Cordillera Blanca Mountaineering
Oct. 4-24th, 2009

click on photos to enlarge

We enjoyed a couple of week-long mountaineering trips into the Ishinca and Llanganuco Valley’s of the Cordillera Blanca – ‘White Range’ of Peru in October of 2009 in this internationally popular area for climbers and trekkers.  Most climbers visit  here from June through August when the weather is considered most stable, although apparently May and September/early October were the best climbing months this year which made for a great trip for us with almost no other climbers in the peaks, and an unusually  peaceful experience in South America’s greatest climbing range for beginner to expert alike.

Our climbing team of Eli Helmuth, Lawrence Kovacs, Frank Nederhand, and CLG apprentice guide Mike Arnold enjoyed overall great conditions and weather in what is considered the ‘off-season’ for Peruvian mountain climbing.  Eli will be offering trips to the Cordillera Blanca again in September of 2010 with 10 and 15 day itineraries available to this great ‘white range’.


Nevado Pisco’s south summit (18,871′-left) was our final and highest peak climb on this trip.


Frank Nederhand enjoying the spectacular views during our ascent of Nevado Pisco (18,871′) which sits between two of the Blanca’s most rowdy peaks:  Huandoy 20,981 (background)  and Chakraraju (20,052′).

Cafe Andino in Huaraz along with the Meza Family Hostel behind it were the main hangouts during our preparation and rest time in town.  The Andino is one of the most amazing coffee house/restaurants in the world.  

The approach into the Ishinca Valley passes by these dramatic rock walls, which include the
Hatun Ulloc spire.

Our drive to the trailhead for the Ishinca Valley was less than an hour from our lodging in Huaraz and gave spectacular views of these pointy peaks on the southwestern end of the Ocshapalca Massif.

The east face of Ranrapalca  (20,217′) shines in the morning sun- viewed from our hostel in Huaraz it is an inspiring sight while preparing for a trip into the heart of these steep-sided peaks.


The bouldering and rock climbing in the Ishinca Valley is alone worth the trip and we managed to find time on the approach hike for some stretching out on these well featured granite erratics.

Basecamp at the head of the Ishinca Valley was reached in a casual three hour walk from the trailhead and our first summit of the trip, Urus East (17,781′) sits just above our camp at 14,435′.

Nevado Tocllaraju shining in the afternoon sun as viewed from basecamp.
After an initial summit of Urus, I gave our team the option of a climb of the more moderate peak,  Ishinca (18,142′) or the more formidable Tocllaraju  (19,790′)  and being an ambitious crew, the latter was chosen.  After a night at high camp at 16,076′, we climbed to above 18,372′ in the early morning hours before being turned back by the acute AMS being experienced by half of our team members, which left them too disabled to continue upward.


Frank and Mike high on the glaciated slopes of Urus East with the Palcaraju Glacier tumbling down into the morainal lakes below.

Looking west across the Urus Massif with the Central and Western summits hovering at cloud level.  These two other summits  offer excellent mixed climbing routes at reasonable altitudes in this high-altitude mountain range.

We unroped for the scrambling section through penitente fields and 3rd class rock to the summit of Urus East.

The crew scrambling down 3rd class slabs after our summit of Urus East in the Ishinca Valley.

Basecamp in the Ishinca Valley was peaceful as we were the only climbers in the area in a valley that can see more than 60 climbers at a time during the peak season of June- August.  Our strategy of climbing in the ‘off-season’ paid off as we experienced only minimal moisture during the majority of our trip and the few afternoon ‘spring storms’ were benign and did not affect any of our climbing plans for our first three climbing objectives:  East Urus, Tocllaraju, and Pisco.

Joaquin Vargas; high-altitude porter of more than 35 years ( 118 times on Huascaran- 22,204′) and our cook and support crew for the entire trip.  Here he makes pancakes on one of our rest days in basecamp in the Ishinca Valley.  I have worked with Joaquin for more than 11 years and he is one of the best of the best at his work and a delightful person to spend time with in the high mountains.

The crew taking a break in the early morning hours on Tocllaraju with the massive Nevado Copa  (20,302′) in the distance.

A close-up of a large crevasse on Tocllaraju that we skirted around on our summit attempt.

On our rest day, we hiked the 10 minutes above camp to climb on the excellent bolted rock route on this granite crag of about 45m in height.  The one established route on this cliff is a mostly crack route in the 10+ range that we top-roped laps on for a few hours of ‘rest’.

Ranrapalca (20,216) sits on the south side of the Ishinca Valley and contains some of the harder routes in this climber-friendly ‘Quebrada’ of the Cordillera Blanca.

Another view of Tocllaraju from the crag that we did roped climbing on during our rest day.

Lawrence and Mike at 2am, getting ready for an ascent of Tocllaraju from our high camp at approx. 16,100′ below the glacier on this steep sided peak.

images-stories-PERU09-img_0001_23 The porter that we hired to help bring our camping and extra climbing gear down from our high camp with about about 90# in his customized  aluminum framed carrier.

Hiking out of the Ishinca Valley after a week in alpine paradise.

Eli checking out the moves on another unclimbed boulder problem in the Ishinca Valley whilst on the hike out.

Our burro train managed by a licensed Arriero on the hike-out of the Ishinca Valley.

The Arriero’s pack their burros for the hike out of the Ishinca Valley.

Another view of the dramatic
Hatun Ulloc spire.

We transferred our duffel bags from burro to comfortable mini-van for the one hour drive back to Huaraz where we had a couple of nights in town before heading back to the peaks.

Our final week in the Cordillera Blanca was in the Llanganuco Valley, pictured here looking down valley to the west with the Orgoncocha Lake in the foreground.

The first climbing group we encountered in the peaks- a Peruvian guided group of climbers  from Scotland and Belgium skirt a gaping crevasse on the way to the summit ridge of Pisco.

A sunrise view of the striking south face of Artesonraju (19,767′) which Eli successfully guided in 1996 and to the left, the sunlit summit of Alpamayo (19,511′) – one of the most coveted peaks in the world.

The twin summited south face of Chacraraju (20,052′) in the evening light.

Two of the most impressive alpine faces in South America (L-R):  The Northeast face of South Huascaran (22,205′) and the Northeast face of North Huascaran (21,830′) as seen from the Chopicalqui (20,846′)  bascamp.

Our support team of Joaquin and Daniel at basecamp in the Llanganuco Valley.

High camp for Pisco situated just below the glacier at 16,240′.

Our kitchen cave at high camp on Pisco.

Our companions on Pisco descending from the summit as the afternoon clouds move in over the mountain.

Eli finds another unclimbed boulder problem (V4) above the Pisco Hut at approx.  15,420′ with a cairn start and two jackets for padding.

The  northeast face of the south summit of Huandoy (20,210′) showing fresh slab avalanche fractures on this steep, unsupported slope.

Eli Helmuth of ClimbingLife Guides is returning to the Cordillera Blanca of Peru in September of 2010 for a two week climbing trip that will include mountain climbs in the Ishinca and Llanganuco Valleys.
Peru requires that all guides be IFMGA licensed and Eli is one of the few spanish speaking and Peru experienced U.S. based IFMGA guides that specializes in climbing trips in the Andes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina (including Patagonia).

Please call with questions or to book your next backcountry skiing, mountaineering, or rock climbing trip:

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