Monday 10th September – Monday 17th September: Huayhuash Hike 103kms – 8 days.

Day 1: Monday 10th September

Finally, after 8 days of searching for a trip to Huayhuash, this morning I was heading off for the 8 day hike that some people describe as the most beautiful hike in the world. We set off at 9am from the office at Galactica and picked up the 11 people who were going to be part of the group for the Huayhuash Trek. Our guide Luka, gave us a run down of the day as we drove out to the mountain range. The road was in pretty bad condition, and there were some points where we were driving on a one lane gravel road with a sheer drop of least 1km right beside us!  Along the way, we stopped at various community checkpoints where we had to pay fees to the local communities. Since Huayhuash isn´t part of a national park, the communities must upkeep the trail and the facilities along the way such as the toilets and the campsites. As a result, most of the trek is really quite clean and relatively free of rubbish which is really nice to see. It was an expensive fee though! 200 soles (or about $80) for the 8 day hike. 

We stopped off along the road at Rondoy, about a 2 hour walk up in the hills to the campsite at Quartelhuain (4170m). This was a good chance for Luka to assess our fitness and acclimatisation to the high altitudes we were going to be walking in. We made it into the campsite nestled in the valley just as it was getting dark and very cold! Our cook, Kennedy had made us a lovely hot soup and soon enough we were settled in our tents for the night. We played cards after dinner and Luka explained the following day of walking.

Day 2: Tuesday 11th September

Up at 6am and ready to walk by 7am this morning. From the first steps we were headed uphill towards the Cacanapunta Pass at 4690m, more than 500m gain in altitude! It was pretty tough going but once I settled into a steady rhythm, I found that I was making good progress up the mountain. The mules (burros) and their drivers passed me with seeming ease about halfway up. Finally, after about 1.5 hours walking, I reached the top of the pass. The views of the surrounding mountains were amazing, even though it was a pretty cloudy day. It was pretty windy up at the top so I didn´t linger too long. The next phase was a 2 hour walk back down into the valley. We were on the look out for condors gliding through the morning sun but we didn´t have too much luck. We passed another checkpoint, with some lovely views of the surrounding mountain and then it was time for the second pass of the day – Yanayana – at 4740m. This one seemed somehow much easier – and at the top we had wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and a glacial lake below them. As we ate our lunch by one of the lakes, we were lucky enough to have a Condor fly right overhead! The wingspan of the Condor is incredible – over 3m long! They glide through the air with such grace. The final choice for the day was to head to another mirador – for views of the 3 lagoons that we would see the following day. Of course I said yes and I was glad that I did – the other guy and I that chose to do the extra walk were rewarded with amazing views of the 3 lakes and the snow capped mountains around them! My knees didn´t thank me on the walk down though – it was very, very steep! We got into camp after a long 9 hour day of walking, over 18km. The campsite for the night was beautiful, by Carhuacocha Lake at 4138m; surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I had a bit of an altitude headache after a long day so it was straight off to bed after dinner for me.

Day 3: Wednesday 12th September.

This morning we walked all the way around the perimeter of Carhuacocha lake, with incredible views of the mountain range before us, as the clouds lifted to reveal an amazingly beautiful blue sky day. We walked towards the mountains and then up to the first of the 3 lakes that we would see that day. At one point we heard a large rumbling sound and could see one of the glaciers having an avalanche! The amount of ice that was moving was unbelievable! We then hiked up to a mirador with nice views of one of the lakes – and we could see the ice that had come loose in the avalanche floating in the lake! The pass for the day was called Siula Punta – at 4830m and we then had an optional rock scramble for an additional viewpoint of the lakes and surrounding mountains. This was the highest I had ever been up to this point. The afternoon was a gentle walk downhill to the Huayhuash Campsite – located at 4350m. We had walked for 7.5 hours for 14kms that day. A shorter but even more tiring day!

