Huaraz; the heart of the Andes. Climbing & mountaineering in Peru

The Cordillera Blanca is in the Ancash region of Peru and extends for 180km from north to south.

On top of Alpamayo
To the west lies another mountain range; the Cordillera Negra, and between them is a valley, known as the Callejón de Huaylas. The Cordillera de Huayhuas is also in this region, so wherever you look, you can see enormous glaciers as high as 4,000 to 5,000m. Here, is also home to the highest peak in Peru; Huascarán, which reaches 6,768m and is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. And nearby is Alpamayo, at 5947m and the famous “Paramount Pictures” mountain; Artesonraju, at 6025m.

But it''s not just high mountains that are in this region. The “Parque Nacional del Huascarán” with its 663 glaciers and 269 lagoons is a must for anyone visiting the area. Huaraz is the main town and starting point for mountain sports in the Cordillera Blanca. From sport climbing in the most spectacular areas to boulder climbing at arm''s reach of your hotel. Ice-climbing at 5,000m, all levels of trekking and mountaineering, multi-day canyoning and even MTB routes from the mountains to the sea.

Sunset at Camp 1 on Alpamayo
This is, without a doubt, a special place and you certainly won''t regret skipping summer in the northern hemisphere.

The origin of these impressive mountains is due to the subduction of the Nazca Plate underneath the South American Plate. The Ancash region is very rich in minerals, agriculture, commerce and mountain tourism.

Unfortunately, global warming is greatly affecting the glaciers, which are retreating more and more each year. It''s disheartening to compare past photos with the present and see how much your chosen mountain route has changed over the years.

Churup, 5.493m; a victim of glacier retreat.
Huaraz is the perfect place for relaxing and disconnecting from the mountains. A visit to a tourist office will inform you of things to do, such as a visit to nearby ruins, thermal baths or one of the small climbing walls.

Peru also invites tourists to visit the famous Machu Picchu or Turjillo ruins on the coast and 80km from Lima you can see the Cordillera Central.

Lima is certainly worth visiting for it''s historic centre and it still preserves the houses built by the Spanish in 1535, in the Miraflores quarter and is actually quite similar in style, to the centre of Madrid or Barcelona. And if you get tired of sightseeing, it''s great for shopping and there''s a Starbucks on every corner.

Toti Vales climbing in Los Olivos, with a view of Huaraz
Vallunaraju 5.686 m
Easily seen from Huaraz, the Vallunaraju is the nearest 5,000m peak. It attracts trekkers for its easy ascent and is ideal for acclimatizing or as a one or two-day climb, depending on your strength. It offers beautiful views and an incredible sunrise.

Vallunaraju from base camp

Ranrapalka from Vallunaraju base camp
If you''re acclimatized, it can be done-in-a-day, by sleeping on the trail or in a day and a half, from base camp. After the taxi dropped us off, it took us 3h to reach base camp, at approx. 4700m. The next morning we reached the summit in 3h and 2 hours later we were back at base camp.

The only gear we needed, was an ice-axe and crampons, a 20m rope and suitable clothing and footwear.

The technical difficulty was very low and there were no complications along the way.

Climbing Vallunarraju
If you walk further into the valley, to the end of the trail, you can find a mountain hut in the most beautiful setting. This place has it all – ice-climbing, sport & multi-pitch climbing, trekking, mountaineering from easy to difficult alpine climbing. The white, crevassed Ranrapalca & Oshapalca mountains close the end of the valley and an interesting moraine divides the valley. To its left, at the end of the trail, are the sport climbing walls – with 0'' approach. Approach is 30'' if you want to ice-climb and 1h30'' to multi-pitch climbs.

  • Getting there: approx. 2h from Huaraz and the only way there is by taxi, which costs about 100 soles because of the bad state of the trail. The best way to get back is to arrange for the same transport to collect you.
  • Cracks and slabs
  • Sport climbing: grey slabs, cracks and the odd overhang. In general they are short routes with low to mid difficulty. If you look around, you should be able to find a nice crack for self-belaying. There are routes for all levels and at the end of the day you can spend the night in the mountain hut or camp nearby – water is available.
  • Multi-pitch climbing: there''s a really nice wall at the end of the valley facing Oshapalca & Ranrapalca with plenty of routes just waiting to be opened. They vary from 90m to 250m and 300m. The orange and grey rock is excellent and it is, without a doubt a perfect place for spending a few days.

“A cuatro patas mirando pal Churup”
This route was opened by Alex Vicedo & Bru Busóm on 15th and 16th August, clean climbing without fixed anchors 350m at 7a. Good rock and a nice route that includes off width, dihedrals, cracks and slabs and in spite of the grade, it''s a very hard climb. Highly recommended, this route can be climbed during a whole day or with an overnight bivy.

