Cordillera Blanca
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Cordillera Blanca (Perú)
practical hints

1. Peru in general

1.1. Country, Geography

With 1.2 million km2, Perú is South America's third largest country. Out of the 28 million inhabitants, 8 millions live in the urban area of Lima. Geographically, Peru is divided into three different climatic regions:
  • Costa (coastal area) - a coastal desert, similar to the southern neighbor Chile. About 10% of the country's surface.
  • Sierra (Andean high lands) - several parallel mountain chains divide the high lands; in the south the landscape is more a high plain; further northwards the mountain chains are often cut by deep valleys.
  • Selva (rain forests) - tropical forest in mountain areas, and a part of the Amazonas lowlands.
Cordillera Blanca is Peru's highest mountain range, it is situated about 400 km north of Lima.

1.2. Weather

In south winter (May - November), the weather of the coastal region is foggy and cold (daily maximum of 20°C). The sun returns not before November. In the mountains, winter is the dry season, mostly offering good weather for mountaineering. Best time is May to September, in the beginning there can be a lot of snow in high regions. Towards end of the seasons the snow coverage of the glaciers disappears, and crossing the very ragged glaciers can be difficult. Short bad weather times last only one or two days, after that it normally becomes sunny again.

1.3. Language

Official languages are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymará. Escpecially on the countryside frequently the old languages Quechua (in the north) and Aymará (in the south) are spoken, so Spanish is a first "foreign" language for the local population. English knowledge is not very widespread, therefore a basic knowledge of Spanish is recommended. Unlike in Chile or Argentina, the pronunciation is accentuated relatively clearly.

1.4. Money

Peru's currency is the Nuevo Sol (S/); the exchange rate in June 2008 was about 3 Soles per US$, and 4.15 Soles per Euro (when changing cash). The rate for withdrawals from our German bank account was about 4.55 S/ per Euro. While bus tickets can be booked via internet without problems, especially smaller trekking agencies accept only cash. The ATMs in Huaraz worked without problems with the (Maestro) ec card; we could not get any money at the ATM using our credit card (German Mastercard). Many things can be payed directly in US$, and the ATMs offer a choice of withdrawing Soles or Dollars.

1.5. Traffic

Car drivers are exclusively oriented in forward direction. The priority is proceeding as fast as possible, using any possibly existing space. Pedestrians are not respected except in order to avoid collisions. Everybody tries to draw attention to his car by blowing the horn as loud and often as possible. It is clear that traffic lanes or pedestrian crossings are understood as no more than a suggestion. The driving style in Huaraz was much more moderate than in Lima, where colectivos push through the dense traffic at distances of only few centimeters at high speed.
Besides care of cars turning off, pedestrians should also - like elsewhere in south America - watch for sometimes not covered holes or gullies along the sidewalk. Except for the main roads, only few roads are paved, and many mountain roads are in adventurous conditions.

1.6. Flights

From Europe, there are flights either via the U.S.A. or (more or less) directly to South America. Flying via U.S.A. has the advantage of a higher baggage allowance. Disadvantage of every trip via U.S. is that U.S. American airports (as the only ones in the world!) have no international section - this means one has to enter the U.S.A. even if one doesn't want to visit this nation. The long waiting times at passport controls and the time-consuming check-out and check-in again of all baggage can easily make you miss your connecting flight. Even if you catch it, you don't know if the baggage did it, too.
After the experience of our flight to Ecuador five years ago we preferred to spend a little more money and take a direct flight from Amsterdam.

2. Lima

Perú's capital Lima is situated in a plain close to the mountains, at the coast. The plain does not directly extend to the beach, there is a 100 meter high cliff at the sea. The colonial old center is in the north of the urban area at Río Rimac, the touristic center around Miraflores is 10 km further south. A large arterial street connects these parts of the city, but currently (as in almost all other roads, too) road construction is going on there leading to lots of diversions (but they are well marked). The airport is situated about 10 km northwest of the old center.
As far as the level of crime is concerned, Lima seems comparable to other citys of this size. We never felt insecure anywhere.
From Miraflores to the colonial center, use the colectivos NM38 "B". From the center to Miraflores: NM38 "A" and SO26 (the latter goes to Larcomar). Fare is S/ 1 to 1.40.

