Introduction(Sonya), I got to go on a 16 day trek through the stunning and remote mountains of the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru as a part of our honeymoon. As a direct result of this 16 days trekking (specifically, days 10-12), I now owe my best wife in the world 16 days in the spa as compensation. It was worth it.
After the long trip from Colorado to Peru (with a one night stay in Lima, which was more than enough time to spend in the city), we spent a week acclimatizing in Huaraz before heading off to the Huayhuash. Benefiting from our pre-trip acclimatization in the mountains of Colorado, we enjoyed short hikes to the pre-Inca ruins at Wilcahuaín and Laguna Churup in the Cordillera Blanca with a minimum of suffering from the altitude. Additionally, we sampled the best Huaraz has to offer in the form of Pisco Sours and late-night amateur pyrotechnics.
Into the HuayhuashOn June 25, we finally set of for the Huayhuash with our friends: guide Oscar, cook Benjamin, and arriero (donkey-driver) Alfonso. We had provisions for our 16 days strapped to the roof of the van, including a pair of live chickens that we discovered after hearing mysterious chirping noises coming from the roof. We made the six-hour trip from Hauraz to Llamac (the starting and finishing point of the trek) without much incident, although the combination of bumpy road and diesel fuel did nothing good for our stomachs. After meeting our second arriero in Llamac (Iliberto, Alfonso’s father), we embarked upon a short hike up the hillside to pass the time, as we would not officially start the trek until the next morning. Near the high point of our hike we met an eight-year old-boy on his way home from school, hiking back two hours over a pass to his community – a journey he undertook every day in both directions. After dinner we retired to our bed (the last one for the next 15 days), at which point my wife got fleas, as we would discover later.
The next morning we left Llamac, off on our adventure! Our first glimpse of a glaciated peak was of Diablo Mudo, which would be our climbing objective almost two weeks later. We crossed our first minor pass (Punta Llamac) and headed up valley towards our destination – the beautiful Laguna Jahuacocha, located at the base of several Huayhuash giants including Yerupaja, Jirishanca, and Rondoy. Almost immediately after our first good view of the main Huayhuash crest, I developed a strange problem with my vision – it felt like I was trying to see through water out of my left eye. This worried me quite a bit, as we were already in a quite remote position and were heading even further out with every step. After about an hour my vision cleared up, but we were still on edge as we would have to deal with any medical issues ourselves.
The First High PassesThe following day we rose early for a good breakfast before embarking on what would turn out to be one of the most difficult days of the trek. The day’s itinerary had us crossing two high passes – Punta Sambuya (4750 meters) and Punta Rondoy (4735 meters). This would not have been much of a problem, had Sonya’s stomach not started to revolt. With the exception of Sonya’s not feeling well, the day’s hike ranks up with my favorites of all time.
Our third day hiking was deemed a rest day for Sonya, as she rode our “rescue horse” Luis Pardo over the day’s pass (Cacanampunta, 4685 meters).
A Difficult "Rest Day"The next morning we were greeted with the prospect of yet another high pass – this time Carhuac (4650 meters). The going was easy along open grassy slopes, and again we experienced some rain and cloudy weather. We got a few glimpses of the high peaks as they pierced the mist, but the full panorama of the Huayhuash from the east would have to wait for another day. Thankfully, we were staying two nights at our next campsite, Laguna Carhuacocha, so we still had hope for the views. On a completely unrelated note, we saw some vizcacha (a strange rodent that looks like an experiment in breeding rabbits with squirrels), and I named one of our donkeys Howie Junior.
Our first “rest day” on the trek was spent hiking up from Carhuacocha to a fantastic lake (Laguna Chaclan) beneath the towering east face of Jirishanca. We admired the peak’s reflection in the waters, discovered a wing from a plane that crashed into the mountain decades earlier, and hunted for crystals among the talus near the lake. When we returned to camp we undertook trash duty with the help of Oscar, cleaning up piles of waste left behind by irresponsible trekking groups. If you plan to trek in the Huayhuash (or anywhere, for that matter), please behave responsibly and make sure that others around you do too.
