Climbing Ishinca and PiscoPeru 2006 Summary Report
(Written by Vlado Matuska December 14, 2006)
Mountain range visited:Cordillera Blanca, Ancash Region, Peru. Second highest mountain range in the world outside of greater Himalayas.
Dates: May 17 - June 17, 2006 (26 days) Kevin Alexander
May 19 - June 17, 2006 (24 days) Vlado Matuska
Peaks climbed: Ishinca 18,143 ft (5,530 m)
Pisco 19,024 ft (5,800m)
Currency: Soles, exch. rate $1 US = 3.3 Sol (as of May 2006)
Money: Major credit cards are accepted, but I would not depend on it, it is good idea however to have VISA or Master card as a backup. US dollars are widely accepted, bring 10, 20, 50 dollar bills with you (in good condition) and exchange them locally in “casa de cambio” for small bills of 10, 20 Soles and small coins of 1, 2, 5 Soles. Do not accept bills of 50 or 100 Soles, it seems that many people do not trust them and also they are very hard to use when taking colectivo, bus or taxi.
Safety: It felt safe in Huaraz, however Lima is different story and I did not feel comfortable there. Almost 9 million people live in the capital city, virtually 30% of entire Peruvian population. On my flight back to USA, lady sitting next to me described how thief in Lima smashed car window on the taxi she was taking while waiting for the green light at the intersection and grabbed her purse loosing her digital camera full of pictures from her trip to Machu Picchu and some other valuables. Fortunately, her passport and money were in different place.
Maps: The best map is Austrian Alpine Club map called “Alpenvereinskarte 0/3a & 0/3b Cordillera Blanca”, you can buy it on internet or directly in Huaraz for the same price of $15 per section. You may need 2 sections, depending on your climb locations, section 0/3a covers Cordillera Blanca North (Huascaran, Huandoy, Alpamayo region) and section 0/3b covers Cordillera Blanca South (Copa, Urus Ishinca, Toclaraju, Huantsan region). We end up taking digital pictures of a map areas of our interest and rather purchased beautifully illustrated climbing guide book “Classic Climbs of Cordillera Blanca” written by Brad Johnson “ for $30, same price as in USA. I highly recommend to buy this book.
Getting There: We both flew to Lima from USA, Kevin from Pittsburgh via Toronto with US Airways and Air Canada and Vlado from Seattle via Atlanta with Delta Airlines. Taxi fee from airport to hotel was $20 US. It is good idea to prearrange taxi with the hotel/hostel you are going to stay in, since almost all flights from Europe and Canada/USA arrive to Lima at midnight. This way you can avoid big crowds at airports when everybody is trying to get a taxi and make it safer as well. Thanks to Kevin’s frequent business travel, he accumulated enough points so I could enjoy a few free nights in Lima’s Holiday Inn located at Miraflores business district. Day after my arrival, on May 20th, we took a Movil Tours bus to city of Huaraz located 400 km north from Lima. Bus departure was at 1:00 PM afternoon, the ticket costs was 40 Soles ($13) per person, one way, the price included two movies and box lunch. Bus station is located across the National Soccer Stadium. Our tickets were prearranged by Ben Morales, owner of Benkawasi hostel where we stayed. It took approximately 8 hours to make it to the Huaraz, buses on both trips were very clean and comfortable, we can not complaint at all. Make sure that you purchase tickets for the 1st class direct bus connection to Huaraz, which stops on a few places only, otherwise your trip will take 9-10 hours. Our arrival time to Huaraz was around 9:00 PM, it was already dark, again it’s good idea to have somebody in Huaraz to pick you up.
Mail: Post office is located also on main Avenida Luzuriaga, mail stamps are quite expensive, sending one postcard to USA or Europe was 6 soles ($2).
Day light: 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM, only 12 hours every day, it gets dark very fast after 6:PM, somehow I did not expect it, so bring enough books to read.
