Feel on top of the world by climbing Peru’s highest peak

22 May, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The twin peaks of Huascaran Norte and Sur dominate the Cordillera Blanca, having given their name to the National Park from which they can be admired. However, rising above its Northern twin by 91m, Huascaran Sur is the peak to summit for all experienced mountaineers in the region. Towering at 6768m, Huascaran Sur is the highest mountain in Peru and the 4th highest on the whole American continent, offering an incredible challenge to anyone capable of tackling its difficult terrain.

Summiting the peak itself will take you around 7 or 8 days; but most expeditions will be around 20 days altogether as you will need to give time to your body for altitude acclimatization beforehand. Before reaching Huascaran's summit, it is recommended that you summit another 5,000m+ peak in the Cordillera. Common options are Pisco Mountain (5752m), Yanapaccha (5400m), Vallunaraju (5686m), or Chopicalqui (6354m), or a combination of a couple of them. Climbing some of these peaks will also take you through the Santa Cruz Valley, offering a great mix of trekking and climbing. Once you have acclimatized well, you are ready for the journey to Huascaran’s summit.

DAY 1. Drive from Huaraz to Musho for around an hour and a half, then hike through a forest of quenuales (the Peruvian national tree) to Huascaran Base Camp – located above the tree line at 4700m. On this first day, mules (burrios) will be carrying most of your climbing gear.

If you are going on your own, you can choose between taking a taxi or a bus from Huaraz to Musho. Both options will take you around 1.5h, but make sure to be careful with your gear if taking the bus.

DAY 2. From Base Camp, you will be hiking to Camp 1 – ascending from 4700m to 5300m. The hike will take you around 4 hours, and depending on the season, camp will be either on rock or on snow.

DAY 3. During what might be the most arduous day of the expedition, you will be crossing the steep and crevassed path of the Garganta icefall, the saddle linking Huascaran Norte and Sur. After a 4 to 5h long and demanding day, you will finally reach Camp 2. The snow and ice conditions in this part of the circuit change considerably with the seasons. If you have a guide, he will know what to expect; if you are climbing solo make sure to inform yourself beforehand. This path is the normal route, rated PD/AD, that guides will take you on.

An alternative route, called The Shield and rated D+, exists. It diverges from the normal route at around 5800m where the crossing to Garganta begins and will rejoin the normal route at around 6400m. In the last few years, conditions have not been optimal – so ask local guides about current conditions and do not take unnecessary risks.

DAY 4. With a start around 2am to ensure good visibility, this is the day you have been preparing for. While climbing up steep slopes up to 55°, remember that the views awaiting you at the top are worth every drop of sweat. Here it is, the summit. Take in the view and congratulate your team but also yourself – you’ve made it to the top of Peru! Still on a high from your achievement, you will climb back down to Camp 2 or Camp 1, depending on your guide.

DAY 5. You will be going back down to Base Camp. The length of the descent will depend on whether you stayed the night in Camp 2 or Camp 1.

DAY 6. From Base Camp, you will be going back to Musho and Huaraz, where you will be able to enjoy a nice meal and a comfortable bed for the night!

EXTRA DAYS. It is particularly important to schedule extra days on this expedition, to make sure that you are able to summit even in case of bad weather or extra acclimatization needed.

As mentioned, Huascaran is a technical climb and requires that you are conscious of the dangers on the path. The main difficulty of this journey will be the large and hidden crevasses that often block the road, especially on the route to and above Garganta. They cause the route to the top to change constantly, so be very careful and aware. Other dangers to keep in mind are unpredictable icefalls and avalanches, especially in the area shortly before Camp 2; and finally, be prepared for unforgiving weather with strong winds and temperatures dropping as low as -25°C at night. These are the reasons why hiring a guide is highly recommended, as he will be up to date on the climbing conditions and will make sure that your safety is ensured at all times.

Now that you have all the information to get you started, what are you waiting for? Get your gear packed-up and get ready to conquer the Cordillera Blanca.

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