Peru - Cordillera Huayhuash and Blanca, 11 June to 3 July 2007

Peru - Cordillera Huayhuash and Blanca, 11 June to 3 July 2007

We'd heard so much about how spectacular the Cordillera Huayhuash is and we made another trip to Peru to hike it; those reports are quite accurate and the Huayhuash circuit is the most spectacular extended hike that we've done so far. There were four of us on the hike, Emily Rains, Ray Woo, together with Serene and I. I had contacted Chris Benway from Cafe Andino to organize our trip for us and he did an incredible job of making sure everything went smoothly; I highly recommend Chris to anyone going to Huaraz. I arranged for a fairly deluxe trip this time; we had two arrieros, Fernando and Juan-Carlos, taking care of the ten (!) mules and two horses, together with our cook, Zacarias Carrera, or Zac. Zac did an amazing job showing us the way and also cooking great food for us; he has great instincts and would figure out what we wanted to do (and then organize it) without us even mentioning it to him. I thought he was head and shoulders above anyone I'd ever had for my trips. Despite all the luxuries, it still cost about 3 - 4 times less than an organized trip by a western agency.

I also stayed an extra week after the Huayhuash circuit to climb in the Cordillera Blanca with my friends from the Stanford Alpine Club, Jared Brown and Chuck Booten. Jared and I climbed Ishinca (5530 m) and Tocllaraju (6032 m), both of which were great fun.

Book  |  Total images: 20

I made a 8.5 x 11 hardcover book with twenty photos from this trip. These are the low resolution pages of the book.

Cordillera Huayhuash Highlights  |  Total images: 17

These photos are our favourites from the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit.

Cordillera Blanca Highlights  |  Total images: 9

These photos are our favourites from climbing in the Cordillera Blanca.

Chavin de Huantar  |  Total images: 4

We arrived in Lima at 630 pm on the 11th of June, and immediately left for the Olivos bus terminal of Movil Tours to catch our 11 pm bus to Huaraz. We stayed in Olaza's in Huaraz, which is run by Tito Olaza; we enjoyed our stay there and I had a good time chatting with Tito. In Huaraz, we did a short acclimitization hike on the 12th by taking a taxi to the outskirts of Huaraz near the Lazy Dog Inn and hiking back to our hotel. On the 13th, we took a cab to Chavin de Huantar, an archaelogical site of the Chavin, where we saw the Lanzon monolith.

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit - Day 1 → 2  |  Total images: 19

We spent 12 days hiking in the Cordillera Huayhuash, including two rest days when we went on side trips. The first 9 days of our circuit around the Cordillera Huayhuash was incredibly spectacular. I thought the Huayhuash circuit was certainly more scenic than the Torres del Paine circuit in Patagonia, and the weather was a lot better too.

Day 1 - Llamac (3300 m) → Laguna Jahuacocha (4070 m) crossing Macrash Punta (4272 m). We left Huaraz at 4 am and got to Llamac around 9 am. After having breakfast and loading up the mules, we left Llamac at 1030 am. Crossing the Macrash Punta gave the first spectacular view of the Huayhuash mountains. We spent an hour having lunch and then headed down to our first camp at Jahuacocha, arriving around 4 pm. Jahuacocha has really nice views but it is also heavily impacted by humans. There were half buried toilet holes all over the place and it was also crowded with 4 or 5 other groups. We were planning on spending our last night in the Huayhuash there but we changed our plans to avoid spending another night at Jahuacocha.

Day 2 - Laguna Jahuacocha (4070 m) → Rondoy (4050 m) crossing Sambuya Punta (4750 m) and Rondoy Punta (4735 m). We crossed two high passes in succession on the second day and were treated with more spectacular views of the Huayhuash range. Renting a horse turned out to be a good idea on the trip because there was invariably someone feeling poor every day. Zac figured out that we weren't big fans of camping in crowded campsites and suggested a small change to the standard Huayhuash circuit itinerary by camping at Rondoy instead of Matacancha or Quartelhuain. To make up the time the next day, we would cross Paria Punta instead of the standard Cacanan Punta.

