Hiking Cordillera Huayhuash Part 2.4: Day 6 and 7

<< Day 5

Day 6: To a Village!

This day was different from all other days on this trek. Instead of climbing after breaking camp, we started this day by going downhill. We trekked almost 9 miles and lost 3,500 feet in altitude from Cuyoc camp to a small village called Huayllapa. But we didn’t stay in Huayllapa. We climbed back up almost 3,000 feet in altitude to a campsite called Huatiaq. The whole trip was almost 12 miles.

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This guy was sneaky behind the cairns, trying to hide from the mule driver.
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Looking back Cuyoc Glacier from the plain

We woke up at 6:30 am because of our long day. We broke camp around 8 am. The first few miles of the trek was on a plain along a tortuous stream. Both of us were feeling well probably because there was no altitude gain.

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A ravine was coming up
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At the edge of the ravine

Before 11 am, we found ourselves at the edge of a deep ravine. Following this ravine to our right was Cutatumbo, where the three amigos were headed via Jurau Pass in the previous day. Follow the ravine to our left was Huayllapa, the only place to resupply on this trek.

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Looking up at this waterfall from the bottom of the ravine.

We followed the dusty zigzagging trail down to the bottom of the ravine and found a small trail along a rushing river. By noon a woman stopped us at a locked wooden gate. It was time to pay our dues. After handing her 80 soles for the two of us, I asked her if she had seen our trekking buddies. She unlocked the gate and informed us that two French guys with large backpacks had passed the gate earlier but she hadn’t seen a threesome with large backpacks.

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A wheat field outside of the village

From the wooden gate, it was a short but steep downward path to the village. In a little over one hundred yards we probably lost about 200 feet in elevation. We knew that our afternoon would be difficult– that night’s campsite, Huatiaq, was nearly 3,000 feet above Huayllapa. Realizing that we would have to climb an additional 200 feet from Huayllapa to the trail was dreadful.

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I see the village!!

We dropped our bags at the first shop we saw in Huayllapa, which turned out to be even smaller than I had expected. There was one narrow dirt road leading straight down the hill towards the river and there were a couple dozens of houses along this road. Tricia went into the shop to chat with the owner while I continued down the road to look for our French friends. I found them sitting in a school yard watching mule drivers from the guided group setting up tents for their clients. Mattieu said he had already caught and release a trout from the river. They were chowing down on some trail mix to get ready for the afternoon climb up to Huatiaq.

Back at the shop, Tricia was having fun chatting with the owner and inspecting the merchandise behind the counter. The little shop was well stocked with trekking and camping supplies, considering its remote location. I was surprised to find fuel canisters, various types of dried pasta, instant noodles, rice, potatoes, apples and toilet paper. We were fascinated by a basket of Andean tree peppers, which Claudio had mentioned to us on the first day during our ride in the cement truck. We were tempted to buy one for a taste but decided against it in the end.

Tricia bought two apples, which she reduced to tiny stems within a minute. They weren’t very good apples, according to Tricia, a bit dry and mealy. At the bottom of a basket in the corner of the shop I found a huge avocado, which we immediately bought to add to our dinner that night. After our shopping spree, I sat on the steps in front of the shop, ate a Clif bar and dug into my trail mix for lunch.

The shop owner cordially invited us to have lunch at her shop, but we didn’t feel like eating a full meal before our big afternoon climb. It didn’t take long for her to find customers as the three amigos marched into the village shortly after us. They were hungry and ready for a sit down lunch.

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Climbing above the tree line again

We lingered in front of the shop for a short period and left Huayllapa by 1 pm. We were told that the climb to Huatiaq is about three hours. The trail was built along a steep gully. We were lower than we had been on the previous days and I felt like the air was thicker and the climbing was less strenuous. We climbed above the treeline in two hours and found the lower Huatiaq camp by 3:30 pm. To Tricia’s disappointment, the French guys were already setting up camp, which was sitting in a valley sheltered by ridges on both sides. The sun was about to duck under the western ridge. The upper camp, which was a stone’s throw away, was more exposed and would stay light for another hour.

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A local woman and her sheep

We reluctantly set up camp next to a river in the lower camp. The three amigos showed up an hour later still belching from their belly full of rice and french fries, which was the mainstay of the meal they had in Huayllapa. We had two more highlights that night: my avocado and Tricia’s anise liquor. It has become a tradition for Tricia to carry a small bottle of rum on our camping trips. She was not able to find rum in Huaraz so this local anise liquor was the replacement. It turned out to be a popular item that night at the community dinner.

Fees Paid today:
Huayllapa: S40/person

Day 7: Sick Day

I knew something was wrong when I woke up at 3 am. I was nauseous, short of breath, my stomach felt distended. I opened the tent to clear the stench I had created. At one point, Tricia woke up with a giant frown and said, “did you poop your pants?” “No, but I think your cheese has finally turned.”

Cheese has been one of Tricia’s staple food items that she carries on our treks. It adds protein to the diet, is packed with calories and is delicious to add to whatever we cook. However, it also carries the risk of causing acute gastroenteritis when it turns bad in warmer temperatures. I had been careful with visual inspection, smell tests and taste tests each time I reopened the package. But, alas, I was fooled last night.

At daybreak I had already visited the toilet twice. Huatiaq campsite had the strangest toilet I had ever seen around the world. It was a 2 ft x 2 ft concrete square structure about one foot off the ground. The walls of the square toilet were about one inch thick, which was just not stable enough to stand on while squatting. So no natural posture, squatting or sitting, worked on this toilet. Do I sound a little frustrated?

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I was thoroughly defeated at this point

This was supposed to be another long day. We planned on climbing over two passes, Tapush Punta (15,715 feet) and Yaucha Punta (15,912 feet), to arrive at Laguna Incahuain for the night. As soon as we broke camp and started walking I knew that was not gonna happen for me. I could not walk ten minutes without stopping and panting. My legs were jelly; my backpack felt enormous, as was my belly.

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I took frequent breaks and couldn’t stop panting. The struggle was real.

About forty minutes into the day, I had to drop my backpack to rest. I took a short nap, rehydrated with electrolyte water and ate sugary snacks. Tricia carried the tent and water as we inched towards the pass. It took us four hours to climb over Tapush Punta. Around 2 pm, we finally saw Gashpapampa campsite.

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I think I can kite surf in this lake if someone else can carry a kite and a board up here for me.
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Looking down at Gashpapampa campsite

Gashpapampa was a weird campsite. It was situated on a flat terrain surrounded by stagnant water like a marsh. The water looked disgusting. A fresh water stream traveled across the south end of the camp, but the rocks in the stream bed were coated with a bright orange residue. We later learned that the water has high iron and lead content.

According to my GPS, there was another campsite called Guspha approximately ten minutes to the north of Gashpapampa. We kept walking and found the English father and son duo, who we encountered several times in the previous days, sitting on a hill overlooking Guspha. We sat down with them and enjoyed the view and their company. Having trekked Salkantay independently right before coming to Huayhuash, the English duo were more acclimatized than we were at the start. But the lengthy treks had taken a toll on their bodies. Graham, the father, was ready to be done with this trek. We joked about how defeated we felt sitting in front of this beautiful view. I was feeling especially defeated that day.

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Last look of the day light before passing out

We found a flat spot on the north side of the ravine to set up camp. Since the main stream was also orange, I hiked up the side of the ravine to find a small clear stream to collect water. And then, I passed out in the tent waking up only once to have a few bites of ramen noodle soup before sunset. I took a 4mg loperamide and slept almost 16 hours that night.

Fees Paid: none

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