Andean Adventure, the Cordillera Blanca - Huaraz Edition

TSA Founder, Oliver Browne spent 2 weeks in Peru this July, hiking and climbing in the Cordillera Blanca and soaking up the atmosphere in Huaraz.  Here he describes his trip and what it’s like to climb in Peru. 


Peru is a country on a lot of peoples lists. What made you go this July?

Well I put love South America. I used to spend a lot of time in Argentina in my 20’s. More recently I lived in Quito during the pandemic. When I was there I made friends with a talented Czech climber, Tomas Samicec. We climbed some 5 thousanders together and stayed in touch. We have been talking about climbing in Peru since then! 

How did you get there?

From London I took an Iberia flight to Madrid and then on to London. Something to think about on all climbing expeditions; if you are connecting through a hub like Madrid do not go for the shortest flying / connection time! I only had 1 hour to make the flight to Lima - I made it but my bag didn’t! I had to rent kit for the first few days which was inconvenient. 

Ah that’s annoying! Arriving in Lima what did you do?

The flight landed at 6pm in the evening, but because I only had 2 weeks I took a taxi straight to the bus station and caught an overnight bus to Huaraz. I used Movil. The ticket was about $30 USD and left at 10pm. The bus was very comfy with a fully reclining seat. We pulled into Huaraz at 6.30am. 

For the initiated, just explain a little about Huaraz? Where it is and what is it like?

Huaraz is the main town in the Cordillera Blanca and the access point to the highest mountains there. It’s located at an altitude of about 3000m is home to about 80,000 people. The main industries there are tourism and mining. 

The town has a great spirit. Very South American and very bohemian. I loved it! My gf asked me what it’s like?  I said, “it’s like if Queenstown, NZ and Chamonix, France and a South American love child. Climbers from all over the world mass there in June, July and August to tackle the dozens of mountains and hundreds of routes in the area. 

It sounds amazing! Where did you stay and hang out?

I stayed at a small 3.5* hotel called El Tumi, close to the centre. It was fine for me but there are a few better options opening; Lazy Dog and Olasses are two that were mentioned to me by climbing friends.

My favourite place to hang out was Cafe Andino. Great food and great coffees. On the days I wasn’t climbing, I went there all day to work. It’s a great place!

There’s lots of good restaurants. Trivio is popular with climbers but the one I liked the most was El Fogon. I don’t eat much meat but for some reason I really craved it there and found this place where they do the parilla or bbq. For less than $20 they give you a huge BBQ supper!

You met Tomas there. What did you two do when you arrived?

Well I d only had 2 weeks off since my Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya ascents so was pretty acclimatised when I arrived. Tomas went ahead of me and joined a small group. He warmed up on Mateo and then Huarapasca. 

After I arrived I had a night to rest and then next the morning we set off for Vallunaraju 5700m. The mountain is very close to Huaraz and you can see the summit from the town plaza. We took a taxi to the start point which took about an hour and cost $50. 

The climb was amazing. On the first day we hiked to the high camp which took about 4 or 5 hours. I was going VERY slowly - I was totally gassed! We got to the high camp and pitched our tent. There were a few other groups including a very nice Swiss Ecuadorean guide Benno and his clients. He pointed us to the start of the route. Luckily I acclimatised well during the evening and early hours. We woke up at 2am and set off for the summit at about 2.45. The route was well marked with cairns and once we got got the crampon point we just followed the tracks of some other climbers. I think it took about 5 hours to get to the summit. The views as the sun rose were out of this world! 

Is Vallunaraju technical?

It’s not super technical. In the gear rental shops they describe it almost like a hike! But there is some crevasse risk, snow bridges etc and some points of very high consequence. Tomas and I were confident tackling it by ourselves but I would recommend taking a guide (or joining our expedition!).

Speaking of guides, who is available in Huaraz?

I am sure there are some very good Peruvian guides, but I don’t know any there yet. We met guides from Colombia and Venezuela on this trip. One of the guides that works for me in Ecuador, Alejo Lazzati was there working and also Roberto Morales. Roberto is one of Ecuadors best guides and a super nice guy. He will be working for us this January. Lots of IFMGA guiding options definitely. Benno impressed me also. 

After Vallunaraju what did you do?

Luckily the day we got back my bag arrived with all my stuff. For Vallunaraju I d been in rental kit and some things of Thomas. 

Our plan had been to attempt Alpamayo but we heard some mixed reports about conditions there, in particular two large seracs overhanging the main route so decided to switch to Chopicalqui 6450m. Huarascan, the highest mountain in Peru was off limits; a snow bridge had collapsed earlier in the season, tragically killing a guide. 

Tell us about Chopicalqui?

Chopicalqui is known to be one of the more straight forward 6000’ers in the Cordilera Blanca, but for context it’s not like climbing Mera Peak, Lobuche or even Chimborazo. There is no infrastructure and very few people on the mountain. Some porters and Basecamp services are available but Tomas and I decided to climb unsupported. 

First of all we had a 3.5 hr North from Huaraz to the start point, inside the Huarascan National Park. The drive takes you past the incredible Laguna - with stopping for a photo. Our driver charged 350 Soles, c. 100 USD each way..

From the drop off point we had a 6 hour trek to the high camp. The route was really beautiful and right under Huarascan. Wear a long sleeve top and take insect repellent as the flies can be really bad although it might have been due to the unseasonably hot weather.. The trek to the Moraine Camp was tough; Tomas and I each had a 25kg pack with everything we needed for the 4 day exped - which was manageable for me at 90kg but harder on him at 60kg!  

Drinking water in Peru can be an issue. You need to work on having enough! At the Moraine Camp it’s a 25 minute round trip to collect water which you then need to boil. 

The next day we climbed to the high camp. I think this took 4.5 hrs with the first 30 mins over Rock before we arrived at the crampon point and the start of the glacier. Three other climbers (from Colombia) were on the mountain also and the route was fairly obvious. It was moderately technical with lots of crevasse and some steeper sections over ice. We arrived at the camp around 3pm and begun melting water to drink!

We planned to leave the high camp at 2am to begin the summit push but unfortunately Tomas had become unwell with a stomach issue during the night. We started the summit push but after an hour or so he decided to call it a day. We went back to the high camp and slept for a few hours before heading back to the Moraine Camp. We thought about calling our driver on the satellite phone and trying to change the pick up date but in the end we left it as it was. We hiked out the next morning and took the driver for lunch at a spot he recommended. We all had cuy - guinnea pig we call it in the UK. It was deep fried and not really my thing but António our driver loved it! It was disappointing not the summit Chopicalqui but the mini expedition was amazing and I want to return and get it! Such a beautiful place..

What other climbs did you attempt?

Tomas had to head back a few days before me so we only had time for one more climb. We went for Huarapasca which is a local classic. Unfortunately when we got there Tomas and I were both feeling off. We climbed to the crampon part where there is a short climb to a 75 ice climb but a combination of unstable conditions and not feeling strong meant we left it and descended. Still I was glad to visit Huaraz and have my eyes on some targets there now!

What else would you like to climb there?

Definitely Alpamayo, Chopilaqui and Huarscan. I ve also heard great things about Ishinca, Urus and Pisco. 

The variety in this mountain range is unreal.. 

What time of year is the climbing season there?

June, July and August

Did you make it to Lima?

Yes, I had a night in Lima on the way back. I stayed in the “historic centre” which is close to the airport but it’s better to stay in San Isidro or Miraflores.

Are you planning a trip there for True Summmit Adventures?

100%!! We will have the very beautiful Huayhuash trek trip and an alpine climbing trip. Most likely in July 2024. Keep an eye on the website or email me for more information.