Will Someone Please Tell Us How To Get To Ampato?
This trip report is part of a climbing trip that we did at the end of 2007. The full report on that is called "Seven Summits – Arequipa, Peru", and can be found here.
I had asked a guide friend of mine from Lima about the driving directions to Ampato, he said that after turning off the main highway, it was hard to follow the route (they had done it at night, and only as passengers). He also said that the local guides here keep it a secret so it would be hard to get the information, but to check with Julver Castro, a friend of his whom I know, and he might help. I also have some connections with Miguel Zarate and one of his guides gave me a map. The route still wasn't too clear, so on Wednesday morning I called Julver and asked if he could give us more information. He readily agreed and invited us over to help us out. He showed us detailed photos of the climbing route and drew a road map with all the landmarks, especially for the turns, and even offered to help with any needed gear. In addition to being a really great guy, he is IFMGA certified and one of the best mountain guides in Arequipa, if you have need for one.
After a big lunch, we started for Ampato, which we were told was about a five-hour drive. It starts on the same road that goes to Colca Canyon, which is for the most part a good highway. They were doing road construction shortly before the turn off for Ampato, so we had a couple off-road detours. The road passes through a vicuña preserve, and we saw a number of them right near the road. We also stopped at an interpretive center, where the road crosses a high swampy plain. It had lots of interesting information about the area, including the plants, animals and the mountains, so it was an interesting and worthwhile stop. We soon came to our turn off, which we easily recognized due to Julver's good information. On the right side of the road there is a stop sign (PARE) above a sign for Patapampa and Ampl, and on the left side a small concrete building.
A Day Hike Or a Three Day Climb?
The road from there to Ampato is like many of the roads on the high plains here, just a path worn through use, meandering around the boulders, hills and gullies. It helped that we could see the snow capped summit of Ampato looming above us in the distance. However when the road turned and headed down into a small canyon, and seemed to be going away from the mountain, I began to get worried. I thought Julver said we crossed the canyon, but the road didn't do that. The other problem was that we could no longer see the mountain, and we continued to go down in elevation. There was no other option though, so we continued on the now very rocky road; (for this part I would recommend a 4x4) and finally the canyon opened up to a plain and we started climbing back up. I was very happy when we came to the cemetery Julver had drawn on the map, and relieved to again be able to see the mountain ahead of us. Soon after that we passed the refuge called Sallalli, which consisted of a few well constructed but run down stone buildings. A few minutes after this, we turned off of the "main" road at 16,400 feet and followed some jeep tracks straight towards the base of the mountain.
Ampato is usually advertised as a two or three day climb, with the driving to and from Arequipa usually done during the night. We arrived at the 16,540-foot base camp at 5:30 pm and quickly decided to again sleep as low as possible and attempt the summit as a day hike the following day. The jeep trail did continue up, so we planned to drive as far as possible in the morning and then start hiking. Smiley and I set up our tent in one of the nice sandy tent sites, but Nathan chose to sleep in the comfort of the van rather than the low tent he was using that didn't have room to sit up in. In the morning, in spite of having mixed kerosene in with the diesel fuel, the van wouldn't start. It seemed to be a combination of the cold (25º F.) and the altitude that caused the problem, either one alone and it would start, although it didn't like it.
Which Summit Should We Go To?
We started hiking up the trail at 6:35 am (as you can see, none of us liked alpine starts!), and in 10 minutes reached the end of the road about 150 feet above our camp site. Happy that we hadn't inconvenienced ourselves by not being able to drive higher, we found a faint trail and started up that. It was a cloudy morning but the steady climb soon warmed us up. We saw rock walled campsites at both 17,300 and 17,600 feet, but again we were the only ones on the mountain. In fact the only time we ever saw any other climbers was on Misti. We knew that we couldn't see the summit, and the shortest route was up the draw to the glacier, so that is the way we went, even though we soon lost any sign of a trail. At 9:40 we were at the base of the glacier at 19,400 feet, where we had to make a decision about the best way to proceed. The slope to the left of the glacier was steep and sandy, where it met the glacier was strewn with large rocks and boulders; and the glacier was covered in penitentes. Neither of them was very appealing, but we chose to put on crampons and go up the glacier.
