Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced “why wash”) Circuit is one of the most gorgeous treks in the world. For years I had pictured myself in front of these turquoise glacial melt lakes and jagged snow capped peaks soaring into white clouds. It had been on top of my to do list for years. Now I have done it, I struggle to put my experience into words. Not because how beautiful this trek was– if you have heard of this trek you should already know of its beauty– but how brutally unrelenting this trek was to my body. Tricia and I agree that this was the most difficult trek we have done in our lives.
We completed our trek in 8 days in July 2018.
Why did we find this trek so challenging?
- The nights: the nights were long and cold. 12 hours long year round and the temperature dropped down to 20s at night in July. Frost became visible on grass blades within an hour of sunset. We had our four season tent and bomb sleeping bags, yet Tricia still felt freezing every night while bundling up in multiple layers. In our previous treks, we would crawl into our tent at the end of a long day day, sleep long hours and feel recharged the next day, but not on this hike. I’ve heard many fellow trekkers complaining how they get weaker rather than stronger during this trek. I suspect that the inability to recharge at night is a big contributor to our physical fatigue over time.
- The route: we spent 8 days going over 9 passes from Quartelhuain to Llamac. It meant that we set up camp near 14000 ft every night and climbed over one or two 15000 ft or 16000 ft pass EVERYDAY. The repeated pounding on our bodies carrying a heavy pack over passes day after day took its toll over time.
- The altitude: This was a high altitude trek which came with all kinds of physical demands. Without proper time to acclimatize, this trek could be downright gruesome. Tricia and I have a decent understanding how our bodies function in high altitude conditions with multiple high altitude trekking experiences in the past. With that said, we only had one day in Huaraz (~10,000ft) and one day up Laguna 69 (~15,000 ft) to acclimatize. Compounding that to the lack of proper sleep (redeye to Lima, overnight bus to Huaraz immediately, 430am rise to Laguna 69, 430am rise to catch a bus to Huayhuash) left us fatigued before even starting the trek. We felt rushed and that was a mistake.
- Water and electrolytes: Dehydration was likely the most common cause of physical discomfort for trekkers at this altitude. Between the labored breathing, heavy perspiration and the blazing sun, an unsuspected trekker could suffer severe dehydration compounding altitude sickness. Rehydration became critical. But the unpredictable availability of water source meant we often carried more water than needed. Since water loss was always accompanied by electrolyte loss, electrolyte repletion also became necessary during the hike.
- Hygiene and illness: Most trekkers have fairly good hygiene habits but apparently it doesn’t stop people from getting GI bugs on this trek. Among the independent trekkers we encountered, our Italian friend had diarrhea and vomiting on day 2; our Israeli friend had mild symptoms on day 3; the father of a British father son duo got sick on day 4; one of the French duo had fever and chills on day 5; I got food poisoned on day 7. Among people trekking with a guide company, I knew at least a few people having GI issues. Getting sick in the mountain wilderness like this trek could be devastating since there were very few exit points.
- Route finding: I found route finding to be easier than I had anticipated. Since multiple sources said route finding was troublesome, I did a decent amount of homework relying heavily on maps provided in Peru’s Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash: The Hiking and Biking Guide by Neil and Harriet Pike and my GAIA GPS app on my phone with pre-downloaded map of the region. We still got off the trail a few times but never felt lost unlike our day 6 crossing Cho La pass in Nepal.
I realize that at this point you are probably wondering why the hell do we even go on this trek? Not gonna lie, we just couldn’t help it.
How about this view?
Still interested? Go ahead and follow me to Part 2: Hiking Huayhuash >>
8 days trekking Huayhuash
Day 1. Adventure to Quartelhuain; trek to Janca (Mitococha) 5 hours
Day 2. Janca to Carhuacocha 4 hours
Day 3. Carhuacocha to Huayhuash 7 hours
Day 4. Huayhuash to Viconga 4 hours
Day 5: Viconga to Cuyoc; San Antonio Pass 3 hrs + 3 hrs
Day 6: Cuyoc to Huayllapa to Huatiaq 6 hours
Day 7: Huatiaq to Gashpapampa 5 hours
Day 8: Gashpapampa to Llamac 8 hours