Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru!

siula grande, yerupaja

Siula In Clouds : Prints Available

The summit of Siula Grande (6344m) seems to float on clouds. On this particular morning, Siula was cloaked in clouds while Yerupaja and Jirishanca peeked in and out. The moment lasted just a few seconds. 

Where to go on the next big trip? We saved up and visited our mythical adventure places list many times over, mostly agreeing on the top five, and it came down to the Cordillera Huayhuash (whywash) in Peru, one of the top treks in the world. The Huayhuash is remote and high, and despite being only 30 km long, the range boasts six peaks over 6,000 meters and more than 600 glaciers. The infamous Huayhuash Trek circumnavigates the range clockwise, and generally takes 10-12 days to complete. It was an easy decision to contact Victor Sanchez, owner of Peru Mountain Explorers to arrange a custom trip. We had trekked with Victor in the Cordillera Blanca back in 2007 and told him that we’d come back to trek the Huayhuash. We set up the all-inclusive 17-day trip with Victor, with plans to add a climb of (17,555′) Diablo Mudo near the end of the trek. As we trained to be physically ready, we received the shocking news that Victor had been killed by an avalanche on Alpamayo while putting up a route for clients. Office Manager Edith assured us that Victor’s wife, Alicia is dedicated to running Peru Mountain Explorers in Victor’s honor and that our trip would be all set, Mrs. Haydee would meet us in Lima, everything is fine. We went to Peru.

Pisco-w-Victor

“On Nevado Pisco With Victor Sanchez, 2007”

We thought about Victor a lot – 33 years old, a wife and two daughters, a successful business that he was just getting started when we trekked together. He was a good man and we were able to tell him that when we were getting our itinerary together. In those uncertain days leading up to the trip, Marla and I talked about other folks in the extended Peru Mountain Explorers (PME) family, the Pachamanca celebration after Pisco, the warmth and kindness we’d experienced. None of that had changed. We were met in Lima by Mrs. Haydee, then escorted to the airport the next morning for a flight to Huaraz. Edith and Alicia were waiting with the PME van and excited to have us back again. Every detail was attended to and we were delivered to the San Sebastian Hotel, a huge step up from our last visit. We would go for an acclimatization hike to lake Churup (14,700′) with Emerson, then head for the Huayhuash with Marco as our guide.

pocpa-girls

“Pocpa Girls”

From Huaraz, our route took us to Chiqiuian, Llamac, and Pocpa on a combination of twisty two lane highway through small villages and steep drops on switchbacks in a canyon that eventually led to Pocpa, where we camped in a soccer field. These girls were swinging on the gate and very happy to be photographed.

w-carlos

Marla with Carlos, a 78 year old sheepherder that we met on the first day of the trek. He said we looked very young. See you next time, Carlos!

Rondoy, cordillera huayhuash

Rondoy Sunset : Prints Available

Rondoy's (5870m) west face gathers last light high in the Cordillera Huayhuash on the first night of our trek. 

jirishanca, mitucocha

Jirishanca Portrait : Prints Available

Jirishanca (6094m) towers over our camp at Mitucocha while trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash. 

On the way to Mitucocha Camp, we passed our first test, 15,400′ Cacanan Pass, the first of daily high passes. Marla was able to call her mom, “Effie” from the top, the Huayhuash was unfolding before our eyes, everything was indeed alright.

MM-hiking-Mito

Marla and our guide Marco trekking above Mitucocha camp.

sheepherder, huayhuash trek

Sheepherder With Baby : Prints Available

We met sheepherder Hermes while watching his herd of 500 sheep pass along the Huayhuash Trek. This vibrant soul is 70 years old and lives in the highlands above 14,000 feet.  

yerupaja, carhuacocha

Spotlight on Yerupaja : Prints Available

Early morning light breaks through layers of clouds to reveal Yerupaja (6634m) and Yerupaja Chico (6121m) from  Carhuacocha camp on the Huayhuash Trek. This ephemeral moment was one of the most interesting light shows I've witnessed, a sudden transition from steely gray to light. 

