The first day of the Huayhuash Circuit takes you from the starting point at Cuartelwain to the campsite of Mitucocha. Along the way you will make your way up the Cacanan Pass, take in some beautiful views, and descend down to camp.
Read on to learn more about the route between Cuartelwain to Mitucocha and what to expect out on the trail.
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1) Hiking Overview: Huayhuash Day 1
Day 1 of the Huayhuash Circuit will take you from Cuartelwain (also known as Matacancha or Quartelhuain) to Mitucocha. Below are some helpful stats about the day and what the trail is all about.
Starting Point: Cuartelwain
Cuartelwain Elevation: 13,450 feet / 4,100 meters
Ending Point: Mitucocha
Mitucocha Elevation: 13,880 feet / 4,230 meters
Mountain Pass: Cacanan Pass
Cacanan Pass Elevation: 15,420 feet / 4,700 meters
Distance: 5.0 miles / 8.0 km
Elevation Gain: +1,870 feet / +570 meters
Duration: 4-5 hours
Starting Point Note
The official starting point of the circuit is at Cuartelwain. If taking part of a tour or coming in with private transport, this is where you will be let off.
However, if taking public transport, you will be dropped off in the town of Llamac. Connecting Llamac and Cuartelwain is a dirt road that takes around ~5 hours to walk (or you may be lucky to hitch a ride).
So, for some it is possible that the first day of “hiking” will be just to get to the starting point of the official circuit from Llamac.
→ Learn more about getting to the starting point of the Huayhuash Circuit
Day 1 Highlights
• Starting the Circuit!
• Views from Cacanan Pass
• Ruta Alpina Option
• Alternate campsite on Lake Mitucocha with views of Jirishanca
While this article will simply talk through day 1 of the trek, you can learn much more of the overall experience in the Huayhuash Circuit overview up on the site.
Route Note: this daily trekking guide (as well as the other daily guides on the site) go over a standard 10 day Huayhuash Route. Trekking routes can be greater or fewer days depending on your preferences (learn more about these in the previously mentioned overview above!).
Learn More: Be sure to check out the Huayhuash Circuit resource page that includes many helpful travel guides to get you prepared for the trek.
2) Huayhuash Circuit Day 1: Cuartelwain to Mitucocha Map
To better visualize the hiking route on day 1, below you can find a trail map for day 1 of the circuit.
3) Elevation Gain Profile
Below you can find the elevation gain profile for day 1 of the Huayhuash Circuit. The trail heads from Cuartelwain to Mitucocha as it peaks at the Cacanan Pass, which sits at 15,420 feet / 4,700 meters in elevation.
4) Huayhuash Circuit Packing List
A complete Huayhuash Circuit packing list will be essential for your time out on the trail (especially if hiking without a guided tour). Be sure to check out the comprehensive Huayhuash packing list I put together for more detail.
Below you can find just some of the most important camping items to consider for your trek:
• Hiking Backpack | Hyperlite Southwest 3400
• 3-Season Tent | Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL
• 0 F Degree Sleeping Bag | Thermarest Questar 0
• Sleeping Bag Liner | Sea to Summit Liner
• Sleeping Pad | Thermarest NeoAir Xlite
• Camping Pillow | Thermarest Camping Pillow
• Trekking Poles | Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking Poles
• Water Bottle | Katadyn BeFree 1 Liter
• Headlamp | Petzl Actik Core
• Emergency Satellite Locater | Garmin inReach 2 Mini
• Solar Charger | GoalZero Nomad 10
• Portable Charger | Anker Portable Charger
• Cooking Stove | Jetboil Micromo
• Hiking Shoes | Keen (Targhee Series)
• Hiking Socks | Darn Tough Socks
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5) Huayhuash Circuit: Cuartelwain to Mitucocha Hike
After arriving at the starting point in Cuartelwain, it is time begin the Huayhuash Circuit. The first day will take you up and over the Cacanan Pass and onwards to the Mitucocha campsite.
Immediately after starting the trek, you will be welcomed to the zig zagging route that begins to gain some elevation gain up along the mountainside. Be sure to take it nice and slow and enjoy some breaks as necessary.
The views during this first portion of the hike will be out behind you, as you have the valley and river down below.
Slowly but surely, you will then make it over this first section of trail, and be welcomed to new views out in front and to the side. The trail will flatten out a bit before then picking up elevation gain once again.
If you glance out in the distance, you will see those views of the route up to the highpoint of the Cacanan Pass. Continue following the route as you then make your way up to this point.
From the top of the pass you will be able to enjoy some beautiful views of the other side of the range. You will have a winding river with a rolling hill landscape to enjoy from up top.
After enjoying those views from the top of the Cacanan Pass, it is then following the zig zag trail down to the bottom of the valley. Once you approach the bottom, the trail will become flatter and flatter as you finish the final approach to the Mitucocha campsite.
Just before arriving at the campsite, you will be asked to pay a small fee to use the area & facilities. You can then set up camp, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
From the area around the campsite, you should be able to see the first of many beautiful mountains of the Cordillera Huayhuash – Jirishanca. Instead of just enjoying the view from afar, you can make the additional 30-45 minute walk to Lake Mitucocha.
Spend some time enjoying the lakeside, before returning back to camp for the night. If interested, you can instead set up camp right by the lakeside (a much more scenic campsite in my opinion). You just will not have the toilet facilities nearby.
6) Ruta Alpina Option
While day 1 of the Huayhuash is quite straightforward, you do have an alternative option to make it a bit more scenic. All along the Huayhuash mountain range, you will find a secondary, more technical route called the Ruta Alpina.
While most sections are not meant for the everyday trekker, there are a couple parts which can be enjoyed (mainly on day 1 and day 2). During my time on the circuit, I opted for the Ruta Alpina on days 1 & 2, so I can give some additional insight.
Note: I would only recommend this option for those that are very confident in their hiking and navigation abilities. There is not an obvious trail all the way through during this portion.
Once you reach the top of the Cacanan Pass, you will begin the descent for about 10 minutes. Soon enough though, you will come across a very faint path veering to the right hand side. I had to use my navigation app here to be sure I was on the right route.
After getting off of the main path, you will now be walking along the hillside. The goal here is to not lose much elevation, and instead try to follow one of the many non existent trails.
You will then find yourself gaining elevation once again as you head up the hillside out in front of you, with Jirishanca further out in the distance. After I reached the top of this section, I did come across a rock cairns, which was nice to see.
From here, the route will be mostly downhill. I did find a faint path from time to time, but for the most part I was directionally following my navigation app, and I knew the general direction of where Lake Mitucocha was.
At one point, I did need to hop over a narrow portion of the flowing river, before I took a steep path down to the valley floor. From there it was onwards to the Mitucocha lakeside, where I set up my tent (of course, you could also head to the main campsite away from the lake instead).
Day 1 on the Huayhuash Circuit between Cuartelwain and Mitucocha is a great taste of what is yet to come on the circuit. Whether you opt for the main route all the way through or give the ruta alpina option a try, you are sure to enjoy your time out on the trail.
If you have any questions or comments about this first day or the Huayhuash Circuit in general, be sure to add them in below.
Have fun out there and safe travels!