* That’s the Huayhuash Circuit according to everyone in Peru. From my experience over the last nine days, they might just be right.

At Punta Cuyoc (4,950m) in front of a row of 6,000m peaks

Apparently Americans don’t spend enough time in South America. I came across a lot of info about Alpamayo when I was planning my treks, but the primarily American sites and books I used for research barely mentioned the Huayhuash Circuit. When I arrived in Huaraz, though, the Huayhaush clearly occupied the top spot as the best trek in South America among the locals and guides. That’s why I had to check it out.

Yerupaja (6,635m/21,768ft), the second highest peak in South America

The team for this trek included Gerwin (Netherlands) and Jolien (Belgium), a couple I met in Huaraz. On the way to the trailhead in Popca, we connected with Carmel, an Israeli who was heading out to hike the Circuit solo. Our itinerary called for eight days to complete the approximately 150 km/93 mile trek (maybe not surpringly, it’s been tough to get hard count on the trail mileage for the Circuit). We eventually added a ninth day to accommodate a side trip to Mt. San Antonio pass (5,020m/16,470ft).

Ready to hit the trail in Popca (Gerwin, Jolien, Carmel, me)

I’ll save a detailed itinerary for a second post, so here I’ll just pass along some interesting bits from the journey:

Day 2: We saw our first and only Andean condor of the trip as we crested Cacananapunta Pass (4,680m). On the descent, we came across a local herder, his young (12-14 year old) son and their cattle heading up the back side of the pass. The son had just fallen off his horse and had broken his upper arm. He was in rough shape. We spent about 20 minutes calming him down and getting his arm into a make-shift sling using the father’s sweater. Jolien, who speaks excellent conversational Spanish, had an impressive trailside manner. With a parting gift of some painkillers, we wished them well as they headed over the pass and toward the mining road that would hopefully take him to medical attention in the town of Llamac.

Andean condor over Cacananapunta Pass

Day 3: The next morning we took an alternate route that brought us past the three beautiful lakes of Gangrajanca (4,245m), Suila (4,290m), and Quesillococha (4,332m). We heard a noise that sounded like jet engines but soon realized that we were hearing avalanches falling from the glaciers along the peaks on opposite side of the lakes. We were treated to a new show nearly every 15 minutes as we went through valley. It was impressive. We were glad we had the lakes between us and the tons of snow plummeting down the mountain faces. Later that night, Carmel showed off her impressive trail cooking skills as she stewed up some tomatoes and onions for a delicious pasta sauce.

Trekking along Laguna Suila

Day 4: We camped at Agua Termal, a natural hot spring located at 4,365m. We spent the evening soaking our bones in the two large concrete pools filled with relaxing spring water and chatting with Hector, a guide who was taking a group of eight cheaters … I mean, tourists and a donkey train of their food and luggage around the Circuit.

Mt. San Antonio Pass

Day 6: We went to the top of Mt. San Antonio pass (5,020m), then descended over 1,600 meters to spend the night in the town of Huallapa. After resupplying at a small store, we were directed to our campsite, which doubled as the local soccer field. Late that evening, as we cooked our arroz and papas (rice and potatoes) for dinner, a nine year old girl named Anna sat down outside our tents. We talked and she helped me practice my Spanish. She informed us that out that rice is her favorite food and, of course, we offered her some ours. She mowed down two large bowls and with a quick “thank you” was off for the night. It didn’t take us long to figure out that she’d played this game before and that we’d just been had by the cutest little con artist ever.

Yep, they’re still practicing

Day 9: We broke camp at 5am and, hiking in the dark, raced 10 km down the valley to catch the collectivo (small bus) in Llamac that would take us to Chiquian and then on to Huaraz. In Llamac, we ran into Mili, the local equivalent of a park ranger that we met on Day 2. She not only told us where to catch the bus but also let us know that the little boy who broke his arm made it into town and was able get help. Definitely a small world.

Camping at Agua Termal

It was an amazing trek with great companions. The Cordillera Huayhuash contains some of the most impressive and breathtaking natural beauty I’ve ever seen. The views from the passes of the 6,000 meter peaks are absolutely stunning. I’m glad I got the opportunity to visit this area of the world and can’t wait to see what the Alpamayo Circuit has to offer later this week.

Donkey train passing in front of Nevado Cuyoc

And if you’re wondering which trek the Peruvians will admit is better than the Huayhuash? That would be the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. I have it scheduled for October.

Tired but happy trekkers waiting to catch their collectivo

Independent Trekking on the Huayhuash Circuit
Sidetracked on the Way to the Cordillera Blanca