The Cordillera Huayhaush is a remote and rugged range of snowcapped peaks located south of the more frequently traveled Cordillera Blanca in central Peru. Towering 6000 meter giants including Yerupaja, Jirishanca, Siula Grande, Sarapo, and Rasac anchor the range and offer some of the most difficult and treacherous alpine routes on the continent. Climbs in the range tend to be committing, difficult, and threatened by numerous objective dangers. As there are few options for accessible easy to moderate climbs in the area, most travelers heading to Peru focus on the comparatively friendly peaks closer to Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca. In spite of this, climbers and trekkers are heading to the Huayhuash in increasing numbers to enjoy the world class trekking and climbing in a remote and relatively unspoiled area.
During the early 1990s, the Cordillera Huayhuash was little visited by foreigners due to terrorist activity by the Sendero Luminoso (“shining path”) guerilla group. Furthermore, a series of robberies, assaults, and even murders along the major valley trekking route discouraged most from traveling to the Huayhaush. During the past few years the occurrence of such issues has declined and travel in the Huayhuash is generally considered safe again. Nonetheless, the small settlement of Huayhuash provides trekkers with an armed guard and escort over the Portachuelo de Huayhuash as a precaution. Be aware of your surroundings and take precautions if you decide to venture into the Huayhuash.
Huayhuash Panorama above Sarapacocha.
Getting to the Huayhuash
Map of the Huayhuash
The Cordillera Huayhuash is a high and remote mountain range, making access somewhat difficult. Most climbers and trekkers in the region base themselves in the mountain town of Huaraz at the foot of the more frequently visited (and also stunningly beautiful) Cordillera Blanca. Huaraz is an eight-hour trip along generally good roads from Lima, the point of entry into Peru for most travelers. In my opinion, leaving Lima as quickly as possible is the best option for visitors to Peru – the city is bleak, polluted, and generally unpleasant.
From Huaraz, it is a three to four hour ride by bus (cheap), collectivo (group-taxi, also cheap and crowded), or private transport (more expensive but maybe worth it) to the town of Chiquian. Inquire locally about transport options, as they are numerous and varied in quality. Chiquian has limited accommodations for travelers, as well as some small stores and restaurants. Do not count on supplying for an expedition in Chiquian – come prepared from Huaraz. From Chiquian one must arrange travel along a newly cleared, rough and precipitous dirt road for a further three hours to the small town of Llamac, the starting point for most treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash. Mining activity in this area has opened up more roads and brought with it a host of problems, but trekkers and climbers may benefit from the shortened hike into the heart of the range by using the road.
Local accommodation in Llamac can be arranged for those wanting a night’s rest before heading into the mountains – campsites are available near the playing field in town, and several locals have beds to rent out to travelers (be advised – my wife got fleas sleeping here).
When to Visit
Misty weather around the peaks
The Cordillera Huayhuash is best visited in the North American summertime (June through early September), which cooresponds to the dry season in Peru. Trekking or climbing outside of the peak months will likely be a very damp experience. As an equatorial country, Peru does not experience large changes in temperature from summer to winter, though temperatures in the dry season are usually several degrees cooler than in the wet season. During the dry season, periodic storms are usually followed by several days to weeks of calm, settled weather. However, even during the dry season one must keep in mind that alpine weather can be unpredictable, and high winds and storms are possible throughout the entire year.
Glaciers sculpting the Huayhuash
The Cordillera Huayhuash is a sub-range of the western Andes (Cordillera Occidental), characterized by sharp glaciated peaks and high alpine valleys. Glaciers in the Huayhuash are rapidly receding, with a current permanent snowline at around 5000 meters. Limestone, shale, and sandstone dominate the geology of the region, which has been uplifted over the past 90 million years due to a collision between the Nazca and South American plates. In parts of the Huayhuash many small marine fossils may be found, remnants from an ancient sea floor community before the uplift. Volcanic activity (particularly in the vicinity of the Puscanturpa group in the southern Huayhuash) also contributed to the formation of the range, and there are several active geothermal areas and hot springs among the high peaks.
