An introduction to the Cordillera’s summits: the Pisco Climbing Expedition

23 June, 2020 | Reccy Guide

Whether you are looking to practice your limited mountaineering skills or to acclimatize for a coming big climb, the 360° views over the Cordillera from the top of Pisco mountain will mesmerize you. Novice mountaineers and experts alike will cross paths on this circuit that can be done on its own, added at the end of the Santa Cruz circuit trek, or used as acclimatization for a later climb of one of the 6000m+ peaks. While no technical experience will be required by tour companies and makes Nevado Pisco a great option for beginners, it is always a plus to be familiar with basic crampon and ice ax techniques and is very important to be in good physical condition.

Depending on the option you choose, the length of the whole trip will vary. The ascent and descent of Pisco mountain itself, however, will take you around 4 days altogether from Huaraz.

DAY 1. You will be driving from Huaraz to Cebollapampa, around 3h away, then climb your way up to Base Camp. Your gear will likely be carried by mules, so you will have all the energy to focus on the initially steep path – but also on the views of both Llanganuco lakes you will pass. The hike will take you between 1.5 and 3h depending on your physical condition.

If you are going on your own from Huaraz, first take a colectivo to the town of Yungay (1h) then another shuttle to the start of the Pisco Base Camp trail. Ask for the shuttle in Yungay and make sure to tell your driver where you are going: he should drop you off at a curve on the road called ‘Cebollapampa’ or ‘La Curva’, where your hike to BC will start from. From there, you can hire mules and could even camp overnight if you arrive late in the day. 

Cebollapampa sits at 3900m of altitude. If you are not yet acclimatized, a great option is to spend one or two days there and to make the most of it by going on day hikes to Laguna 69 or Portachuelo de Llanganuco. By taking the time to let your body acclimatize to the altitude, you will decrease significantly the risks of getting altitude sickness later on. 

DAY 2. You will be heading from Base Camp to Moraine Camp on a 1.5 to 3h hike. This part of the trail is on a rock glacier, so be prepared to be challenged. Moraine Camp sits at 4900m and is located next to the Moraine Lake, offering you great views after your short but tiring day hike.

DAY 3. You will be leaving as early as 3am to conquer the summit of Pisco mountain! You will be ascending with headlamps alongside a steep glacier and should make it to the summit around 7am with an – hopefully – incredible visibility over some of the highest peaks of the Cordillera. Reward yourself by taking in the views of Alpamayo, Artesonraju and Pirámide de Garcilaso to the North, Chacraraju to the east, and Huascaran to the South. After your exploit, you will be climbing back down to Base Camp and rest your legs for the remaining of the afternoon.

There exist several routes to the top of Pisco mountain. Most guides will take you along the Southwest Ridge route as it is the standard one and also the easiest, rated PD. All other routes require significant vertical ice climbing (between 350 and 500m depending on the route) and will only be suitable for very experienced climbers. The other options are: South Face route (rated D), Southeast Buttrest (TD), East Face (ED), and Northeast Ridge (TD). You can ask your guide about choosing one of these paths instead, and if you are climbing solo make sure to still ask local guides as they will be aware of current climbing conditions and potential risks.

DAY 4. On the last day, you will be hiking back to Cebollapampa the driving back to Huaraz, where you can toast to your achievement with a glass of Pisco, the Peruvian liqueur that the first climbers drank in celebration of their return and that gave its name to the mountain.

If you are looking to extend your time in the Cordillera Blanca, many more trails and peaks can be explored. Check out our articles about the many Cordillera Blanca circuit treks, or about Huascaran and Alpamayo climbing – and discover more of this hidden Peruvian region.

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