Hiking the Alpine Circuit in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru. In the background are (L to R) Rasac, Yerupaja, Siula Grande, and Sarapo. Credit: Jeremy Frimer,  Shot on 2014-01-11 Photo taken in Chiquian, Ancash, Peru.(c) Jeremy Frimer, licensed under: CC BY-SA 3.0.
Hiking the Alpine Circuit in the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru. In the background are (L to R) Rasac, Yerupaja, Siula Grande, and Sarapo. Credit: Jeremy Frimer, Shot on 2014-01-11 Photo taken in Chiquian, Ancash, Peru.(c) Jeremy Frimer, licensed under: CC BY-SA 3.0.

General

Cordillera Huayhuash, located just 40 km south, resembles the mountains of Cordillera Blanca, although the peaks of Huayhuash are generally lower but technically more difficult. Cordillera Huayhuash is also less accessible. Depending on how you count the peaks, there are around half a dozen 6000m peaks, the highest being Yerupajá (6634m). Climber is usually difficult and serious due to the frequency of avalanches of snow and ice. Besides Yerupajá, Siula Grande (6344m) and Jirishanca (6094m) are the best known climbs.

The range is very compact, it is just 35km from north to south. Cordillera Huayhuash consists of two chains, the main chain running from north to south and smaller chain branching of from the N-S chain to the west and joining to N-S just south of Yerupajá. All the 6000m peaks except for Rasac are located on main chain forming continental watershed.

Image file: ../resources/images/cordillera-huayhuash.svg
Map of Cordillera Huayhyash. Credit: Ari Paulin, Shot on 2011-09-07 Photo taken in Peru.(c) (c) 2011 Ari Paulin.
Cordillera Huayhuash
Mountains

Logistics

Most common approach to Cordillera Huayhuash is from Northwest of the range. This approach is used by virtually all parties arriving from Huaraz, which is usual as most parties use more accessible Cordillera Blanca for acclimatization and Huaraz for organizing food etc. Approach used to take normally at least 2-3 days from Chiquian (3400m), the nearest convenient center located to the NW side of the range. During the recent years the mining activity has opened access further to Llamac (3300m), a village closer to the Huayhuash and further to Matacancha. This makes it possible to access Jahuacocha BC in a day from Huaraz.

Few southern peaks can be more rapidly accessed from Cajatambo (3375m) in southwest (direct buses from Lima).

Nearest major airport is Lima (Jorge Chavez), from where it is 8h bus trip to Huaraz (3091m), located in a valley Callejón de Muaylos, the mecca of Andinism. There is regular bus service both between Lima and Huaraz and Huaraz and Chiquian, usually taking between 7 and 10 hours. Recently there are daily flights from Lima organized by LCPeru. Apparently the plane is relatively small and there are restriction on baggage allowance, which will make flying problematic for parties arriving with full-on climbing gear. The parties going to Cajatambo are best served by taking a bus from Lima.

Convenient centers:

  • Lima-12.043333-77.028333Capitol city of Peru with international airport.
  • Huaraz-9.533333-77.5333333091Major city in Ancash state in northern Peru. Located very close to Cordillera Blanca and considered the mecca of Andinism. Most parties going to Huayhuash come to Huaraz first, then continue to various starting points. Recently there are daily flights from Lima. Alternative is to use one of the many bus services.
    Connections:
    • from Lima, Peru - Huaraz, Peru (map). 7-8h.
    • from Lima, Peru - Huaraz, Peru (map). 2h.
  • Chiquian-10.151-77.1563400Nearest larger city and traditional starting point of Huayhuash circuit trek and approaches to base camps. Regular bus service from Huaraz
    Connections:
    • from Huaraz, Peru - Chiquian, Peru (map). 4h.
    • from Lima, Peru - Chiquian, Peru (map).

Road ends:

  • Llamac-10.2-77.03333333300For Jahuacocha, Mitucocha, Carhuacocha and Sarapococha. Located closer to mountains and is usually used as a starting point after the opening of the road from Chiquian. Collectivos from Chiquian. Possible to camp by football field against small fee.
    Connections:
    • from Huaraz, Peru - Chiquian, Peru - Llamac, Peru (map). 6h.
  • MatacanchaFor Mitucocha, Carhuacocha.
    Connections:
    • from Huaraz, Peru - Chiquian, Peru - Llamac, Peru - Matacancha, Peru (map).
  • Queropalca3831For Mitucocha, Carhuacocha
    Connections:
    • from Huaraz, Peru - Chiquian, Peru - Huallaca, Peru - La Union, Peru - Queropalca, Peru (map). 10h.
  • Cajatambo-10.483333-77.0333333375For Sarapococha, laguna Viconga
    Connections:
    • from Huaraz, Peru - Pativilca, Peru - Cajatambo, Peru (map). 4h to Pativilca, 8h to Cajatambo.
    • from Lima, Peru - Pativilca, Peru - Cajatambo, Peru (map). 9h to Cajatambo.
  • Oyan3200For laguna Viconga, Carhuacocha.
    Connections:
    • from Lima, Peru - Sayan, Peru - Churin, Peru - Oyan, Peru (map).