A Beautiful View and Another Pass
We awoke the next morning and set off below the icy pyramid of Trapecio and the vertical spires of the Puscanturpa group towards the Portachuelo de Huayhuash (the pass du jour, 4750 meters). Sonya had extra incentive today, as a hot springs waited for us beyond the pass – and an opportunity to bathe for the first time in 8 days. I maintain that this should count as one of the 16 spa days that I owe Sonya in return for this trek. The waters felt glorious, but exiting the springs into the cold, windy air was one of the trip’s most trying moments.
Touching the Void
Nearing the ClimbIt transpired that the previous night Howie Junior lead a breakout, and we awoke to several missing donkeys. Thankfully our arrieros Alfonso and Iliberto were able to track them down, but only after a couple of frustrating hours. We moved on from our camp below Laguna Jurau onto what turned out to be the least aesthetically pleasing day of the trek. We passed through the dusty, polluted town of Huayllapa, the low point of our trek at 3500 meters, before turning north up valley to our night’s campsite below the southern aspect of Diablo Mudo. It would be two more days before we stood on the summit.
Climbing Nevado Diablo MudoI was excited to get going under the stars after our alarm went off, and we ate a big breakfast of Angel Flakes and yogurt for energy. Together with Oscar and Benjamin, Sonya and I headed off at around 4 AM into the darkness and up the steep moraine. The slope gradually increased as we moved onto a rocky slab, until it felt like we were climbing up a low-angled flatiron. The first light of the morning reached us as we neared the top of the moraine. From this point we sidled around and beneath the loose rocky ridge before reaching the glacier and donning our crampons and roping up.
Instead of descending our ascent route, we headed off down the east face, moving from snow to steep scree and talus. An ascent from this side would be technically very easy but aesthetically very boring. Once at the valley floor we removed several layers of clothing and headed down the grassy valley under the beautiful flanks of Tsacara in the Quebrada Huacrish. After several long, tiring hours of hiking we stumbled down towards Laguna Jahuacocha, finally back to the site of our first night’s camp. Success!
A Rest and A DepartureFinally we took an actual rest day on our 15th day in the Huayhuash. I passed the time reading and taking a quick dip in Laguna Jahuacocha, which was about as cold as one would expect for a lake below a glacial cirque. As this would be our last day in the Huayhuash, it was decided that a celebration was in order! Together with our new friends Oscar, Benjamin, Alfonso, and Iliberto we attempted to lighten the donkey’s loads by finishing off a series of pisco sours, beers, red and white wines, and whatever else was left over in the crates. Iliberto sang some incredibly soulful traditional songs of the Huayhuash, and we laughed as we reminisced on our adventures and misadventures of the last two weeks. Benjamin also baked us an enormous honeymoon / early anniversary pancake (we’ve had a rather extended honeymoon), and we collapsed into our tents, contented and excited about the adventures of the day.
The following morning we reversed our route back out to Llamac, taking every opportunity to look back over our shoulders at the last views of Jirishanca and Yerupaja. The descent back down to Llamac was excruciatingly hot and painful on our knees, but we were excited about the prospects of a shower in a few hours. (These hopes were later dashed when we discovered there was no hot water running in our hotel in Huaraz). Back in Llamac, we said our goodbyes to Iliberto and Howie Junior (sad!) and headed off for the painful six hour van ride back to Huaraz.
We spent our last couple of days in Huaraz with our new friends, doing some rock climbing with Oscar and eating a fantastic pachamanca (a traditional Peruvian meal, in which meats and vegetables are cooked underground by heated stones like in a luau) at Benjamin’s house. The party with all of our friends from Mount Climb guiding – Oscar, Benjamin, Alfredo and Sylvia (the owners of Mount Climb), the assorted relatives and families, and some random guy pounding beers who turned out to be our taxi driver, made for one of the best days of our honeymoon. We missed everyone terribly as soon as we left for Lima, but we were excited to move on to our next adventure, which happily would start just one day later when we left for eight days in the Galapagos! But that is a story for another website, as it is distinctly lacking in mountains.