Day 4: Thursday 13th September

Woke up this morning with frost on the tent – it had been a cold night clearly, although I had been really warm in my tent! Today we climbed up to the highest pass yet – Trapecio Punta at 5010m, afterwards another optional Mirador at 5127m – with even more magnificent views of the snow capped mountains now right at our level! It´s really hard to breathe up that high! The afternoon was sunny as we descended down into the valley and the campsite at Cuyocampana at 4500m with the worst bathrooms yet! They day was the shortest thus far – 6 hours for only 12kms, but for me it was definitely the toughest yet. I felt horrible and weak the whole day and was in bed all afternoon and straight after dinner. 

Day 5: Friday 14th September. 

Really big day today! 9 hours of walking in order to make the Santa Rosa Pass and then down into the town of Huayllapa. The Santa Rosa Pass was 2.5 hours straight up to 5050m. I was feeling stronger today and we saw some Vicuñas along the way which apparently is pretty rare to see in this area! The view as you reach the pass was probably one of the best yet – down to the stunning blue Juraucocha Lake surrounded by glaciers and snow-capped mountains – just beautiful! Of course, Luka offered us another optional hike up to the top of another mirador at 5100m – a rocky scramble that afforded us 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside – well worth the effort! We still had another 7 hours of walking to go from this point! We walked first all the way down to the lake in the valley which was a slippery couple of hours, and then 3 hours in the bottom of the valley in the sun until we made it finally to the town of Huayllapa (3600m – practically sea level!) where we camped on the local football oval. It was nice to be in a town where we could interact with some of the local children who wanted to sell us raffle tickets! One of the most beautiful days yet! 9 hours walking for 18kms!

Day 6: Saturday 15th September.

Today´s walk was really really tough! 5 hours straight uphill to begin. All the way up to the pass at Tapush Punta (4700m – 1100m elevation gain!) which wasn´t really even very scenic. The day was a necessary evil – we needed to get ourselves around the other side of the mountain pass ready for our next day of walking and perhaps the most beautiful views yet. We camped at Angocancha (4500m) and arrived after 6 hours of walking and 14kms.

Day 7: Sunday 16th September

Last full day of hiking on the Huayhuash today and supposedly the most beautiful day yet! We began with another walk up to a pass – this time it was called Llaucha Punta at 4850m. It only took 1.5 hours to get up there.  Super easy compared to the earlier days! Once at the top, we had a lovely walk around to two separate miradors with amazing views over the surrounding mountains. On the way to the first mirador we saw a couple more condors from afar! The first mirador was at 4900m and then we walked over the ´hills´to the second mirador at 4750m at Huacrish. From here we had great views down to the campsite for that night which were right by a couple of really beautiful lagoons. The way down was punishing on the knees and very slippery! Again we saw condors – one flew right overhead this time! After about 1.5 hours I made it into camp – because it was sunny and hot, I had a bath in the glacial river which was really really freezing but super refreshing. I washed off all the dust and accumulated sunscreen that the wet wipes hadn´t managed to get off from the past 6 days. We played cards for our final night together and then it was into the tent for the final time. The campsite was at lake Jahuacocha -4050m. That day we had hiked for 5 hours and 8kms.

Day 8: Monday 18th September

Hike out of valley today meant an early start at 6.30am. Our guide Luka had offered our group the option to finish the whole Huayhuash circuit back out to Rondoy where we had begun – this route is not commonly offered because it is quite a bit more difficult and also the donkey drivers usually live at the finishing town and aren´t keen on doing the much harder hike. Luckily for us, our donkey drivers lived in a different town and the detour made their day a lot shorter which they were happy about! We had a huge uphill walk for about 2 hours to our final pass for the hike – Sambuya Punta at 4740m. It was the toughest one yet and felt like I was never going to make it up there!  The views of the lake from the top surrounded by mountains were once again amazing – and enhanced because this time I knew that I was completely done with all the uphill! Now only a 2 hour descent down now to the van which would take us back to Huaraz. 5 hours walking on the final day for 11kms.