Day 1 of the Huayahuash Circuit in the big peaks of Peru

The morning of our departure for 10 days on the Huayahuash Circuit trail we woke up at the inhuman hour of 4AM to catch the 5AM bus out of Huaraz to Chiquian. It was rough, but there’s always something exciting about being up that early for an adventure, especially an adventure that would be so completely new to me. As we hefted on our fully loaded packs I got a clear idea of the challenge it would be to haul our stuff over mountain passes instead of hiring a mule team to carry it for us. I reassured myself by repeating the mantra “it’s only because it’s so early…” Right?
The bus ride was mostly in the dark so I missed out on some of the panoramic views of the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra (beautiful peaks, but without the enormous snow caps that make the Blanca so impressive), but was completely enthralled as soon as the first glimpses of the enormous big mountains came into view. These mountains are so unlike any others I’ve seen before; jagged towering peaks that look like each one was torn independently from the earth. My gratitude for being able to experience them replaced any left over exhaustion from the early start.
Our first stop was the village of Chiquian, a surprisingly bustling place with shop-lined streets and a large local market where you can buy any last minute provisions you might need. Unsure of when the next bus to the much smaller village of Llamac would be leaving we had to forego exploring what seems like a pretty cool little town. The Llamac bus was scheduled to leave at 8:30AM – giving us a 20 minute wait time. Of course, you can’t really expect 100% accuracy on departure time even 50% of the time in Peru so we ended up killing an extra hour in front of the bus station, making wagers on what time the bus would actually arrive.
An extra hour plus one flat tire later we were in Llamac, the self-proclaimed “Gateway to Huayahuash”, and got our first taste of the hodge podge fee system that has baffled many the traveler on the Huayahuash Circuit. Before the bus even gets to the town center a local fee collector boards the bus and charges any tourist 15 soles for the privilege of passing through the village. All said and done at the end of the 10 days we had paid something like 165 soles each of random fees for passing through various parts of the trail and through the occasional village. Be prepared for this and have small denominations of Peruvian soles with you – and be prepared for the fact that it seems completely random. Fee collectors literally seem to appear out of nowhere at times and the fee is almost never the same from place to place, but you should at least receive a semi-official looking ticket in return.
So, now all that was left was to begin the trail…and we began at mid-day with a steady climb of 3,000 or so feet that lasted at least a few hours. Yep, it’s a great way to stretch the legs after a long bus ride. Those first hours are challenging, but quickly become well worth it as you crest the ridge and get your first sweeping views of the glaciated mountains and turquoise glacial lakes on the horizon. For the next few hours you hike directly towards three sentinel peaks behind the lake, and they seem to change completely every time the trail curves slightly. I barely put my camera away for hours.
That night we watched an alpenglow sunset on the mountains as we set up our tent, and experienced the first rapid temperature drop that would clearly define the moments after sunset for the rest of the trip. It was hard to sleep that night surrounded by so much unknown beauty, knowing there was so much waiting for me in the next 9 days.