So you want to follow in the footsteps of Joe Simpson from Touching The Void? Or you just want to see some of the most remote mountain wilderness outside of the Himalayas? You’re looking for the Huayhuash mountain range.
For 10 days during October, 2015, I hiked alone through the Huayhuash Mountain range. For those of you who are feeling a bit left out at the moment, let’s back up and go over some basic information to answer the question:
What exactly is the Huayhuash?
The Huayhuash Mountain range is an independent chain of mountains located in the Andes mountain range of Peru. The range contains some of the highest mountains in the world outside of Asia’s Himalayas. The highest mountains in the Huayhuash include Yerapuja, Peru’s second highest mountain, rising to 6617m (21,709ft!!), and Siula, the mountain you may know from Joe Smith’s book and subsequent movie “Touching The Void” which ascends a jaw dropping 6,344m (20,813ft). In short, these mountains are big, very big, some of the biggest mountains you’ll ever see.
The weather in Peru’s Andes is fairly regular. From May to September is the dry season. During these months you will almost never see rain, the skies will be mostly clear and you’ll get the best views. From October to April is the rainy season, with cloudy skies, rainy days and nights, and generally terrible conditions for outdoor adventure sports.
The dry season also means boat loads of tourists, yes even in the remote Huayhuash. It’s just not THAT remote. And during the wet, the views are worse, but you’ll have the place to yourself.
So Megan, you said you were there in October?
Yes, I happened to do the Huayhuash in mid October. My trek through the Huayhuash was unplanned, through circumstances that don’t bear talking about, I ended up in the area of Huaraz with not much to do. Huayhuash it was.
If you hike during the wet season, know this: the mountains are reliably clear in the morning, with clouds arriving before lunch and rains arriving before dinner. Get up early.
Personally, I think the wet season was worth it. The place was close to empty and I had beautiful views 8/9 days.
So now we’re all oriented and we know where the Huayhuash is and why I wanted to go there, let’s get down to the business of logistics.
Most people take on the Huayhuash with an organized tour which can be easily booked online, or from the nearby major tourist hub of Huaraz. But unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a lot of info on hiking the Huayhuash solo.
My first word of caution is this: if you aren’t an experienced backpacker, and if you don’t have a lot of experience in extreme mountain environments like those found in the Peruvian Andes, go with a tour. The Huayhuash circuit is long, arduous, and at times, dangerous. If you feel nervous about taking her on alone, don’t. There’s no shame in having a guide.
If you ARE experienced and want the challenge, here is where I suggest you begin:
- Get to Huaraz.
This is a city in the Peruvian Andes from where you can organize your gear, purchase maps, find friends to hike with, and get a bus to the Huayhuash starting town of Llamac.
A bus ride from Lima to Huaraz is short and can be pretty cheap. There are the expensive “safer” options of Cruz Del Sur and Civa, but you can also take the cheaper Z buss and I’m willing to bet you will be fine.
- Organize your gear.
This is probably the toughest bit of hiking the Huayhuash solo. Most backpackers don’t go around carrying tents, sleeping bags, or stoves. Ask around at your hostel or at the various tour agencies as most of them will rent out gear.
Casa de Guias is a good place to start for research.
- REI 2 person, 3 season, lightweight dome tent
- Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping Bag (-9C/14F)
- MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove
- Pinnacle Soloist cooking pot and cup
- MSR plastic collapsible spoon
- 2L Camelpak
- Solomon hiking boots
- 1 pair silk pants
- 1 pair hot chilis fleece pants
- 1 pair prana hiking pants
- 1 pair rainproof pants
- 1 rainproof shell
- 2 fleece jackets
- 1 underarmor shirt
- 1 daytime lightweight hiking shirt
- 2 pairs of socks
- 2 sock liners
- Topographical Map (purchased in Huaraz)
- Notebook and 2 pens
- Smartphone (to take pictures)
- Pair of collapsible Leki hiking poles
- Kelty Coyote 65L Backpack – NOT RECOMMENDED, but it was a hand-me-down and super old and heavy.
And there you have it, add in enough food for 10 days and that was my pack. It was heavy and cumbersome but I did it.
- Buy a topographic map.
If you’re going to hike the Huayhuash alone, a map is pretty important. There are a few spots where you might get lost. Also consider buying a compass. It isn’t necessary but it can’t hurt. Modern hikers have GPS machines ppppphhhttttt.
- Plan your menu and buy your food.
This is probably the biggest challenge of doing a solo hike in Peru. You do not have access to those pre-made camping meals from REI that are so popular in the states these days. Get yourself to the Mercado central in Huaraz and familiarize yourself with what is available.
There are 3 medium sized grocery stores in Huaraz where you can buy supplies but everything there is overpriced. Asked around and find the Mercado Central and you’ll find a giant warehouse full of vendors selling everything you need. There is even one woman who has a dry goods store with all the food you find in the grocery stores at half the price.
Take the time to plan a menu before you go shopping. I have met so many hikers in Peru who simply didn’t bring enough calories with them because they didn’t plan a menu. Its an easy thing to fix.
- Make sure you have a way to clean your water.
The water in Peru is undrinkable. Even up in the mountains in the remote Huayhuash there is livestock everywhere, pooping in streams and making you sick. Get a filter, a steripen, or iodine pills. You can buy the iodine pills probably at any botica, or outdoors store in Huaraz.
- Sorochi Pills
If you are new to the Peruvian Andes, you will feel the effect of the altitude. If you are nervous about this, it makes sense to purchase some sorochi pills, available at every Botica in town. If you’re into the more holistic approach, consider eating a lot of garlic, onions, or drinking coca tea.
One positive of the Huayhuash trek is the terrain. You will ascend to a pass and descend every day, so you will always camp lower than your highest point.
- Buy your bus ticket to Llamac.
There is a bus company right on the main road which leaves at 5am, getting you to Llamac around 11am. Tickets are fairly cheap, s/30 as of October, 2015. You should buy your ticket at least a day ahead of time.
- Make sure you have enough money!
Bring at least s/250 with you if you are planning to hike the whole Huayhuash. Every time you pass by a village, which is at least once a day, you will be asked to pay between s/10-s/45. They tell you that it is for “protection” but it is extortion and it is the worst part of hiking the Huayhuash.
The Peruvian government recently incorporated the Huayhuash as a protected area but not a national park. Before this change, the people who lived there were on their own. As such, there is no entrance fee, but every village charges a protection fee. Why?
Back in the 1980’s there was a known Sendero Luminoso training camp up there. You can apparently still find it, but I didn’t personally notice I was hiking by that lake until I was below it.
Two foreign trekkers were killed in 2002, and another four were shot in 2004, one of whom died from blood loss. These shootings were a result of people resisting robberies. Nowadays you aren’t at risk of being shot but you do need to pay the local strongmen close to $100 to hike through the mountain range.
Okay back to the cheerier subject. The Huayhuash is completely safe from violence today, and if you plan your trip well you will have an amazing experience.
Look out for my next post. I’m going to go through my 9-day itinerary, including suggestions of alternate routes and best hiking choices.
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