It was a tiring climb, but at 11:40 we had reached the plateau on top of the glacier at about 20,000 feet. Off to the right was a high broad dome of a false summit that could be seen from the beginning. Ahead of us was the true summit plateau but there was no direct access to it. The best way appeared to be to climb the ridge to the left and then follow the ridge to the summit plateau, where the step up to the top was the shortest. Off to our left was another peak, which both Smiley and Nathan thought looked higher than what I said was the summit. After a short discussion and continued disagreement, I checked my cell phone and found out that I have service. I called Julver, who confirmed that the plateau in front of us was the summit, but for some reason Smiley and Nathan wouldn't believe it. They insisted on going to the peak on the left, while I started for what looked like a route to climb the ridge between there and the summit.
A Swamp At 20,000 Feet!
I reached the edge of the glacier about 2:00 and started down the sandy slope but soon moved over to the rocks due to the steep traverse. By the time they had caught up to me about an hour later, my toes were totally numb. Thankfully the sun had finally come out and the weather had warmed up some, but it didn't help my feet. Smiley made the ultimate sacrifice by warming my frozen feet on his stomach! Nathan had twisted his knee when he post holed in the deep snow on the summit ridge so he kept on descending as he was going slower. Smiley's feet were also wet and I offered to return the favor but he must have better circulation and his feet weren't as cold, so we headed on down. I was hoping the sun had warmed up the van enough that it would start and wanted to get down there before it started to get cold again. We made good time going down and were at the van at 4:35, (for a 10 hour total time). Would it start? After a quick prayer I gave it a try and it started. Thank you Lord! It had been a hard day for all of us, so we decided to go on down to the Refuge and sleep there, as it was lower. Then we would go to Chivay in the morning, to climb Nevado Mismi, which is the source of the Amazon River.
We hadn't seen anyone there when we passed by the Refuge the day before, but an old man responded to our honks and calls, and came to meet us. We were still sitting in the van, with a mangy looking dog right outside the door. He assured us the dog was friendly so we got out. We asked about staying there, which he said we could; and when I asked the price, he said it would be free. He offered us an empty room to sleep in, Nathan chose that, I slept in the van and Smiley set up the tent out in the pasture. Other than the dogs (there were two) wanting to share our food, it worked out well. I was taken by surprise later, when he came and asked for payment! It turned out he just wanted some bread so we gave him a one sole (30 cents) bag of bread and he was happy.
There are also two more mountains that can be accessed from the same base camp, the closest one is Sabancaya, an active volcano at 19,619 feet, the other one is Nevado Hualca Hualca, which at 19,780 feet is also over 6,000 meters. We were all pretty wiped out so decided not to climb either of them, but on the drive back to the highway the next day, Nathan and Smiley were talking about bagging a small peak, so as not to waste the whole day! They decided on Huarancante (17,716 feet) as it was right near the highway and looked like a quick climb. We weren't sure of the best approach, but finally found a long ridge heading in that direction, and parked along the road at 15,640 feet. I decided I better stay in the van and rest, and I was also a little concerned about it starting, as it was a cool day, so I started it every couple of hours. Smiley and Nathan took off at 11:05 and didn't get back until 6:05. It turned out they were a lot farther from the mountain than we had thought so it wasn't the quick and easy summit they were expecting.
We then drove into Chivay, the entrance to the Colca Canyon, and found out they were having a large festival. We got the only available room at the House of David and then checked with the High Mountain Rescue Police just a few doors away about the route to Mismi. They told us that there was a road that starts at the village of Tuti and goes up to the high plain, so we decided to take that route rather than to start hiking at Tuti.