Trekking the Peruvian Andes: Huayhuash Trek (Part 1)

Jul 1, 2019


Huayhuash Trek, Peru
San Antonio Pass, 5100m

“I think I want to go back down there and wait for Jesus, I don’t want him to miss us.” It was only maybe 3pm, but it already looked like it was about to get dark. We’ve been waiting for maybe 20 minutes, but felt longer, for our guide to show up and tell us where the campsite is for that night. I was freezing. My pants, shoes, and socks were soaking wet from the hailstorm we just endured a few minutes ago.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Siula Pass, 4850m

The slow group. That’s what we humorously called our group, the four of us. Tyler, a 6-foot plus Canadian guy who would eventually suffer and endure altitude sickness almost the whole trek. And Mika and Bar, a couple from Israel. And me, the oldest of the group at 33, with most of them in their early 20s. Compared to the fast group, we would take our time during breaks and passes. This worked out the first two days of the trek when the occasional rain was manageable. But on this third day, what seemed like a fun mild hail experience for a girl who grew up in the tropics like myself, turned into one of the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in the mountains.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Our group at Qaqanan Pass, 4700m

Tyler continued to experience altitude sickness problems and has gotten worse, and so Jesus had to stay with him. It started to hail, and I remember still laughing with Mika and Bar. Until eventually the fun started to hurt as more and bigger chunks of ice started to hit us all over. Jesus told us to go ahead and just stay on the right side of the trail. Then it turned to a hailstorm. All I remember was how miserable I felt and how cold I was. Eventually the hail turned into a light rain but we didn’t know anymore where to go. Do we go straight or turn right to another trail?

All three of us agreed to check what was on the other side to our right, but I eventually said to go back down and wait for Jesus. And we waited until it started to hail again. And then he arrived still without Tyler, and told us to turn right until we reach a path where we go down to the campsite. And that’s what we did. Without him.

You’d think it was as simple as just walking. But we had no idea how far it was and how long it would take us. So we just walked and walked, freezing. And Huayhuash’s isolation and vastness was beyond intimidating. It was off-season and so we were probably the only group trekking in the same area that time. In Nepal, the path is clear and the trek is more popular, you just continue walking and you’ll probably end up in a village. But in Huayhuash, there was nothing and no one else in sight in the higher areas.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
what a normal day was, cloudy and rainy

So when I was rushing going down on a winding trail with loose slippery rocks because of the hail, and suddenly felt the need to stop and see how Mika and Bar were doing, and didn’t see them? I panicked. I shouted for their names a few good minutes. It was also getting darker, despite the fact that it was probably just a little past 4pm then. But no one answered. I was on my own. Tyler was with Jesus, Mika and Bar were together, the rest of the group was down at the campsite warm and fed. And I was on my own. I looked up from the turning point and they weren’t there. I looked down and could only see a river but no campsite, no tents. I started to cry. I thought I might actually be lost. Shouted again and no one answered. I just continued to go down because there was nowhere else to go. I was just scared.

Eventually as I got nearer to the river, I looked up and saw the couple just starting to go down; and looked down and saw tents which was initially hidden by a huge boulder. I felt relief. But all I wanted to do then was change into dry and warm clothes. As soon as I got into the big tent/common area, the other guys were cheering me and asked what happened. I grabbed my stuff and just left and told them it was a miserable experience.

As soon as I got into my tent, I removed all my wet clothes, changed into my thermals and down jacket. Got into my sleeping bag and stayed there for a bit. I could hear Gilad shouting my name and asking me to go to the big tent. I shouted back that I was trying to get warm. And I cried again.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
one of our campsites

My hands were still shaking, but I realized I needed to warm up with hot tea and share a tent with other warm bodies. Immediately Gilad asked me what happened, and I just broke down. I told the group about the hailstorm, how we had to wait for Jesus because he was with Tyler, how there was a point when I thought I got lost. I remember Camille, my strong-willed cursing new French friend, laughing at me at the other end of the table. And I cursed at her and called her a fucking bitch. HAHAHA (Don’t worry she felt guilty and gave me her gloves after and we got close for the rest of the trek and bitched about the not so good parts of the experience together. And I got the chance to laugh at her when she cried too days after I did HAHAHA). I’ve cried once in Nepal when I first experienced difficulty breathing in high altitude in the middle of the night. And that was it, and I’ve trekked there three times. And yet in Huayhuash, I broke down twice!

