Huayhuash Circuit Trek

Trip Start Sep 20, 2010
Trip End Dec 18, 2011

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A tent!

Flag of Peru  , Lima,
Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 1: Huaraz to Quartelhuain

I woke up at 4am this morning wondering why I was doing another trek! Always an early start which isn't my favourite thing! We were very organised and already packed so we were up, dressed and out within 20 minutes.  We met up with our guide Daniel at the bus station and got on a bus to Llamac, which is at the start of the trail.  On the way we stopped at Chiquian for breakfast.  The most disgusting empanada (Kevin spat his out, I left mine) and a boring sandwich later we got back on the bus for another 2 hours.  We ended up having to drive 10 minutes past Llamac to a small village called Pocpa to meet our donkey driver Nilo, and to give him our stuff.  It saved us a bit of walking so I wasn’t complaining!

The walk today was ok, although as with all walks in the mountains the first day is never the most interesting.  I’m not sure it always used to be the case in the Huayhuash but the whole day was spent walking on the road to the first campsite.  There is a path from Llamac directly into the mountains but as we are doing a loop that will be our way out on the last day.  Towards the end of the day we did start to see some snow peaks – Rondoy and Rondoy Chico – which will look spectacular when we get up in the morning.  

Our guide and donkey driver are both really friendly.  Already Nilo has put our Spanish to the test as he doesn’t speak any English.  I think we did ok with the 'what’s your job’ and ‘how are you’ questions, and also asking questions back about his family.  Not sure where we go from there over the next 9 days though!

Daniel made us a lovely and more importantly large dinner which put any fears to rest about not having enough food.  The whole trek is over 4000m so its important we eat enough.  But its all good, and although not as fancy as the Inca Trail, the service so far is on par.  Fingers crossed we can sleep tonight at 4170m!

Day 2 - Quartelhuain to Janca

We went to bed around 7 ready for a good 11 hours sleep before the next day. Unfortunately things didn’t go to plan. We were warm enough, Liz had a hot water bottle that and Israeli girl had given her back in the hostel, but for some reason she couldn’t sleep. The ground was pretty hard and the mats weren’t the best so I drifted in and out of sleep as I had to shift my weight around as hips or elbows got sore. Each time I woke Liz was still awake and hadn’t slept yet. A long night for her I’d say. I think she finally fell asleep arounf 4 or 5 but our coca tea arrived at the tent door at 6:30 and sleep time was over. We were slow enough up and out and everything was still covered in a light frost but coffee and fired eggs helped to get us moving.

Day 2 started with our first pass so it was straight into a 520m climb up to Cacanapunta. We made good progress especialy given how tired Liz was and we were glad the climb was up a slope still in shade as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun would have made the going a lot tougher.Once we made the top we had an amazing view of the Caliente valley and a really cool red lake. It was also our first real glimpse of snowy peaks with Rondoy and Jirishanca in the distance. We sat for a short while and ate some of the chocolate, fruit and sweets Daniel and given us and took in the view. Instead of taking the direct route down the valley to the campsite we cut across some hills to give ourselves and amazing view of Lake Mitucocha (4270m) and Jirishanca behind. It was very impressive spot and we sat on a grassy slope surrounded by grazing horses for about an hour just taking in the view and relaxing. Even with this stop we still made it to camp around 1pm. Not too tough a days hike!

After a tasty lunch of tuna and grated carrot(!) we lazed about on our sleeping bags soaking up the sun and reading. We watched all the other groups wander into camp and Liz had a nice experience with our two walled toilet when the Dutch group arrived straight up the path to a full view of her squatting!  Since we’d arrived so early we got a bit bored lying about so went for a walk up the valley to the climb the moraines at the lakes edge. We did have a run in with a gang of intimidating donkeys but we made it safe and sound. It was early to bed again after dinner and hopefully a better nights sleep for Liz. The sky was amazingly clear and the full moon made the snow peaks glow in a really eerie but beautiful way. It really was an incredible place to camp.

Day 3 - Janca to Incahuain

After another sleepless night reminiscent of Lobuche, I refused to get up at 6.30am when Daniel brought us our coca tea.  Not sure he was too happy but I felt horrible so tough luck! Beauty of being just the two of us is that the timetable is flexible.  As we eventually got up (at 7.30, so not too late) the big Dutch group were leaving so we weren’t ahead for a change.  We had a quick breakfast, took one last look at the stunning scenery around the lake and started the days walk.  Not before relieving ourselves one last time in the toilet with just 2 walls!

