Just south of the famous Cordillera Blanca lies Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced “why-wash”). Keen to get out of town and back into the mountains, I joined a group that was heading off on an 8 day trek in this stunning mountain range. Eight days full of beautiful mountains, glacial lakes, circling condors, four crazy Frenchies, and smelly feet.
Huaraz – Quartelhuain (Approx. 6 hours driving)
I was picked up from my hostel (La Cabaña) at 9am. After having several of my trips cancelled on me at the last minute, it was a relief to see the van at the front door and know that this time the trip was going ahead. We picked up the three other members of the group from their hotel. Three very nice Frenchies. They had been waiting for their other French friend to arrive in Huaraz before they started the trek, but hadn’t heard from her for a few days and had decided to give up waiting and head off without her. Our guide, Rosmel, was a young and quiet guy from a village near Huaraz. He didn’t say too much, but he had a great smile.
The trip to the trailhead was to take 6 hours. Six hours of windy and bumpy road. As we headed south of Huaraz, the view of Cordillera Huayhuash came into view and took our breath away. It was incredible. Halfway to the trailhead, we got a call to say that the Frenchie’s friend had arrived in Huaraz and was currently in a taxi chasing us down. We took a break and ate lunch in a surprisingly crowded eatery.
Soon enough, we were joined by Marion, the fourth Frenchie, and we made our way to the trailhead (also the camp for the first night). Here we met our friendly arriero (donkey man), Percy. We shared the campsite with a few other groups. As the sun went down over the mountains, a beautiful red glow filled the sky. The local dogs seemed to be enjoying the view as well. The night was cold and I was glad that I had decided to bring two sleeping bags.
Quartelhuain to Laguna Carhuacocha
We were up at 6am and treated to a tasty breakfast (all the food on the tour was great. Rosmel was a fantastic cook). We had a bit of climb to start the day up to the first pass of the walk at 4690 m. As we reached the pass a couple of condors cruised past over our heads. After the pass we took a nice side-trip to Laguna Mitococha (approx. 40 minute detour). The flat valley was full of grazing cattle. I soon learnt that the Frenchies had an interesting fascination with bones, and they stopped to check out the many cow bones along the way. Their excitement to find the intact skulls of cows was overwhelming. They picked them up and soon each had one strapped to the back of their bags. A lot of the trip was spent discussing which was the best specimen, how they were going to get them back to France, and where they were going to be kept in their homes. The locals found it quite amusing, and it was always quite a good conversation starter with them.
We enjoyed a tasty lunch on the hill, went over another pass (4640m), and then continued on towards our campsite for the night. The view of the mountain range was incredible, and we camped above the stunning, blue Laguna Carhuacocha. The others headed off to the river to wash and came back looking a bit cold. I considered having a clean, but since I had my tent to myself and no clean clothes to change into anyway, I thought to myself: “Why wash on the Huayhuash?”.
Laguna Carhuacocha to Huayhuash camp.
We awoke to an amazing sunrise. The mountains were reflected perfectly in the still lake. The colour of the mountain peaks was incredible. We rounded the lake and headed up the valley to the “Three Lagunas”. The view from the mirador at the head of the valley was one of the highlights of the trip. We stopped and watched as huge chunks of snow and ice fell of the mountains and tumbled down the mountain-side.
On the other side of the pass (4834m) the scenery changed quite dramatically. The valley was full of a type of cushion plant which was similar to that which can be found in the highlands of Tasmania. The colours were great, with the green of these plants fitting in perfectly with the blue sky and the white-capped mountain peaks.
We headed down towards the campsite at Huayhuash, where Percy had our tents set up and ready for our afternoon naps. The others headed for a clean in the river. I splashed some water on my face. That was enough for me.
Huayhuash to Atuscancha
This was the shortest day of the walk. We passed over a small pass (4785m) and then headed down to our next camp for the night. We did get some great views of the mountain range though. We ate lunch at the campsite and spent the afternoon reading and relaxing. Max had itchy feet and decided to run up a small mountain on the other side of the valley. The rest of us headed to the thermal pools to soak our muscles. Unlike the thermal pools that I had seen on the Ausangate trek, these pools were very clean and had only a slight sulfur smell to them. The guides and arrieros joined us, and we sipped beers as we tried to spot Max on the top of the mountain.