Yerupaja, laguna carhuacocha

Carhuacocha Reflection : Prints Available

Towering Peaks of the Huayhuash Yerupaja (6634m 2nd highest in Peru), Yerupaja Chico (R, 6094m), and Siula Grande (L, 6,344m) refected in Laguna Carhuacocha. 

laguna quesillucocha, siula grande

Quesillococha and Siula : Prints Available

The route to Siula Pass (4800m) travels over rugged terrain below Andes giants and past three turquoise Andes lakes. Laguna Quesillucocha and Laguna Siula sit below Siula Grande (6344m), the peak of 'Touching The Void' infamy. As we ascended the pass, the weather deteriorated rapidly, begining with groppel snow, thunder snow, then settled into a gentle snowfall. 

cold-flowers

Although thunder snow and wind weren’t welcome on 15,900′ Siula Pass, there was a peacefulness to a gentle snowfall on our way to Huayhuash Camp.

snowy-siula-camp

“Snowy Huayhuash Camp”

A chilly night was buffered by the thin layer of ice on our tent that kept us warm inside. It all burned off rather quickly and we were steaming while heading up (4750m) Portachuelo Pass. By now our routine was set: At 6:15 Valentine brought coffee and tea to our tent, followed by washing water from Rolando at 6:30, and breakfast in the dining tent at 7:00. Then, we’d hike over a 15,000′ or so pass on our way to the next camp. Rinse, repeat.

team

“Team Huayhuash” L to R: Guide Marco, Chef Valentin, Donkey Driver Rolando. These guys are pros.

Rolando-w-mule

“Rolando with El Mula”

futball

“Football at 14,000 Feet”

Football (soccer) is played everywhere, including this lumpy field next to the Viconga hot springs, where we had the lone shower of the trek. These guys play hard, and Rolando explained that they always play for money.

punta cuyoc, cuyoc

Cuyoc Morning : Prints Available

Morning clouds fire up over Cuyoc (5560m) as we trekked around the southern end of the massif. We were en-route to Punta Cuyoc, the highest pass on our trek. 

punta cuyoc, huanacpatay valley

Punta Cuyoc View : Prints Available

From Punta Cuyoc, thie highest pass on the Huayhuash Trek (5000m) you cross over to the southern side of the range where once again Yerupaja (6634m) dominates the skyline. The trek descends into the Huanacpatay Valley, a lengthy drop from over 16,000 feet of elevation. 

We took it slow over Punta Cuyoc – despacio, despacio – and had no troubles. The pass is a moonscape with hoodoos carved by wind and freeze/thaw cycles over eons, and the massive glaciers of Cuyoc (5560m) on the north side, quite a contrast.

valentine-cuyoc

Valentin has a knack for picking the most picturesque lunch spots!

cuyoc, huayhuash trek

Cuyoc Night : Prints Available

Cuyoc (5560m) sits at the head of a long valley and above colorful tents as night falls on the Huayhuash Trek. 

donkey-drivers

“Donkey Drivers” Our pal Rolando is on the left.

diablo mudo, peru mountain explorers

Diablo Mudo Breaking Storm : Prints Available

Sun breaks through clouds to light Diablo Mudo (5223m) after an afternoon of spitting snow. We climbed the mountain with our guide Marco from Peru Mountain Explorers, accessing the upper ridge via the curving ridge on the left. 

Marco got special permission for us to camp at Laguna Sucucocha where we staged for a climb of Diablo Mudo. (Mute Devil) Loose rock on the narrow ridge (in the dark) made the approach pretty sketchy.

glacier, cordillera huayhuash

Climbing Diablo Mudo : Prints Available

Marla is led by our guide Marco on the last pitch of Diablo Mudo's (5223m) 'penitente' studded glacier. Considered an easy peak in the Cordillera Huayhuash, the 'mute devil' was tough enough for us. 

on-belay

“On Belay” An interesting twist – on belay while climbing. There is a short, steep drop before ascending the final pitch on the glacier.

marco-diablo

Marco Reyes is a certified International Mountain Guide – we were in very good hands. He also assured us that the view is normally amazing, but we happened to be in a cloud.

laguna huacrish, andean condor

Laguna Huacrish Turquoise : Prints Available

Laguna Huacrish's glacial blue waters contrast sharply with clouds draping West Huacrish Mountain (5622m). We were descending from Diablo Mudo into the Huacrish Valley, where clouds cleared and we viewed soaring Andean Condors up close. What a thrill!

rondoy, jirishanca

Stormy Huayhuash : Prints Available

Storm clouds swirl around the sheer rock faces of Rondoy (L, 5870m) and Jirishanca (6094m) from Laguna Jahuacocha, the last camp on our 12-day Cordillera Huayhuash trek. We spent two days here and Jirishanca boomed with avalanches each afternoon. Glaciers in the Peruvian Andes are retreating rapidly due to climate change, a very real concern throughout the Andes. 

