By Catherine Simard
August 26, 2020
Located between the region of Cuzco (Machu Picchu) and the White Cordillera near Huaraz, the Huayhuash region offers the opportunity to make an 8-to-14-day trek in the heart of the high Andean mountains. This little lost corner of Peru abounds with high peaks, wild valleys, and emerald colored lakes.
My group and I finally opted for an 8-day trek that was quite intense physically but luxurious because we had porters who would take care of transporting our camping equipment and preparing meals. We only had to carry our small day bags with our photo equipment, different layers of clothing, water, and snacks.
As the day finally came, we left the city of Huaraz in the early hours of the morning for a long 12-hour drive and arrived at the starting point at 4,180 meters. Already I can feel the effects of the altitude on my body, having strong nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath. The ascent starts rather abruptly, and we need about 2 hours to pass the first pass under the blazing sun. The descent is rather pleasant with a magnificent view of large colourful lakes. Three hours later we see for the first time the spectacular white mountains and our camp where we will spend our first night. Despite the fatigue, I can't resist the urge to photograph the starry sky for several hours.
The next day we leave at 4 am for the ascent of a small mountain that will give us an incredible view at sunrise. As soon as the light tints the top of the mountains with a bright orange, I take out my drone and take several panoramas until the end of the show. The hike continues for several kilometres, and we arrive at Base Camp 2 after a 12-hour walk. Exhausted, we quickly go to our tents to wrap ourselves in our sleeping bags. I decide to sacrifice sleep once again and get up at night to take pictures of the beautiful stars and watch the sunrise from the camp.
Day 3 is a day of rest as we have to leave the same evening at 11:00 pm to photograph the stars from the most anticipated vantage point of the trip. After a yoga session, we return to our tents and try to get as much sleep as possible before the night hike.
The start was difficult, and we started our walk in the rain. Morale is low and the climb is rather steep, we try to stay awake despite little - or no - sleep. We arrive at the point of view at 2 o'clock in the morning, the sky is completely overcast and it's raining. Then the wind picks up and the temperature drops below 0. Soaked and frozen, we huddle together under a big rock and wait for the sunrise which will be only 4 hours later. I realize that leaving so early was a bad idea. We stay there, chilled and shivering for several long hours. Finally, the morning light arrives and warms us up quietly while revealing a breathtaking view of three large blue lakes and a mountain range with sharp peaks. We photograph the scene for several hours, until our guide tells us that we have to leave if we want to get to Camp 4 on time. The walk is long and arduous, we cross a pass at more than 4,800 meters, we are exhausted and sleepless, but we tell ourselves that our cameras are full of breathtaking images. We arrive 6 hours later, and we all decide to skip supper and go straight to sleep.
Day 5, we wake up under a thin layer of ice and snow. It's been a cold night, but how refreshing. We leave the camp just after sunrise and start our ascent to the highest pass of the whole trek at 5,050 meters. The snow-covered mountains are immense, the landscapes are devoid of vegetation and the lakes are bright blue. We arrive at Camp 5 just in time for dinner and take the rest of the day off to rest.
The next day, we leave at 3am and take a little used and very steep path to reach the pass. Then comes the most difficult, technical, and steepest descent of the whole trek and we have to do it in absolute darkness. We arrive just in time for the blue hour at a grandiose viewpoint on the Silua Grande mountain and several blue lakes. The ground is strewn with cacti and flowers of all kinds. I take the opportunity to take several foregrounds and different angles. The descent is quite dangerous and technical since there is no marked path. We arrive at Camp 6 exhausted and enjoy the sun for the rest of the day.
We get up in the early hours as a mission to reach a little explored point of view, but which requires us to make a direct ascent through thick vegetation that pierces our skin. Unfortunately, we don't manage to reach the hoped-for spot and I decide to bring forward my drone to capture the landscape during the blue hour. Once back at the camp, we have a well-deserved breakfast and start our walk towards the village where we will spend our last night.
The last day had arrived, we bid farewell to the snowy mountains, bound for Huaraz where we spend the next 3 days eating, resting, and watching all the incredible shots we proudly accumulated during this unforgettable adventure.
This trek was the most difficult of my life physically, but the images that come out of it are well worth all the physical and mental effort.