My friend Jason Carter and I traveled to Peru in July of 2006 for 3 weeks of climbing in the Cordillera Blanca, one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the Andes. The Cordillera Blanca is a world-renowned mountaineering destination with relatively easy access to dozens of 6000m peaks in all ranges of difficulty. The Cordillera Blanca is home to Huascaran Sur (6067m, or 22,200′), the highest peak in Peru and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Huaraz is the gateway city to the Cordillera Blanca with good food, many accommodations, a thriving night life and even some basic outdoor and mountaineering equipment if you forget something.
After climbing for 3 weeks, Jason departed back to the US and I met up with my wife Michelle for a week of sightseeing in the ancient Inca capital city of Cusco, including a 3 day visit to Machu Picchu.
Jason and I planned to warm up and acclimatize by climbing in the Ishinca Valley, including an ascent of the classic 3000′ ice face on the West Face of Tocllaraju (6032m). We then planned to move on to our main climbing objective: the Escudo (shield) route on Huascaran Sur (6768m).
In March of 2006 we began finalizing our plans and making our reservations, including buying round trip plane tickets to Lima, Peru. We arranged with Marili Tours for pickup and transportation from the Lima airport to the Cruz del Sur bus terminal where our Huaraz bus would depart. This cost us a little more than just finding a taxi at the airport but was a much safer alternative. Maruja Colonia with Hostal Colonia, where we were staying in Huaraz, helped us get our bus tickets.
Based on good recommendations from friends who had climbed in Peru before, we chose Hostal Colonia as our place to stay and our logistical coordinator in Huaraz . Gilf and Maruja Colonia were both very friendly, professional and willing to help us in any way that they could. Maruja’s excellent organization and attention to detail made all the logistical details go smooth, efficient and trouble-free. Gilf and Marjua also have a guiding service. Although Jason and I only hired Maruja to help organize our logistics, we met many people at Hostal Colonia that were very pleased with the guide service as well. Jason and I were impressed with the service at Hostal Colonia and we had a great time staying there. The food was delicious and Maruja and Gilf know how to throw a great party! I’ll definitely stay as Hostal Colonia on my next visit to Haraz.
Before leaving for Peru, Michelle and I also made reservations for a hotel in Mira Flores (Southern part of Lima) to stay in after my bus ride back to Lima from Huaraz and for Michelle to stay in after arriving in Lima. We chose Mira Flores because this is the safest and cleanest part of Lima. We stayed at a nice hotel, which also arranged for my pickup from the bus terminal and Michelle’s pickup from the Lima airport. At the hotel we were able to store my mountaineering equipment while visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu with Michelle. We also spent one night here before flying back to the U.S.
The final part of our planning was for a place to stay in Cusco and acomodations while visiting Machu Picchu. The Cusco reservations we made from the U.S., however, we waited until arrival to get our train tickets and hotel reservations for Machu Picchu. In Cusco we stayed at a nice hotel which provided great service and very clean and well-kept rooms and facilities. They were also very helpful with our many questions over the phone and email in the weeks prior to our trip.
The Cordillera Blanca – Ishinca Valley
After an 8 hour bus ride from Lima to Huaraz, we spent 2 nights in Huarz acclimatizing to the 10,500′ altitude and making plans for the first leg of our trip. We also used this time to pick up some fresh food that we wanted to pack into our first basecamp and do a little sight-seeing.
Our first foray into the Cordillera Blanca was 9 days in the Ishinca Valley. We chose the Ishinca because this area has 2 moderate 5000 meter warm up peaks plus two more committing and more technical 6000 meter peaks to climb. Maruja arranged our round trip transportation from Huaraz to the trailhead and also the mules to carry our gear to and from basecamp.
The hike into Ishinca basecamp at 4400m’ took about 4 hours with light day packs. We camped a little upstream from the 30 bed Italian refugio and found a safe side stream to get clean water about 5 minutes up the valley on the left. We went over to the refugio the second evening to enjoy a hot dinner of lasagna and a warm place to read a book after sunset.
