Trekking the Andes
The Cordillera Blanca, the second-highest mountain range in the world next to the Himalaya, is a world-class climbing destination. Here are a few pointers for organizing your climbing trip.
When to Go
The traditional climbing season is May–August, but the best snow conditions are usually found in June and July. The rain season ends in March, but heavy snows can still strike in April and May. By August, snow cover over the glaciers is relatively thin and route finding is more difficult.
To guarantee your safety, work only with a guide who is certified by the Huaraz’s Casa de Guías, which represents the Mountain Guide Association of Peru. Accidents, and sometimes fatalities, happen each year in the Cordillera Blanca because trip leaders with insufficient training and experience try to guide trips. By law, all agencies are required to use certified guides.
Even if you are an experience climber, you have a much better chance to summit with a certified guide who has already climbed a route a few times that season. He or she will know the latest routes, the condition of the snow pack, and the right acclimatization schedules. The going day rates are US$80–100 for a mountain guide for moderate peaks like Pisco, Urus, and Ishinca, and US$100–140 for technical peaks such as Tocllaraju, Huascarán, Chopicalqui, Artesonraju, and Alpamayo.
Before you pay, make sure that your agency or guide understands and abides by Leave No Trace principles, which can be found at www.lnt.org. Huaraz is filled with informal agencies and gear shops that can sell stolen gear. Avoid them.
By Peruvian standards, visiting Parque Nacional Huascarán is not cheap. Climbers and trekkers must pay US$1.50 directly to the community of Chasapampa and then US$20 for a park pass that lasts one month. Day-trippers ante up US$2 for the same pass. The national park fee can be paid at the park’s headquarters in Huaraz or at ticket booths at Laguna Llanganuco, Pastoruri Glacier, the village of Musho on the way to Huascarán, and in Quebrada Ishinca.
This park, like most in Peru, is badly underfunded and needs all the money it can get for trail maintenance, trash removal, park rangers, rescue infrastructure, endangered species protection, and community-based programs.
Local communities throughout the Huaraz area have recently begun charging informal fees in an attempt to get their fair share from the local trekking traffic. Collón, for instance, charges US$5 to groups that enter the Quebrada Ishinca. In other areas, such as Quebrada Quilcayhuanca, there is a gate where climbers need to pay in order to pass through the territory (though trekkers without pack animals can just climb over). In the Cordillera Huayhuash, these village fees total up to about US$30.
Maps, Guidebooks, and Information
Agencies and cafés in Huaraz sell maps, which are also available at the South American Explorers Club in Lima.
For the Cordillera Blanca, the 1:100,000 map published by Carhuaz resident Felipe Díaz gives a good overview of basic trekking routes but does not give enough detail for climbers. The Austrian Alpine Club and Alcides Ames, the owner of B y B My House, have published a 1:100,000 topo map for the north and south ends of the Cordillera Blanca. For the Cordillera Huayhuash, the Alpine Mapping Guild has a 1:50,000 scale map, which is on sale in Huaraz for US$15.
The best climbing guide for the Cordillera Blanca is Brad Johnson’s Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, which has up-to-date information on the area’s rapidly changing snow and ice routes. Another good guide for the Huaraz area is Globetrotter’s Trekking and Climbing in the Andes, coauthored by Val Pitkethly. It has a good description of the 12- to 14-day Huayhuash circuit, the Llanganuco–Santa Cruz trek, a two-week loop around Alpamayo’s remote north side, and an exploratory circuit through the less-crowded valleys near Huaraz.
The best sources of up-to-date information are climbers and guides returning from the areas where you are headed. Casa de Guías in Huaraz is the area’s number one information center.
High-quality equipment can be rented for affordable prices in Huaraz. You can request prices and make reservations ahead of time by emailing the agencies, which also sell gear but at a significant markup.
Most U.S. airlines no longer allow passengers to fly with used camping stoves, even in checked luggage. Your alternatives are to rent a stove in Huaraz (MSR Whisperlites and similar models are available) or to bring a new stove (in the box) and then sell it in Huaraz. Selling used gear, either to a shop or other climbers, is easy.
Pretty much all supplies, with the exception of freeze-dried food, are available in markets in Huaraz and Caraz. You’ll find pasta, powdered soup, cheese, powdered milk, beef jerky, dried fruit, and more. White gas (bencina blanca) is sold at hardware stores and along Avenida Luzuriaga. Get a recommendation from an agency or gear store to ensure you find the highest quality gas, and fire up your stove before you go to make sure everything works.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition