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Huayhuash Circuit Trek: The Trek Less Explored

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The Huayhuash trek route involves a circular route of 120 km around the mighty Huayhuash mountain range with several peaks above 6,000 m. The highest point in the trek, Yerupajá (6,617 m), is the second highest mountain in Peru, while another peak, Siula Grande (6,344 m), achieved notoriety as the setting for Joe Simson’s gruelling ordeal in his book Touching the Void. The Huayhuash Circuit trekking trails are less visited than the popular trekking trails of Cordillera Blanca, but the Huayhuash mountain range offers a challenging trek in a remote and sparsely inhabited part of the Andes where few trekkers venture. 

Overview

Huayhuash Circuit trek around the Cordillera Huayhuash takes around 10 or 11 days to complete. There are several possible routes and the circuit can be tackled in either direction, but all Huayhuash Circuit treks include the same major features. As the trek progresses, participants need to dig deep into their reserves of endurance to conquer numerous high passes but are rewarded by the sight of magnificent, remote mountain vistas, including views of Yerupajá and Siula Grande, along the way. This is one of the toughest treks out of Huaraz that requires no technical mountaineering skills but the exquisite scenery along the way sets it apart from other challenging treks in Peru. The knowledge of having conquered such a demanding trek is ample recompense for the exertion required to reach the end.

Highlights

  • Very remote trek with few trekkers  
  • Seeing some of the highest and most impressive mountains in Peru like Yerupajá and Siula Grande. Siula Grande, in particular is a highly anticipated sight
  • Ideal trek for trekkers who want to test their endurance and resolve
  • Particularly beautiful rugged mountain scenery

Lowlights

  • Very remote, minimal facilities along the trail
  • Medical facilities are rudimentary at best and evacuation to a hospital is problematic. Anybody who take regular medication should ensure they carry enough supplies with them on the trek.
Map of Huayhuash Circuit trek
Overview map of Huayhuash Circuit Trek

Huayhuash Circuit Trek Facts

  • Trek difficulty: Very difficult. The Huayhuash Circuit trek should be attempted only by those in good physical condition. It involves walking for around 10-14 days at altitudes where the air is thin, it is harder to breathe and easy to tire. 
  • Trek duration: The standard circuit takes around 10 – 14 days depending on how many rest days are included.
  • Remoteness: Remote – sparsely populated with minimal infrastructure.
  • Accommodation type: Campsites
  • Best season: From May to September. Even during this period, the weather can be unforgiving.
  • Start / End Locations: Huaraz – Llamac – Cuartelwain or Huaraz – Llamac – Caraz / Llámac
  • Permits required: None 

Huayhuash Circuit Trek: 11 Days Standard Itinerary

There are many ways to trek the Huayhuash Circuit and most itineraries will include at least two days of acclimatisation before the trek begins. The duration of the trek can change depending on how many rest days are factored in, which route is taken and whether extra days are included for the ascent of one or more of the peaks along the way. Most versions of the trek will start and finish at Llámac. A classic itinerary could be as per the below, 

Day 1: Llámac to Cuartelwain
Leave from Llámac and camp in Cuartelwain.

Day 2: Cuartelwain (4,170 m) to Mitucocha (4,230 m)
Cross the Qaqanan Pass at 4,700m and arrive at Mitucocha for the night’s camp.

Day 3: Mitucocha to Carhuacocha (4,138 m)
Cross the Carhuac Pass at 4,600m and camp at Carhuacocha. Some tours include a one-day break here to explore the lakes at the base of Yerupajá and Siula Grande mountains.

Day 4: Carhuacocha to Huayhuash village (4,330 m)
Walk up to the Carnicero Pass at 4,630m and then on to Huayhuash village to camp at night.

Day 5: Huayhuash to Viconga (4,400 m)
After crossing the Portachuelo pass at 4,700 m, trekkers arrive at Viconga where they make camp for the night near the hot springs.

Day 6: Viconga to Guanacpatay (4,450 m)
Walk over the highest point of the trek, the Cuyoc Pass at 5,000m, before descending to the camp at Guanacpatay.

Day 7: Guanacpatay to Cutatambo (4,250 m)
Cross the San Antonio Pass at 4,990m and arrive at the campsite in Cutatambo. An alternative route makes for Huayllapa and Huatiac. Some tours include a rest day at Cutatambo for a visit to the Siula Grande base camp.

Day 8: Cutatambo to Huayllapa (3,500 m)
Walk down towards the village of Huayllapa. Stop by some of the shops selling refreshments.

Day 9: Huayllapa to Qashpapampa (4,500 m)
Cross the Tapush Pass at 4,800m before reaching camp at Qashpapampa. It is possible to add an extra day here for a one-day ascent of Diablo Mudo (5,350 m).

Day 10: Qashpapampa to Jahuacocha (4,070 m)
Trek towards Jahuacocha via the Yaucha Pass (4,740 m).

Day 11: Jahuacocha to Llámac
Cross the Pampa Llámac Pass (4,300 m) before arriving back at Llámac where transport awaits to complete the journey back to Huaraz.

Huayhuash Circuit Trek: Alternative itineraries

Other than this full trek, there are other itineraries available as well. A short version might include a trek from Llámac to Rondoy (day 1), Rondoy to Jahuacocha via Zambunya pass (day 2), walks around Jahuacocha (day 3), and Jahuacocha to Llámac via Pampa Llámac pass (day 4). The even harder Alpine Circuit is an another option that involves technical climbing.

Huayhuash trek is one of the most difficult treks in the world
Not for the faint hearted, the Huayhuash trek is filled with stunning views like this

Safety considerations

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can be a problem above 2000 - 2500 m and the entirety of this trek is above 3,500 m, reaching 5000 m at its highest point, meaning acclimatisation is essential. Early symptoms of altitude sickness include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache and dizziness, and anyone displaying these symptoms should immediately descend to a lower altitude to recover.

Physical Fitness

This is a very challenging trek and should be attempted only by those in excellent physical condition and with previous experience of mountain treks. The Huayhuash Circuit is in a remote and unforgiving part of the Andes and it is not unknown for people to die on the trek.

Other Challenging Alternatives 

Good To Know

The Huayhuash range is located in a remote and wild part of the country where there is almost no police presence and little human habitation. The Shining Path, Peruvian communist rebels, once had a presence in the area until they were defeated in 1992. In the 1980s, there were some instances of robberies and kidnappings, two trekkers were murdered in 2002 and four hikers were shot in 2004 after resisting an attempted robbery, one of whom later died. The area is now considered safe but anyone travelling to the area should still exercise caution.

Don’t be dissuaded if the Huayhuash trek looks difficult, check out the popular Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or the Lares Trek that are moderate in comparison. For a less – crowded trekking trails, check out some of the best treks in Peru other than the Inca Trail.

For those looking for spectacular trekking opportunities far from the beaten track and away from the crowds, the Huayhuash trek can exert an irresistible attraction. This is not a trek for the unfit or the inexperienced but those who attempt it are rewarded by a trek that many consider to be among the finest in the world. 

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