The walk started with a shallow incline and then meandered along the hillside.  After about 20 minutes we got passed out by a large donkey train – as usual the porters were quicker than us.  A little further down the trail we passed the Dutch group, although I think one guy saw it as a challenge and kept up with us for a while! The path got a little steeper, although easier than the day before, as we reached the pass (4630m).  The terrain here changed from grassy to scree ad we could see Siula Grande and Yerupaja as well as our high pass for tomorrow!  We sat in the sun for about half an hour had a snack and took in the views.  As we’re anti-social and don’t like walking with other people we left when we heard the Dutch group approaching!

The rest of the walk was relatively easy, downhill over grass.  It was stunning scenery as we watched the mountains get closer, and then disappear behind a hill.  As we rounded one corner I heard Kevin, who was ahead of me, say ‘wow’.  Wow indeed!  Four peaks over a turquoise lake (Carhuacocha).  Five minutes later was our campsite with the now 5 peaks looming over us (Yerupaja Chico, Jirishanca and Ronday were the additions). 

We had lunch and then sat in the sun reading.  As we were there early we went for an afternoon walk but spent most of the time sitting and looking at the views.  By the time we got back the campsite was packed – so much for the Huayhuash being a deserted trek!  It rained a bit so we went in the tents but it cleared after dinner and we again saw the mountains in the full moon light.  I find it a bit scary for some reason. They are so massive and I think they’re looking at me.  They are beautiful though.  Looking forward to the trek tomorrow as we walk very close to this side of the range.  Just need a good night’s sleep – sleeping tablets it is!!

Day 4 - Incahuain to Huayhuash

Unfortunately it was another restless night for both of us, Liz more so. The sleeping tablets got her off to sleep and the hot water bottle kept her warm but she was awake soon after and for some reason couldn’t get back to sleep. Maybe it’s the altitude but it’s strange as we’ve been pretty high for quite a while now.  Anyway, can’t stop now!

After breakfast there was a bit of commotion as Nilo couldn’t find the donkeys. They’d wandered off in the night and he had to jump on the horse and go off searching for them. As we couldn’t be of much help we started on our way to leave Daniel to catch up. I haven’t done many treks but I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s walk is one of the most stunning walks in the world. We started off by heading around the east end of Carhuacocha (cocha means lake) and crossed the river of the same name as it leaves the lake over some pretty widely spaced stepping stones. We followed the edge of the lake Heading towards Yerupaja and the closer we got the more the mountains loomed over us. At this satge Daniel had caught up with us, as grumpy as ever, and he headed up the valley that runs beside Yerupaja and Siula Grande and down from the Sarapo glacier. The wall of snowy peaks on our right was incredible and half way along the valley we came to a lake with a huge moraine wall on our right. After a quick scramble up the wall we were standing on top of the morain looking at an incredible sight. In front of us was an 80m drop to another lake, Lago Gangrajanca and behind this the sheer face of Yerupaja. The Lake was filled with floating ice and snow that had fallen from the mountain, white close to the face where it was fresh and grey, covered in gravel further away. It was an amazing view. Behind us was the other steep gravel slope of the moraine with Lago Siula glowing green at the bottom. Unfortunately we had just caught up with two groups as we got to the lake and the noise and shouting somewhat ruined the moment but it was still an incredible place to sit and stare. As there was only two of us it was easier for us to get moving again and thankfully we got ahead and stayed ahead of the others for the rest of the day. We continued up the valley along the banks of Siula and then Quesillococha, the 3rd lake in the valley, all the time stopping to take pictures and just to look at the amazing surroundings.

At the end of the valley it was a steep climb up to our high pass of the day, Siula Punta (4830m). It was hard not to keep turning around to take in the amazing view of the Sarapo glacier, the three lakes, the wall of five +6000m peaks and every now and then a huge avalanche of the slopes of Yerupaja topping up the ice in the lake below. It was hard to leave it all behind as we headed over the pass but we had to keep heading on. We headed down towards the campsite through some tricky boggy terrain which every now and then needed stepping stones as the ground was so wet! When we look behind the pass was no longer visible as some pretty ominous looking clouds had rolled in. We kept heading on and stayed ahead of the worst of the weather but we were glad when we got to camp we had set off early and were not back in the worst of it!

Day 5 - Huayhuash to Aguatermal

Today was our easy day, which was good given I hadn’t slept…again!! It’s not the tired feeling the next day that bothers me as much as lying awake in the freezing cold all night.  Frustrating and dull.

