From Huaraz, there is a little-known but very worthwhile hike you can make within the Quebrada Quillcayhuanca, about 15 kilometers east of the city and inside the Huascaran National Park. Rather than tiring yourself out from the start with a not-so-interesting hike from town, it’s better to hire a car to take you at least to Pitec (about an hour-long ride) on the northern side of the Quillcay River, or even as far as the entrance to the quebrada (canyon) itself, if the final section of the road is in good shape. You should plan for a two-day or three-day hike (though it’s possible to do a quick in-and-out, same-day, forced-march hike) with all the necessary camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, cooking stove, etc.) and food and water for two or three days. Alternatively, you may be able to take water from the river and boil it sufficiently to make it safe. The starting elevation is about 3900 m as you enter this glacier-carved valley with abundant boulders and small queñua (Polylepis) forests, some birds and wildflowers, and the usual cows and horses.
In all of the Cordillera Blanca, Quillcayhuanca is one of the longest and most important mountain valleys in terms of its archaeology. Part of this importance can be explained by translating the Quechua name: qellcay, meaning “to draw or write” and huanca, meaning “a tall or large standing stone”. In effect, about a hundred meters inside the entrance gate on the right (southern) side, there is a very large block of rock that long ago broke away from the valley’s southern wall. On its western face, the rock bears one of the largest ancient pictographs or rock paintings known in Peru. Measuring about five meters tall, the principal anthropomorphic figure may well have some relationship with pre-Hispanic solar mythology. It is almost certainly pre-Inka in date, though we cannot yet assign a more precise age or cultural affiliation. Because of the great size of the painting and its direct link to the name of the valley and the river that comes from it, we can surmise that Quillcayhuanca had special importance in the ancient past for the local people of Huaraz.
About halfway (10 kilometers) into the valley, there is the ancient settlement known as Nuevo Tambo, near an even more ancient terminal glacial moraine that serves as a platform for the site. On the northern side of the valley is an area with many funerary buildings or mausolea (called chullpas in Quechua) built of stone masonry and generally having a single room. On the southern side of the river is another area of chullpas in a more dispersed pattern. Although these buildings are the most obvious archaeological remains, there are also many eroding walls of domestic structures and agricultural terraces. Look at them and take photos, but do not damage the structures. While there hasn’t yet been any professional archaeological excavation at Nuevo Tambo, it can be assigned by architectural comparison to the same period as other chullpa structures, such as Willkawain and Ichik Willkawain, closer to Huaraz, and Honcopampa, east of Pariahuanca, Carhuaz. These are dated to around 700 to 1000 A.D., during the flourishing of a local culture we can call “Willkawain”, at a time when there was some limited interaction with the Wari empire of Ayacucho to the south.
Apart from archaeology, there are many natural attractions. Some people camp at Cayeshpampa (4,100 m), where the valley bifurcates at the foot of the impressive peak of Andavite (5518 m), a good staging area before and after climbing higher. For those wanting to see glacial lakes and prepared for rigorous hiking, the extreme eastern end of the left hand (northern) branch of the valley has two high lakes: Tullpacocha (4300 m) and Cuchillacocha (4650 m). The right hand (southern) branch of Quillcayhuanca is the Cayesh Valley, which ends in a number of challenging peaks, especially Maparaju (5325 m) and Cayesh (5721 m). Here, you are more likely to see majestic Andean condors, as well as the abundant viscachas. At the Villón Pass (5000 m), you can also view the snow-capped peaks of Huantsán (6359 m), Tumarinaraju (5668 m) and San Juan (5843 m). With special climbing equipment and a guide, you might try to cross over to Quebrada Carhuascancha on the eastern side of the Cordillera Blanca and exit near the town of Huántar in the Conchucos. One other exit from Quillcayhuanca goes from Tullpacocha north to the Huapi Pass (5000 m) and down into Quebrada Cojup. However you go, have a great hike and enjoy what Quillcayhuanca has to offer!
By: Arqlo Steven Wegner.