3. Huaraz / Cordillera Blanca

3.1. Geography

Huaraz (3100 m) is the capital of the region Ancash, the town as about 100000 inhabitants and is situated on the valley of Río Santa (Callejón de Huaylas), which runs in north-south-direction parallel to the coast. The valley separates two mountain ranges: In the west the Cordillera Negra, which reaches about 5000 m and showing no glaciers, and in the east the Cordillera Blanca, which is strongly covered by glaciers and contains many 6000 m peaks. The Cordillera Blanca here also is the continental divide to the Amazonas region with the Amazonas headstream Marañon. The small distance to the humid Amazonas basin also explains the strong glacier coverage; in south summer there is an intense rain period which delivers the snow in the high altitude. A characteristic feature of Cordillera Blanca are very steeply cut valleys with canyon-like entrances, probably formed by ice-age glaciers.

3.2. Bus trip to Huaraz

From Lima one can use different operators to cover the about 470 km distance to Huaraz. The trip takes about 7-8 hours; the first two hours are on a good road along the coast, then the road slowly climbs up to Conococha Pass (4080 m). The upper part of this section has a lot of potholes. From Conococha the road slowly leads down to 40 km distant Huaraz, the road is better again.
One can choose cama (sleeper), semicama (a reasonable amount of space for sleeping), and económico (normal seats); the names of the classes are different between the bus companies. Each company operates its own bus terminal at its destination towns, making things rather confusing. This makes a comparison of the rates difficult. Unlike in e.g. Argentina, in Lima or Huaraz there is no central bus terminal, therefore any infrastructure (baggage checkroom, shopping centers, restaurants etc.) is only very limited in the company-owned terminals.
Buses leave at 10 p.m. (arriving next morning very early), or also in the morning. Some companies have morning departures only in high season. We went to Huaraz with Cruz del Sur, and back with Moviltours. The tire problems on the way back was possibly just bad luck.

3.3. Hotels, restaurants in Huaraz

In Huaraz there is plenty of accomodation. We did not book anything in advance and just followed the first offer of an agent in the bus terminal. The hostal (Albergue Ishinca) was about 1.2 km away from the center, but at a rate of S/. 30 per night for a double room rather cheap, very clean and quiet. For another S/ 15 also breakfast was offered.
Good restaurants are found mainly around the Plaza de Armas, and along Calle Luzuriaga (the main street west of the Plaza). A good meal for two persons including beverages was about 35 to 60 Soles. Typical dishes are lomo (filet) or bistec (beefsteak) with papas fritas and ensalada; lomo saltado (meat cut into small pieces with onions, tomatoes and french fries); pollo (chicken); Original Peruvian dishes are cuy (guinea pig), cebiche (raw fish cut into pieces, marinated in lime juice, with onions). caldo de gallina (chicken soup). "A lo pobre" is, by the way, not paltry but with egg, banana and rice in addition to french fries and salad.

3.4. Bus/Taxi in and around Huaraz, access to the mountains

A taxi drive within Huaraz costs S/ 2.50 to 3.
We booked the transport to the mountains as "transporte privado" (sometimes the package included the pack-animals); a normal taxi was sufficient to read the destinations. Except for the paved main road through the Callejón de Huaylas, all roads are in a more or less bad state, so it tooks some time to get there. Fares: Laguna Llaca (bring and pick up) US$ 140, Collon/Pashpa (bring and pick up) US$ 100, Cebollapampa (only one way) US$ 70.
The colectivo from Yungay to Huaraz costs S/ 3.50 per person.

