Last weekend, June 10-11, 2017, Boulder, Colorado-based ultrarunner Darcy Piceu set a new supported fastest-known time (FKT) on Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash circuit. Nestled in west-central Peru, the Huayhuash is a sub-range of the Andes, 30 miles in length. The Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, which circumnavigates the entire range, runs 85 miles with more than 25,000 feet of climbing. There are few access points for crews to hike in (or injured runners to bail out).
It was a natural choice for Piceu, 42, who has won Colorado’s punishing Hardrock 100 three times (among other impressive ultra wins, dating back to 2002). Piceu first learned about the Huayhuash through a film, which featured a group of bikers attempting the circuit.
“They were doing a lot of hiking with bikes, which made me realize it would be even better for running,” says Piceu. She learned that a few other people had fastpacked the route over multiple days, but only one person—Jared Vilhauer, 35, of Ridgeway, Colorado—had run the circuit, in 30 hours straight.
“It seemed like exactly the kind of trails I love to run,” she says. “Mountainous and technical.”
Piceu enlisted the help of Vilhauer and a few of his friends to crew and pace—the region is not only remote, but also has some history of violence, and she didn’t feel comfortable running alone.
“So much of the planning has to do with […] getting pacers and donkeys to the right spots,” she says. “Just to get to the start of the trail, you have to travel five hours from Huaraz to get to the town of Llamac.”
With one “aid” stop in the middle of the route, Piceu ultimately finished in 29 hours 15 minutes. Trail Runner caught up with Piceu to learn about what she carried during her run, the route’s biggest challenges and her plans for Hardrock later this summer.
Had you ever been to this region before?
I had never been to this area, but I hiked the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu 20 years ago.
What did you take with you for the FKT attempt?
[My pacer, Domingo Elias, and I] had to carry a fairly large pack, since we only had one point, at about 50K, where we had people meet us with extra food and clothing.
There, I resupplied and left with a full pack for the remaining 50 miles. The night was very cold and long (sunset at 6 p.m. and sunrise at 6 a.m.), so we had to carry a lot of clothing and food.
I treated water along the way with Katadyn soft-flask, filter water bottles, and carried a rain jacket, tights, a lightweight down jacket, long sleeve, a hat and gloves. For the second half of the route, I carried enough food for approximately 15 hours.
What was your strategy for the run, and did things go as planned?
The strategy was to run a conservative pace, because of the altitude, and to save my energy for the later miles. Since it was such a remote route, I took special precautions with running safely and not recklessly.
Do you run through any villages along the route?
Running in Peru is so different than anywhere in the U.S. In these remote mountains, you can be running through people’s farms filled with cows, sheep and dogs. There are also several points where you have to pay a camp fee even when you are just running through. The people manning these permit stations were in no rush, so sometimes we would wait for a while to pay.
Did you take breaks?
Normally I never stop for naps, but I got very tired during the long night section and slept twice for about 10 to15 minutes each. That was helpful. Once the sun came up, I felt rejuvenated.
What were some of the best moments of the run?
At Lake Carhuacocha, after about nine hours and 30 miles, it was uplifting [to meet with our friends].
One of the other incredible moments was reaching the high point, Cuyoc Pass, at 16,500 feet. It was dark at that point, but was exciting to have gotten that high.
What were the toughest moments?
After Lake Carhuacocha, the weather started to turn. We got rained on and then snowed on. The clouds looked pretty ominous; it was cold and I started to get concerned about staying warm through the night.
Mentally, it was tough, because I knew this was also the point of no return. There were no more bail-out points.
What did the locals think of your attempt?
Locals thought we were “loco” for attempting the Huayuash circuit in a day. In fact, when we told people, I don’t think they believed us.
What are your goals and strategies for Hardrock this year?
I feel lucky to still be toeing the line at Hardrock. It’s my favorite race. I love the people and the San Juans, and it feels like coming home.
I am getting to a place of accepting that I have nothing to prove there anymore, after winning three years in a row. I’d like to show up, have fun and have a good day. If I can share miles with the other ladies out there, that would be a bonus.
What will you do between now and Hardrock?
I’m still recovering from Peru. I’m eating a lot, resting, biking, doing yoga and getting in some short runs. My hope is that I can recover well and simply maintain fitness until Hardrock. I will try to focus on getting in some shorter, higher-intensity runs at altitude over the next few weeks.
[Editor’s note: the July issue of Trail Runner magazine includes a feature story about a two-day fastpacking trip on the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit]