Huaraz, Peru and the Huayhuash Circuit; July 2-18, 2009

The photos included here (some Tim's, some Jennifer's) were chosen sort of randomly in favor of getting the travelog posted quickly. Complete edited photo sets will be available in due time.

The Huayhuash Circuit (pronounced "why wash") is considered to be a demanding high-altitude trek. Three years ago we did a shorter trek in Peru (in the remote Salcantay region, connecting to the heavily-traveled but still spectacular Inca Trail to Machu Picchu). The high point early on that trek was over 16,000', and dealing with the altitude was a real challenge. Thus, we had some trepidation about tackling the considerably more difficult Huayhuash Circuit, which has seven passes over 15,500' (4700 meters). The highest pass is 16,555' (over 5000 meters), and campsite elevations average about 14,000'. Whew.

Our strategy for the Huayhuash combined a thorough acclimatization plan with our by-now proven method for happy kids on long-distance hikes: take it really slowly. While some people complete the circuit in as few as seven days, we took ten regular hiking days plus two "rest" days. (We did very nice day-hikes on both of them.) Our strategy paid off: Although the trek was by no means easy, we didn't have any major problems, and we finished as planned, intact, and in good spirits.


The Cordillera Huayhuash mountain range is somewhat less known than the nearby Cordillera Blanca. The Cordillera Blanca covers a much larger area; it's popular for short treks into its valleys and especially for mountain climbs. The Cordillera Huayhuash is more remote, and the range is compact enough that trekking entirely around it, as we did, is considered one of the great hikes of the world. The peaks are at least as dramatic as those in the Cordillera Blanca. (One of them, Siula Grande, has been made famous by the epic climbing book & movie, Touching the Void.) Our daily vistas were breathtaking; photos 1-6 give the general idea. One of our lakeside camps (photo 5) is described in our hiking guide as "one of the most stunning campsites in South America," while another (photo 6) is said to have "one of the most amazing views on the planet." We won't argue.


Since everything went smoothly with the altitude, our biggest continuing challenge on the trek was probably the cold. Temperatures dropped well below freezing every night, with evenings and mornings also decidedly chilly. Being on the winter side of the equator and among very high mountains, daily sunlight hours were relatively few. We had plenty of warm clothing, but a long trek in "arctic conditions" (Emily's description) was still a new experience for us. Cold aside, the weather was typical for mountainous regions in the dry season: lots of blue sky, some clouds, and occasional afternoon or overnight precipitation -- rain, sleet, or snow, depending on the time.

Full-Service Trekking

This was our fourth time trekking in "expedition" style, and the most elaborate of the four. (Previous full-service treks were in Nepal before kids, Morocco & Peru more recently. Our long-distance hikes in the Alps and Sierras were hut-to-hut and self-sufficient backpacking, respectively.)
Our crew consisted of a guide, cook, general-purpose assistant, and two donkey-drivers. Seven donkeys plus three horses carried all the goods; see photo 4. (The horses could also be ridden in case of emergency, or simply if someone got too tired. Neither occurred, although Emily liked to ride around camp for fun.) In every camp, the crew erected a cooking tent, dining tent, toilet tent, and roomy sleeping tents. The food was plentiful, varied, and delicious -- this was no diet trek.

Having such a large entourage and constant personal service on what's basically a family hiking trip takes some getting used to, although it's pretty standard in Peru and elsewhere. It's really a win-win situation: At a very reasonable cost, good jobs are created for the local people, while tourists enjoy safe and comfortable treks.

Apparently our crew was looking forward to the novelty of having kids along -- we hope they weren't disappointed. Overall, they seemed genuinely happy and enjoying their work. Unlike our previous full-service treks, everyone down to the donkey-drivers had good boots, sleeping bags, and tents, and ate the same food we did. It's a testament to the trekking principles of the region, and to the company we used, Peruvian Andes Adventures, which we were happy with in every respect.


Some nights we were alone at our campsite, while other times 2-3 other trekking groups were camped nearby. On the trail we were much more likely to encounter colorfully-dressed shepherds or shepherd families (photos 7 & 8) than to meet up with other trekkers. For several days we were on the same itinerary as a fun-loving group of Americans living in Lima, with whom we shared a soccer game, snowball fight, and many traveler's tales. Other trekkers we met hailed from all corners of the globe.

Congratulations to Emily & Tim

Nobody we met knew of any other kids completing the Huayhuash Circuit in recent years. Our cook, who's trekked the Huayhuash over 100 times in 22 years, had one other child as a client, 15 years ago.


Before the trek began we spent two busy days in the gateway city of Huaraz (photo 10). In addition to getting all of our stuff sorted and organized, we enjoyed the town a bit, and most importantly took two day-hikes to significant altitudes (around 15,000') as part of our acclimatization program. The first day in Huaraz was Tim's 14th birthday. The trekking company, who also runs the very pleasant Morales Guesthouse where we stayed, noticed the birthday on Tim's passport when they were filling out our paperwork. They threw a small surprise party, complete with balloons and chocolate cake.


Huaraz (Peru) isn't all that far from Quito (Ecuador) as the crow flies, but it took quite a while for us to get from one to the other. After an early morning flight from Quito to Lima, we were deposited in the Lima bus station for a 3-hour wait. Instructions: keep an eagle eye on our belongings and definitely don't venture outside the station. With nothing in the station but a grungy snack bar, it was a long wait. On the other hand, the "tourist" (upper) class on the long-distance bus is something to behold -- all the comforts of airline business class, in a 9-seat isolated compartment. (Unlike in the U.S., bus travel is standard throughout South America and caters to everyone.) We were nicely settled into the 8-hour ride when the bus came to a rapid halt on the dirt shoulder, emitting rivers of fluid. The breakdown ended up consuming two hours, but to their credit, the drivers, hostess, and assorted helpers worked busily (photo 9) to get the bus fixed and on its way.

Far more epic was our trip home. It began at our last campsite of the trek, Laguna Jahuacocha. We hiked six hours over the final pass to arrive at the tiny town of Llamac, where we had begun the trek 12 days earlier. A van met us for the 5-hour drive on mostly steep, bumpy dirt roads back to Huaraz. We had just enough time for showers, repacking, and post-trek ice cream before boarding the overnight bus to Lima. Once again, we were in very comfortable "tourist class," but unfortunately some significant snorers shared the compartment with us. Next was a several-hour wait in the Lima airport, a flight to El Salvador, another several-hour wait, and finally a flight to San Francisco. We arrived at our house 44 hours after setting out.

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