The time-honored trek in the Cordillera Huayhuash is a 12-day loop around the entire range that begins and ends in the village of Chiquián. These days, this route is somewhat shorter because new roads have been built onward from Chiquián, creating different trailheads.
From Chiquián, combis now travel to Llamac via a new mining road, which shortens the route by a day. This trek continues clockwise around the entire range and crosses eight passes between 4,600 and 5,000 meters before completing the circle at Pacllón, where a new road returns to Chiquián.
A few groups are now entering through Huallanca, a village at 3,400 meters that lies along the dirt road between Huaraz and Huánuco. Huallanca was rarely used as an entry point in the past because it was a long one- or two-day slog to get to the Huayhuash. But combis now travel along a new road that goes as far as the village of Matacancha.
Trekkers usually get off beforehand at the tiny village of Ishpac and head over the 4,700-meter Cacanpunta Pass en route to their first campsite at Lago Mitacocha. This trek essentially does half of the full circuit and skirts the range’s eastern side. After a campsite at Lago Carhuacocha, the trail diverges, and trekkers have to decide between a 4,600-meter pass or a pass 200 meters higher with better views of the glaciers.
The next camps are at the village of Huayhuash and then on to Laguna Viconga, where hot springs lie a mile to the southwest. The final day is a long walk over rolling hills out to Cajatambo, where a good road leads to Pativilca on the coast.
Because of the new Huallanca access, trekkers can now see a good bit of the Cordillera Huayhuash in five days. But there is a downside. Huallanca, at 3,400 meters, is the same altitude as Cusco and takes some getting used to. Those who come from the coast usually have to spend a day or two in Huaraz before trekking.
Another issue is that each day of this five-day route includes a pass over 4,600 meters, which is a feat even for the acclimatized. The full circuit, on the other hand, has three days of acclimatization on rolling hills before hitting this string of knockout passes.
Another problem is luggage: Five-day trekkers come in from the Huaraz side of the range and exit at the coast, so they have to carry everything with them. And of course this route misses the mountain views on the west side of the range.
Val Pitkethly (133 Rundle Crescent, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, Tlw 2L6, tel. 403/678-6834, valpk [at] hotmail [dot] com) guides in the Huayhuash each year and has written the Globetrotter guide Trekking and Climbing in the Andes. She highly recommends the full circuit for all the above reasons, but also because “it’s just too beautiful of a place to rush through.”
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition