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Hiking Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash

September 29, 2022

Hiking Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash

Written by Mont Ambassador Matthew Clark

Peru has some incredible mountain terrain, and the Cordillera Huayhuash is one of Peru’s finest. The Huayhuash is located around 200km North East of the Capital, Lima, and is usually accessed from the nearby mountain town of Huaraz. It is around 30km long, running from North to South and includes seven peaks over 6,000m, including Siula Grande of Joe Simpson’s, Touching the Void fame. 

About the Hike

Trekking around the range usually takes between 8 to 10 days, depending on your chosen route, and involves on average climbing a high pass most days. Many people opt to do the hike with the help of a tour agency, utilising the locals and their donkeys to carry their food and camping gear. We chose to do the hike independently, and so would be carrying all our own food and equipment for the duration of the hike, over our chosen 10 day route.

As the hike covers an average altitude of around 4,500m and reaches high points of over 5,000m, a program of acclimatisation is required before starting out on this hike. For this, most people will travel to Huaraz (at 3,000m), and after spending a few days in town, will gradually build up to higher and higher hikes over the course of a week or two, often doing at least one overnight hike where you camp elevation is over 4,000m. There are many online resources that have extensive information about the affects of altitude, how to best acclimatise, and some things to watch out for.

From L to R, the peaks of Siula Grande, Yerupaja, Yerupaja Chico & Jirishanca tower above

Early Days

Travel in Peru is much like you would expect, public transport is readily available and locals are very friendly and accommodating, often anyone is willing to give you a lift in their car for a small fee (a few dollars). Fresh food is readily available, with most towns having a plentiful market for you to buy everything you could need. Huaraz, being the hiking and mountaineering centre of Peru, also has a lot of equipment stores where you can purchase or rent anything you might have forgotten to bring with you.

The gear lay out for our 10 days, around 30kg in total for the two of us

With our food and gear sorted and packed in Huaraz, we had an early start on day 1, arriving at the trailhead mid-morning. Our first day of hiking involved our first pass, a 500m climb to 4,650m and our first views of the Huayhuash mountain range. Descending into the valley below, we setup camp  at around 4,250m with our Moondance 2 tent, in awe of the towering peaks above.

Our campsite on the first night, the Moondance 2 was the perfect tent for a lightweight trip like this

The next day involved us taking the less travelled alpine route over another high pass, this time 4,750m, which offered stunning views over the range. We traversed out to a less visited viewpoint and enjoyed some of our favourite views of the hike. We were even lucky enough to get some clear views as the clouds had been lingering all day, and we had on and off snow showers and hail, perfect weather for our Mont Guide Hoodies! We descended to lake Carhuacocha to setup camp, our legs certainly feeling every metre of ascent and descent from the days hiking. A quick dinner was whipped up before we slipped into our Mont sleeping bags, toasty and warm.

Our packs, admiring the views. Shannon used a Lowe Alpine Aeon 35L and I used a Mont Escape 70L

The rolling hills of the northern Huayhuash range, as the clouds slowly percolated above.

Finding the Groove

Day three brought a moody morning of low clouds and fog, forecast to be the worst weather of the trip. We packed up camp and started what was to be one of our longer days, 13km and 700m of ascent. Our efforts were rewarded by some of the best views of the entire hike, the famous 3 lakes view point. We enjoyed lunch and admired the views, the towering peaks of Siula Grande and Yerupaja occasionally appearing through the clouds above. It’s often on days like this that I enjoy mountain environments the most, not on those perfect bluebird days – with the right gear and preparation you are able to experience them in their full grandeur, on their level. A short but steep climb brought us to the Siula pass at 4,800m which offered great views of the nearby Siula Grande, before descending the valley below to our campsite, arriving on dusk.

The famous 3 lakes viewpoint, Siula Grande can be seen on the left

Day 4 brought clear weather, the start of what looked like 2 weeks of fine weather – the end of the rainy wet season was finally here! Another pass, but this time with much less climbing, brought us to the southern end of the Huayhuash mountain range, and a welcome reward – Hot Springs! After hiking 41km with 2,100m of vertical ascent at an average altitude of 4,500m both of us were well and truly relieved to spend a long afternoon relaxing in the natural thermal springs at Viconga. And let me tell you, they were hot!

Siula Pass, at 4,800m it offered some great views of the nearby peaks.

Enjoying the natural thermal springs at the end of day 4 of the hike

We had covered close to half the hike, we were feeling well aclimatised, our packs were getting lighter, and the weather forecast showed clear weather ahead.

Stay tuned for part two.



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