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From Peak to Crag, Peru Offers Some of the Best Mountaineering Options in the World Today

The Andes is the longest mountain range on the planet, with some of the most diverse and accessible routes, peaks and terrain. And there’s no better Andes playground than in Peru

By Carla Bragagnini. 

Early Peruvians climbed the Andes to get as close as possible to what they believed were the mountain gods, for a zen-like activity of spiritual practice. When passing through high mountain passes ancient travellers would also leave rocks as offerings to the mountain gods, adding only one at a collective spot and resulting in piles called apachetas. This is still a tradition in Peru on the shoulders of highways, or at elevated passes like Patapamba, which sits at 4,910 metres on the way from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon and is filled with the gravity-defying formations.

While mountaineering has been practised for centuries in Peru, it didn’t take off recreationally until a German-Austrian expedition in the 1930s. Since then, Peru has been a go-to for vertically inclined thrillseekers, with alpine activities mostly in the north and south Andes and centering around Peru’s city-alpine capitals of Huaraz, Cusco and Arequipa. There’s lots of sport infrastructure in these areas, and overall just a multitude of options for any skill level — beginner, intermediate, experienced or challenging — with some operators providing courses/training as part of an excursion.

The north Andes around Huaraz in the Ancash region of Peru — the now-immensely popular Cordillera Blanca, as well as the Cordillera Huayhuash — have some of the best mountain options you could ask for on the planet, and are now a beacon for climbing and alpine adventure. The Cordillera Blanca (or White Range, for its ice- and snow-covered surfaces) boasts Huascaran — at 6,768 metres, it’s the highest peak and point in Peru — has about 30 peaks at over 6,000 metres and numerous over 5,000.

Other popular summits in the Blanca include beautiful Alpamayo (5,957m) and Pisco (5,752m) — the former described as for intermediate climbers, the latter for beginners. Ironically, the Blanca is popular as a mountaineering destination precisely because there are so many easy-to-moderate options.

In the south Andes around Cusco is the Cordillera Vilcanote (where the Andes touch the Amazon), which hosts famed Ausangate (6372m) for serious climbers. Also here is the Cordillera Vilcabamba, a 100-km range that’s home to the mighty Salkantay (6,271m), also for serious climbers (unless you’re trekking around it). There’s Nevado Ampay (5,235m) near the city of Abancay.

The Cordillera Vilcabamba is home to numerous peaks, including Salkantay.

Near Arequipa you can explore options on the area’s multiple volcanoes (some still active): El Misti (5,822m), Hualca Hualca (6,025m), Chachani (6,075m), Sabancaya (5,976m) and Ampato (6,288m), all of which makes for some death-defying ascents. Frozen sacrificial mummy remains were found in this area, evidence of the climbing abilities of ancient Peruvians. So, as always, climb for the thrill — but in Peru you never know what you might find upon its peaks.

As for rock climbing—believe it or not—one of the best places in Peru is the coastal region. Inland from Lima there are climbs in Canchacalla, Infiernillo, Yuracmayo, Escomarca. Within Lima itself, there are climbs in Las Vinas in the neighbourhood of La Molina. South of Lima, you can climb at Bikini, La Tiza and Pachacamac, and even further south in Paracas. The region specializes in scenic ascents at various difficulties, with overall stunning coastal views.

As I’ve mentioned, mountaineering in Peru is centered around Huaraz, Cusco and Arequipa. Near Huaraz, popular rock climbing spots today include Antacocha, Los Olivos and Inkawaqanqa. You’ll find steep cliffs at both Rocodromo Monterrey and Shallapa. In the central Andes, climbers head to the Huayllay National Sanctuary in Pasco (also popular for hiking). Massive rock formations dot the land in natural occurrences (formed by wind, water and glacier erosion) — resembling trees they’re known as rock forests and are great for climbing. Lots of rock climbing here!

In the north Andes about 20 kilometres from Cajamarca, it’s a rock climber’s dream: cliffs and formations perfect for scaling at Llacanora, Cumbemayo and Sangal Canyon. In Cusco, you can climb at Chacco Huayllasca-Pitumarca, near the sacred Inca site of Sacsayhuaman. In Puno, the area outside of Lake Titicaca is home to the Tinjani Canyon, which hosts a gigantic “forest” of volcanic rock and is ideal and popular for scaling. Arequipa boasts three climbing options: at Charcani-Cayma, Calambucos Gorge (on volcan El Misti), and Callalli at more than 3,800 metres.

The author with ice-pick. Rock and ice-climbing options are abundant in Peru even for the less experienced.

As for ice climbing, grab your ax and crampons and head back to Huaraz. A combination of mountaineering and ice climbing can get you to the summits of Mounts Alpamayo, Pisco, and (most challengingly) Huascaran. More of what’s often referred to as beginner-friendly ice is found on the Llaca Glacier.There’s not a lot of documented climbing in the Amazon Rainforest. But apparently, it’s possible to climb near Chachapoyas in northern Peru. Definitely worth investigating.

Unfortunately, since 2009, there are no more ice-climbing excursions to Pastoruri in Huascaran National Park, as the glacier is melting at an alarming rate. The lake it feeds, Lake Palcacocha, is in danger of overflowing and washing out nearby towns. Sadly, it’s not the only one—the glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca (which hosts almost three-fourths of the glaciers in the tropics) have shrunk almost 25 percent in the last four decades. Wow. Just, wow.

  • Carla Bragagnini is associate editor of infromtheoutpost.com PERU. All photos courtesy of PROMPERU.

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Larco Museum in Lima Peru _ D Sanborn #1