Huayhuash, aptly pronounced ‘Why Wash’, is a legendary mountain range in outdoors circles. It was here where Joe Simpson ‘touched the void’, or rather fell into it, and made his remarkable broken legged bid for survival.
Whilst crevasses weren’t on my order of play, I’d had my sights set on exploring the flanks of this incredible range for sometime. The original plan was to ‘bikepack’ half of the traditional trekking route that circumnavigates the range and link up with what’s become known as the ‘Great Divide’ route to take me south. After the trials of the ‘Triple Heart Bypass’ though, and associated aches and pains, the idea started to seem less appealing. As such, in a rare moment of rational thinking, the plan switched to abusing a different muscle group and tackling it on foot via a more interesting route. What’s more, with Sam keen to rest up for a while in Huaraz, this side trip wasn’t at risk of jeopardising the partnership.
The standard 10-12 day trekking circuit is almost exclusively the domain of guided groups with a full entourage of mules to carry equipment and supplies. This clearly wasn’t how I was going to do it. So, in an effort to minimize food carried, whilst maximising high mountain adventure, my plan was to focus only on the more challenging western half of the route, albeit with a bonus side trip into the heart of the range. As luck would have it I was also able to recruit (or press gang) Matthias, the German cyclist I’d ridden with in Central America and again briefly in Colombia, into joining me. He’d finally caught me up in Huaraz and it was great to have his company for what was to prove the toughest backpacking trip I’ve done to date, not least because our stove was stolen on the first night….
Here’s how it went down:
After this side trip the plan for the afternoon was to cross back to the main circuit via the only pass that was marked on our map (or rather the map we photographed on the wall of Café Andino in Huaraz). The trail leading to the San Antonio pass proved rather elusive though and after over an hour of searching we gave up on actually finding it and started ‘bushwhacking’ up the mountainside. A possibly over-optimistic endeavor in hindsight and something that started to become increasingly apparent as the weather began to turn. Before long we were soaked through, tackling the steep terrain, often on all fours, against lashing rain. After some backtracking we finally caught sight of the pass a couple of hours before dark, but with the weather closing in the prospect of making the final one-hour or so push to the top (at 5000ish m) wasn’t a comfortable one. Likewise, neither was the idea of dropping the 800m back down to the valley the way we’d come, but given the risks this is what we ended up doing. Camping on the steep mountainside wasn’t an option, and so with morale at a definite low point we retraced our steps back to the same campsite. Consumed by fatigue and a day of zero progress, these are the times having company makes all the difference.
The final day was a straightforward hike out of the mountains to the village of Cajatambo, where we ate a frankly obscene amount before jumping on a bus to take us back to Huaraz. So, all in all, another bloody tough mountain adventure, but one with possibly the most spectacular mountain scenery I’ve ever witnessed, rivaling even that of the Himalayas. Long days and the absence of a stove was a tiring combination, and I’m hugely grateful for having Matt for company, it’s sure to be one of those trips we laugh about in the future. In fact, we already are.
If you’re going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it,
you might as well laugh about it now
– Marie Osmond
As opposed to paying for a national park permit like for the Blanca the villagers have taken things into their own hands and charge fees that go direct to their communities (as opposed to the governments pockets). A reasonable concept but we were surprised at how high the prices were:
- Llamac 20soles
- Huayllapa 40soles (where basic food and lodging is available, a good point to resupply)
- Hot Springs Campsite 20soles
San Antonio & Juraucocha Passes:
The San Antonio route shown on the map seems rarely, if at all, used. Since the groups don’t cross between the valleys there’s minimal traffic but there is a clear trail for the pass that leads from Laguna Jurau (even though it’s not on the maps). This is therefore the option I’d recommend. You’ll need to keep your eye out for cairns (rock piles) to follow the trail especially at the start where it heads east, before cutting back west across a scree slope. I think some people confuse the names of these passes, claiming to have done San Antonio, but have actually done the one to/from Juarau.
Buses from Cajatambo:
This is not well connected to Huaraz. There are direct buses (5:30pm daily, 30 soles) and collectivos (until 3pm) to Lima, that is all. If you need to reach Huaraz you have to take these as far as the coast at Pativilca (5 hours) and then change there for a bus (4-5hours, 20 soles) or collectivo (3-4hours, 25 soles). There are hostals and restaurants in Cajatambo if you need to stay over. Pativilca has everything.