There’s little doubt in our minds that the Huayhuash Circuit is Peru’s premier trek. Among the best on the continent, it’s right up there with anything this world has to offer. Rarely on our mountain wanderings have we encountered such magnificent scenery. Bejewelled alpine lakes, jagged peaks, tortured ice falls, gargantuan rock faces, fascinating contorted strata. And Inca or pre-Inca trails from which to enjoy it all.
From the day you depart Huaraz and spy your first views of the range from a bus window at Paso de Mojon, the splendour rarely abates; a constant companion for the 6, 8, 10 or 15 days you choose to linger over the loop.
The area does have some issues (thankfully, solvable ones), about which more in our next, angry, post. But for now here are some pictures which fail to capture the true splendour of the place, but which hopefully give a flavour as to why we think this is the trek mountain lovers should be flocking to Peru for.
We leave our tent out un-pegged to dry, and a sudden gust of wind begins lifting it off to Laguna Mitucocha. Fortunately Haz shows the presence of mind to pluck it out of the air before it gets a soaking.
Skirting round Laguna Mitucocha on an alternative route to Carhuacocha. There wasn’t a path much of the way, but the views of Jirishanca were excellent.
The only signs of life we saw between Mitucocha and Carhuacocha. Luckily the big groups don’t go this way, so the trail is clean and quiet.
On the climb above Laguna Mitucocha.
After a reasonably taxing day of navigation we arrive at Carhuacocha. The morning is initially clear, so while wolfing down our porridge we can admire 6090m Jirishanca. Check out the huge icicles hanging off the steep SE face.
Next door is Yerupaja – Peru’s 3rd highest mountain, and the 13th highest in the Andes. It’s by far the most difficult of the high Andean peaks to climb – very few people reach its true summit these days, due to the difficulty and danger of all routes.
Still snapping away in the early morning at Carhuacocha. L-R: Siula Grande (of Joe Simpson and ‘Touching the Void’ fame), Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico.
Morning cloud on Jirishanca. For an hour at camp we were treated to weird and rapidly changing cloud formations on the peaks. Then a blanket of cloud descended and we saw little for the rest of the day.
The Yerupajas and Jirishanca, from Carhuacocha.
Jirishanca proudly sporting a cloud hat. The local hats in Ancash are fantastic – our luggage on the plane home will be full of them. If they don’t fit in our bags, we’ll have to wear towers of them on our heads, like some of the better-off campesinas do.
Yerupaja on the increasingly unsettled morning. Wouldn’t have wanted to have been up on the peak – the wind was gusting hard.
After a leisurely breakfast (look at porridge, look at peaks) we finally leave our idyllic campsite and begin walking round Carhuacocha.
It’s not long before the weather deteriorates and the peaks disappear from view. Still, we get some of the classic Huayhuash views at the ‘3 lakes’ mirador.
The Highest Bar in Peru? Having only seen a couple of people on the first 3 days of our trek, imagine our surprise on reaching 4830m Siula Punta and finding Maria up there with some buckets of cold drinks. Sadly the beer had run out the day before, so we had to make do with Coke.
Haz’s boots. New 4 months ago at the start of this trip, but the inside ankle cuffs have already worn out and had to be repaired by a Huaraz cobbler.
Day 4 and dawn at Huayhuash camp. One of the Jurau peaks (D? E? F?) shines in the morning sun.
But it’s reasonably chilly. Some ice clings to our Dragonfly in the just-below-freezing temperatures.
We leave Huayhuash with its plumbed-in toilets and very clean camp and begin walking to Portachuelo de Huayhuash. Though this is heading away from the big mountains, the day is still jam-packed with views of peaks and lakes. This one’s Nevado Trapecio. From the east it’s a triangle; from the west the trapezium the name suggests.
Nice Casio! Vital for that 05:30 alarm – gotta catch the good morning weather.
Not often you see Haz playing with her food, but when you’ve got 20 Triangulos to build with…
Get in line! Some people can’t resist some good rock strata.
A donkey train climbing to Portachuelo de Huayhuash. These guys are from Los Amigos de Huayhuash, a small family agency based in Chiquian. From what we saw of them they were excellent. Unlike many of the big, cheap agencies that are based in Huaraz, of which there are a number of despicable examples.
A bored bull gazing at another colourfully-clothed trekker descending to Laguna Viconga.
Still descending to Viconga. Wish we’d had the bikes for this section!
A lichen splattered rock near Viconga – near the excellent thermal baths.
Feeling refreshed after an afternoon soaking in the termales, we climb to Punta Cuyoc, the highest pass on the traditional circuit. The Cordillera Raura in the background.
Snapping the Cordillera Raura from 5050m Punta Cuyoc.
The Huayhuash had more wildlife than we’ve seen in the Cordillera Blanca. Plenty of condors, some vicuna and loads of vizcachas. Too late in the season for most flowers, apart from these cactus flowers, which were everywhere.
A rock we liked in Quebrada Huanacpatay. As the day from Viconga to Cuyoc camp was so short we spent the afternoon on a 20km sidetrip down this tranquil valley.
Choza in Quebrada Huanacpatay. An elderly couple were living in this hut – not a bad spot, with Nevado Cuyoc’s vertical north face towering over the head of the valley.
Descending from Paso Jurau, at 5060m the highest pass on our trek. It was windy up there, so we didn’t stay long. In a few hours we were in Quebrada Sarapococha, location of Joe Simpson’s basecamp and almost-unbelievable escape from Siula Grande.
Juraucocha – the most dazzling of the Huayhuash’s lakes. Flanked on one side by a milky-white lakelet, and on the other by a smaller bottle green one.
Haz sporting her new camouflage jacket. Only effective in certain areas of the Huayhuash and Blanca.
Two days later and we cross Yaucha Punta. From the pass the views are good, but head north, off the main trail, and there is an incredible ridge-top path to a mirador on Cerro Huacrish, with views of all the big peaks. This one’s Nevado Rasac (Quechua for ‘toad’, apparently).
Sunset on Nevado Rondoy. We arrived in camp in overcast and drizzly conditions, but thought we’d go for an afternoon stroll anyway. The weather cleared and we were treated to fantastic late afternoon sun on Rondoy, Jirishanca and Yerupaja.
Sunset on Nevados Rondoy and Jirishanca on the penultimate day of our trek. The next day we were off early, but only made it to Llamac 2 minutes before the sole bus of the day left for Huaraz.
See our full Flickr Photoset of the Huayhuash Circuit.