Capped with 20,000-foot peaks, the Cordillera Huayhuash (pronounced “why-wash”) a subrange in the central Peruvian Andes, is the second loftiest range in the world behind the Himalaya.
Hikers come from far and wide to spend a week or two hiking the 130 kilometers around the range. Picture peaks shouldering Goliath cliffs dressed in chaotic glaciers with broad valleys glimmering in golden grass and bejeweled with lakes. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, but trust me, it’s all that and more.
As a pun on the pronunciation of Huayhuash, I have called this my “Why Wash Cycle.” Specifically, it’s a collection of short stories relating my most memorable moments while circumnavigating the Huayhuash in the rainy season, which begins in November.
The Wash Cycle – Day 4, Huayhuash (the town)
An old man yelled through the darkness and the encompassing storm. I was exhausted. My day had taken me by Siula Lake, which was over a 15,000-foot pass and through a swamp. The weather had deteriorated and was now a snowstorm. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was and I couldn’t understand the old man. He eventually began pointing. That must mean something? I continued on. A few minutes later, I saw two young guys digging out a place to sleep from the side of the hill. They weren’t digging snow, but dirt! It was then that I realized however desperate I was, these guys were on another level. Later, I saw them nestled in their hole beneath a boulder, with a fire. I cut a hole in the bottom of my tent to let the water drain, curled up in my soaked sleeping bag and dreamed about what I’d see the next day.
The Spin Cycle – Day 6, Huayllapa
There I was, kicking a soccer ball down a field with thirty Peruvians at over 14,000 feet. At least two-hundred Huayllapa townsfolk were watching the game unfold from the rock walls surrounding the field. My feet were moving faster than my upper body, but I tried to unbend gravity for one last kick. My foot nailed the ball, the goalie leaped. I watched for a split second and saw the ball just miss. Then, instead of my feet reconnecting to the earth, it was my face. Rolling up, lungs burning, I gave chase again. I knew moments like this were worth every bit of soreness and bruises I would awake to by morning. And, certainly, this would be one of the best moments of my life.
The Soak – Day 5, Atuscancha Hot Springs
There is no word to describe the sense of “ahhh” that escaped my mouth after dipping into Atuscancha Hot Springs. With nearly a week of rain broken only by sunny afterthoughts, this was a pleasure that rejuvenated the mind, body and spirit. This was satisfaction in its purest form.
The Delicates – Day 7, Yaucha Pass
Above Huayllapa, a pack of dogs came rolling over a hummock. They were howling and nipping at my ankles. Teeth bared. Lips curled. Barks and growls were being hurled at me. Miraculously they kept themselves at bay. It was then I looked to my left. On the ground I saw an infant swaddled in blankets inside a basket. After I retreated from the area, the dogs curled up next to the baby. A short distance away, I would see the father herding sheep. While he was away, this baby couldn’t have had better protection.
Tumble Dry – Day 7, near Huayllapa
An elderly woman rounded the corner of the trail. She had a sheep hanging from her back. Hiding in her skirts were three kids. They became less shy when they saw my camera, so I let them take pictures. Soon they were photographing one another—after a short lesson, of course. I quickly showed them their work. They howled in laughter. So would I. There I was, in the middle of this beautiful country, dried off with sunniest day of the trip, laughing with kids who couldn’t understand a word I said. As we parted, I imagined one of those kids becoming a photographer.
The Cool Down – Day One, Miner’s road above Llamac
I saw a man with a machine gun. There was a gate. I’d been walking on a road leaving Llamac. I was unsure if I was going the correct way. The road wasn’t talked about in the books I had, but I was sure it was a miners’ road because of the trucks that passed by. Going to the gate, since there was no stopping now, I walked up to the guard. He took me to a little building and asked for my passport. Feeling safe, I asked him for water. He said there was none. I asked if I could drink out of the stream. “No,” he said more than once. I pressed harder, since I had no water. “No agua,” he repeated, but “Coca-Cola.” A few minutes later, I was drinking Coca-Cola with three guards with machine guns, laughing and doing our best to communicate. It was awesome.
Im-pressed – Day Two, Cacannamputa Pass
Near the bottom of Cacannamputa Pass (15,387 feet), I heard music before I saw the sheep herders. This was the first pass I crossed. I was breathless. The town of Quartelhauain was already thousands of feet below, and my view of the country that the days ahead would take me to was just feet away. It didn’t matter; my progress was stopped in its tracks. The music I’d been hearing was coming from one of the herders who had just rounded the bend. Hanging around his neck, from a length of rope, was a boom box! We’re talking a music maker from circa 1980. It was monstrous and ingenious! Never in my life would I have imagined it.
One of the many bridges crossing countless streams that roar from high peaks and meander into wide valleys.
Camping under the stars.
Juya hiking above Carhuacocha.
Hiking back to the very beginning of the Huayhuash Circuit, coming full circle from where we had begun.