It was cool to view the range from the Jahuacocha side, like a reflection in a mirror from the first days of the trek. We had a rest day here, ate trucha that Rolando caught by hand, and reflected on a trip that had so many unexpected surprises, yet ran smooth throughout. Travel in Peru is pretty easy and they’re on central time, so there’s no jet lag. Communicating with locals es no problema, even with limited Spanglish like me; and you can hike through these great mountains with some preparation for high altitude. We missed Victor, yet we had a lot of fun with our team, and we’re inspired that Alicia will continue running Peru Mountain Explorers, now a first class company. We kept moving forward to the finish in Llamac, where of course the Santa Rosa Day celebrations were underway. Parades! Musica!

Jura-group

The whole team at Juracocha – we even had an expedition sign with our names on it!

MODS

Thanks Poj for a wonderful journey – it’s always a hoot with you!

38 thoughts on “Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru!

  1. Always a hoot with you! Thanks for a GREAT trip, an awesome experience in Peru with you! You captured it magnificently as always…..

  2. WOW! I absolutely LOVED reading about your journey and the photographs are spectacular!!! It would be wonderful to see you again and meet Marla one of these days…I don’t think JJ and I are of your caliber in trekking, but would so love to go on a photography trip that is less strenuous!!!!

  3. Thank you for the wonderful photos and commentary…so amazing to see such splendor. I admire boh of you and your adventuresome spirit. It will be good to see you both in the near future…and that you got to call Effie…love it.

  4. Wow, totally amazing photos of this spectacular part of the world. You guys are amazing. Can’t even imagine such a trip. Wish you many more wonderful adventures and thank you for sharing.

    1. A tragedy for sure – and we heard plenty more stories about Andes catastrophes. Thanks for commenting on the personal aspect, especially rewarding for us.

    1. Thanks Jackson. Just to geek out a bit, I carried a Nikon D800 with 24-120mm lens and a 70-300mm in my duffel that was on a burro. Right before the trip I bought a Sony RX-100 compact with an APS-C sensor. It’s a marvelous 20.2 mpx point and shoot and a real difference maker in my travel kit. I shot a fair amount of video with it too – maybe a multimedia piece will follow. I pushed the Sony up to ISO 3200 and am really happy with the low light performance.

  5. Just amazing! As always, what you write is a song in your breath. And the photography, fabulous. Victor was with you and your group. See you in the spring. Peace…

  6. datetime=””> Always amazing. You guys do some extraordinary things. It’s great to get to share it through your photos and your words. Peru looks like a very challenging place to go, and I’m pretty sure I shan’t.

  7. As usual Dave, wonderful pictures and you both neglected to
    Tell me about all that snow. Looks like hard climbing, but glad
    you had such nice guides and helpers. Very nice scenery and
    Your pictures are beautiful. Love the lakes.

  8. The snow is actually ice – all of the high alpine region is glaciated. We had a short climb on the glacier, and you can see that we were roped up and climbing with crampons. The last steep part was a lot of fun with the mountaintop in sight. Thanks Ef!

  9. Thank you. Thank you for jogging the memories of galloping horses through the swirling mists rising in the morning sun from the black earth fields of southern Chile that seemed to lounge eastward to the base of the Cordillera, snowcapped and greeting the crystalline turquoise sky to the valleys cradled by the weather smoothed slopes climbing always up to the winds, thinned of oxygen, that blew such ancient dust onto the old snow of passes in the Himalayas. I’m sure your trek was as good as mine.

  10. Thank you so much for sending us this incredible blog!!! These photos are amazing and would make a fabulous coffee table book!! What a wonderful adventure.

  11. Wow! Thank you for taking us through your trip. The photos are unreal, and it looks like you got to experience everything you wanted. We are so very happy for you, and that you made it back safe. You are probably planning the next one now? You guys rock!

  12. Wonderful accounting of an amazing trip, both in breathtaking photos and colorful telling of the tale. What a beautiful way to memorialize your good friend Victor, and celebrate new journies with Marco and crew. You’re both very humble, but I know what amazing people you are and I can’t wait to see (and live vicariously thru) your next adventure, Sho-Ofs! Thank you so much for sharing these experiences with us!!

  13. Thanks for the break from the daily grind… Truly awesome photos—I wouldn’t expect anything less from you. And a great story full of adventure! I hope to make this trek one day and I will call Peru Mountain Explorers when I do. Thanks!

  14. hello , Thank you for visit Peru the cordillera huayhuash mountain range is concidered one of the most beautiful trek in Peru,
    I know them as marco ( guide ) valentin ( cook )roland ( donkey driver )

    if you are looking for huayhuash trekking or climbing in the cordillera blanca do not hesitate contact us. We are at your service

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