  • Material: 1 full set of stoppers, 2 micro-cam sets, 2 sets of cams (0.5-2), 3 & 4 camalots (5 & 6 are optional, but highly recommended).
  • Approach: the wall is reached by following the sport climbing routes. When you reach the end, you start the climb. The wall can''t be seen yet, but you can make out a forest high up and the valley starts opening up. It''s a 60m 6b route, but if you''re new to the area, it''s not easy to find. Then you carry on next to the wall for about 30 minutes until you reach the first bivy. There are multiple bivy areas at around 5000m. We slept under an overhang on a slab where there''s room for two and it keeps you dry if it rains. There''s no water source. Another option is to carry on along the valley, on past the sport climbing walls. Then scramble up towards the wall, which you can see on the left.

Pisco, 5.752m

Climbing Nevado Pisco
Pisco means bird in Quechua. A good peak for acclimatizing at 6000m, it''s not a difficult peak and has fantastic views.

  • Getting there: it can be found at the Llanganuco lake, south of Caraz. The best way to get there is to take a combi (minivan) to Yungai, for about 6 soles and then take a taxi for 100 soles. Cebollapampa 3850m. From Huaraz, in two days without donkeys. Price of donkeys: 20 soles per donkey + 40 soles for the arriero.
  • Miquel Mas Climbing Nevado Pisco
  • Approach: it took us 3h from the taxi to reach base camp at 4680m, where there''s a mountain hut. If you''re strong enough, you can go on to Campo Morrena, which takes about 3h more, but leave enough time, because it''s easy to lose your way in the moraine at night.

    From the moraine camp, it takes 20 minutes to reach the glacier and then on to the col path on the right. Climbing on, you pass more cols that all look as if they''re going to be the summit...without acclimatizing, it takes 4 to 5h to reach the top.

Miquel Mas descending Nevado Pisco
Huamashraju 5434m “The scary mountain”

Huamashraju watches over the town of Huaraz from the south-east and forms part of the Huantsan (or Wantsan) massif. A fast and pretty ascent. It''s beautiful and very solitary, so it''s difficult to come across anyone else. Its low altitude and easy access make it a good alternative for acclimatizing.

At the highest part of Huaraz, is the start of a track that leads to Jancu. It takes 1h and costs approx. 70 soles. The taxi should drop you off at the end of the track – where it can go no further. As you probably won''t find any form of transport for the way back, it''s best to arrange for the taxi to collect you.

  • Ascent: the upper lake can be reached in a few minutes, by following the large cairns. Continue up towards the right, diagonally. It''s not visible at night and on the right there''s another path that goes straight up, next to a wall. Unless you know the path, it''s not easy to follow. The glacier can be reached in 3h 30''.
  • Álvaro & Marc climbing the first pitch
  • Normal route: The first part of the climb, on the right of the seracs and the rock wall, is vertical. Then it leads all the way past the glacier to the south ridge (opposite side), until you get to the peak from the left. Ice-fall: enter the glacier as if you were on the normal route (from the right), then cross horizontally, under the seracs to the ice-fall. The first pitch is 30m and III+. The first part is very thin, so may not have frozen. The second pitch is much more vertical, 30m long and the first 4m consist of a fine 1cm layer of ice on the left and is a bit thicker on the right, but separated from the wall (when we climbed), then it gets easier until you reach the rock belay point and the exit to the snow.
  • 2º pitch, delicate
  • Rock climb: the same access as for the ice-fall takes you to the top of the wall. Descend to look for routes.
  • Descent: 1 rappel from a snow stake or piton under the wall below the summit.

La Esfinge
La Esfinge stands tall, like a flame made of granite and at over 900m, as you walk the final 10'' to base camp, the view becomes more and more breathtaking.

La Esfinge
This place boasts magnificent views of Laguna Parón, Artesonraju, Pirámide de Garcilaso, Chacraraju, Pisco & Huandoy.

The wall has a large number of routes for all levels and styles. From semi-equipped free routes to multi-day Big Wall climbs. The altitude, without a doubt affects you on the last few, endless meters.

One of the most well-know routes is Via del 85, opened by “Sevi” & Onofre García, and is certainly one of the most popular and accessible routes on the wall.

Another view of la Esfinge
Cruz del Sur (7c+). Lobo estepario (6c/A3). Papas reyenas (6c/A3)… Most of them have been completely freed. But there are still great routes for repeating and freeing, such as “Volveras a mí” opened by José María Polanco, Manuel Olivera, Alejandro Madrid & Eduardo de la Cal, on 20th August, 1987.

