“Because it’s there.” – George Mallory
6AM. Sun rises. We stroll trough an awakening Huaraz. It’s extremely busy as usual. By the time we reach Jaime’s shoe repair shop, our senses have run overtime. Colourful locals splurge on empenadas, mariscos, pollo a la brasa, chifa, papas rellenas, jugos naturales. Quechua Indians surely have heavy stomachs, even in these wee hours. Huaraz is not the most attractive city (it has been completely rebuilt after the massive landslides in the wake of the 1970 earthquake), but its bustling, Andean athmosphere with the mezmerizing backdrop of the Cordillera Blanca, will keep you hypnotized for well a while.
Gearing up at Jaime’s shoe repair shop in Central Huaraz. Ancash, Peru.
We just came down from the Yurac Yacu community where we teached kids and adults basic computer skills, so we gasp for some adventure. We sort out all gear for a 10-day assault on some carefully, selected Peruvian peaks. The plan is plain and simple: freshen up some mountaineering skills, acclimitise on some 5000m peaks and do an attempt on 6032m Toclaraju. As reported before, the season is not as it is supposed to be (and isn’t so for a couple of years now), so we cancelled the initial plan to climb Chopicalqui, after the unfortunate dead of 2 Peruvian guides on Alpamayo early in the season and reports of avalanche danger and waist-deep snow near Chopi’s summit.
The Cordillera Blanca is a compact range of only 180km stretching north to south, forming a barrier for the Amazon moisture, causing a desert-like effect stretching towards the west (Cordillera Negra), forming the highest, glaciated, tropical range in the world (9° south of the Equator!). It has 25 peaks over 6000m (20000feet) of which Huascaran (6768m) is the highest. The range is known for its excellent climbing conditions and ease of access.
Flores de senecio on the way towards Yanapaccha basecamp. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Jaime cooks the most delicious food in our makeshift 4900m high base camp (under our MSR Twing tarp), while Roger’s hunger builds up.
Once again we team up with our friend and guide Roger Reyes and his brother Jaime for a perfect outing. We met Roger in our first trip in Northern Peru in 2008 and since then have climbed together and became close friends to the family. I have set up a website to connect hikers and climbers directly to the guide, as it is well known that guides are underpaid by agencies in Huaraz. So grab yourself a sustainable bargain, if you’re looking for any form of climbing or expedition support in the Blanca or Huayhuash.
Knot and rope technique rehearsels. Yanapaccha basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Practice makes perfect. Yanapaccha (5460m) plays hide and seek in the fickle weather. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Our first objective is Yanapaccha, at the head of the LLanganuco Valley, well-known for its twin lake and a popular day excursion from Huaraz. We leave in the lousy taxi of Señor Zorro de la Montaña (the mountain fox). It would soon become clear why. The road up to the popular lakes and Portachuelo Llanganuco Pass (our drop-off towards basecamp) is a complete disaster. In Huaraz there is a strong call for government investment in the Huascaran National Park, making it more accessible for tourism, but all money flows to the southern gringo trail, which attracts 90% of tourists in Peru.
Yanapaccha base camp makes for excellent training grounds. Ice walls on the glaciers nearby. Manageble crevasses. Boulders and rockwalls. And a technical climb to its summit for desert. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Up you go. Climb that ice, baby! Yanapaccha glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Your turn, amigo! Yanapaccha glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Preparing crevasse rescue. Yanapaccha summit (5460m) top left. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Although the weather stays cold and lousy for the time of the year, we enjoy ourself to the fullest. We cover an array of essential skills. Mountain hazards on snowpeaks, rope team travel, climbing knot techniques, belay systems, self arrest, top rope management, vertical ice climbing, full crevasse rescue techniques. What a luxury to have Jaime cooking excellent, fresh food at this altitude. Time flies by and before we know it, we’re on Yanapaccha’s summit mushroom enjoying the Blanca’s highest peaks around us.
