Nevado Pisco, Urus & Ischinca Expedition
Peru 2004 extended over 17 days and included climbs of peaks in both the Llanganuco and Ischinca Valleys. For those unfamiliar with mountaineering in the Peruvian Andes, our destination was the famed Cordillera Blanca. The Cordillera provides climbs for experts and beginners alike, ranging from lower peaks in the 17,000-foot range to mountains reaching heights of over 22,000 feet. The Cordillera is also known for its fine climbing winters where the dry season includes extended periods of clear blue sky with only isolated periods of inclement weather.
We selected two peaks for our trip, one to provide an opportunity to acclimatize and practice glacier travel techniques and another for the challenge of climbing to almost 21,000 feet over a period of days and high camps. The first choice was Nevado Pisco, a 19,000-foot peak adjacent to the Huandoys and generally regarded as a good beginner peak for aspiring Andean mountaineers. Our second peak was the nearby Chopicalqui, a mountain connected at the shoulder to Huascaran, Peru’s highest summit. Climbing Chopi promised to be a challenge, necessitating a high snow camp and the use of porters to move supplies up the mountain.
However, even the best-laid plans can go awry and the vagaries of Mother Nature took control of our plan before we even arrived in country. The winter weather of Andean lore was absent this year, replaced by deep snows, cloudy skies, and brief periods of blue sky climbing weather. We’d had indications of such before we left but we were determined to press on, modifying the trip as required to climb something . . . somewhere . . . in the Cordillera Blanca.
A Necessary Change:
Our plan to climb Pisco was successful and even in the face of snowy mornings and the frequent roar of avalanches on Huandoy faces, we found good climbing conditions and the challenge of a route quite different from the advertised beginner break-in terrain. However, during our acclimatization period, our view of Chopi across the valley told another story, one of near constant clouds, continuing snow, and a summit rarely in the company of the sun.
The conditions necessitated a change of plan and rather than moving across the Llanganuco to the base of Chopi, we retreated to Huaraz and onto the Ischinca valley in pursuit of accessible peaks. The promise of a high summit on Chopi faded, replaced now by what we perceived would be trade route climbs on Ischinca and Urus . . . and maybe a shot at the 6000-meter Tocollarju. We ended up scoring the summits of both Ischinca and Urus but not Tocollarju, though other determined groups were able to make the slog to the challenging summit pyramid through what was reported to be near waist deep sno
But it wasn’t all climbing . . . If you are going to Peru, you might as well take in the sights and sounds of the city, the country and the night-time sky. We saw the sights of Lima including the Cathedral and Catacombs; we got a lesson in Peruvian construction techniques from a Huaraz building supply vendor and even experienced the culinary treat known to the locals as cuy. We all learned a bit of Spanish, found that kids will be kids, glimpsed the Southern Cross and took in the sights and sounds of a vibrant country, both fabulously rich and at times depressingly poor.
The End Result:
In the end, everyone scored at least two 18,000 foot summits. The peaks provided a full range of mountaineering experience, ranging from a high angle ice pitch on Pisco, classic glacier terrain on Ischinca, and the wonderful mixed rock and ice on Urus. The skills gained over the past two summers in Canada were polished and applied again . . . this time in a high altitude environment.
Additionally, as this was a true expedition, we required the support of local mule drivers, a cook, porters to facilitate the movement of the gear and supplies necessary to pitch camp in a high alpine valley and climb for seven or eight days. We pulled it off, with the help of both excellent local staff and a logistics provider second to none. And . . . we’ll go back and do it again.
The rest of the story . . .
The pages that follow detail our Cordillera Blanca climbing experience. You get a wide description of not only our climbs but also the conditions and experiences surrounding each, hence a mix of climbing, cultural tidbits, and even tourist venues. Given that this was our first home-built long-duration foreign climbing trip, we learned a great deal about finding information, using in country expertise, and managing the show once the ball started rolling. Now that we know a bit about expedition mechanics, I’ll toss out some details. There is a separate page describing the logistical nuts and bolts and yes . . . the cost of those nuts and bolts. But, lets be absolutely clear on one thing . . . things change; therefore in the end . . . you are on your own.
In closing, the Cordillera Blanca is all it is talked up to be. Go and climb . . . you will not be disappointed.