Even the low-level circuit trek around the Cordillera Huayhuash passes above 5000 meters (16,500 feet), making acclimitization of the utmost importance for safety and enjoyment. Several day hikes in the Huaraz area make good forays into higher altitude, including short trips to the beautiful Laguna Churup (highly recommended) and a nice half-day hike to the Wilkawain pre-Inca ruins. At least five days in the Huaraz area (elevation 2800 meters) is recommended to avoid altitude sickness. If you are planning on attempting any of the 6000 meter peaks in the Huayhuash, acclimitizing on some of the friendlier Cordillera Blanca peaks (Pisco, Ishinca, Tocllaraju, etc.) is a good idea before venturing into the Huayhuash.
Trekking in the Huayhuash
Trekking below Tsacara
Trekking in the Huayhuash is becoming increasingly popular with travelers, due in part to Peru’s recent relative stability and the popularity of the classic mountaineering book and film Touching the Void. Numerous companies offer trips through the Huayhuash (see Environmental Considerations below) with a variety of durations and prices. Most trips to the area last between eight and thirteen days, as the range’s remoteness makes shorter trips impractical. Please see the trip report Sixteen Days in the Cordillera Huayhuash for a more detailed account of a 2006 trekking and climbing trip.
Included below is an example of a longer trekking itinerary generally following the lower level “Valley Circuit”, beginning and ending in Llamac.
Day 1: Depart Huaraz, Arrive in Llamac (auto transport)
Day 2: Llamac - Pampa Llamac (4,300m) -Jahuacocha Lake
Day 3: Jahuacocha Lake - Punta Sambunya (4,750m) - Paso Rondoy (4750m) - Quartelhuain
Day 4: Quartelhuain - Cacanampunta (4,700m) - Mitococha Lake
Day 5: Mitococha Lake - Punta Carhuac (4,650m) - Carhuacocha Lake
Day 6: Carhuacocha Lake - Punta Carnicero (4,800m) - Huayhuash
Day 7: Huayhuash – Portachuelo de Huayhuash (4,750 m) - Viconga
Day 8: Viconga - Punta Cuyoc (5,000m) - Cuyoc Valley
Day 9: Cuyoc Valley – Cutatambo
Day 10: Cutatambo – Huayllapa
Day 11: Huayllapa - Punta Tapush (4,800m) - Suerococha
Day 12: Suerococha - Punta Gaucha (4,800m) - Jahuacocha Lake
Day 13: Jahuacocha Lake - Llamac – return to Huaraz
Numerous opportunities exist for daytrips and alternative routes over different high passes. I would definitely recommend taking a side trip beginning in the Cuyoc Valley over Paso San Antonio (4850m) to Sarapacocha and the stunning turquoise Laguna Jurau. From here one may visit the site of the Touching the Void epic and climb a minor ridge summit (“Cerro Gran Vista”) to look down on Joe Simpson’s torturous glacier crawl. This strenuous trip puts the trekker in the seldom-visited heart of the Huayhuash among numerous towering, forbidding 6000 meter peaks.
Panorama of Rondoy and Jirishanca
Choosing a Guiding Service
Travel in the Huayhuash is both logistically challenging and potentially hazardous, leading most visitors to hire a local guiding service. Even those of us who prefer self-sufficiency should consider the benefit to local economies in hiring a guide, arriero, and/or cook – and making new friends is an incredible part of the Huayhuash experience. In addition to the standard guide responsibilities, guides can handle the hire of pack donkeys and arrangement of payments to locals (more and more of whom are demanding payment for travel through their land). As so many agencies target the trekking industry in Huaraz (many of them suspect in experience and reliability), it is important to select a reputable company in making trekking arrangements. Many operators cut costs by not paying fair wages to guides, cooks, and arrieros (donkey drivers), and by not hiring qualified personnel. These practices lead to abuses both of workers and the fragile alpine environment, so please do your research and hire a legitimate trekking company.