We started uphill to the pass of the day at 4780m.  We walked past two lakes which were beautiful with a backdrop of snow peaks.  We stopped at the top, along with a group of Israeli’s who had left before us, but it was too chilly to hang around for too long so we moved on pretty quickly.  The rest of the walk was mostly downhill.  At one point we came to a herd (?) of Llama and just walked straight down the hill and through their field.  At the bottom we came to a really nice lake which was actually a dam.  Kevin wasn’t very impressed with the brick workmanship of the dam itself though!

As we walked into the valley where our campsite would be we got views of Pumarinri and Nevadus Puscanturpa.  As I said it was the easy day and we arrived at the camp at 11.30am.  The reason for this is because of the thermal springs that are located at the campsite.  As we were there early we went straight into the springs to avoid the crowds.  The only other people there that early was a Swiss couple.  Well it wasn’t as relaxing as we hoped!! The water was scalding, as as with freezing water we had to ease ourselves in bit by bit and once in could only last about 2 minutes before jumping out.  On the plus there was a slightly cooler (still boiling) pool where we could wash, which after 5 days of walking and sleeping in the same clothes was very welcome.  Unfortunately I couldn’t wash my hair.  Its going to look lovely in another 5 days when we get back to Huaraz!

After this we had lunch and a lie down, and then decided to explore the area.  I think we were the only people in the campsite silly enough to climb a hill we didn’t have to on our easy day.  It was worth it though for the views over the valley in the setting sun.

Day 6 - Aguatermal to Huanacpatay

We were up at 6 this morning because today was going to be one of the tougher days but also one of the most spectacular. We planned to be up early enough to get ahead of the other groups but everyone seemed to have had the same idea and we only 5 minutes ahead of the next group leaving camp!

Today’s walk involved two high passes, the first one at 4950m was on the route of the trek and the 2nd of 5020m which was just a side trip up and down to take in the view. We hoped to be first up each so we’d have some time at the top before the ‘crowds’ arrived and as such we set out without our guide Daniel to get a head start. It was working well and we had gotten a fair bit ahead of the next group as we approached the 1st pass. Unfortunately we took a slight wrong which we were just starting to realise when we heard Daniel shouting down from high above us. It was a steep uneven climb up to get back on the trail proper. Much huffing and puffing later we finally made it to Punta Cuyoc, still first in line but now only about ten minutes ahead of the next group. The views into the valley were worth it though. We had also climbed very close to the peak of Cuyoc and the mass of the mountain felt close enough to touch. It got pretty cold quite quickly up there so we moved on and headed down the steep gravelly slope to the valley, Liz doing it crab style!

It was a long way down, about 500m, and we knew every metre down was one we had to do back up to get to the next pass of San Antonio. After racing across the valley floor we started up the far side and man was it steep going. You can see the top nearly all the way up which I’m not sure is a good or bad thing! After an hour and half of slow stepping and much panting we finally made it to the top and as we came over the ridge we were greeted with one of the most amazing views ever. Wewere looking up the Sarapocha valley with the peaks of Sarapo, Siula Grande, Yerupaja and Jirishanca on our right. The huge tongue of the Siula Grande glacier was visible at the far end with the Sarapocha lake at its terminal face. The whole scene was incredible and my words can’t possibly describe it. Hopefully some of the 100 or so pictures we took in the hour we sat at the top can!

We finally dragged ourselves away from the view and started slipping and sliding our way back down. We met everyone else on their way up and made sure they knew not to give up and that the view was worth the pain. The walk on to camp was a little further than expected but we didn’t mind after such an amazing day.

Day 7 - Huanacpatay to Huatiaq

We both slept quite well after such a tough day.  It was quite cold in the valley but a few extra layers sorted that out.  We were a little slow getting going and I was still in my sleeping bag as the other two groups headed past!

Eventually we got moving though and headed off.  The first part of the day was a gruelling down bit on slippery ground, either very steep or switch backs.  It was a change in scenery too, and although no snow peaks it was very beautiful with flowers, rivers and mountains.  The plan had been to go all the way down to Huayuapa, the only village we pass on the trek, but 5 nights without sleep and a couple of tough days had taken their toll and we decided to bypass the village and start the 1000m climb we needed to do to make it to camp. 

