This is Part 2 of my circuit trek around Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash. Catch up on the first post here: The Second Best Trek in the World*
Planning a trek in Peru is difficult for those located abroad if you don’t use an agency. Hopefully this post will help those who want to complete the Huayhuash Circuit independently. I found most of my information on the ground in Huaraz, the major departure point for trips into the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash. My primary source was Franck, the very helpful manager of the Andes Camp Lodge.
Maps and Guidebooks
I used the Alpenvereinskarten Cordillera Huayuash (Peru) 1:50,000 map, which is available in Lima at the South America Explorers club in Miraflores and in Huaraz at the Casa del Guillas. The Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes guide book was also a particularly useful source of information.
For some additional details on navigating around the Circuit, see the comment below from Douglas who hiked it in September 2014.
We caught the 5AM El Rapido bus from Huaraz to Chiquian. The station in Huaraz is located downtown at the corner of Internacional Oeste and 28th de Julio. The two and a half hour trip cost 10 soles. In Chiquian, we transferred to the Nazario collectivo for the 15 soles, four-hour ride to Popca. The collectivo passes through Llamac on its way to Popca so it is possible to begin the trek there if you prefer.
After the trek, we again took the Nazario collectivo for the return to Huaraz from Llamac. In this case, our 20 soles ticket for the 11AM bus (the only outgoing transportation of the day) covered the entire trip back to Huaraz, although we transferred to a larger bus in Chiquian.
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, temperatures plummet and it gets cold quickly. We regularly experienced sub-freezing temperatures and had thick layers of frost on our tents most mornings. This was especially so for nights spent above 4,000 meters.
Gear and Provisions
If you want very 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 anything you need for the trek in Huaraz. The best options are either the Mercado Central (great for granola, nuts, fresh and dried fruits) or one of several grocery stores in town (Novoplaza, Ortiz). In addition to the snacks, popular choices among our group were pasta, pasta sauce, cous cous, salami, parmesan cheese, peanut butter, and bread. Huallapa, which we reached on Day 6, is the only resupply point on the Circuit. Provisions available at the bodega in town are sufficient, if limited (pasta, pasta sauce, tuna, crackers, cookies, some fresh fruits and vegetables).
The Circuit is not located in a national park. Instead of a park entry fee, each community that the trail passes through charges trekkers their own semi-official fee. The fee is ostensibly for conservation or protection, but it basically operates as an entry fee. We were told to expect anywhere from 175-250 soles for the total cost of the fees and ended up paying a total of 195 soles to seven different communities. The fees in each community ranged from 20-40 soles. Be sure to keep your billeto (ticket) handy once you’ve paid because it will be checked often. You’ll also need to bring small bills because change may not be available.
Guide books describing the hike frequently reference security issues for trekkers. We encountered nothing of the kind. Everyone we met was helpful and considerate. We 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.
Here’s the itinerary and trail description for our 9-day circuit:
Day 1: From the trailhead in Popca, the trail travels east along a mining road that follows the Rio Llamac. We camped at Quartelhuain (4,170m), where the night was very cold with lots frost in the morning.
Day 2: The day began with an immediate 600m climb up Cacananapunta pass (4,680m) that begins just past the campsite. Cresting the pass, the trail heads west toward Jancahunyi, then turns south to Janca until it crosses the Rio Janca. Heading through Tuclupampa, the trail offers great views of Nevados Jirishanca, Mituraju, Rondoy, and Ninashanca. A few kilometers later the trail begins to climb the second major pass of the day, Carhuac or Yanapunta (4,630m). After the pass, the trail continues south through Quebrada Yanayana to the Incahuain campsite alongside Laguna Carhuacocha (4,138m)
Day 3: The main trail continues south while an alternate trail winds westward around the lake and heads past the three lakes of Gangrajanca (4,245m), Suila (4,290m), and Quesillococha (4,332m). This alternate route is well worth the additional mileage and provides great views of the lakes and periodic avalanches falling from the glaciated peaks along the lakes’ western edge. Past the lakes, the trail rises to the pass of Suila Punta (4,830m). Looking back, you can see Nevados Suila Grande, Jurau B, and Jurau A rising from the lakes below. The rest of the day is an easy jaunt downhill through the pampa (swamp) toward camp at Huayhuash (4,350m).
Day 4: The trail heads uphill through the pampa above Huayhuash, past Laguna Mitacocha (4485m), and over Portachuelo de Huayhuash (4780m). After dropping from the pass, the trail continues along Laguna Viconga (4453m) and then through another, much smaller pass of several hundred meters. On the other side, with a dam immediately to the left, the trail winds down into the valley and heads southwest over the pampa to the campsite at the Agua Termal (4365m).
Day 5: Backtracking a short distance, the trail heads back a short way to begin heading northwest toward Punta Cuyoc (4,950m), which has some of the best views of the entire circuit of the major peaks to the north. Over the pass, the trail heads down to the camp in the valley (4,462m) below Nevado Cuyoc.
Day 6: We added a side trip without packs up to Mt. San Antonio Pass (5,020m) on the morning of the 6th day. We’d heard this hike takes two hours up and an hour down, but we completed the trip in 1:15min up, and 25min down. After packing up, we headed west through Quebrada Huanacpatay and descend all day until we reached the town of Huallapa (3,490m). The descent included a 250m, 8-level waterfall and, several kilometers before town, one of the steepest sections trails I’ve ever hiked. Huallapa has a campsite and several bodegas for resupplies.
Day 7: This is one of the more difficult stretches. Nearly all day the trail gradually, and at times not so gradually, ascended from Huallapa (3,490m) through Quebrada Huatiaq to the pass at Tapush Punta (4,820m). A short descent from the pass past Laguna Susucocha (4,740m) drops you into camp in Quebrada Gashpampa at around 4,550m.
Day 8: The trail heads east to climb another morning pass at Llaucha Punta (4,850m), then veers north and heads down to camp at the beautiful Laguna Jahuacocha (4,050m). This is probably the most beautiful spot on the entire trail.
Day 9: The trail rises gradually over about 8 kilometers to crest at Macrash Punta (4,272m) and then plummets into the valley of the Rio Llamac to arrive in Llamac, just west of the starting point in Pocpa.
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