3.5. other sports activities (except mountaineering)

In Huaraz one can rent mountain bikes (ca. 40 S/ per day), they are - on the whole - functioning. However one won't wish to go by bike for more than two days, since the main road is not nice to use due to the heavy traffic. Cars always got an advantage over bikers or pedestrians, because the stronger always prevails. The (unpaved) mountain roads are sometimes in adventurous conditions; some decent sections are the roads from Wilkahuain (north of Huaraz) to the Quebradas Llaca, Cojup, and Quilcayhuanca. The dogs in the countryside are - similar to Ecuador - a nuisance, they always try to catch bikers' legs.

At Mirador de Rataquena one easily meets some joggers, even if the 300 height meters from downtown to the viewpoint are rather mountain running than jogging.

Those who prefer water might want to visit the Termas de Monterrey (about 6 km north of Huaraz). The 25 meter basin is not really a sood sports location, but the water has a unique color (light brown). It is said to help against all sorts of health problems.

4. Mountaineering in the Cordillera Blanca

4.1. Parque Nacional Huascarán

The Parque Nacional Huascarán comprises the complete Cordillera Blanca above about 4000 meters from Nevados Milluacocha and Pilanco in the north of Quebrada de los Cedros/Quebrada Alpamayo, and Conococha in the south. In order to enter the park, a ticket is needed which is issues either in the office of the park administration in Huaraz (near Plaza Belén) or at the control posts.
The terms of use say that for all activities that are considered "dangerous" (like mountaineering, climbing etc.) the tour operator is liable for any damage or harm of the clients. Independent mountaineering is not mentioned in the rules. The exact interpretation of the rules depends on who is asked. In any case the first statement one will hear is that a professional mountain guide is necessary. This obligation does not hold (at least in 2008) if one has a membership card of a UIAA alpine club. This qualifies for independent mountaineering, being "deportista" (sports(wo)man). So one is free to do any mountaineering in the park - on one's own responsibility of course.
The ticket costs a fee of 65 Soles per person, it has an imprinted stating a validity of 7 days. This is not true, one can obviously use the ticket for four weeks at the control posts. But if you go to the head office with a ticket more than 7 days old, they will issue a new ticket for another 65 Soles without pointing to the further validity of the old ticket.
At the control posts one has to register with the ticket and the passport number and indicate the destinations and presumed duration of the trip.
In the end we could undertake whatever we had planned; however, all the complicated procedures leaves the impression that independent mountaineers are not welcome in the Cordillera Blanca.

Vallunaraju (5686 m)

  • Difficulty: PD
  • Starting point: Quebrada Llaca, ca. 4400 m. By car about 2 hours from Huaraz; beyond the turn-off from the main road to Quebrada Cojup the road is in extremely bad condition. Nevertheless a fee of 20 Soles is charged.
  • High camp: 4950 m, ascent 500 height meters, about 3-4 hours. A few meters rock grade II, if slippery the rope can be necessary.
  • Summit: 700 meters altitude gain, ascent about 5 hours.
  • Equipment: normal glacier equipment
Vallunaraju (Wallunaraju) can easily be seen from Huaraz, its twin summit looks impressive without appearing extremely difficult. For a first acclimatization trip it is a little high, except maybe doing it as a day trip from Laguna Llaca. But from there the altitude gain is 1300 meters. For the first 200 height meters, the access to the hight camp is an extremely steep and muddy path leading up through the rock barrier. One should be careful in this part of the trail. An oblique crag of about 5 meters height might be a problem if it is wet. Further up, the area becomes less steep; the trail is obvious and also marked with cairns. At 4950 m, before the path gets lost in the rocks, there are several good camp sites. From this high camp, go around the first edge and then keep right upwards, climbing some not very difficult slabs until a plain at 5020 m is reached. There glacier begins. Not very steep straight on, then a little to the right following a not very pronounced ridge which leads towards the secondary summit (the right one of the two peaks). At about 5300 m, one leaves this ridge to the left and traverses the big basin towards the saddle between the two summits. The crevasses were easy to avoid in June; up to the saddle the route is rather easy walking terrain without danger of steep cliffs. From the saddle (5595 m), one follows the summit ridge to the main summit (30 minutes); the snow quality on the east slopes seems not very reliable.