Daniel needed to go to the village so we started up ourselves.  At one point we thought we were going the wrong way when the path seemed to merge with the river and waterfalls and we considered stopping – we didn’t fancy having to do too much extra walking! But we bumped into a local girl who confirmed we were going the right way so we kept walking up.  The last couple of hundred metres was a bit of a struggle and I thought I wasn’t going to get there! Eventually we rounded a corner and could see some tents in the distance.  We were absolutely delighted when another steep part later, the tents still a few minutes’ walk away, we went round another corner and there was our tent! We’ll have to walk the extra bit in the morning but for now we’re finished!  The spot was awesome under the snowy peaks of Tapush and Diablo Mundo.  Well done Nilo.

Day 8 - Huatiaq to Incahuain

Another frosty start to the day. The valley runs north south so we didn’t get any sun in the morning so the tent was rock hard from all the frost when we crawled out. Not sure if we’re up for this many nights non-stop in a tent. Not as hardcore as we thought we were. As we weren’t in the main part of the campsite, last night was also our first use of the toilet tent. At least it’s cleaner than some of the toilets so far but I didn’t envy Nilo having to fill in the hole after we left!

Today’s walk was another impressive day. Some of the first half of the day involved walking on a road built for the mines in the area wasn’t the nicest. Hopefully they don’t go too far mining in this area as it really would be a shame to ruin it. The first pass, Tapush Punta, was not too difficult to get to and the views the other side of Susacocha and then down to the Diablo Mundo base camp were, as usual, amazing. We then passed through the first bunch of trees we’d seen in a while and then a small stone house. Daniel stopped at this stage as he had signal on this phone and we headed on towards pass 2, Llacha Punta, 4850m. We weren’t sure we were going the right way at one stage till Nilo passed with the donkeys so we followed him. We were surprised a few minutes later to see Daniel high above us after he’d taken a short cut. Good guiding. We had probably gone the better way in the end as his way was pretty steep. It was tough going to the top but we made it and listened to a bit of ‘We are the Champions’ at the top to celebrate our last high pass of the trip.

A long steep downhill followed through some pretty yellow and purple flowers. At one point we thought we were leaving the snow peaks behind so we took a bunch of pictures of what we thought was our last one. A few minutes later we looked up to see another mass of mountain at the end of the valley we would be camping in. Non-stop spectacular on this walk!

Day 9 - Incahuain

Today was our day off, i.e. we weren’t moving on to another campsite but staying put for the day.  That didn’t mean no walking however!  We did get to have a lie in and got up for an 8am breakfast.  After a bit of relaxing outside the tent and staring at the stunning scenery we headed off.  We walking along the northside of lake Jahuacocha, on flat ground through trees to start with.  As we passed the glacier moraine the path started to get quite steep until we could see the lake in front of the terminal face of the glacier, Solteracocha, over the moraine wall.  We got to an open area half way up the pass which gave amazing views of the lake, the glacier and multiple peaks, and sat there for about an hour.  Just looking.  We watched some large birds gliding overhead, listened to the noises of the glacier and heard/saw an avalanche on the mountains looming over us.  Amazing and peaceful. 

On the way back to camp Kevin and I left Daniel and climbed up the moraine wall and got ourselves a full view of the glacier and the lake.  This was my favourite view of the whole trek! A relatively short day, still including a few hundred metres climb! We got brilliant sunset views this evening and the sky was less cloudy.  I was little a sad that this was our last night under these amazing mountains, but a little glad it was the last night in a cold tent!

Day 10 - Incahuain to Huaraz

The final day. Sad to be leaving the mountains but mostly sad to have to get up at 5am in order to make it to Llamac in time for the bus. It was only just getting bright when we started out from camp which made for some eerie views up the valley and hopefully some good pictures. We spent a lot of the morning walk discussing tips which is always a part of these things that I hate. We were agreed that Nilo had been great but weren’t too sure about Daniel. He was a bit hit and miss and although nothing had gone really wrong and the food had been great we were sure he could have done beter. In the end we decided we were happy overall and hopefully they both were at the end of the day.

There was a little more up than expected on the last day and then a long steep never ending down in to the valley and the fact we could see Llamac all the way, and it didn’t seem to be getting any closer it didn’t help. The last bit of any trek, no matter how long it was, always seems to be the toughest. Psychological I’m sure as you just want to get there in the end. We did finally make and then we sat around on the street for about an hour before the bus left. We did have fun watching them clean the bus for ages only for it to get totally dusty again in about 5 minutes down the road. After good byes to Nilo and the donkeys we were on our way.

We were soon back in Huaraz, sleep helped, after an amazing 10 days. We really enjoyed it just not sure we’re cut out for long term camping trips at this altitude!

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