“Volverás a Mi” route.
  • Getting there:a combi from Huaraz for 6 soles, if it''s a large group, you can ask the same combi to take you up to the Laguna Parón 4140m for 150 soles.
  • Approach: the path starts from the Laguna Parón. Walk back along the track a few metres to a cairn, then carry on along the wall to a stone gulley and at another cairn on the right, climb up diagonally, then the path opens into a little valley and is quite uncomfortable and vertical to ascend. Approx. 2h 30'' to base camp, 45'' to the bivouac. 1h more to the wall.
  • Sleep: the base camp has water and it''s quite a large clearing that can hold a number of tents. The wall is 1h away.
The bivy is 45'' further, for 5 people. There''s no water. It can be found between some large rocks near the normal route.

Normal route to La Esfinge, or Ruta del 85.
This route was climbed by Daniel Moreno & Edu Marín in just 1h 45''.

  • Itinerary: the first 4 pitches are easy, then the rock becomes perfect and the route goes past a series of cracks, dihedrals and chimneys to a bivy half way up the wall. On the second part you''re more or less on your own. It''s less equipped and there are multiple itineraries to follow. Each topo is different, the easiest way is to follow the simplest zones. We found pitons every 50 or 60m for tying on belays, so maybe we followed the right route.
  • Álvaro Lafuente on the 5th pitch
    The rock is excellent all the way; perfect cracks with multiple possibilities for protection, so there''s no psychological factor and you can focus on the climb.

    Chema Galve during the final pitches
  • Descent: the descent is on the right. After a 15'' walk, following the wall to where it turns right (concave), 3 rappels of 60-30-60 take you to a slab and then you can get off the wall and onto the scree slope. There are 2 rappel lines.
  • Material: 2 sets of cams, 1 set of stoppers and another of micro-stoppers. 60m ropes.
  • Time: it''s possible to do it in a day – 8-12h, if your level''s good. Or you can spend the night on a good bivy ledge half way up.

ISHINCA (5530m) & TOCLLARAJU (6034m)
The Quebrada Ishinca is well known for the Tocllarraju & Ranrapalka mountains, and these are often chosen for acclimatizing. Due to the perfect location of base camp, climbers can tick off the Urus, Ishinca & Tocllarraju mountains, which successively gain in altitude. For less experienced mountaineers, the Urus and Ishinca are a great choice for climbing your first 5,000m peak as they offer no technical difficulty. The 6000m Tocllarraju is also popular for its moderate difficulty compared to other 6000m peaks in the Cordillera, although ice-axes will be required for a short 90º ice climb and a couple of snow walls.

The Ranrapalca, Ocshaplaca & Pucaraju mountains are categorised as Difficile - Très Difficile - Extrêmement Difficile and are good for varying the level of difficulty when visiting this Quebrada.

There are also walls for practising trad. climbing in an extraordinary setting. The approach to the base camp is stunning, as the path leads you through a magnificent forest.

  • Getting there: from Huaraz to Pashpa by taxi for 80 soles, at 3200m and takes 45 minutes. Then it takes 3 to 4h to reach base camp at 4350m in the Quebrada de Ishinca. There''s a mountain hut at the base camp with good prices for spending a night (21 soles), water and a large open area for pitching your tent. The arriero costs 40 plus 20 for each donkey – 80 soles.

Nevado Ishinca
Ishinca 5530m

  • Itinerary: the ascent starts to the right of base camp and ascends through a valley (without snow) to a small lagoon. It''s hard to see in the dark, but here, there''s a large cairn where the path forks. We took the left path, which was not very clear at the start, but is much more direct to the glacier. Then it leads you directly to the top on more vertical, but not difficult terrain. The right path ascends to the peak on the opposite side, passing below Ranrapalka and is much longer – this path is a better choice for the descent.
  • Time: 5h-7h ascent.
  • Difficulty: Peu Difficile

Tocllarraju 6032m

  • Itinerary: on the first day, we left base camp from the hut and stuck to the left side of the moraine until we reached the vertical path with infinite zigzags that leads up to the Campo Morrena (5100m) where we pitched the tent. There''s snow for melting. 2h-30’ to 3h.
  • Section after 90º ice on Tocllarajú
  • Second day: we left the Campo Morrena and passed the crevasses to a small wall, then over a large crevasse with a wooden ladder and on to the ridge. 3m of 90º on ice and then a vertical ridge. Just a couple more walls to the top – 65º sections and a final 120m wall at 70º.

    The descent consisted of several rappels for getting down the snow walls and the last rappel was 50m for descending the ice wall and getting off the ridge.
  • Material: take an ice-screw and 3 to 4 snow stakes.
  • Danger: Mainly the strong winds that always slam into the ridge and have blown off several mountaineers and also the numerous crevasses at the first part of the glacier.
  • Time: 8 to 14h

Alpamayo 5947m

In 1966 it was chosen as the most beautiful mountain in the world. The Quechua name means “murky river”. Alpamayo is very popular among mountaineers, due to its extraordinary beauty and high altitude.

