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Huayhuash Circuit - North, Huayhuash, Peru

Huayhuash: The Most Beautiful Trek in the Andes

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Our friend Charles Bookman has described his walk as follows (thank you Charles!).

Day 1:Qurtelhuain to Mitucocha camp. 8km (5mi.), 550m (2,000’). The trail climbs steeply to Cacananpunta (4700m (15,300ft)), then descends into a broad valley to meet the Rio Janca, which it follows up to Mitucocha camp. The camp hugs the edge of a marshy plain about a mile below Laguna Mitucocha. The lake is an easy thirty minute stroll from the camp. Nevada Jirishanka and Rondoy dominate the sky above the lake.

Day 2: Mitucocha to Laguna Carhuacocha, 10 km (6mi.), 350m (1200ft). The route ambles uphill to a pass, Carhuac Yanapunta, then continues down to the camp beside gorgeous Laguna Carhuacocha. Jirishanka and Yerupaja dominate the view at the end of the lake. Siula Grande is off to the left, visible after walking around the lake. This is an easy, straightforward day with a wonderful reward (the lake) at the end.

Day 3: We took a rest day by the lake in the hopes that a sick party member would recover (it didn’t work). We weren’t idle, though, opting to walk up the lake to the territory of the “Three lakes”. A marvelous, well-signed viewpoint (mirador) just above Laguna Siula made a perfect lunch and turnaround spot.

Day 4: Carhuacocha to Huayhuash. 13km (8mi), 800m (2,600ft). There is a choice of routes on this leg. The burros take a longer but easier route over Punta Carnicero. Most trekkers opt for the more scenic “three lakes route.” This path takes you up close and personal to the glaciers of Siula Grande and involves a steep 800m (2,600ft) climb over Siula Punta. The terrain broadens out on the far side of the pass, as the Huayhuash camp occupies a wide plain. The skyline here is dominated by Nevada Trapecio, a spectacularly steep-sided 5600m (18,000ft) peak.

Day 5: Huayhuash to Viconga campsite and hot springs. Six km (4mi), 350m (1,200ft). This is a short but spectacular day with two great rewards. The first is the view of the Cordillera Raura from the 4,800 m (15,600 ft) Portachuelo Huayhuash. The Raura peaks are broad-shouldered, skiable summits and they make for spectacular viewing. The second reward is the hot springs. Three concrete-sided pools have been constructed, each with a different water temperature. The hottest pool, just short of scalding drains separately and therefore is convenient for washing; the other pools, hot-tub temperature are for soaking. The caretaker sells beer, which is carried in on the “Beer burro”. We spent a languid afternoon soaking our aches away under bright Andean sun. The trail between the Portachuelo and the hot springs ambulates around Laguna Viconga, a bathtub-ringed HydroPeru reservoir then over a shoulder. It crosses the roaring reservoir outlet on a rickety bridge. Remember the bridge as you will cross it again in the morning.

Day 6: Viconga to Huanacpatay camp via Punta Cuyoc. About 6 km (4mi), 800m (2,600ft). This is a short but demanding day, as, at nearly 5,000m (over 16,000ft)  Punta Cuyoc is one of the highest points of the trek. At the pass, you see your old friends Siula Grande and Yerupaja, this time from the west side. Take care on the descent, as the path is exceedingly gravelly.

Day 7: Huanacpatay camp to the village of Huayllapa. 16km (10mi), -1,000m (-3,000 ft). Most trekkers will opt to take the high, difficult pass that leads to Cutatambo and, above, the place where Joe Simpson and Simon Yates met unfortunate adventure on descending Siula Grande. With a sick party member, we decided to drop down to the village of Huayllapa, home of our arrieros. We were glad we did, as the village is remote and very interesting, The route to the village followed a broad valley that stepped down in sections separated by interesting, weathered sandstone ridges. The village is sited beyond road’s end, high above a river. Approaching the village, our way was blocked by a locked gate. The keeper hustled over with his pet lamb. We paid the fee and descended into the village.

Huayllapa has two schools and two churches. Village women wash laundry in the town creeks. A rudimentary sewer system serves community bath houses. We enjoyed visiting and interacting with the locals who, despite the remote setting, see trekkers almost every day during the season. The local football (soccer) field does double duty as a campground. We found the village nurse, who took care of our sick teammate. A village like Huayllapa can be difficult for outsiders to fully grasp. We see poverty. Yet, the village has electricity. It has sewers, but most bathrooms are communal (outside the mud-wattle homes, in the street near the sewer). The schools and churches are signs of striving. This generation has more than their parents, and the next generation will do even better.

Day 8: Huayllapa to Huatiaq, 5km (3mi), 800m (2,600ft). A strong party can combine days 8 and 9; we opted to break this part of the journey into two because of the health of our team members. The trail climbs steeply and steadily, following a steep ravine. Just before the camp, it tops out of the ravine and enters a broad valley. Huatiaq doesn’t get morning sun. Call it “Cold valley.” With a healthy party, I would definitely recommend continuing up over Tapush Punta, a longer but more rewarding day (see next day’s description).

Day 9: Huatiaq to Gashpapampa via 4800m (15,600ft) Tapush Punta. 6km (4mi), 400m (1,300ft). Nevada Diablo Mudo with it’s steep sides and snowy cap dominates this day. We picked up a rough mining road for an hour or so after leaving camp. The road wound its way up towards the pass. From the pass, we descended easily and obviously to another broad, marshy valley. With time to spare at camp, I scrambled up over a shoulder of Diablo Mudo always in search of a new view.

Day 10: Gashpapampa to Laguna Jahuacocha. 9km (5 ½ mi), 400m (1,300ft). Doing the trek clockwise saves the best for last. Every step this day is stunning. The route climbs steadily up to the pass. Signifying our group’s return to good health, several of our party performed head stands—a pretty neat trick at altitude. Laguna Jahuacocha is the jewel in a stunning valley. Old favorites Jirishanka, Yerupaja and Rondoy loom. The deep, cool stream at the lake outlet beckons for a swim.

Day 11: Jahuacocha to Llamac. 14 km (8 ½ mi), +250m (800 ft), -1,000m (3,300ft). Final day, you think you’re done but you aren’t. The exit route follows the valley down, then climbs up and over a difficult, ribbed shoulder. There, the long, steep gravelly descent begins. The air grows warmer and thicker as you descend. There is more activity as you approach the village. Matrons in capacious skirts scavenge the sere hillside for firewood. A woman in blue with a tall hat graciously accepted our leftover snacks, tucking them into the folds of her skirt. She carried a machete for cutting firewood, and a shawl for bundling and toting her harvest on her back. Three thousand meters (10,000ft) feels almost like sea level. 

A benefit of using an outfitter is the van that will await your arrival. Starting our final walk at 7:30 am, we reached Llamac about 1:30 pm and we were back in Huaraz in time for a fashionably late supper.

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By Charles Bookman ()

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