Quebrada Ishinca

Quebrada Ishinca is about 20 km north of Huaraz. The valley is not very long, and it does not lead to the main divide. Therefore it has only mountaineering importance. Drive to Pashpa (3500 m) or Collon (3300 m); there one can rent mules or donkeys which go up to the basecamp.
In the last major plain in the valley at 4370 m the basecamp for the frequently climbed peaks Ishinca, Urus Este, and Tocllaraju is situated. Other possible destinations from there are Palcaraju (6110 m, 6274 m), Ranrapalca (6162 m), Ocshapalca (5888 m), Janyaraju (5675 m, 5630 m). The base camp consists of a meadow a few minutes above the last trees. At its northern edge there is a hut, Refugio Ishinca. There are two permanently installed toilets. Water should (also because of the cows and donkeys grazing here) be taken from a little further up, e.g. from the stream coming from the big moraine trench of Lago Milluacocha.
In the guidebooks people complain that the hut would limit the number of campsites or be a problem for the water supplies of the campers. Maybe we are too much used to "limitations" in mountains like the rather civilized Alps - anyway we had no problem with the hut and did not feel any constriction. As we visited the basecamp there were about 15 to 20 tents.
The baggage transport on mules, from Pashpa to bascamp or back, costs US$ 10 per day for the arriero and US$ 5 per donkey, a donkey carrying 20 kg (mules are stronger than donkeys, so they also cost more).
In 2008 there were - apart from the hut where probably also supplies can be bought - some booths where beverages (beer, Inka Cola, Coca Cola, mineral water, seldom Sprite) and cookies were available; prices were reasonable (S/5 for a small beer or half a liter of lemonade).

Ishinca (5530 m)

  • Difficulty: PD-
  • 1150 meters altitude gain from basecamp
  • Ascent 5-6 hours
  • Equipment: normal glacier equipment

From the basecamp Quebrada Ishinca, two routes lead to Ishinca: northwest slopes or southwest ridge. At southwest ridge, a larger crevasse is said to often cause problems, so the northwest slopes are climbed more frequently. We met several groups who went up the southwest ridge and then descended via northwest slopes.

For both routes, follow the right-hand slope from the bridge at the entrance of the basecamp, southwards on one of many parallel paths. After half a kilometer keep right into the ascending valley, crossing several basins on a good path. At about 4900 m a small lake is visible on the left side; here the route to the northwest slopes branches off the main path (the latter leading to Laguna Ishinca and to the southwest ridge) continuing in the base of the valley, along the right side of a second small lake and then steeply up to the left on scree, slowly ascending towards the glacier. At about 5000 m the glacier begins, first rather steep, then to the right towards a saddle. Beyond the saddle a short serac zone is passed without difficulty, then the route leads directly towards the summit. The last 40 meters, on the right side of the slope, in reasonable distance to the cornice, are steeper (45°) but not really exposed and therefore easy to go.

Urus Este (5420 m)

  • Difficulty: F
  • about 1050 meters altitude gain from basecamp
  • Ascent 4-5 hours
  • Equipment: crampons, ski poles. In good conditions, rope and ice axe are not necessary.nötig.

In front of Refugio Ishinca, a trail leads to the left, up towards the broad gully. It climbs straight up until the terrain becomes less steep. Follow the moraine ridge to the right where it levels; soon comes a rock step which is limbed a little leftwards. After the next basin, a confusing arrangement of slabs is passed a little to the right upwards, leaving the southeast ridge on the left-hand side. Now the glacier slope that comes down from the summit is visible (before, it was hidden by the southwest ridge). The summit is reached easily, the slope seems not to have major crevasses.

Tocllaraju (6032 m)

  • Difficulty: probably AD or AD+ (we did not reach the summit)
  • Base camp: 4370 m
  • High camp: 5160 m, about 5 hours from basecamp (F)
  • Summit: 900 meters altitude gain, probably about 7 hours
  • Equipment: normal glacier equipment, plus a second 50m rope for the rappel at the summit slopes.