We spent 2 nights at basecamp acclimatizing before climbing Urus, our first warm up peak. Urus has 3 summits, and Urus Este (5420m) is the most popular with a straitforward non-technical route to the top. Getting an early start at 4AM, we climbed Urus in a single day from basecamp. Toward the top we could sure feel the altitude, but the climb went well and we summited and descended back to basecamp by early afternoon.
The following day, we stowed our extra gear in the refugio and moved up to a high camp on Tocllaraju (6032m) at around 5000m at the foot of the glacier. The next day was a rest day at high camp to further acclimatize to the altitude before our climb of the West face. The West face of Tocllaraju is a classic 45-65 degree ice face, rising nearly 3000′ from the glacier to the summit – it was the most beautiful ice climb I had ever seen.. The following day at 3 AM we woke up and started our summit bid taking double ropes, several ice screws and runners and a few pickets for gear.
A well-worn path in the snow lead up the glacier and over to the normal route on the Northwest Ridge. We left the trail under the steep West face and found a way up through the right side of the bergshrund to the ice face above. After doing a long upward traverse to the left across the face, we followed the steepest part of the face on alpine ice and hard neve snow the whole way up to the base of the summit snow dome. We simul-climbed all but the last 600 feet of the face. A short moderate snow pitch up the snow dome lead us to the summit of Tocllaraju (6032m). Our descent of the normal route down the Northwest Ridge went smoothly following a well-used trail in the snow most of the way. We found a pre-rigged rappel from the summit snow dome and another lower down to get back on the glacier. We finished our last rappel to the level glacier just in time for sunset and finished descending to our high camp by headlamp.
The following morning we slept in, ate a good breakfast and packed up for the 2 hour hike back down to basecamp. By the time we departed, most all of the tent sites at high camp were being taken by groups of climbers just arriving.
After a good night’s rest at basecamp, we decided to climb Ishinca (5530m) since the mules were not scheduled to arrive for our gear until the following morning. We climbed Ishinca via the normal NW slopes and descended from the summit on the SW ridge, both easy glacier routes. On the way down, we got great closeup views of the normal route on Ranrapalca (6162m), which we had neither the time nor the rock gear to climb.
The following morning, we helped our Arrieros load up the mules and then had a nice hike back out to the trailhead, where we were picked up by our taxi as arranged by Maruja Colonia. After 2 nights resting and exploring Huaraz, Jason and I headed to our primary climbing objective for the trip: Huascaran Sur (6768m), the highest peak in Peru.
The Cordillera Blanca – Huascaran
From the village of Musho at around 3000m, we met up with our arriero Francisco, who loaded his burros with our gear for the half-day hike to Huascaran basecamp at 4200m, the highest that mules and burros can go on the mountain. Once at basecamp, we shouldered our packs and climbed for another 3 hours over the Huascaran rock slabs to the Italian refugio at 4650m, where we pitched our tent for the night.
The following day, we climbed the remaining rock slabs to the snout of the glacier and continued up on the glacier to approximately 5550m, where we placed our high camp. We wanted to have only one camp on the glacier below the Shield route (el Escudo), and 5550m was the highest place we could see on the route to make a camp. Jason and I were pretty tired when we arrived at hight camp, but we planned a quick ascent of Huascaran as we had already acclimatized to the high altitude in the Ishinca Valley.
Over the course of a day and a half, we had climbed from 3000m to 5550m, or over 8000 vertical feet. The following morning, Jason began to feel sick from the altitude, and although he felt reasonable well and could hike, he had mild pulmonary edema. Jason had experienced this before on at least two other climbing trips, and in both cases, descending a few thousand feet for a few days allowed him to fully recover for the rest of the trip. We therefore decided to leave the tent and as much of our gear as possible at high camp and descend to the Italian refugio at 4650m to spend a few nights at lower altitude.