Climbing info

General

Most of the climbing in Huayhuash is on ice, snow or mixed ground, with notable exception on rockier Puscanturpa group. Faces are usually very steep and ridges often feature scary big cornices, sometimes on both sides. Cornicing is particularly noteworthy on western aspects of the massif.

Depending on how you count the peaks, there are around half a dozen 6000m peaks, the highest being Yerupajá (6634m). None on the 6000m peaks have a proper normal route. Rasac is generally considered the easiest with easiest routes around D (it is also probably the most climbed big peak). Therefore Huayhuash might not to be the best place for those looking to climb big mountains with low to moderate technical difficulties. On the other hand, if big technical routes on big peaks in a wild area with stunning views is on top of your list, Huayhuash is just the place. Numerous routes ranging from D to ED4 lead to summits of Huayhuash with Yerupajá, Siula Grande (6344m) and Jirishanca (6094m) being the best known climbs. Of slightly lower peaks, particularly Trapecio, Rondoy, Ninashanca and Tsacras are probably most commonly climbed. Some of the obvious lines are still waiting for their first ascent, including obvious SE Ridge of Yerupajá, which was the first route attempted in the range.

There are some easier climbs as well though, particularly in the western side branch of the massif. Probably the most climbed peak in Huayhuash is Diablo Mudo (5223m), which is often bagged along the circuit trek. Other easy objectives include Cerro Gran Vista, which is climbed along more challenging alpine circuit and Cerro Mexico close to Jahuacocha. Generally though, Huayhuash doesn't offer many non-technical climbs and therefore acclimatizations climbs are not plentiful. Because of that and the high altitude of base camps, many parties choose to acclimatize elsewhere, usually in Cordillera Blanca, and come to Huayhuash already acclimatized.

Circuit trek around Cordillera Huayhuash is well known and considered one of the best in the world. There are two main variations to Huayhuash circuit trek:

  • Traditionally the length from Chiquian to Chiquian has been ~170 km (12 days), but nowadays the route is a bit shorter if mining roads are used. This is referred to as valley circuit in Frimer's guidebook.
  • Shorter but much more challenging alpine circuit, which goes closer to big peaks particularly on the west side, crosses several high passes and glaciers and goes partially off the beaten path.

Weather and conditions

Climbing season lasts from May to Semptember with June and July typically considered best months for climbing. The area has typically heavy rains from December to March and a markedly dry season from May to October. During this period the weather cycle is very stable with several days of good weather followed by one or two of bad. Within this period, sunny days may have temperatures of 25°C. There will normally be overnight frost anywhere above around 4500m. Temperatures are quite reasonable compared to many to many other areas with comparable altitude; something like -15 °C is about as cold as should be expected at 6000m during the night. Snow line is around 5000m. Rain comes almost always from East, therefore east faces are snowier than west sides.

Eastern side has worse weather, but western side has more cornicing. Corniced ridges are somewhat of a speciality of Peruvian Cordilleras. They can make ridge traversing a highly precarious proposition indeed. Cornices are also the reason why it is customary to end the climb when achieving summit ridge without going to true summit.

Be wary of route descriptions. Many of the routes have changes a lot during the years which may have completely altered the nature of the route. Perhaps most common effect of this is that what was once a straight forward snow/ice climb may have become more of a mixed proposition, perhaps also a bowling alley of falling rock and seracs. On the other hand, warmer temperatures may have turned once severely threatened routes into rather safe objectives if they have resulted in cornices and seracs to fall off or if freeze-thaw cycle has ceased and rocks that were held on the mountain by freezing have already dropped off. Casa de Guias in Huaraz has some information about the current conditions.

Commercial services

There are several companies offering their services for climbers, trekkers and mountain bikers. Most of them offer service packages to cover either one or more climbs as a package deal including travel, food, guides; the works. Many of them are also willing to offer tailored packages for climbers searching for range of services to fit to individual needs and interests (such as just needing a lift and base camp services but who want to climb independently in alpine style). Using them to organize the required services is still probably a good idea even if you want to tailor a package. The companies can typically organize lifts, burros, arrieros etc. at a more affordable price than you could yourself. This is also way more reliable if your Spanish is not up to fluent. Part of the cook's pay can typically be disregarded because they can usually get the food more affordably than you could yourself. Cooks are also handy to have in the camp to look over your stuff when you are in the mountains.

If you want to do the organizing yourself, Casa de Guias in Huaraz is a good starting point. Arrieros and burros can also be organized in some of the more popular starting points (Cashapampa). Generally mules are used to transport gear to the base camp, porters being used mainly only if mules cannot be used. In more popular areas arrieros have arranged sort of a union so that they have fixed prices and amount of days.

Expect to pay:

  • $35/day for a cook (2012)
  • $10/day per arriero (2001)
  • $5/day per mule (2001)
  • $25/day for a porter (2002)
  • $100-several hundred $/day for a guide depending heavily on the difficulty of thew climb.

Note that the customers needs to provide porters, cook and arrieros with food and shelter.

Grading

Most commonly used grading system is French adjectival system (IFAS). However, due to popularity of the area among Americans NCCS system is also sometimes used. Ice pitches are most commonly graded with steepness, however very steep routes are often graded with WI grade or sometimes Scottish grade. Rock pithes are most often graded with uiaa rock grade. However, depending on whichever system the first ascent party was most familiar with, yds or french rock grades may be used instead. Rock grade is accompanied with standard aid climbing grade whenever applicable.

Take all gradings with healthy portion of grain of salt. In case of Huayhuash, 'healthy' can probably not be overemphasized. There appear to be significant grade variation between different sources (as large as one source saying D, another ED, which means that we are talking about a whole different level of a ballgame). Many less popular routes have seen only few ascents, often long time ago, during which time conditions may have changed a lot. Usually making the routes more difficult, but opposite examples may very well exist as well.

References

Generally there are only few sources available. Guidebook by Jeremy Frimer (2005) is the best and most current source available in English. Definitive spanish language guidebook also exists (by Juanjo Tomé). Other than that, not too much information exists in book format. However, most significant ascents have been documented in alpine club journals, particularly in American Alpine Journal (AAJ). Web searches don't usually turn up with a lot of climbing information, save from reports of new routes on web pages of climbing magazines.

Cross-referencing the sources can be troublesome as discrepancies between different maps and books both in names and heights can be considerable.

  • Biggar, John: The Andes, 2nd edition. Isbn: 9780953608706. Andes, 1999.
  • Biggar, John: Biggar 2005 - A Guide for Climbers, 3Rev Ed edition. Isbn: 9780953608727. Andes, 2005.
  • Frimer, Jeremy: Climbs & treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash. Isbn: 0973303557. Elaho, 2005.
  • Kielkowski, Jan: Cordillera Huayhuash Vol. 3. Isbn: KIELKOWSKIHUAYHUASH. Explo Publishers, 1991.
  • Harper, Kate; Pitkethly, Val & Saunders, Victor: Trekking and Climbing in the Andes. Isbn: 9781859743911. New Holland Publishers Ltd, 2002.
  • Radehose, Eckehard: Traumberge Amerikas. Von Alaska bis Feuerland.. Isbn: 9783763330065. Bergverlag Rudolf Rother, 2002.
  • Neate, Jill: Mountaineering in the Andes. Isbn: 9780907649649. Hyperion Books, 1993.
  • Kiendler, Hermann: Bergführer Anden - Vom Chimborazo zum Marmolejo - Bergführer Anden: Vom Chimborazo zum Marmolejo, 1st edition. Isbn: 9783936740363. Panico Alpinverlag, 2007.
  • Tomé, Juanjo: Guía de las Cordilleras Huayhuash y Huallanca - Escaladas y trekking en los Andes. Isbn: 9789972331121. Autoedición, 2004.
  • Alpenvereinskarte: 0/3c Cordillera Huayhuash (Perú). 9783937530079. OeAV, 2006. 1:50.000. The map was created by Gerhart Moser and published in 2008. The contour lines with an equidistance of 25m come from the “Instituto Geografico Nacional” (Lima, Perú). In order to achieve an up-to-date visualization of glacier surfaces, Moser used ASTER satellite imagery of the years 2003 and 2004. The Huaraz(Perù)-based geographer Alcides Ames was responsible for geographical names. All field work necessary for collecting the path network was conducted by Gerhart Moser and his wife Annemarie on a 3-week field trip. The map impresses with its clear appearance and its fine cartographic art, which reveal the details of the terrain. The rock drawings by Moser show the characteristics of the steep territory. Hill-shading highlights the plasticity of the map.
  • Map of the Month 1/2011: Cordillera Huayhuash, Alpenvereinskarte. The ICA is happy to feature the 12th Map of the Month: “Cordillera Huayhuash (Perú), Alpenvereinskarte” At the 24th International Cartography Conference in Santiago, Chile, the map won the first jury’s prize in the category “Topographic Maps”. They have the full Cordillera Huayhuash DAV 2002 1:50.000 0754906302 available as zoomable map. At International Cartographic Association.
  • Cordeillera Huayhuash overview mnap. At Andes website.
  • Circuito Cordillera del Huayhuash
  • Cordillera del Huayhuash
  • Cordeillera Huayhuash y Raura
  • Flash map. At Huayhuash.com.
Credit: Paulo Tomaz,  Shot on 2011-08-12 Photo taken in Ancash, Peru.(c) Paulo Tomaz, licensed under: CC BY-SA 2.0.
Credit: Paulo Tomaz, Shot on 2011-08-12 Photo taken in Ancash, Peru.(c) Paulo Tomaz, licensed under: CC BY-SA 2.0.

Valleys

NW BC's

NW side of Cordillera Huayhuash is the best bet for shorter trips as it is the most readily accessible area (1 day from Huaraz to BC). There are routes ranging from F to high ED's with particularly high concentration of routes graded D-TD. Classics include Cassin route on Jirishanca and SW Ridge of Yerupaja. Most commonly climbed peaks are the easier ones, Rasac and Diablo Mudo.

Most climbs in NW part of Huayhuash can be climbed from a base camp laguna Jahuacocha (4066m), often with one high camp close to climbs. Jahuacoccha is accessed by taking a bus to Chiquan, then a collectivo to Llamac (3300m, 2-3h) and trekking from there (13km, 780m).

  • Jahuacocha BC-10.23594-76.965624066Main base camp in NW side, located on the western end of laguna Jahuacocha.
    Connections:
    • from Llamac: Trekking along circuit trail. Possible to get from Huaraz to BC in one day if everything runs smoothly, otherwise stay at Llamac football field (small fee). 950m, 15 km, 5h.
    • to Mitucocha: Along circuit trek via Sambya Pass to Janca.
    • to Carhuacocha: Along circuit trek. ~2,5 days.
    • to Sarapococha: long circuit trek in reverse direction. ~2 days.

Sambuya Pass

Sambuya Pass (4750m), located NE of BC, is easily reached from the BC along circuit trek path. Roughly 700m ascent along trekking path, 2h? Possible to continue further down to Quebrada Rondoy.

  • Frimer pp.96

    Yerupajá West glacier

    Due East of BC. Seria Norte apart, all routes are at least moderately technical, many very much so. Crevasses can make approaching through the glacier very challenging. There are two main camp sites, one in Ghost Col and one on Yerupajá West glacier.

    • Frimer pp.96-7

      Rasac valley

      The valley branches off towards south 1km to the east end of Jahuacocha. There's a path in the lower valley. In the upper valley Rasac glacier can be gained either directly from Barracacocha or by traversing from Rasac Pass.

      It is possible to cross Rasac Pass to gain Seria glacier (and Rasac South Face).

      • Frimer pp.97

        Huacrish valley

        Side valley branching off 0,5km to the west from the western end of Jahuacocha. Huacrish lake (4936m) is found in the upper valley (600m, 6km, 3-5h from Jahuacocha BC). The valley gives access to easiest climbs on the NW side.

        Objectives from this valley are both low and non-technical on Huayhuash standards, so this valley could be a good place to start from parties coming to Huayhuash having not acclimatized to higher elevations elsewhere.

        • Frimer pp.97

          Eastern BC's

          Rockier and less climbed side. Nearly all routes are graded AD or harder. Generally the routes are not threatened by cornices but the weather tends to be the worst in Cordillera Huayhuash.

          Main camp on the East side is Carhuacocha. However, some of the climbs are quite a way away, so satellite camp may be a good idea. Laguna Carhuacocha located in northeastern side of the chain can be reached from Llamac by taking a truck from Llamac along the mining road to Matacancha at the base of Cancanampunta pass and hiking the rest. Alternative access is a bus from from Chiquian to La Union and collectivo to Queropalca (few hours hike from there).