The trail to the hight camp leaves the Refugio to the right side through the base of the valley, then climbing up the small valley on the left side of the moraines of Laguna Milluacocha. At about 4600 m the trail climbs up steeply to the left; only at 4880 m there is a little terrace where baggage can be deposited (e.g. for a carry on the day before). 60 meters higher there are many cairns; here cross the basin to the right and traverse the snowy slopes further up to the right. Having passed the first slopes one sees a fortress-like rock island; on the left side behind this fortress there is a good camp site in a small depression.

From the camp, directly go towards the northwest ridge. At 5400 m the slopes become steeper, the trail turns to the right in order to reach the upper terraces. A steep section of 55° is followed by another steep section along a crevasse (keep left at the edge to climb up). Then the slopes level, the route reaches the ridge. Further above the route follows the slopes on the left side of the ridge. Directly before the summit, two bergschrunds must be crossed and the summit slope has to be climbed (we were not there, so I cannot give any details).


Quebrada Llanganuco is one of the most important valleys of Cordillera Blanca. A road (though in somewhat adventurous condition) leads from Yungay (2500 m) to Yamama, San Luis, Piscobamba and Pomabamba, crossing the 4767 m high Portachuelo Llanganuco. The valley entrance is framed by huge walls which would be a Peruvian Yosemite, if they wouldn't be covered by plants almost everywhere, at the most unexpected places. Beyond this spectacular entrance there are two nice lakes, Lago Chinancocha and Lago Orgoncocha, which both together are also named Lagunas Llanganuco. From the first sharp bend at 3970 m it is ony a few minutes to the campsite Cebollapampa which serves as starting point for Pisco Oeste. For Chopicalqui one has to continue on the road another four kilometers.

Chopicalqui (6354 m)

  • we didn't climb until the top, difficulty probably PD-AD or AD.
  • Starting point: southernmost bend of the road to Portachuelo Llanganuco, 4200 m.
  • Base camp: one hour above at 4400 m.
  • Moraine camp: at 5000 m at the end of the side moraine of eastern Glaciar Kinzl (trail)
  • Glacier camp: at about 5500 m in the last plateau of Glaciar Kinzl (F)
  • Summit: probably about 7 hours from glacier camp

From the bend at 4200 m, a good trail in the small valley on the left side of the moraine leads to the base camp which is located at the rim of a miry meadow (1 hour).

From base camp, the trail climbs up directly on top of the moraine and then follows the moraine ridge until the two branches of the glacier diverge. With a major counterslope it crosses the eastern branch of Glaciar Kinzl (or whatever remains of it) and then climbs up the moraine on the right side (in the sense of the ascent) of this glacier branch. At the very last end of this western side moraine there are several campsites at 5000 m altitude. This is the moraine camp which is erroneously given as 4800 m in the book by Johnson. Water is found at some places running down from the rocks, close to the campsites at the right side.

From the moraine camp, force your way through loose blocks to the left until one can climb directly upwards without difficulty. At the right side up to 5100 m, then leftwards below the rocks on the glacier - as close as possible to the rocks but keeping a little distance because of possibly falling rocks. The route traverses the glacier in a long leftward curve, with some small detours due to crevasses. At 5500 m there is a large glacier basin with good camp sites. There is water at the rocks to the south, but rock and ice are unstable, so it appeared too dangerous to me to get running water there. Melting snow is safer. Further up there are no more comfortable tent sites. Either Brad Johnson's times were better or his "col camp" is given 100 meter too high in the book.

From the glacier camp there are steep slopes up towards the crest (50-55°). Then the route more or less follows the ridge, but we went only up to 5800 m (not for reasons of difficulty).

Pisco Oeste (5750 m)

  • Difficulty: PD.
  • Starting point: Cebollapampa, 3900 m
  • Hut: Refugio Perú (4680 m), about 4 hours ascent
  • Summit: about 7 hours from the Refugio.