  • Getting there: Take a taxi to Cachapampa for 90 soles. It takes 1h.
  • Approach: From Cachapampa, 2980m, walk through the Quebrada Santa Cruz valley. The approach normally takes 3 days.
  • Climbing Alpamayo
  • Route: “Directa francesa” or “Ferrari” 400m D+ 60º-70º. Depending on the topo or map, it''s called one or the other. This is the most popular route and consists of a long snow ramp which is ice at the top. The belay points are mainly equipped with stakes and abalakov threads. You may need to leave some pro behind. 5 to 8 ice-screws and 3 stakes. 8 to 12h for the climb and descent.
  • Eric Riba on the ascent to camp 1

    Final pitch on Alpamayo
  • Precautions: be careful of the falling speed of ice fragments, if there are roped teams above you. The summit is very narrow and sometimes snow mushrooms are formed and these can be broken by a climber''s weight. In Huaraz, ask if it is being climbed and about the conditions of the mountain.

  • Artesonraju 6025m
    This is one of the most beautiful mountains of Peru and is the image used by Paramount Pictures.

    The most repeated routes are on the south ridge (TD+) and the normal routes (south-east & north) (D)

    The south is a perfect slope that catches the attention of roped teams and has up to 70º gradient. The snow, which is quite loose in general, causes a number of deaths, especially on the descent.

    • Getting there: depending on the route you choose, you''ll go via Santa Cruz or Laguna Parón. This year, the conditions are particularly bad on this face and have claimed a number of lives.


    Churup 5493m Churup mountain is home to one of the most beautiful lagoons in the whole Cordillera; Laguna Churup. The mountain stands out clearly from the whole of Huaraz. The bottom of the mountain has a wall of rock and ice and requires a mixed climb that leads onto snow slopes. 2-3 days.

    Rock to the top of Churup
    • Approach: walk round the lagoon on the right to the base of the wall.
    • Climb: reach the base of the wall on the right to the corridor, 2 pitches on rock -6a, then climb up an 80º mixed snow slope. Difficulty: D.

    This mountain is in the Cordillera Negra. It is simply a magical place, not just for climbing, but for simply being there, so it''s totally recommendable for those who like walking or trekking and is full of strange dinosaur-like shadows projected onto sculpted granite by the wind and rain. The area boasts 500 acres of rocks, pillars, caves, blocks, overhangs, slabs, cracks...ideal for boulder & sport climbing.

    Hatun Machay at sunset
    The topos can be found on internet and the mountain hut has quite a few and they can also give advice on where to go. The difficulty ranges from IV to 8th grade up to 90m, but most routes are from 20 to 30m.

    Karina on a 6c route of the Dedos Negros sector
    A good area for acclimatizing 4200m or for getting away from the cold of the Cordillera Blanca.

    • How to get there: Taxi for 150 soles for 2h. Don''t take a taxi unless the driver is sure of how to get there – if they have any doubts, they''ll probably get lost. The best thing is to talk to Luly at her ANDEAN KINGDOM agency, who organizes group trips for 30 soles there and back.
    • Sleep: the mountain hut has room for 50 and costs 30 soles per night. There''s a kitchen with utensils, pots & pans, water, stoves and blankets and a place for storing your food. Camping costs 20 soles and if you choose not to stay the night, a day''s climbing costs 5 soles. The place is private and managed by the hut, but it belongs to the community in the area. Part of the income goes to the community.

    Inkawakanka is the cheap alternative to Hatum Machay for spending some time bouldering. This area offers the possibility of equipping as many routes as you can imagine, and more. It''s just beginning and at present there are approx. 3 areas for sport climbing and about 40 clean boulders.

    This area has mainly been equipped, thanks to the contributions by foreigners to local climbers, as the kind of hardware needed for equipping a route is extremely expensive in Peru. It''s a great area for spending a couple of days after visiting Hatun Machay and the rock is just as good as it belongs to the same volcanic rock fault of the Cordillera Negra.

    Álvaro Lafuente on a grade 8 climb at Inkawakanka
    • Getting there: the nearest village is Conococha, where you can store up on provisions. From Huaraz, follow the road for a few kilometres until the road curves tightly to the right and this is where you''ll see the granite walls. In Quechuandes they''ll be able to give you information and tell you how to get there.
    • Accommodation: from the road, walk towards the boulders and in a couple of minutes, you''ll be able to set up base camp. There''s no water. Respect the area as it''s private property.

    This area is great for climbing and bouldering and is within walking distance from the centre of Huaraz. To get there by taxi, just ask for the “tercera curva de los olivos”. The taxi will drop you off at the walls on the left, then walk down to the river and to the walls. The area is divided into 10 to 30m sport routes and the level ranges from IV to 8th grade. The bouldering area is next to the river. If you ascend to the top of the sport routes, there''s a 150m 6b+ or 6c boulder traverse with stunning views over Huaraz.

Leave a comment

Be the first to comment on this article.