Hang me out to dry! Having fun in a crevasse of Yanapaccha’s glacier. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Uuuuuuuunnnnnggg. No honey you are not too heavy, but if you ask me to pull you out of the ice… Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Well, there are less hostile places on earth to enjoy a holiday. Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Finally out of the abyss! Yanapaccha glaciar .Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Thank you, good night! Yanapaccha basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Around 6AM, at around 5200m, the first rays of light makes the first 65° wall towards the summit more visible. On all fours. Up it is. Nevado Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
The quadruple summit of Nevados Huandoy (center pyramid is 6395m) and right the popular Nevado Pisco Oeste (5752m), which we climbed in 2008. Shot from the upper slopes on Yanapaccha. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Reaching the summit ridge of Nevado Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
After a technical, nightly climb, we made the summit of Yanapaccha (5460m) on the morning of the 4th of July. From left to right: Chopicalqui (6354m), Huascaran Sur (6768m) and Huascaran Norte (6555m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
The Nevados Huandoy group (left), Nevado Pisco (center right) and Nevado Chacraraju Oeste (6112m) to the right. Shot from under the summit ice mushroom of Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Back in basecamp after a fluent climb. Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
All we need! Crunchy, guacamole sticks with tea and coffee. Life is good. Thanks Jaime! Yanapaccha (5460m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Huge stands of Thamnolia Vermicularis lichen, on the way down from base camp. Sampling for the Adventure & Science project. LLanganuco lakes far below. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
After 4 days on Yanapaccha, we move towards Ishinca valley. We climb up Urus Este (5420m) in good weather and hope that weather will hold for an attack on 6032m Toclaraju. It’s strange, it’s mountaineering high season, and Ishinca base camp is almost empty. Not even 5 groups around us. A Slovakian team just returned from the summit of Toclaraju. They are exchausted and unhappy. Conditions were bad above 5800m, lots of snow and only clouds and wind. They achieved summit but didn’t have any views. They long for a shower and hot bed in Huaraz. As more clouds roll in, we weigh our chances and the next morning the weather is shitty. Or we climb to high camp or we cancel our bid and put our bets on another 5000m peak. Ishinca (5530) wins. Mind games. The day after. We climb Ishinca in perfect conditions while bad weather swallows Toclaraju. Back in Huaraz, we hear more bad news. Our 2 Argentine neighbours in basecamp, which I spoke to the day before on the go or no go for Tocla, choose to climb to high camp of Toclaraju. An avalanche ended their dreams on their next day bid on our intended route. Mind games. Respect them mountains. May they rest in peace.
If you’re on facebook, we have a page now where I update pictures on a regular basis.
Regrouping for part 2. Ishinca Valley. Fickleness in the weather continues. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Unusual, few teams in Ishinca basecamp (4400m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Over boulder fields towards the glaciar of Urus Este(5420m). From left to right: Ishinca (5530m), Ranrapalca (6162m), Ocshapalca (5881m) and Vallunaraju (5686m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Climbing up Urus Este (5420m), while clouds swallow our next objective Tocllaraju (6032m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Amigo Roger and Katrijn on the summit of Urus Este(5420m). Azure Laguna Akilpo below. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Alpenglow on the cloudy, fluted west wall of Tocllaraju (left, 6032m). The aim was to climb to high camp the next day. Once again bad weather would set in and ruin our plans. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Dark falls over Tocllaraju (6032m) and Ishinca (5530m) basecamp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Alpine splendisism around Ishinca high camp (5000m). Ranrapalca (6162m) north face. A 1km high mixed line of ice and granite. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Last patches of flora at 5000m altitude. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Urus Este (5420m) as seen from Ishinca high camp. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
“The mountains are calling and I must go” (John Muir) – Ranrapalca (6162m) and Ocshapalca (5881m) northeast faces from the upper slopes of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Avalanche gazing on the upper slopes of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Happy descent from the summit of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Sun on Ishinca’s summit, but not on our first aim Tocclaraju (6032m). The Cordillera Blanca is a barrier between the Amazon bassin (from where all moisture comes) and the Pacific, causing big climate differences between eastern and western summits in the chain. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Solid grounds after a full east to west traverse of Ishinca (5530m). Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Azure reflection. Rocky grounds after succesfull climb of Ishinca (5500m). Urus Este(5420m) and Urus Central(5495m) rise up behind. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Walk out via the beautiful Cojup valley. Huascaran National Park. Cordillera Blanca. Peru.
Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian dish based on the baking, with the aid of hot stones of lamb, mutton, pork, chicken or guinea pig, marinated in spices. Other Andean produce, such as potato, green lima beans or “habas”, sweet potato, occasionally cassava or yuca, and humitas (sweet treat) as well as ears of corn, tamale and chili, is included in the baking. The word is made of two Quechua roots: “pacha” earth and “manca”, meaning “earthen pot” (cooking vessel). Huaraz. Ancash. Peru.
Central market. Huaraz. Peru.
Pioneer Brad Johnson wrote Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, the holy bible for climbing the nevados.
Full photoset of our mountaineering adventure in the Cordillera Blanca.