The campsite Cebollapampa (3900 m) is just a few minutes below the first road bend after the Llanganuco lakes. Beverages can be purchased at the site; unfortunately it is very shady in the morning and in the evening. Apart from that, very recommendable.

The trail leads from the camp site, past the toilets, into a high valley and climbs a steeper step to the base camp and to Refugio Perú (4680 m). The basecamp is located in a small plain, the Refugio on the hill at its right side. An overnight stay costs US$12 (US$16 if you don't have a sleeping bag). Food and beverages are available. Even though the efficiency of the kitchen does not reach that of a Swiss SAC hut, one can get beverages and warm meals to quite reasonable prices.

From the refugio, the trail towards the summit first climbs up the big moraine slope. After 30 minutes the top is reached, a cairn is a little bit to the left side. If you leave at 4 or 5 a.m. it is still dark here. A descent through fine sand leads down to the former glacier, about 80 meters height difference. Now the trace is not always easy to find but with sime experience it is not a problem (cairns). On the other side the trail climbs up to a lake but follows a moraine ridge to the left before reaching this lake. Further to the left in a depression is the moraine camp at 4900 m, but one can continue on the ridge to the glacier. From the beginning of the glacier climb up rightwards to the pass between Huandoy and Pisco (5320 m, attention: at least one crevasse). From here the rest of the route can be seen very clearly, it always follows the slopes on the left side of the crest up to the summit. Several deep crevasses stretch through this slope, but miraculously all these crevasses can be passed at exactly one point each. The last 20 meters to the summit (left side) are steeper (50°). If the steps are good, a second ice axe is not necessary.


  • Difficulty (according to Johnson): AD-
  • Access from Refugio Perú (4680 m)
  • Camp under the seracs at about 5500 m
  • High camp at 5800 m

Not climbed by us, we cannot give reliable information about difficulty or route.
The guides in the casa de guías in Huaraz advised us to not attempt Huandoy; the mountain would rarely be climbed because of the dangerous access. It is not offered as a guided trip.
Indeed the access from Refugio Perú to the high camp on the saddle between the summits is strongly exposed to avalanches. One has to do a long traverse below the slopes of Huandoy Este and Norte and then climb a 200 m high couloir, later leaving the couloir to the left side to the saddle. From the saddle (high camp) on, the terrain is less dangerous.
From the way to Pisco the route is visible very well. At first glance it looked very deterrent. At a closer look there were no traces of fresh avalanches along the whole route, but also no traces of climbers. The traverse leaving the couloir should not be a major problem. I would assess the route as feasible if one is not on the way in the afternoon.

Literature (mountaineering, mostly in German)

  • Ekkehard Radehose: "Traumberge Amerikas", Rother Verlag 1996. In Cordillera Blanca he describes Alpamayo, Huandoy, Huascarán, Tocllaraju; other Peruvian mountains described are Salcantay, Coropuna, and Ampato.
  • Hermann Kiendler: "Die Anden - Vom Chimborazo zum Marmolejo alle 6000er auf einen Blick", Panico Alpinverlag 2007. Besides all 6000 m peaks in Peru, also Alpamayo, Pisco, and Ishinca are described. The book is an interesting basis for summit gatherers in the Andes.
  • Brad Johnson: "Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca", peaksandplaces.com, 2003. Comprehensive selection guidebook about several mountains; all mountains that we climbed have a detailed description here, except for the normal route of Vallunaraju.
  • Alpenvereinskarte 03/a "Cordillera Blanca Nord" 1:100 000 (2006)
    covers the area from Quebrada Honda to the north, including Copa, Hualcán, Huascarán, Chopicalqui, Huandoy, and Santa Cruz/Quitaraju/Alpamayo. While the old edition (based on the surveying of the 1939 expedition) would have allowed only a general orientation, the new editions are quite usable maps.
  • Alpenvereinskarte 03/b "Cordillera Blanca Süd" 1:100 000 (2005)
    for Quebrada Akilpo and Ishinca and everything south of it, including the environs of Huaraz.


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Hartmut Bielefeldt
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