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit - Day 3 → 5  |  Total images: 19

Day 3 - Rondoy (4050 m) → Laguna Mitococha (4230 m) crossing Paria Punta (4875 m). Paria Punta was the worst pass we crossed in terms of the descent; a substantial portion of the steep descent was on pebbles over a hard surface - extremely slick. We got to Mitococha at around 1230 pm and spent the rest of the day swimming, showering, hiking around the lake, and fishing. Fernando and Juan-Carlos caught three trout for dinner in Rio Janca, an outlet stream of Mitococha.

Day 4 - Laguna Mitococha (4230 m) → Laguna Carhuacocha (4138 m) crossing Yanapunta (4640 m). We arrived at Carhuacocha at around 1 pm and set up camp on the eastern end of Carhuacocha in Juan-Carlo's relative's farm. The views from our camp were stunning and this site was our favourite of the trip for its views.

Day 5 - Laguna Carhuacocha (4138 m) - Rest day. We took a rest day here and made a side trip to three lakes along Quebrada Gangrajanca, as well as to get better views of the glaciers and mountains.

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit - Day 6 → 7  |  Total images: 19

Day 6 - Laguna Carhuacocha (4138 m) → Huayhuash (4345 m) crossing Punta Carnicero (4600 m). Another short day and we arrived at Huayhuash around 1230 pm.

Day 7 - Huayhuash (4345 m) → Cuyoc Pampa (4500 m) crossing unnamed pass south of Trapecio Punta (5050 m). We deviated from the standard itinerary by crossing a pass near Trapecio and ending up in Cuyoc pampa in a day from Huayhuash; the standard itinerary goes to the hot springs from Huayhuash and then crosses Cuyoc Punta over two days. Emily was a little disappointed to skip the hot springs, but our variation more than compensated for it because the views along the way were stunning, second only to San Antonio pass. Cuyoc Pampa was the only other time we had another group camp next to us except for the first day. At camp, we witnessed the cook and guide of the other group suddenly quitting and walking off.

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit - Day 8 → 12  |  Total images: 24

Day 8 - Cuyoc Pampa (4500 m) → Catatambo (4265 m) crossing San Antonio pass (5025 m). San Antonio pass was the most dramatic pass we crossed and had the best views. Emily, Zac, and I scrambled up to the 5079 m high point along the ridge next to the pass where the views were even better. From our camp, we took about 2 hours to reach the top of the pass. The descent was very mild compared to Paria Punta and we made short work of it, reaching Catatambo around 11 am.

Day 9 - Catatambo (4265 m) - Rest day. We took a side trip to visit the Siula Grande base camp (made famous by the book and movie "Touching the void"), and also to an overlook to get views of Siula Grande and Yerupaja. The views were nice, but nothing compared to what we'd seen the previous day.

Day 10 - Catatambo (4265 m) → Huayllapa (3600 m). A very short day, just two hours of walking before we reached Huayllapa. We had a very short day because we planned for a Pachamanca that night at Zac's sister's house in Huayllapa. Our staff bought a lamb and two guinea pigs, and then prepared them with the help of Zac's sister. The meat was cooked by being buried with hot stones and earth, and was incredibly tasty. That night, we stayed in a small hostel for 7 soles each.

Day 11 - Huayllapa (3600 m) → Rio Alchin (3850 m) crossing Tapush Punta (4800 m). Despite the 1200 m elevation gain, this day was quite easy. We saw 8 condors circling overhead about an hour from Tapush Punta; Ray, Serene, and Emily were lucky enough to have a few condors fly within a few meters. We camped along the Rio Alchin, which wasn't a great camp site but it was our last night.

Day 12 - Rio Alchin (3850 m) → Llamac (3300 m). We climbed a short distance to reach an aqueduct and we walked along it for an hour or so before intersecting with the main trail to Llamac. We were back in Llamac by 1130 am and left for Huaraz at 1230 pm, having had a great time on the circuit.

Ishinca (5530 m / 18,143 ft) - Northwest slopes  |  Total images: 25

After returning from the Cordillera Huayhuash, I met Jared Brown in Huaraz to climb in the Ishinca valley. We left Huaraz at 830 am on 27th June, hiked into base camp (3 - 4 hours), set up camp, and got ready to climb Ishinca the following morning. We planned to climb Ishinca and Tocllaraju during our four days in the Ishinca valley.