Hostels in Huaraz: As mentioned above, we stayed in Benkawasi Hostal located at Parque Santa Rosa, #928, four blocks from the main square. To make a reservation, email your request to Ben Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his web site at www.grupoandesextremo.com you can also call hostel at +51(043) 423150. We enjoyed our stay in this hostel, Ben and his staff are very nice people, trustworthy and they were always able to accommodate us despite our unpredictable schedule. We liked our discussions with Mr. Morales senior (Ben’s father) regarding 1970 earthquake and his personal survival story. He was only 15 minutes away from being another earthquake victim in the city of Jungay, but his insisted travel to Huaraz that morning saved him.
The hostel rate was 5 $ US per night per person for double bed room with private bathroom. The rooms are not luxury but decent ones and clean. Price includes good breakfast. Hostel is located in front of peaceful park, away from the noise streets.
Laundry: Dennys dry cleaning and washing seems to be best laundry in town. Its address is Jr.Jose dela Mar #561, located between Avenida Luzuriaga and Jose de San Martin.
Mountain Refugios: Another good option for trekking and climbing is to stay at refugios which are typically located in close proximity to base camps. Good examples are Refugio Ishinca (4350m), Refugio Pisco (4765m) and Refugio Huascaran (4675m). These refugios are very spacious and clean, opened from May 15 – September 30 (except for Refugio Huascaran which opens June 1st). The prices are $10 per night per person no blanket, $15 per night + blanket, $30 per night including blanket, breakfast and dinner. I highly recommend to bring your own sleeping bag. Typical lunch costs is $10 and sandwich sells for $4.
Permits: Entrance fee to Huascaran National Park was 20 $US (65 Soles), registration required passport number, but copy of passport was good enough. Permit is valid for 21 days. All this might be changed next climbing season of 2007 and beyond, there is a legislation in progress, which will require mandatory usage of guiding services and that will be very costly, perhaps $ 90 per guide per day. Hopefully it will not pass.
Travel Logistics, Taxi, Mules:
We made almost all of our travel arrangement in Huaraz, through “Infinite Adventures” travel agency. Visit their web site at www.infiniteadventures.com or send email to Anthula Mauriz who is also co owner of the agency, her email address is email@example.com. Their office is located in the Benkawasi Hostel whose address was already mentioned above . Anthula climbed many peaks in Cordillera Blanca including Huscaran, so she knows what climbers and hikers need and can give you practical advice as well. Her pricing was fair and everything worked well what she arranged for. Her cell phone # is ++51 (043)9602905. You may try to arrange things by yourself, but you will end up paying the same price as we found out. After all it is actually better to go with some agency, both parties will benefit, agency will get your business and commission with that and you will get reliable service and very useful advices. Following are examples of service fees we paid: taxi to the Village of Collon (Ishinca climb) 80 Soles ($26) per car / one way, taxi to Llanganuco valley (Pisco climb) 200 Soles per car / round trip, taxi to Pitec (Maparaju climb) 100 Soles per car / round trip, donkey service $15 per day / one way (driver-ariero $10 and donkey-burro $5). One donkey can carry two backpacks which should be enough for climbing of Pisco or Ishinca. Guarding the tent and equipment during the climb is $15 per day. The only hard part was to figure out our return from the climbs, since you never know how are you going to feel. For example, after climbing Ishinca you may like to stay extra three days to climb Urus Este also, if you feel good.
Food: There is a lot of good restaurants in the town, we liked Andean Garden Club own by Ben and our favorite one was Shutaru Restaurant where we typically paid 8-12 Soles for good dinner, or if you feel like to celebrate successful climb, visit Ben's Xtreme Bar. Both are located at Avenida Luzuriaga. Drink only sealed bottled water, filter tap water for tooth cleaning as we did and keep your mouth closed while taking shower. Avoid eating food from street vendors, I made that mistake day before our third trip and got a gift of diarrhea. Regarding climbing food, we brought our own dehydrated food and Kevin brought MRE’s (military “meals ready to eat” which I really liked). Bread, salamis, sweets, oranges, bananas, …etc, were purchased locally, you will find a few good stores in Huaraz on the main avenue.
Climbing / Camping Equipment: All our climbs were on the glacier so crampons, ice axe, ropes, … etc are mandatory to have. I brought with me down parka jacket, but used it in the base camp only and had my light jacket for climbing instead, overall it was warmer than what I expected. Of course on Huascaran it is a different story. We were using MSR stove for cooking and had no problems to buy camping gas (bencina blanca) in Huaraz, I also noticed many propane cartridges. You can actually rent all the camping and climbing equipment there, but it is very expensive, I do not recommend that.
Huaraz: is city of about 100,000 people and capital of Ancash district. It’s altitude is around 10,135 ft (3,090m) and thanks to its close proximity to Cordillera Blanca it has become favorite center for trekking and climbing. It’s normal to leave Huaraz in the morning and reach the base camp late afternoon same day. So because of its altitude, it is good idea to take it ease first a few days, I remember from Aconcagua climbs in Argentina how important is proper acclimatization. We spent our first four nights there and used it make our travel arrangements and daily acclimatization trips. This city was 90% destroyed by devastating earthquake on May 31,1970 measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale and only one street preserved its original Spanish colonial style, the rest of the city looks poor and unfinished, but the change is coming. One reason for unfinished look is that people don’t trust banks but rather invest money into construction of their own houses, the results are such that you will see many steel bars sticking up from unfinished upper floors waiting for completion. People in Huaraz were very nice, it felt safe even when walking during evenings, however it is common sense to leave passport and most of the money in the hotel. Life in Peru is not easy, over 60% people live in poverty and work very hard. From our observation it seems that all the work on the fields is done manually, we did not see any agriculture machinery at all, in fact it took us by surprise and we felt sorry for the farmers thinking how unfair the world is. Their planting time is in October/November and harvest is done around April/May. One ranger from Mt. Rainier National Park advised us to bring some small gifts for the children, which we did and it really felt good to make them happy. We really enjoyed our acclimatization treks, especially Lake Churup. Anthula advised us to take local bus called colectivo, which is basically small mini van with up to 16 seats and travels all the way to village of Llupa (3600 m) for 5 Soles one way per person. From there we hiked toward the village of Pitec and to the lake Churup it took around 4 hours. Lake’s altitude is 14,596 ft (4,450 m) and it was a perfect trip to acclimatize, explore villages and get to know locals. Again, people where very nice to us and I wish we spoke good Spanish. What surprised us was a lot of green fields and many eucalyptus trees, we were tolf they were originally imported from Australia. Another pleasant trip was hike to what we called cross hill. It is located above the city cemetery, here we met an English teacher and had very pleasant conversation.
Ishinca Climb: After four nights we felt ready (I think three nights would be equally enough) so on May 24 (Wednesday) we took taxi to village of Collon for 80 Soles and used donkey service of Demetrio Loli Chinchay for 15$, both arranged by Anthula. Collon’s altitude is around 12,000 ft, from there it was very pleasant 5 hours hike to the base camp located in Quebrada Ishinca Valley at 14,268 ft (4350m). I expected busy place with many trekkers and climbers, but to our surprise, we counted perhaps 15 tents only. I liked that, locals say that in June it gets very crowded here. We really admired this location, perfect for acclimatization climbs such as Urus Este (5420m), Ishinca (5530m), or impressive Toclarachu (6032m).
Down in the village, we decided to hire Demetrio to stay with us and guard our tent. Later on we realized it was not really necessary so early in the season. He was supposed to bring his own food and sleeping bag, but he end up bringing one blanket only and one bowl of rice to eat. We did not mind to share our food with him and fortunately had enough for everybody. Following day we left for Ishinca early in the morning at 3:30 AM, elevation gain from the base camp to the summit is 3,875 ft (1181m). The trail was pretty good, we did not have hard time to follow it. Glacier on NW slopes of Ishinca was in good condition, thanks to early season, we did not encounter too many big crevasses yet. One hour below the summit we both felt quite tired so we decided to leave our backpacks and continue light, that was a good decision, it gave us a necessary boost. Summit slope was steeper than expected, about 47 degrees, but not hard and finally we stood on the summit of Ishinca 18,143 ft (5530m) at around 11:00 AM (May 25, 2006).
