Huayhuash: A Backpacker’s Guide to Peru
The name “Huayhuash” had been mentioned several times by travelers we’d met in the months before we reached Huaraz. We’d been told that it’s very difficult, but at the same time one of the most rewarding and beautiful treks in the world. Such a bold statement ignited our adventure-seeking natures, and we immediately knew we had to test the truth of it ourselves.
Since the trek is at least 8 days at an average of 4,600 m elevation, we figured some serious altitude acclimatization was in order, so we decided on two day-trips in the Huaraz area: Lake Wilcacocha and Laguna 69, both of which we highly recommend. After hiking to Laguna 69 (situated at 4,700 m) and keeping our dignity intact, we decided that we were ready to attempt the Huayhuash circuit. At least, that’s what we thought.
Finding a Guide
Being out-of-shape photography enthusiasts, we like to hike at our own pace, leaving plenty of time for breaks and photo ops. Thus, the most natural thing for us to do was to try to do the whole thing ourselves. Luckily for us, the hostel we were staying at in Huaraz, La Casa de Maruja, had an owner that was an experienced mountaineer. He explained to us the general route and broke down the prices for the muleteer, food, gas, cooking gear, tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, and transportation, to which we responded with overwhelmed and perplexed faces. When he asked us if we’d ever camped on our own for so long before, we decided to reconsider going with a group.
For anyone like us who hasn’t camped for more than two days straight in their life or done a trek of more than a couple days, talking to some travel agencies may be a good idea. For us, it ended up being the much easier and cheaper option.
And so we found ourselves wandering around Huaraz, sifting through travel agencies that wanted $600/person, had terrible reviews on Tripadvisor, and/or were run out of someone’s living room. Luckily, we were pointed to Caleb Expeditions, and we immediately felt we were in the right place. Abel, the owner, is one of the nicest and most helpful people we’ve encountered on our trip so far, and the average of five stars on TripAdvisor only supported our hunch. He took the time to explain the route, gave us a more than fair price, and even invited us to watch the movie Touching the Void with our four trekking mates in the evening (although we weren’t sure how good of an idea it was to watch a movie about two people almost dying on Siula Grande the night before leaving for Huayhuash).
The 8-Day Trek
Before we knew it, we were on the five-hour bus ride to Pocpa, the mountain village that was our starting point.
We fell into the trekking routine quickly, if with some difficulty. Every morning around 5:00 am, our fantastic guide and cook, Angel, would wake us up with a knock on our tent and an offer of mate de coca (coca leaf tea), which we gladly accepted every time. Then, after changing as fast as possible in the biting cold and quickly packing our stuff, we’d eat breakfast (scrambled eggs and salad, pancakes, or some cereal), get some snack bags, and set off on the day’s hike.
We’d usually walk for a long and tiring 5-6 hours until lunch, which was most often pasta salad. After an arguably short digestive siesta, we’d continue towards our next mission for the afternoon: 3-5 more hours of hiking to the campsite.
Our only relief was that once we arrived, exhausted, the donkey driver would already have our tents set up and waiting for us. When we found the energy to rise from where we had collapsed on the ground, we’d get some hot water to clean ourselves from the dust, sweat, and tears we’d collected during the day.
After an hour or so, we’d eat some snacks (popcorn or sometimes tequeños with guacamole) with tea. At around 7:00 pm, we’d eat a delicious dinner, which always consisted of soup (life-saving in the cold), and a second dish of rice with chicken, pasta, or once even pizza – total luxury.
Worn out from the day’s hard work, after dinner we’d immediately retire to our tent and our two sleeping bags, one stuffed inside the other for warmth.
Huayhuash was probably the most physically difficult thing we’ve ever done in our lives (but hey, we did say that we’re amateurs).
We stumbled, climbed, slid, panted, cried, overheated, and froze. Iris got a fever on Day 6 and had to ride the rescue horse for a day and a half. We walked an average distance of 15-20 km with at least one steep mountain pass (4,500 – 5,100 m elevation) every day. The nights got down to -5°C, and we were cold in all of our clothes, a winter coat, two sleeping bags, and a blanket.
Undoubtedly, it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had. Once we managed to raise our heads and look beyond the physical struggle, we found ourselves face to face with dozens of gargantuan, snowy mountain peaks, countless paint-colored turquoise lagoons, and a landscape that unrolled before us like a panorama in The Lord of the Rings.
Worth it? Don’t miss it for the world.
What to bring: If, like us, you’re planning on trekking with a travel agency, here’s what you should bring yourself:
- Hiking shoes
- Socks and underwear for 8 days
- Hiking pants (we used one pair)
- Warm gloves, hat, and scarf (!)
- Warm socks for the night
- Winter coat for the nights and mornings (!)
- Water bottle (at least 1.5 liters a day)
- Some extra snacks (although we got more than enough)
- Wet wipes
- Antibiotics/painkillers/any other medication you take
- Sunscreen (!)
- Hand sanitizer
- Sunglasses (!)
- Head lamp or flashlight (!)
- Toilet paper (!)
– Iris & Roi
Have questions about the Huayhuash trek? Comment and we’d love to help you out!