But everyone was great, all of them tried their best to comfort me. Prepared me tea, hugged me, told me that the day was over and it will be better. That same afternoon, a few of us decided to party and make choco shots (hot water and chocolate powder mix). The party continued outside the tent until it got dark and we were lucky enough to enjoy a clear night sky filled with so many stars until it was time to sleep.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
first day high, still in high spirits

That’s how it was almost the whole 8-days of the trek. We endured high altitude, the worst weather conditions – snow, hail, and rain. Some issues among the group. We only had one sunny day, but it was on the day it mattered the most for us to see a high pass with the most stunning view. It was mentally and physically difficult, but we endured. I endured given how I was the oldest of the group and they were mostly in their early 20s. And the mountains humbled me again but rewarded me with so much self-love and the most amazing mountains and experiences.


HUAYHUASH

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Mirador Tres Lagunas or Three Lakes

It was 2am, I barely slept. But there I was in the lobby of my hostel waiting to be picked-up. Huayhuash. Finally. I’ve been in Huaraz for almost two weeks then. Doing my part in helping my body adjust to high altitude. I did a couple of day treks, and the 4-day Santa Cruz trek which I happily survived. I wanted more days in the mountains.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
closer to the big mountains

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
so beautiful still despite the weather

Huayhuash, what I’ve read as one of the hardest and most stunning multi-day treks in the world. Rugged landscape and high passes. While most people flock to do treks in Machu Picchu and in the Cusco region, Huaraz is less known and less visited. Especially during the time I was there, the end of the rainy season which meant hail and snow in the high areas of Huayhuash. I was also lucky to have found a reputable trekking agency that had departure dates for this trek (I did the Santa Cruz trek with them too).

Finally I heard a knock and I met Jesus, our lead guide. A white van was waiting, Gilad (who I did Santa Cruz with) was there along with his other friends and some trekkers who joined our group of 12 trekkers. Yup, twelve.

DAY 1: DROP-OFF – 4,700M QAQANAN PASS – 4,300M CAMP SITE

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Of course it was raining when we got to the drop-off point. As soon as we got there, everyone was scrambling. The crew unloading all the gear for the donkeys to carry. We all had to change into our rain jackets, cover our bags, and prepare our trekking poles. Originally, the itinerary would have us staying there in the drop-off point for the rest of the day and cross two high passes the next day. But the boys suggested hiking to one high pass on Day 1. So as soon as everyone was ready to go, we were off. It started steep right away.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

The 12 of us immediately broke into groups. You already know who were fast, who were in the middle, and who were at the end. I was in the middle, slowly taking my time to go up given that I haven’t had any sleep and I had my period. Yup, how unfortunate to start your trek on the strongest flow day of your period, right? And having menstrual cramps too. The physical shit women have to deal with, but we still do it.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

We finally made it to the first pass, Qaqanan pass at 4,700m. It was foggy so we couldn’t really see much of the view. But we saw Andean condors, so many of them, among the largest birds in the world and one of the few who can fly at such high altitude.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Qaqanan Pass, 4700m

After having snacks, we made our way down to campsite at 4,300m. After lunch, we trekked on flat trail to see a lake at the bottom of a mountain. The rest of the day was spent playing a game that I can’t remember the name anymore. Let’s just say I was a bad moderator to everyone’s laughter, and was easily killed because they thought I was the killer. It was such a fun game and we laughed so much, but was equally exhausting.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

And we saw different kind of birds too flying over our camp site. One of which is this group of black birds with long large beaks, I called them Jurassic birds because they looked like those in the movie but smaller.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

I’m glad I had my own tent then because I’m such a light sleeper. Sleep didn’t come easily of course. And I always wake up so early at 3am, and drifted on and off sleep until before 6am.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Toilet situation. On most campsites there were two stalls of utterly disgusting toilet bowls. I am not going to discuss details here but they were beyond disgusting. But you gots to do what you gots to do, right? Just be prepared with your wipes and alcohol. Not for the toilet seat. No! But for you even if you don’t touch them. And if you can pee somewhere else, do it. Just throw your toilet paper at the camp’s garbage bag.

DAY 2: 4,650M CARCHUAC PASS – 4,280M CARHUACOCHA CAMP SITE

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Andean Mornings

First morning in Huayhuash, at dusk it remained cloudy but it was still glorious. Mountains lined and covered in snow surrounded us. It was quiet and serene with only the sound of the river.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Carhuac Pass, 4650m

It was another moderate hike to our second pass, Carhuac Pass at 4,650m pass. The group stayed there longer given that we had more time. Snacks, laughter, and stories were shared. The way down wasn’t that easy for me. I’ve always been more scared going down especially in Huayhuash where there were a lot of loose rocks along the way. Gilad and Aran decided to stay with Tyler and I a little bit more to wait for the sky to clear up to see the covered mountains. But it never came. So we all made our way down eventually.

The trails also got more challenging. It was flat but it was so muddy. We had to constantly find paths with less mud which meant going up sloped ones and going back down, and up again. Another thing we eventually got used to over the 8 days.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

And then we got to this spot – a tranquil lake, and big mountains, and glaciers. We started to feel how close we really were to the big mountains then. I’ve been stuck for a month now mentally trying to think of the right words, but I don’t think there will ever be the right words or enough words to fully express how beautiful and heart bursting that moment was for me. To get that close to them. To be disconnected from everything. To just be there. To have my overthinking mind quiet for once. Utterly quiet and just grateful for that moment. Mountains continue to have that power over me. To humble me. To remind me that this is the life direction I chose. It wasn’t always easy and yet it will always be worth it.

We spent a good amount of time here. Taking photos and just enjoying the view. I found my own little spot too, finally feeling that I was deep in the Andes, something I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
this glacier!

Then it started drizzling. Muddy paths and trails led us to the campsite for the day, at the edge of the lake where we were supposed to enjoy another vantage point of the big mountains but didn’t because it was cloudy.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

The rest of the afternoon was spent laughing as the boys took a dip in the freezing lake in just in their undies and sharing stories in the tent until it got dark.

There was an instance when a group of men in orange suits walked up to our campsite. I initially thought they were a group of technical climbers who just descended from climbing one of the peaks. But when I asked Jesus the next day, he said they were a rescue group responding to a satellite phone call they received from a solo trekker who got lost in Huayhuash. That day they were unsuccessful, so I’m not really sure if they found the trekker. Stories of group of independent trekkers backing out after a few days were also told. An independent trek is very much possible in the dry season but not during that season.

That night we also watched the sky get filled with stars and the Milky Way, it was amazing!

DAY 3: SIULA PASS 4,850M – HUAYHUASH CAMPSITE AT 4330M 

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
so many beautiful lakes like this

It was another early start and this time we were excited as we were about to see the famous 3-lake viewpoint. Our group, the slow group, took our time. The first part of the trail was flat, passing by small lakes and streams. Jesus joined us as Tyler wasn’t feeling that well. Eventually the trail started to get steep, the kind where there were only scattered loose rocks and the kind where it will make your calves hurt until we reached the part where you could slowly see a larger torquise lake. A beautiful one at that.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

From here, it was just a steep climb to the viewpoint that we still couldn’t see then because of how high it was. Eventually I told Mika and Bar that I would go ahead. As I got higher, I saw another lake.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
more lakes as you go up

I was pumped and really excited to get to the viewpoint. Eventually I could hear music, Hadar! I saw him and Lotar on a small boulder, dancing and cheering me on! As soon as I reached them, they told me that unfortunately it wasn’t the viewpoint yet. They said they’ve been there for half an hour or so just resting and enjoying the view. I should too. Took some photos and waited for Bar and Mika to reach me. Eventually I left and continued the hike on my own. It was quite scary as the trail was narrow and a deep drop to the right.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
steep trail to go the view point

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

As I got to the viewpoint, I saw the third lake and the high peaks and glaciers of Siula Grande and eventually joined the group in celebration and lunch. The peaks were majestic and the view so stunning.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Mirador Tres Lagunas or Three Lakes

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Siula Glacier

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

After lunch, we continued our hike to Siula Pass at 4,850m. But the fast group didn’t wait for us anymore. From up there is a closer view of the peaks. I looked at my arm tattoo then and felt extremely grateful that I got to make this dream a reality.

Huayhuash Trek, Peru
view going up Siula Pass

Huayhuash Trek, Peru

The hike down to the campsite eventually turned into an unmarked path, and just stepping on these huge sometimes empty rubbery moss. I stuck by Jesus then to follow where he steps on.

It took us a long time to get to the campsite. The rest of the story is on the first part of this post. Yup, my first breakdown.



Here's the second part.
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