As we drunk our afternoon cuppa, the snow started and soon the camp site was completely white. I got overly excited and was smiling a lot. It looked beautiful.
Atuscancha to Qld. Huanacpatay camp
We woke to an icy campsite. As we headed up to the highest pass for the walk (4950m), the ground was covered in a good layer of snow. The view from the pass was fantastic.
We ate lunch at the base of the hill, looking up towards the mountain behind us. In the valley below, the Frenchies found some better cow skulls, and swapped them for the ones that they had been carrying. We took a side trip up to the San Antonio mirador (5000m). It was quite a steep climb and took about 2 hours from the valley bottom. As we reached the top, a few flakes of snow fell in our faces. From the top we could see down into the next valley, and had a great view of the glacial lakes and mountain peaks on the other side. We raced down the loose scree and were back at the valley bottom within 20 minutes.
That evening quite a bit of snow fell on our camp. The others still headed for the river to wash. I did not.
Qld. Huanacpatay camp to Incahuain
This was probably the least interesting day of the walk for me. We headed down the valley towards the village of Huayllapa, and then up to our camp at Incahuain. We passed one of the many checkpoints that lie along the trail where visitors are required to pay a fee for the campsites. The two elderly locals that were posted at this one took a very long time to count, re-count, and re-re-count our money. They then accused us of not paying enough. After assuring them that we had all paid, they re-counted the money, then re-counted it again, then nodded their heads.
That evening we enjoyed some condensed milk straight from the can for dessert. Yum!
Incahuain to Laguna Jahuacocha
From the camp we climbed up the side-hill and up towards the first pass of the day (4750m). I was glad to have brought some gummy bears (ositos) as I needed the extra energy. We enjoyed a fresh lunch on the way up to our second pass (4847m). From here, we traversed around the hill towards a mirador (Co. Huacrish, 4750m). A couple of condors passed overhead. The view from the mirador was incredible, looking down towards our campsite for the night, over to the large glacial lakes, and up towards the whole of the Cordillera Huayhuash. Looking north we could see the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Blanca.
On the very steep decent to the camp, the Frenchies found the best cow skull of the whole trek. They were excited that it still had some leather attached to its head. They didn´t seem to worried that it still smelt a bit….
Our last camp had probably the best view of all the camps on the trek – straight up the valley towards the glacier and mountains beyond. We sat on the grass and enjoyed some beers which we bought from a lady who had been keeping them cool by submerging them in the river. She also supplied Rosmel and Percy with some basic fishing rods, and they set off to catch us some dinner. Percy was the most successful fisherman, catching 6 small trout from the river. Tasty fresh fish for dinner – Yum!
Photo by Max.
Laguna Jahuacocha to Pocpa and Huaraz
On our last morning we woke to the sun rising up behind the mountains. Long rays of light shone from the top of the peaks. We had a decent climb to 4575m, and an even tougher decent between the camp and the village where our transport was waiting for us (Pocpa). We enjoyed some lunch and beers, and said farewell to Percy before jumping into the van for the journey back to Huaraz.
The van was soon filled with the stink of our feet. As we bumped our way back along the road to Huaraz, Max tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Joe, your hair is so greasy. Did you wash it with mayonnaise?”
Maybe I should have washed after all…..
Trip type: Multi-day trek organised through agency (Enjoy Huayhuash), with guide and arriero. Can be done independently as well.
Highlights: Glacial lakes, mountain passes, alpine flowers, mountain views, condors.
Costs: 600 soles for all-included trip, plus 195 soles for camping fees (yep, it is a lot).
Trek distance: Approx 70 km.
Trek rating: moderate (depending on how acclimatised you are already).
What to take: Warm clothes for cold nights, towel for thermal pools, water purification tablets, rain jacket, snacks, camera, 200 soles in small notes for camping fees.