As we arrived at the campsite on day one of the Huayhuash trek, the rain started. Putting up a tent in the pouring rain is absolutely no fun, I can tell you. The rain continued all night and the next morning Abraham, our guide, pointed out fresh snow on the mountains and advised against continuing up the pass. Conditions could be treacherous, he explained, due to snow melt.
I’ve experienced a lot of rain this trip as the El Niño phenomenon has been dramatically affecting the continent. The Sierra in Colombia and Ecuador experienced five times the average rainfall in March and April. A few months ago many parts of Peru were devastated by floods with roads and bridges washed away and many casualties. Luckily, I’d planned to arrive in the Peruvian mountains to do some trekking in the middle of May, the beginning of the dry season. Except it wasn’t. Abraham told me he hadn’t seen rain at this time of year for twenty years.
The city of Huaraz sits in a valley with the white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca looming above, including Peru’s highest mountain, Huascarán. I’d originally planned to do the four day Santa Cruz trek, the most popular and busiest. The Cordillera Huayhuash, further to the south, looked more remote and enticing, but the trek demanded ten nights. But when I went into the agency, Monttrek, they told me they had a four day trek to Huayhuash leaving the next day. Despite not being fully acclimatised, I leapt at the chance.
Unfortunately, several things worked against my enjoyment of the trip, not just the rain. The trek was badly and cheaply organised, with just one person looking after five of us. His priorities seemed to be taking care of the mules rather than guiding and we rarely saw him on the trail. Despite all that, however, the scenery was staggeringly impressive.
Day one began unpromisingly when it turned out that, instead of private transport, we were being put on local buses to the trailhead at Pocpa. Having been picked up at my hostal at 4.30am, I was too tired to argue. By late morning we were walking along a dirt track for three hours to the first campsite at Rondoy. Due to the heavy rains, we ended up staying there for the whole of the next day. There were a few breaks in the rain, which allowed me to do some short walks and acclimatise to the altitude.
On day three we began the long ascent up to the pass of Punta Rondoy at 4750m. The clouds and mist swirled around us as we set off at dawn, but luckily the sun came out later, giving us astonishing views of the mountains. We descended past the brilliant blue Laguna Solteracocha where we had lunch, then continued to the camp at Laguna Yahuacocha.
The last day involved getting up at 4am and beginning the trek in the dark, since we had to get a bus from Llamac at 11am. This made things a little stressful. The path led us over another high pass at 4300m followed by a knee-busting descent into the valley. We saw condors and humming-birds.
I decided to have a rest day in Huaraz and then took a day trip to the Lagunas Llanganuco. In the first village of Carhuaz, we witnessed a religious parade with school kids. Then we moved onto Yungay to visit the site of Campo Santo, the place where the original village of Yungay existed before it was totally destroyed by an earthquake and an avalanche from Mt Huascarán which towers over it. More than 25,000 people lost their lives on that day in 1970.
The last stop was Laguna Chinancocha high up in a gap between the mountains with amazing shades of blue. Luckily, the sun shone all day, but, at this altitude, the wind can be quite chilly. The rains have passed now, but I’m heading to Lima on the coast, where it’s the beginning of winter and the notorious cloud cover envelops the coast blocking out the sun. At some point soon, I hope, I’ll be in the right place for the best weather.