Peru part 6: Walking in the Wilderness: Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit (31 Oct – 08 Nov 2016)

Previous post: The Greater Divide: Off-roading it (mostly) to Huaraz)

Next post: The final frontier: Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca (coming soon)

 

What we did

  • Days taken: 9 (including one travelling day)
  • Distance walked: 113 km
  • Total elevation gain: 5,526m
  • Max daily distance: 23km
  • Max daily elevation gain: 1,759m
  • Max altitude reached: 5,024m
  • Max altitude slept at: 4,351m
  • Nights spend under a roof (in a tent): 6 (2)

Blog post

If you’re still with me, or if you’re just tuning in, we just arrived in Huaraz, tourist town and gateway to Peru’s highest mountain ranges – the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash – a wee bit tired after a pretty loco amount of climbing in the past couple of weeks.

We checked into Joe’s place, where all the cycle tourists in Huaraz allegedly stay – although being ‘rainy season’ we barely saw anyone there. Which is a shame really, as the weather was absolutely stunning! The next two days were spent mostly eating, drinking and sitting back and enjoying the fantastic views of the Cordillera Blanca range from the bench on our terrace. But, deciding that this couldn’t possibly last for long, we decided to spend the following day frantically stocking up for our next big trek, the ‘Huayhuash circuit’. This one would be like Ausangate (see previous post) on steroids, with high, remote mountain passes on each of the 8-10 days it normally takes to complete the trek, and just one village the whole way round to buy any food or drink. It was our Lonely Planet’s number 1 ‘wilderness’ experience in Peru, and we’d read plenty about the perils of setting off without a guide, especially in November when there’d be almost no one else around.

But we did it all right, and it definitely was an experience! Three days of unbelievably good weather and great views of the mountains were followed by three of pretty horrendous snow, hail and rain, all falling from low-hanging clouds that obscured what were supposed to be some of the best views of the route. Still with another three days to go, we were relieved when the beautiful weather returned after that, and we ended up managing to see almost the whole of the mountain range in (almost) all its glory.

The experience would have been slightly better if my stomach hadn’t decided to play silly buggers for the first five days, and it was a little bit scary when I had to lie down for an hour, unable to walk, near the top of a 5,000 metre pass, with snow falling all around us and literally no one around for miles.

The one other downside of this trek is that the campsites along the way seem to be run by a collection of local mafias, charging extortionate fees for ‘protection’, and the privilege of being able to camp next to a couple of smelly toilets. In the past, trekkers have reportedly been mugged and even killed on this route by armed gangs, and so everyone pays this money without questioning. In total, we parted with around 45 quid each on the trek alone – almost the same as we’d paid on the longer Choquiquerao trek, which included the entrance fee to Machu Picchu!

Route map and altitude profile

For those who just want some pictures…

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Aerial map of our trekking route – we went clockwise, starting from the north west

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And a fancy altitude profile – click here for a closeup if you don’t have 20/20 vision

Photoblog

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I believe this photo is the only evidence we have of our two recovery days in Huaraz!

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In Llamac, the last village before the circuit begins, the bus stopped for breakfast. Just enough time for Charlie to buy two broom handles, aka trekking poles, aka Rod and Woody!

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They were put to good use straight away as we left the tiny hamlet of Pocpa, the first of many communities we would have to pay just for the privilege of passing through their land

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The climbing was tiring, but the weather was just beautiful

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As were the views down the valley

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But we were going up. We reached Quartelhuain, our first campsite, and 1000m above Pocpa, pretty tired and ready to sleep

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The next day, and we kept going up!

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Picture perfect trekking

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View down both sides of the Cacananpunta pass (good old GoPro fish eye lens). We would do at least one big climb like this every day of the trek

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Down the other side, we made camp at Laguna Mitucocha, where we were one of only two groups camping that day. The view out of our tent was pretty special!

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Though not as beautiful as the view from outside looking in

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After resting in vain for a while trying to get over a stomach bug, I managed to wrestle myself from the sleeping bag to appreciate the scenery

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The following day, we approached the Cordillera Huayhuash proper. Cheese!

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And we camped at another laguna, this one known as Carhuacocha. Where we got a bit peckish

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As campsites go, this one is pretty idyllic. Well worth the 5 pound per head ‘protection’ fee

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We made the most of the beautiful weather…

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…As before we knew it, it was about to change. Here’s Charlie on the long climb to one of the highest points on the trail, the Siula Punta

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The clouds were covering the peaks now, although views were still plentiful. This is allegedly the ‘classic’ Huayhuash view – although I don’t think it always includes Charlie

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Here it is without her, for good measure

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In the midst of a hailstorm, we found shelter under a large rock

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Just keep on walking…

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Eventually we made the rocky pass

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Walking down the other side, we usually just had to guess at where the path was

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I’ll skip forward a day now due to more terrible weather and illness – both in full evidence in this great snap from Charlie’s phone

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Anyway, here is Charlie chilling out in style near our camping spot at the Viconga hot springs

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The next pass was the highest on the circuit. By now the weather was turning a very welcome corner

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After a 30 minute illness break where I was regretting not noting down the Peruvian mountain rescue number, we managed to reach the Jurao pass (5025m)

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It was a long way down to the only village on the trek, Huayllapa. This was the view back up the valley later that evening

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The next morning and Charlie’s big smiley face is due to the return of the sunshine and blue skies

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Contemplating the final big pass of the trek

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Here’s the view from the top…

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…Well, almost. We carried on climbing up a nearby hill to get some pretty stunning views of the whole of the Huayhuash range

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Charlie contemplating that view

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We even managed to share a little moment

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Before beginning the descent to our final campsite at Laguna Jahuacocha

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It was without doubt the steepest 800 metre descent of my life. Not that there have been that many, but you get the point

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Another beautiful camping spot!

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The next morning, before heading back to Llamac and the end of the trail, we took one final look back at Laguna Jahuacocha. Then another one. And another. And so on. In fairness, it was hard to take your eyes off

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I swear it was all supposed to be flat from here

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Eventually we did reach our final high point, before beginning the long 1000m descent to Llamac, from where the bus left back to Huaraz the following morning. Another trek done!

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3 thoughts on “Peru part 6: Walking in the Wilderness: Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit (31 Oct – 08 Nov 2016)

  1. Pingback: Peru part 5: The Greater Divide: Off-roading it (mostly) to Huaraz (10-28 Oct 2016) | Long way up

  2. Pingback: Peru (03 Sep – 05 Dec 2016) | Long way up

  3. Pingback: Peru part 7: An Andean Summer: Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca | Long way up

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