Hiking Peru’s Alpamayo trek independently

‘I’m an oil man’ is what Daniel Day Lewis repeatedly says in the film There Will be Blood. I think. You know that movie? It’s surprisingly good. Daniel Day Lewis is an oil man and he hunts for oil in America and ruthlessly exploits it. Anyway, that’s largely irrelevant.

Whilst walking the Alpamayo track ‘I’m a sea level man’ frequently rolled through my mind as we regularly plodded up to about 5000m. This was our first multi-day trek at altitude in Peru. It was high. There were times where the climbing was very slow going as we felt the effects of altitude. We recommend some days acclimatising beforehand, the more the merrier.

We had been on three acclimatisation day walks from Huaraz prior. First to Laguna Wilcacocha, which was ok. Second to Laguna Churup which was lovely, quiet and has some fun rope sections. Third to Laguna 69 which is much more popular, but for good reason – it’s a brilliant day walk.

Walk the Alpamayo. It’s beautiful, quiet and fairly easy logistically to do unguided. This was our main question – do people trek here unguided? Yes. With a decent route description, map and compass it’s very doable. (And we’re not some crazy backcountry SAS experts, we’re regular folks who have/had desk jobs and like to go hiking and biking.)

We used the Trailblazer book: ‘Peru’s Cordilleras Blanca & Huayhuash: The Hiking & Biking Guide it’s one of the best guide books we’ve ever used. It has nearly all that you need for the Alpamayo, Huayhuash circuit and other walks (including the three day walks above). The only thing we would add is a decent map and compass.

When and where

We walked it over five and a half days from June 4 – 9 2016. We went from Jancarurish to Hualcayan, east to west, which avoids a long climb with a pack full of food at the start. In the middle of the walk we did a one day return side trip from Jancarurish camp to Santa Cruz Sanctuary. This is an excellent day walk. We had planned another, but poor weather meant we skipped it.

During the whole walk we only shared a campsite on one night out of five. We saw about 12 independent walkers, and two small guided tours.

Getting from Huaraz to the track start in Pomabamba/Jancarurish

There are two bus companies in Huaraz which travel to Pomabamba. We caught a 7am bus for 35 soles each. It’s a fun bus ride which goes over an amazing pass through the Andes. It’s just over seven hours non-stop. About four hours was on rough rocky roads. You’re treated to excellent views and little villages the whole way. On the second half of the journey you can likely buy fruit from sellers who board the bus.

You arrive in Pomabomba about 2pm. We caught a taxi for 70 soles up the valley to Jancapampa and started walking from there. This saved us some time late in the day, and cut out the least interesting section of the walk. The only local minibus (collectivo) from Pomabamba to Jancapampa leaves at 6am, so if you want to catch this you’ll need to jump on the overnight bus from Huaraz or spend the night in Pomabamba.

Getting from the track end in Hualcayan to Huaraz

Hualcayan is a sleepy wee place. A few barking dogs and ‘Hola Gringos’ welcome you into town.

After a little bit of wandering around we were offered two taxis to Caraz. We took the cheaper ride for 100 soles and piled into an old Toyota Caldina with the driver, his wife, a few sacks of potatoes and our packs. It’s a pretty drive through the fields and then along a paved road to Caraz, which is a nice town to spend a night if you’re in no hurry.

If you don’t want to leave Hualcayan just after you get there it’s possible to camp at the school. Ask a local.

There are plenty of cheap collectivos from Caraz to Huaraz, making it easy to get back to where you started.

Maps

This is the best map for the area and has the trail is clearly marked. It’s 80 soles in Huaraz. We’d try and buy it ahead of time for cheaper if possible.

The trail is also on Open Street Maps, so you can follow it on a GPS device. I use an iPhone with the Trails app, which is pretty good.

Food

Huaraz has a good selection of pretty much everything you need, including salami, Spanish chorizo, Philadelphia cream cheese and parmesan. Our favourite crackers are Integrales and the best chocolate we’ve found is Sublime. Keep in mind you’ll be camping at quite high altitudes so cooking pasta and rice does not work so well – both kinda turn to mush because of the lowered boiling point, however instant noodles cook fine.

There’s plenty of water on the walk, so you don’t need to carry more than a litre or so at any time. All the water needs to be treated. We use the Sawyer mini filter which seems good.

Huaraz also has camping gas canisters and alcohol for Trangia stoves.

Temperatures

In early June when we did it the days were about 10–20 degrees Celsius and the nights dropped to about -3.

People and safety

Everyone we came across was lovely and we had no safety issues. One day left our tent and gear to do a side trip. We asked one of the cooks in a guided group to keep an eye on it, which he was happy to do. No dramas.

I hope you’re reading this because you’re about to do the trek and I hope you have superb weather.

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