The following is a list of recommended guiding services in Huaraz which have proven themselves trustworthy, responsible, and professional (please send me a private message if you have had a positive or negative experience with a Huaraz guiding service and I will add them to this list):
Mount Climb alternate address
Located in the Hostal Quintana – contact Alfredo Quintana 51 (043) 426060
Casa de Guias - local guide training center, also leads trips
Skyline Adventures - guided treks, climbs, and mountaineering courses out of Huaraz. Run by a group of expats, recommended by Summitpost users (high marks on their work with the local communities and environmental practices)
As of summer 2006, the Huayhuash is not yet designated a national park by the Peruvian government and thus there are no entry fees. However, locals in Llamac and Huayllapa charge a fee to enter through the town gates, and the smaller communities throughout the Huayhuash will charge you a small fee for camping and for livestock. Bring plenty of small bills for these exchanges (generally less than US$5 per person). The tiny community of Huayhuash uses these funds responsibly and provides trekkers with an armed guard overnight and an escort over the Portachuelo de Huayhuash pass (the site of robberies and assaults in past years). Other communities seem content to simply extract the fee and provide no services – you might suggest that in such sites a pit toilet and trash cleanup would be appreciated in exchange for your payment.
Fragile alpine environment
To many people in the Huayhuash, the trekking and climbing industry is a primary source of income. Environmental issues, ranging from construction of pit toilets to basic trash cleanup, are often secondary concerns to some guiding companies and Huayhuash locals more focused on making a basic living than maintaining the pristine nature of the environment. The ever-increasing number of groups traveling through the Huayhuash continues to have a negative impact on the fragile alpine environment. Please do your part by practicing leave-no-trace camping, and encouraging other members and guiding staff to do so as well. Carry along an extra trash bag or two and help out where you can, and consider providing incentives (“trash-tips”) to arrieros traveling with you.
Books and Maps
By far the best map available is the 1:50,000 Cordillera Huayhuash map, 2nd edition, by the Alpine Mapping Guild (updated in 2004). It features 25 meter contours, shaded relief, and recent updates to roads and other features. You can buy it at Peaks and Places
Suggested reading includes:
Climbs and Treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru, Jeremy Frimer
-The best source for climbing route info and trekking route details
Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, Brad Johnson
Touching the Void, Joe Simpson
Cordillera Huayhuash Alpine Circuit
- superb page by Jeremy Frimer, the author of the above mentioned trekking guidebook. Great, detailed day-by-day information about the Alpine Circuit.
City of Huaraz - information on lodging, activities, and restaurants in Huaraz
Peaks and Places
- good place to purchase the Cordillera Huayhuash 1:50,000 map, and also an adventure outfitter specializing in Peru based out of Boulder, CO.
Huayhuash Photo Tour
featuring photography by Tom Dempsey
Peaks of the Huayhuash
| Peak || Height (meters) || Image || Peak || Height (meters) || Image |
| Yerupaja || 6617 || || Yerupaja Sur || 6515 || |
| Siula Grande || 6344 || || Siula Chico || 6265 || |
| Sarapo || 6127 || || Jirishanca || 6094 || |
| Yerupaja Chico || 6089 || || Rasac || 6017 || |
| Jirishanca Chico || 5989 || || El Toro || 5965 || |
| Carnicero || 5960 || || Rondoy || 5870 || |
| Tsacara Grande || 5774 || || Jurau || 5674 || |
| Trapecio || 5653 || || Puscanturpa Norte || 5652 || |
| Huacrish || 5622 || || Ninachanca || 5607 || |
| Quesillo || 5600 || || Huaraca || 5537 || |
| Puscanturpa Central || 5442 || || Diablo Mudo || 5350 || |
| Cerro Gran Vista || 5152 || |