We had spent the last five days exploring the incredible landscape on the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit trek in Peru (Read Part 1, Part 2). The last three days of the journey continued to provide the jaw-dropping views we’d come to expect on this trip.
Day 6 – Huayllapa to Tapush Pampa
Trekking Time – 3hr 55 min (plus breaks); Elevation Gain – 1,280 m (4,200 ft); Elevation Loss 170 m (550ft)
After spending a night at a very low elevation in the town of Huayllapa, we were about to experience the exact opposite. Today we would gain the most elevation and sleep at the highest campground of the entire trek.
The trail leaves Huayllapa and climbs up a narrow, rocky gully until it reaches a large, grassy cirque. The rolling hills within the cirque made it difficult to see where the trail would take us. As well there were many false passes which made this long day seem even longer. As we crossed the cirque we were just below 4,700 m (15,420 ft) and were huffing and puffing; our lungs searching for oxygen. Then we noticed a corral with grazing cattle. Who would have thought that cows could thrive at this elevation?
It was colourful, rough terrain, but not nearly as spectacular as the ones we had seen in the last few days. Finally, after what felt like an endless walk, we reached Tapush Pass (4,700 m/15,420 ft). A strong, cold wind prevented us from staying there very long.
The landscape on the other side of the pass looked like a painting where the imaginative painter used oranges, browns and yellows in bright contrast. It was a short descent down to camp which was on a barren high plateau only 100 m (328 ft) below the pass. At 4,600 m (15,092 ft) this would be the highest campsite on this trip.
The tall peaks around the plateau made a perfect echo chamber. From our tent in the evening we heard a rancher, or maybe a bandito hollering. Within seconds we heard 3 or 4 echoes in response. A few minutes later a barking dog got involved. The dog probably thought his echoes were other dogs. At least the dog quickly tired of it and didn’t bark all night.
Every night someone from the group told a funny or adventurous story from their life. Tonight was Richard’s turn. When backpacking alone in Australia he was told he could refill his water bottle at a water source along the trail. He searched and searched, but could not find water. It was very hot, and his own water bottle had been emptied hours earlier. By the time he arrived at the campsite that night he was tired and extremely dehydrated. In the middle of the night he was startled awake when he felt two hands pushing his shoulders into the ground. He opened his eyes and although he was in a tent, could see a sky full of stars. He jumped out of the tent and searched for the person who was attacking him. No one was around. For the rest of the night he had a restless sleep waiting for his attacker to return.
Maggie shared our story from when we were stranded for 4 days in a blizzard in India and our horrendous journey to get out.
Day 7 – Tapush Pampa to Laguna Jahuacocha
Trekking Time – 3 hr 30 min (plus breaks); Elevation Gain – 350 m (1,150 ft); Elevation Loss – 800 m (2,625 ft)
Sleeping at such a high elevation meant that it was very cold during the night. We awoke to find our tents covered in frost. Our early morning start meant we hiked in the mountains’ shadows so it took a lot longer for our bodies to warm up.
After a short 100 m descent from camp we could see the next mountain pass in the distance. The landscape was filled with grassy meadows and queñua trees. These trees are seen in many places in South America. They’re easy to spot with their gnarly branches and thin, paper-like bark.
The trail crossed over a few barren hills until it reaches a series of benches on the mountain above. We could see our donkeys walking high above, so we knew there was a path, but from below it didn’t look passable. Above the benches a final climb brought us to Llauchu Pass at 4,850 m (15,912 ft).
When we arrived we were disappointed because low clouds covered the view. Since we weren’t hiking a long distance today we had a lot of time so we decided to wait a while to see if the clouds would lift. Eventually, they did and slowly unveiled the jewel they were hiding. The glorious snow-capped peak, Yerupaja and its many steep couloirs, stood before us. It is the second highest mountain in Peru, and the same mountain we saw from the other side when it was calving its glacier into Laguna Qangrajanca. It was a breathtaking view.
From the pass we walked along a high ridge which allowed us to see this stunning mountain from different perspectives. It showed us its many razer sharp ridges that lead to the snowy summit.
The ridge walk took us to a lookout with yet another stunning view. We were in awe of the majestic Rondoy Mountain as it rises high above two lakes; Lagunas Yahuachoca and Saltenacocha. Beside it a wide gully coloured in bright orange provided an interesting contrast. Further down, we could see the trail for the next day’s hike out.
We spent a long time at this lookout admiring nature at its finest.
Once we began our descent from the lookout, we could see the campsite almost directly below. A knee jarring 800 m (2,624 ft) descent on a slippery, dusty trail brought us to the shore of Laguna Yahuacocha in front of the massive Rondoy. We certainly did not expect such a great view from our last campsite, but it turned out to be one of the prettiest campsites on the entire trek. (4,050 m/ 13,287 m).
Next to camp was a rustic stone house. The industrious owners sold snacks, pop and beer to weary trekkers.
Tonight’s story came from one of the women. A couple of years earlier she had a horrible bike trip with her sister. Not long into the journey she got a flat tire. She was frustrated because she was far from town, had no spare tire or patch kit. Adding to her bad day, her sister abandoned her at this remote spot to continue the bike trip. Finally she made it back to town, exhausted and ready to go to a party. To top off her bad day, she broke her leg at the party. She had fully recovered and is still great friends with her sister. You can follow her Instagram here.
Day 8 – Laguna Yahucocha to Pocpa
Trekking Time – 3 hr 30 min (plus breaks); Elevation Gain – 450 m (1,476 ft); Elevation Loss – 1,200 m (3,937 ft)
The final day of trekking brought us up to our last mountain pass. On the way up to it we looked back for a final view of the snowy peaks, Rondoy and Yerupaya.
From the pass we had a view quite different from the others on this trek. Across the valley from us were colourful terraces climbing up the slopes. Below them a small group of tightly compacted homes made up the village of Pocpa. The 1,200 m (3,937 ft) descent to town was mostly on a dry, dusty trail. Although the view didn’t change as we walked lower, the vegetation did. We hiked through a cactus forest where some plants were flowering and others were bearing fruit. Then there were many flowering bushes and large trees indicating how low we had dropped in elevation.
Finally, when we arrived at the town of Pocpa, a waiting bus took the tired but satisfied trekkers back to the city of Huaraz.
Where to stay
Huaraz is the best city to use as your base before and after hiking in Cordillera Huayhuash or Cordillera Blanca. The city is ready for tourists with countless hostels and hotels, restaurants and bars to chose from. Its elevation of 3,052 m (10,000 ft) is a good place to start acclimatizing. In addition there are many day hikes in the area that can get you to higher elevation. We had great view of the mountains right from downtown town, especially of Peru’s highest mountain, Huascarán.
There are numerous guiding companies in Huaraz offering a variety of one-day and multi-day hikes. We used Huayhuash Expeditions and were very happy with our guide, the food and the equipment. It would be possible to do this trek unguided, but you would need a few days in Huaraz to organize transportation logistics, buy food and supplies for the entire trek. Don’t count on buying anything on the trail other than beer and pop.
Coming Next – A Nun’s Life in Arequipa, Peru
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