The 8-day circuit trek in Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash is known for its high mountain passes and jaw-dropping views. We certainly found that to be true in our first two days of walking. (Part 1) The next two days would prove to be no less spectacular.
Day 4 – Huayhuash to Cuyoc Pampa
Trekking Time – 5 hr 40 min (plus breaks); Elevation Gain – 633 m (2,077 ft) & 550m (1,805 ft); Elevation Loss – 350 m (1,148 ft) & 708 m (2,323 ft)
We stepped outside of our tent in the morning to see the early rays from the sun bring the surrounding mountains to life. We experienced a lot of cloud cover on the first few days on the trail so this view was a nice change.
The clear sky didn’t last long though. Clouds rolled in before we began trekking. Instead of taking the common route to visit the thermal baths, we took an alternate trail and hiked over Paso del Trapecio. The trail from Huayhuash Camp brought us up another steep climb, passing flowering bushes and around the side of a grassy hill. On the way we saw a couple of brown Andean eagles sitting on the dry grass.
As we got higher, the clouds started to boil around the mountains and the ground was covered in a fresh layer of snow. The final approach is on rough, rocky terrain that added even more texture to ominous scene.
Trapecio Glacier started showing itself to us from below. As we got closer we could see its wild side, filled with large seracs and cervices. Paso del Trapecio (5,050 m/16,570 ft) is a long ridge that allows a 360° view of the mountain ranges. On one side is Trapecio and its glacier and on the other is the rocky Cuyoc Mountain standing above stunning turquoise glacier tarns. We stayed awhile to enjoy the scenery.
The descent from the pass was initially quite steep, but then meandered its way through an open field filled with large boulders. Hardy plants grew next to the trail in the most uninhabitable places. The rocky landscape led into another grassy slope across from the towering Cuyoc. From this slope we could see our next campsite, far below. But that wasn’t our destination quite yet. Looking up was the long steep, scree slope that led to Santa Rosa Pass high above.
It started to snow as we began our ascent toward the pass. We wondered if it would be worth it or would the view be obscured by clouds and snow. Hiking up the long gully was a slog, but our persistence was more than rewarded. At the pass (5,200 m/ 17,060 ft), the snow had stopped and we looked across to see Serapo Mountain guarding the blue, glacier-fed Laguna Jurau. Even though the mountain tips were shrouded in clouds, the view was breathtaking.
Looking behind we saw a colourful string of mountains beside Cuyoc. The contrast between the view in front and behind made the pass even more impressive.
After spending time enjoying the vista we descended back down the same trail. We went all the way to the valley bottom to our next campsite, over 700 meters below. With such a gorgeous view from the lookout we didn’t expect a beautiful setting for our campsite, but that’s exactly what we got. Set below the magnificent rocky Cuyoc Mountain, we couldn’t have asked for a better end to our day (4,492 m/ 14,738 ft).
While sitting together in our dining tent each night, one or two of us would share a funny story of a mishap or adventure from their life. One trekker told a story that happened when he was a 14 year old boy living in a Christian commune. He was admittedly very naïve and believed it when another boy told him he may have been born with chlamydia. He immediately sent for a mail-order chlamydia test. The problem arose when the test was sent to the commune’s head office. The shock to his conservative parents when they opened the package was immense. They were bewildered at the possibility that he could have contracted chlamydia in the commune. He never took the test and wasn’t born with chlamydia. He was a great story teller, you can follow him on Instagram.
Day 5 – Cayoc Pampa to Huayllapa
Trekking Time – 5 hr, 36 min (plus breaks); Elevation Gain – 650 m (2,230 ft); Elevation Loss – 1,530 m (5,020 ft)
Immediately beside the gully leading to Santa Rosa Pass, is another drainage leading to Antonio Pass. This pass held one of our most anticipated views. After leaving camp we began to cross the ridge between the two gullies. Soon we could see the long drainage that led to the pass at the top.
The trail was dusty and then rocky as it zig-zagged its way up the gully. Near the top it was covered in scree and the trail headed straight up the slope rather than taking an easier switchback approach.
We we were out of breath as we reach the pass and the view left us speechless. Laguna Jurau, that we saw from Santa Rosa Pass, was on the right, Serapo was in front and poking out from the left was Suila Grande. This mountain and its rugged glacier became famous in the book Touching the Void. The book tells the story of two British climbers who were on an expedition on Suila Grande. They ran into serious problems on their descent. The story is a gripping account of their journey. We highly recommend the book and movie.
On the side of Suila Grande a mountain range coloured in orange and gold added even more beauty to this gorgeous setting.
From the pass we could see what would have been the British climbers’ basecamp next to a glacier tarn on the moraine. Above it is a glacier so convoluted that it looks impassable. Looking up, long couloirs lead to the summit, one of which they climbed. The glacier and the couloir play a major role in the story. For mountaineers it is an awesome site.
We had a big discussion with our guide the night before regarding how we should get down from the pass. Descending the other side was said to be dangerous. Because of this warning, some of our group retraced their steps back toward Cuyoc Pampa Camp before continuing to our next destination. We decided to join the remainder of our group and go down toward Suila Grande basecamp. The first 100 or so meters of this descent are quite sketchy as there is only a thin layer of scree on a very steep slope and no defined path. After that 100 m though, we found a good trail that was steep, but better maintained and quite manageable. As we descended, our angle of view of the mountains changed and they showed us their even more dramatic sides. We were very glad we decided to take this way down.
Once we were half way down we looked back up to the pass and could see the steepness of the trail. Being on such a sharp descent, it didn’t take long to reach the elevation where flowers and bushes could grow along the trail.
Once at the valley bottom we stopped for a snack and watched at least a dozen condors soar overhead. We had seen many condors on this trip, but usually only 2 or 3 at a time, not a dozen. It’s fascinating to watch them use the thermals to soar as they search of food.
The rest of the day felt quite long as we followed the river all the way down the valley. In one area we walked through a nice canyon with vertical walls on both sides. The lower we walked, the more the vegetation changed. Bushes became larger and more were covered in flowers. Tall eucalyptus trees began to fill in the landscape. This vegetation made it easy to realize that we had lost a lot of elevation. Finally we arrived at a lovely multi-tiered waterfall that made a great spot for a rest.
As we neared the town of Huayllapa, the trail travelled between stone fences. On one side were crops of wheat and potatoes, and on the other were corrals for cattle and sheep. The hills above were covered in terraces, filled with green crops. From the amount of farms, we could tell we were about to enter a much larger village than we had seen yet.
We had descended all the way to 3,490 m (11,463 ft) and the air felt very thick. The 100 or so rustic adobe brick homes in the town of Huayllapa reminded us of mountain villages in Nepal. Many of them added brightness to their brown brick walls with colourfully painted doors and windows. There are a few shops and a guesthouse, but as it was Sunday, the dusty streets were quiet. The only people we saw were a few quechua ladies in their traditional skirts and hats. We treated ourselves to Inca Kolas from the store and then strolled along the few streets in Huayllapa. The sweet drink really hit the spot.
Coming Next – Trekking in Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash – Part 3
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