For the Ishinca valley, we hired a cook and a kitchen/dining tent since the premium of hiring a cook and dining tent over hiring just a camp guardian and obtaining tent for him was only about 20 or 30 dollars a day. In return, we had fresh (and pretty tasty) food and a constant supply of hot drinks and snacks, plus we didn't have to do any cooking or cleaning.

We got up at 2 am on the 28th, had eggs, bread, and hot tea for breakfast (another perk of hiring a cook), and started hiking up to the glacier around 240 am. It was initially quite warm and I hiked in my base layers. Once we hit the toe of the glacier at around 5, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped rapidly. We also turned off the trail too early and scrambled cross country on the left side of the valley to the glacier; later in the day, we realised that the trail leads directly to the toe of the glacier, which would have saved us 30 - 45 minutes if we had taken the trail instead. We spent half an hour putting on our boots (I hiked in running shoes all the way to the glacier, which turned out to be a great idea and I did the same for Tocllaraju), crampons, and roping up, all the time shivering and warming our cold fingers. On hindsight, leaving at 4 am would have been a better idea. Since Jared outweighed me by about 30 or 40 lbs, we agreed that he would be in front while ascending glaciated terrain and I would be in front for the descents.

From the glacier, the climb was quite straightforward with nothing steeper than 30 or 40 degrees except for 20 or 30 meters of the initial slope up the glacier and the final 25 or 30 meters to the summit, both of which were around 45 degrees. There was also a short 10 foot nearly vertical ice step that led to the summit slopes but that was relatively easy. Sunrise on Ishinca was quite spectacular; we saw the nearby summits of Ranrapalca and Ocshapalca gleaming in the morning sun with a pastel coloured sky as the backdrop.

We reached the summit at 8 am and spent an hour there alone before a guided group reached the summit, upon which we descended, getting back to base camp around 1140 am. From the summit, we also saw the new flight to Huaraz from Lima flying over us on the way to the airport. We had originally toyed with the idea of climbing Urus instead of taking a rest day while in the valley, but after seeing Urus on the way down from Ishinca and realising that it was 95% hiking on poor trails and only 5% glacier travel, we decided against it. Ishinca was a fun climb, great views, and a great start to our climbing trip.

Tocllaraju (6032 m / 19,790 ft) - Northwest Ridge  |  Total images: 25

The weather had gotten a lot better over the past few days since returning from the Huayhuash; Jared had also enjoyed not so great weather on Pisco and Yanapaccha. We had originally planned for a rest day after Ishinca. Fearing that the weather would turn, we instead skipped the rest day and spent the afternoon of the 28th (after returning from Ishinca) packing to move up to Tocllaraju moraine camp (5000 m) the following morning. I'd brought a 47 L pack to Peru, figuring that I should optimize for the majority of my trip when I only needed a smaller pack. Packing for Tocllaraju was when I realised that perhaps I should have optimized for the time when I needed the most space, which was the move up to moraine camp. After much grunting and strapping stuff to the outside, I managed to squeeze everything into my pack, but with all the technical gear, it weighed 50 lbs or so. Even worse was the poor weight distribution because I had to strap lots of stuff on the outside; I would later come to regret this while hiking over talus on the way to moraine camp.

We heard from a couple of guides about the strong winds on Tocllaraju, so strong that people were forced to turn back because they couldn't proceed past the ridge. We saw evidence of the winds the morning we left by the billowing clouds of spindrift being blown off the top 4 or 500 meters of Tocllaraju. Things weren't looking good at this point and we began to think that our summit chances were slim. Also weighing on my mind were that neither Jared nor I had ever ice climbed (the last two pitches of 70 m to the summit are a 55 degree ice slope rated D in Brad Johnson's guidebook) and that one of the twin ropes was cut by Jared and Chuck on Yanapaccha, leaving us with a 60 m and a 35 m pair of twins, which might not be enough to rap off comfortably. In addition, on the hike in to the Ishinca base camp, some climbers told us that a roped team broke through the snow bridge across the bergshrund the day before and had to be rescued out; as a result, we weren't sure if there was still a way across the bergshrund that was within our abilities.