          • Mitucocha BC4230If accessing NE climbs, it may be a good idea to place base camp by Mitococha.
            Connections:
            • from Llamac: Along the circuit trek. 2,5 days.
            • from Huaraz: Huaraz - Huallanca - Querterhuain (4170m) - Cacanampata (4690m) - Mitucocha. 1 day drive, 1 day trekking.
            • from Queropalca: Queropalca - Mitucocha. 1 day trekking.
            • from Carchuacocha: Along the circuit trek to Janka. 3h.
          • Carhuacocha BC4138Main base camp in East side. Many climbs start a full days trek away, so advanced BC in various side valleys depending on objective is often needed.
            Connections:
            • from Llamac: Along the circuit trek. 2,5 days.
            • from Queropalca: Hike. 12km, 1 day..
            • from Oyan: Oyan - Viconga lake - Carchuacocha.
            • to Mitococha: Along the circuit trek in reverse direction to Janka. 3h.
            • to Chaclan lake: At 4487m. No trail, multiple carries are usually necessary. 1-1,5h.
            • to Siula lake: At 4290m. 2h.
            • to Suerococha: At 4572m. 5h.
            • to Huayhuash valley: At 4550m. 6h.
            • to Trapecio lake: At 4700m. 7h.

          Mitococha

          Campsite in the NE part of Huayhuash.

          Janca - Mitococha (4320m) - Ninacocha (4450m), half a day from Carhuacocha BC.

          Appears to have selection of objectives ranging from moderate (AD-) to ED2.

          • Frimer A5

            Chaclan lake

            Camp on Chaclan lake needs to be stocked by multiple carries (1-1,5h from Carhuacocha BC). Located at the foot of fearsome Jirishanca South Face. Frimer advices to bring spare underwear. extremely difficult climbs on Jirishanca, somewhat easier on Jirishanca Chico and Yerupajá Chico.

            • Frimer A6,A7,A8,A9

              Carhuacocha BC

              Main base camp on eastern side. All available routes are technical and big. That being said, probably the currently the easiest routes on Yerupajá and Siula Grande are climbed from this camp.

              • Frimer A10,A11,A12

                Siulacocha

                Siulacocha, Quesillococha

                • Frimer A13

                  Suerococha

                  Access to lower and less known peaks with more moderate difficulties. Possibly good place for acclimatization if based on eastern side of Cordillera Huayhuash.

                  • Frimer pp.97

                    Huayhuash valley

                      SW Basecamps

                      Quality ice and mixed climbs. There are several moderate routes. The undeniable classic is "Touching the Void" on the West Face of Siula Grande. Other than that, big routes are found on Yerupajá, Rasac and Trapecio, while Tsacra peaks, Seria Norte and Sarapo have easier climbs.

                      • Sarapococha BC4360Main base camp in SW side
                        Connections:
                        • from Llamac: Along circuit trek in reverse direction. 2,5 days.
                        • from Cajatambo: Trek to Huallapa (3500m, 13km, 700m, 7h), then to Sarapococha (4350m, 15km, 5h). 2 days (13km, 700m, 7h + 15km, 5h).
                        • to Segya valley: Over Cerro Gran Vista.

                      Segya valley

                      Parallel valley located to west of Sarapococha valley. Easiest access from Sarapococha goes over Cerro Gran Vista (trekking) via Gran Vista-Roscio col to Caramarca lake (4600m). Also possible directly from Huyllapa (6h, 12km, 1300m).

                      Main goals are south and east aspects of Tsacras and South face of Rasac.

                        Sarapococha

                        Climbers BC in Sarapococha is located close to laguna Sarapococha, further up in the valley from trekkers campsite by Juraucocha. It is possible to access climbs in Segya valley by crossing over Cerro Gran Vista (along alpine circuit) or by crossing Seria Pass.

                          Juraucocha

                          Located SE of laguna Sarapococha.

                            Trapecio lake

                            Trapecio lake camp is located by the lake close to Punta Trapecio (5010), located SE of Trapecio below its prominent South Face. The camp is can be accessed either from Sarapococha and Juraucocha in West or from Barrosococha and Mitococha in East (close to Portachuelo de Huayhuash, 4780m). No trails exist. Main attraction from Trapecio lake is Trapecio South face. But only for elite climbers.

                            • Frimer pp.97

                              Puscanturpa Group

                              Separate Puscanturpa group located to the south of main Cordillera Huayhush, between Punta Trapecio (5010m) in north and Punta Cuyoc (4950m) in the south. There are around 10 peaks rising to the altitude of 5100-5700m. Climbing potential largely undiscovered except for the north side of Puscantupa Norte. Rock is of volcanic origin, causing the peaks to by generally sharp spires.

                              • Guanactapay BC4600Access to western aspects of the group.
                              • Laguna VicongaAccess to eastern aspects of the group.

                              Guanactapay

                                Laguna Viconga