Information on the Alpamayo Circuit is fairly difficult to find abroad. I found most of my information in Huaraz, the major departure point for trips into the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash. Read on for information on how to plan a similar trek around what has been described as the world’s most beautiful mountain. (Some of the information is duplicative of my previous post, “Independent Trekking on the Huayhuash Circuit.”)
Maps and Guidebooks
I used the Alpenvereinskarten 0/3a Cordillera Blanca Nord (Peru) 1:100,000 map, which is available in Lima (Miraflores) at the South America Explorers club and in Huaraz at the Casa del Guillas. The map was just barely acceptable. I found myself searching for the trail far too often and lost quite a few hours bushwhacking as I tried to work my way back to the trail. The written trail description in the Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes guide book was often more helpful than the relatively low resolution Alpenvereinskarten map. The Skyline Adventure School puts out an alternate set that is 1:75,000, but those maps have less detail than the Alpenvereinskarten version. Pick your poison.
It wasn’t all the maps, though. Maybe because it was early in the hiking season after a particularly heavy rainy season, the trail proved quite tricky. Parts of the Circuit looked as if the entire Peruvian army had marched through during a rainstorm. Often with deep channels that you couldn’t miss if you tried. Then, just steps later, the trail would disappear as if no one had been there before. Complicating matters, the park is overrun by domesticated animals (cows, horses, sheep, alpacas) that do their best to camouflauge the Circuit with their own trails up and down the mountainsides. The result is that, at least for the Basecamp portion, the independent trekker early in the season is likely to spend a significant amount of time wishing for a machete as they force their way through brush up and down passes and valleys searching for the trail.
Once you reach Santa Cruz, however, any navigational struggles you might have are over. There is so much traffic you won’t have any trouble keeping the trail.
I caught a collectivo from Huaraz (FitzCarald and 13 de Decemebre) for the one and a half hour trip to Caraz. It cost 6 soles. From Caraz, it was another one and a half hour collectivo to Cashapampa for 12 soles. Be sure to tell the driver when you depart that you want to go to the Alpamayo Basecamp trailhead, not the Santa Cruz trailhead. The Basecamp trail is about 10 minutes drive further than the Santa Cruz outlet where the trek ends. I had no trouble catching a collectivo for the return to Caraz at the Santa Cruz trailhead when I got off the trail at 12:30pm. I don’t know how late in the day would hold true.
Trekking in the Andes is a unique experience. Because the Andes are located in the tropics, high altitude temperatures during the day can be incredibly hot, even into the 80’s. If you’re a massive gringo like me, bring some serious sunscreen and light layers to keep yourself covered. On the passes, winds pick up and the temperatures cool significantly. Similarly, once the sun is below the mountains or behind clouds, temperatures plummet and it gets cold quickly. Although I found the Blancas to be noticeably warmer than the Huayhuash, I still experienced sub-freezing temperatures on multiple nights and had thick layers of frost on my tent several mornings. This was especially so for nights spent above 4,000 meters.
Gear and Provisions
If you want high quality gear, bring your own. If you’re ok with gear that’s good enough, you can rent it in Huaraz. Andes Camping, located in Parc Ginebra just off of the Plaza de Armas, had the best combination of low prices and quality gear that I found.
You can get nearly any provisions you need for the trek in Huaraz. The best options are either the Mercado Central (great for granola, nuts, fresh and dried fruits, or a pigs head if you’re into that) or one of several grocery stores in town (Novoplaza, Ortiz). There are no resupply points on the Circuit, unless you’re willing to head well off trail to resupply at Pomabamba or Vaqueria. I opted to carry my full seven days of provisions from the start.
The Alpamayo Circuit is located in the Parc National Huascaran. The entry pass is 65 soles and is available in Huaraz at the Interior Ministry’s office near the Hospital Victor Ramos Guardia. My pass wasn’t checked until the very end of the trail as I entered Cashapampa. I’d heard you can skip the park pass, but it’s probably worth picking one up.
Guide books describing the hike frequently reference security issues for trekkers. I encountered nothing of the kind. Everyone I met was helpful and considerate. Other than the two Italians who died of natural causes (an avalanche climbing Alpamayo), I didn’t experience or hear of anything that suggested any problems on the trail or at the trailheads. It’s not a comprehensive survey, but, as usual, the security concerns seem overblown.
That should be everything you need to plan your own Alpamayo adventure. If you still have questions, just drop me a note in the comments. I’d be happy to answer anything else I can.
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