We left for moraine camp at about 11 am on the 29th after a massive breakfast of pancakes and tuna salad, reaching moraine camp around 1 in the afternoon. I suffered my way up the steep slope and then stumbled my way over the talus with an unstable pack. Staggering up to moraine camp over talus with a pack that was around 40% of my bodyweight was certainly the crux of the climb for me.

On the way up, we talked to two descending climbers, one had solo-ed the west face and the other had solo-ed the normal route, but both told us of the strong winds they encountered. We now at least knew there was an accessible way across the bergshrund. The guy who solo-ed the west face had camped around 5300 m on the glacier and while he was out climbing, his bivy sack, sleeping bag, stove, and other gear was blown away despite anchoring it down with a gallon or two of water because of the winds. We promised to look out for his gear but we privately thought that he'd never see it again. At moraine camp, we also met three Spanish climbers who had turned back from the summit because of the high winds. Melting snow for water took about 15 minutes per liter on my Primus white gas stove and we retired to bed at around 6, aiming for a 2 am wake up time. After getting up at 215 am, we got dressed, choking down 2 gels, put on boots, crampons, roped up; we only stepped onto the glacier at 340 am.

It was a full moon, bright enough that we didn't need headlamps. Moving on a glacier at 5000 m in the full moon surrounded by beautiful mountains glimmering in the moonlight was one of the best experiences I've ever had while climbing. It was too cold, unfortunately, for me to stop for night photos so I tried to take a mental picture of the scene.

The 20 meter slope heading up to the bergshrund was steep snow/ice, about 50 degrees, followed by a short 10 meter traverse along the lower lip of the bergshrund before crossing two snow bridges. The first snow bridge was the sketchiest snow bridge I've ever had to cross; it was thin, barely 50 centimeters and there holes in it where someone's legs had broken through. Four quick steps and we were across. Then there was another 20 meter traverse on a 45 degree slope on the upper lip of the bergshrund before gentler terrain. Gaining the ridge required ascending a short section of 45 degree slopes, and that was when we started to feel the wind gusting across the ridge.

The climb until the final 70 meters of ice was easy cramponing up wind consolidated slopes with a constant wind of 20-30 mph and occasional gusts of maybe 50-60 mph. Both Jared and I stumbled more than once when caught by a sudden gust; being lighter, I was also driven to my knees on a few occasions. The last two ice pitches were much easier than expected, mostly thanks to the hordes that climbed Tocllaraju before us. The slope was indeed 55 degrees of hard snow/ice but there were pretty large bucket steps kicked in for both pitches; definitely not a D rated climb. Jared led the first 45 m pitch to the first set of rap anchors (2 equalized pickets) with 10 meters of simul-climbing since our ropes weren't long enough. I then led past him 25 meters to the second set of rap anchors and belayed him up. We brought 4 pickets as protection for this section but ended up placing only one picket in the first pitch just before we started simul-climbing.

From the top rap anchors, it was an easy 5 minute walk to the summit where we spent only a few minutes because it was windy and cold, and we could see clouds moving in. On the way down, our ropes were just long enough to do the last 45 m rappel; to save time, I rapped on a single strand of 7.7 mm, which wasn't fun, and Jared went last, passing the knot.

The way down was unexciting except when we had to cross the bergshrund again, which was scarier than going up because we could now see the huge bergshrund more clearly. Jared also found the bivy sack and other gear of the guy who lost his stuff. He spotted it sitting on a snow bridge in a crevasse, about half a mile away from where the guy had camped. I belayed him while he leaned over and fished it out with his tools. Back in Huaraz, the guy bought us a lot of beer when he got his gear back.

Tocllaraju is the best alpine climb I've done so far, very moderate but with short technical sections so that it's not just a walkup. I was exhausted after 2 weeks in the Huayhuash and a week in the Ishinca valley so I headed back to the US on the 3rd of July while Jared, Chuck, and Darren (they'd met Darren on Pisco) went on to climb Chopicalqui before returning home.