked us a bit about ourselves I couldn't get over the fact that she waits up there all day, in the hope that the one or two groups of hikers that walk passed may buy a drink from her
As we continued down the other side of the pass, to the relatively lower elevation of the campsite (4350m), we chatted to some of the local farmers along the way. I have a deep respect for these people who live in such remote, barren conditions and manage to farm the land to provide food for their families. They said that not much more than potatoes grow at that altitude but they can breed and trade livestock to supplement their income. Some of them also provide trekkers with guiding services, and others maintain the campsites. We had to pay a camping/hiking fee each day, which was meant to provide us with protection as we slept. I'm not sure who we were being protected from, as the only people around were the people who were collecting the money, but I appreciate giving some money to the local communities, and by receiving a camp ticket it means they can keep track of the numbers of hikers that walk the route. I like to think that if the mining company tries to take control of this side of the valley too, they may be able to prove that it is a valuable resource and international trekkers are providing the villages with funds
It became a ritual in the mornings, where I wake up with first light, which was around 6am and jump out of the tent to put some water on to boil for our coffee and breakfast. I would then describe the beauty of the mountains in the morning light, the shimmering of the snow capped peaks and the pristine-looking, frost covered grass in the fresh, crisp air. This was usually enough to entice a groggy Peter out of the tent, and usually it was just in time to share a cuppa whilst watching the shadows retreat as the sun rose higher above the mountain peaks. I was amazed that each day I could honestly tell him that the weather was beautiful and the sky was blue and clear, as I was sure that our luck would run out at some point and there would be at least one day where the dark clouds clung to the mountains. Somehow though we had a whole week of great weather, and only encountered one short hail downpour, which thankfully occurred when we already had the protection of the tent. Almost every day the locals would tell us that the previous day they had rain/snow/storms but each day as we entered the same area the sun shone upon us and seemed to be showing off about just how spectacular it could make the lakes and mountains appear.
On the forth day we had to make a decision about whether to give ourselves a shorter day and take a small detour to some hot springs, or the other option was to continue on the route and miss them
The fifth day commenced early and it took us a while to climb the first pass of the day, which took us to Punta Cuyoc at 4950m above sea level. Two other groups slept at the campground and although they had guides to prepare their meals and take down their tents, and donkeys to carry their backpacks, Peter and I were still the first ones to reach the pass for the morning
So, we climbed up to the San Antonio pass, which is at 5020m, and provided us with phenomenal views of snow capped mountains, with tumbling glaciers towering above a valley dotted with glacial lakes. Even though it was really windy at the ridge, and the high altitude made it difficult to catch your breath after the steep climb, the views made it all worth while. We could see the peaks of Carnicero (5960m), Siula Grande (6344m), Sarapo (6127m), Huaraca (5537m), and Quesillo (5600m). It was so gorgeous, and even after taking photos and sitting to absorb the beauty of the area, we didn't really want to leave. As we arrived into camp at around 5.45, we clocked almost 10 hours of trekking on this day, which was the longest we spent walking, but was also one of our favourite days. Usually we left the camp around 8-8.30am and were finding a spot to settle in for the night by 4pm.
The sixth day was my least favourite, for no reason other than there was a long downhill, which took about 3 hours and although the valley was beautiful it seemed much more mundane compared to the views we had been spoilt with in the previous days
The couple from Quebec, Yvon and Louise, who we had seen at most of the campsites, invited us in to have breakfast with them on the seventh morning. We had spent some time trekking with them during a couple of the days, and enjoyed their company. On a few occasions they even gave us some of the awesome snacks that their guide made, which were gratefully received and quickly devoured. They enjoyed their meals in a warm kitchen/dining tent, which had enough room for us all to sit with chairs, around a make shift table, so Peter and I were quite happy to join them for cups of tea and oatmeal. It was our last full day of trekking and it involved two long passes, but again the views were spectacular and by now our backpacks felt light and easy to carry. We had eaten most of our food and just had enough for dinner for the last night and emergency supplies for two extra days. We arrived into the final campsite and after setting up the tent for the last time, we both fell to the ground, for dramatic effect. Instantly a local lady came over and offered us beers. We didn't even have to move, she just brought us cold beers, as we lay on the ground, looking up at the snow covered mountains and across to the trout filled high alpine lake. As we had descended a bit during the day we had noticed that trees and flowers had permeated the landscape and our sense of smell had returned
All that remained was a 5am start on the last day, which enabled us to get on the route with the first light at 6am, and descend back down to the village on Llamac for the 11.30 bus. As we waited for the bus back to Huaraz we felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment; we had tackled a challenge that tested our physical and mental strength, our endurance but thankfully hadn't made us question our friendship or choice of trekking partner. I was so pleased that we had opted for the Huayhuash circuit, that we had decided to do it by ourselves and that we had fantastic memories, photos, and experiences to take away with us.