After two comfortable nights resting, reading books and eating great home-cooked meals in the refugio, Jason felt much better. Early the next morning, we climbed back up to our high camp arriving later that morning and spent all afternoon resting in camp at 5550m. That evening, Jason still felt good and we descended to get up early the following morning and consider going for the summit if he still felt well.
The following morning at 2AM, Jason felt great and so we got up and started our climb for the summit of Huascaran Sur. After a 2 hour detour to bypass a huge crevasse above the Candeletta, we found our way up to the South (left) base of the Shield ice face (el Escudo) a little after sunrise after 4 hours of simul-climbing.
As we climbed the left margin of the shield and passed above 6000m, we began to move more slowly in the high thin air. By early afternoon we reached the long gentle summit ridge and began a slow 1 mile walk up the hard-packed snow to the summit. At 3:40 PM under clear, cold and windless skys we finally reached the summit of Huascaran Sur at 6768m (22,205 feet), the highest I had ever been.
After taking the last few summit photos it was 4:00 PM. We had been climbing nearly continuously for 13 hours and now had only 2 hours before sunset. The descent of the summit ridge went quickly and we began picking our way down to the North of the Shield on moderate snow and ice slopes. An hour after dark, we arrived back at the base of the shield to the familiar ground we had climbed in the morning. 4 more hours of downclimbing, rappelling and careful route finding finally brought us back to our tent at 11:30 PM, a long 22 day.
The woke up late the following day, packed our gear, and descended all the way down to basecamp at 4200m, sleeping out on the ground under the stars our last night on Huascaran. The next morning we were met by our arriero Francisco and his burros to take us back to civilization.
The Cordillera Negra
We enjoyed another two days of relaxation, great food and enjoyable nightlife in Huaraz – a well deserved break after climbing 4 peaks, including Huascaran Sur. We got to meet many other climbers from around the world, as well as some very interesting folks who live in Huaraz. With only 3 days left before our bus ride back to Lima, we decided to do a short trek in the Cordillera Negra rather than trying to climb another peak.
The Cordillera Negra is the neighboring range to the West of the Cordillera Blanca. The Cordillera Negra runs parallel to Cordillera Blanca and is much lower, dryer and more gentle than its bigger neighbor to the East, and sees much less climbing and hiking traffic too.
We met a friend of Maruja’s in Huaraz named Walter who was keen to do a hike with us so we invited him along on our trek. For the next two days, we enjoyable an easy trek along the backbone of the Cordillera Negra. We experienced solitude, unbeatable views across the valley to the Cordillera Blanca, and a unique opportunity to meet local farmers that hardly ever bumped into touristas like us. After descending to the village of Yungar, we found a collectivo to take us back to Huaraz.
The next day, after saying goodbye to Maruja and Gilf, we boarded the bus for the 8 hour ride back to Lima. In Lima, Jason and I parted ways. Jason was heading back to the US the following morning and I was heading to the city of Cusco to meet my wife Michelle for the next leg of our Peru journey.
Cusco and Machu Picchu
After spending the night in Mira Flores, I took a 1 hour plane ride to the city of Cusco to meet up with Michelle, who had gone to Cusco a few days ahead of me to acclimatize to the 11,000 foot altitude there. It was a good thing that she went to Cusco a few days early – she was pretty ill with altitude sickness for the first day and a half.
After a few days of sight-seeing in and around the ancient Inca capital city of Cusco, including the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, we did a day trip to the Sacred Valley and the Inca ruins of Pisac. The next day, we boarded a train for a 3 day visit to Machu Picchu – the lost city of the Inca. Machu Picchu was one of the most spectacular and special places that I have ever been to, and we enjoyed nearly 3 days there exploring, taking photos and taking in the natural beauty and history of the place. After Machu Picchu, we spent a few more days in Cusco, inducing a visit to the ruins of Tipon, the Water Temple.
After our visit to Cusco, we flew back to Lima and spent the afternoon exploring Mira Flores with a friend that Michelle had made on her flight from the US to Lima. The following morning, we took our flight back to the US, concluding a fantastic trip of world-class climbing, incredible sightseeing and unforgettable cultural experiences.