We both felt very tired, but happy from our first summit in Cordillera Blanca. The weather was clear with some clouds in distance, views were incredible, we admired close by Ranrapalca (6162m) and heavily glaciated Palcaraju (6274m). Our descent was tiring and we returned back to the base camp at around 4:00 PM. I got my first small headache, but not from the altitude, rather from exhaustion and 80mg aspirin took care of that. Demetrio was waiting for us, I wish we knew some Spanish because we end up just smiling and politely looking at each other. Demitrio slept in close by cave and after first night complained about cold, so Kevin donated his socks and couple of aspirins to treat his headache. Next day we hiked down, Demitrio took different route to show us a beautiful panorama of the mountains with views of Copa and Huascaran, it was worth it, we were very thankful for that. We made it to village of Collon at around 3:00 PM, exactly when Ben and Anthula showed up to pick us up. On our way down, Ben decided to stop at one church he liked and there Anthula suddenly realized she left her purse and wallet in Collon. Of course we agreed to go back, Demetrio was already waiting for us with her purse. After we left Collon we had one more fun – flat tire, but that was fixed fast and we finally arrived to Huaraz.
Pisco Climb: After 2 nights in Huaraz we were ready for next climb which of course was Pisco. On May 29 we took taxi to Quebrada Llaganuco Valley for 200 Soles round trip. We had to leave our hostel around 6:00 AM, it’s much longer drive since the valley is located between Huascaran Norte and Huandoy Sur, I think it took around 2 hours to drive all the way to east end of Laguna Llanganuco. There, donkey driver Felix took over our two backpacks for 15$ and we left for our 4 hour trek to Pisco Base Camp 15,088ft (4600m) located a little bit below Refugio Pisco (4765m). It is pleasant and relatively easy hike, but I felt tired despite having enough rest in Huaraz. In the base camp we got our backpacks from Felix and decided to continue to higher Moraine Camp located at 16,072 ft (4900m). I was wandering how will I feel, but I recovered and was able to continue. I admired Kevin, he did not complain too much and I think he was doing very good, considering that this was his third climbing trip after Rainier and Ishinca. Above the refugio, we had to cross large unpleasant glacier formed rocky field I nicknamed “Valley of Despair”, perhaps because it is big grayish field, almost like labyrinth, containing many boulders. Many people sleep in the base camp and walk the field in night, but I would not recommend it, it can be very dangerous. The trail is very hard to follow in darkness and I am not surprised at all that many climbers get lost and waste valuable time. Here we met a group of Czech climbers who tried to climb Huascaran Sur, but did not succeed due to very icy conditions there, so climbed Pisco instead. Moraine camp was empty and only later on French climber Noel showed up.
Kevin and I liked this camp very much, the views were incredible. It felt like in Himalayas, especially looking south at Huascaran Norte (6664m), Huascaran Sur (6768m) and Chopicalqui (6354m) which I called K2, also Huandoy peaks directly west from us were very impressive. We were planning to leave early morning, but to our surprise, when we woke up, there were clouds all over, so we decided to wait and see. At 6:30AM it started to clear and it still was not too late to go ahead with the climb thanks to sleeping higher, elevation gain from the Moraine Camp to the summit is around 2,624 ft (800m), which was less than on Ishinca climb. Glacier to the col between Pisco and Huandoy was easy and from there we followed gentle glaciated ridge to the summit of Pisco.
Views on the other side of the col were equally beautiful, especially Artesonraju (6025m), very steep, pyramid shaped peak. From the route description, I worried about one very steep step on the ridge section about 10 feet tall, but fortunately, it wasn’t as hard as I expected. The weather so far was holding, but more clouds were coming, Huandoy Peaks were already in clouds so we were trying to climb faster, but our legs were tired again. I wished we had more energy as Noel, our neighbor from the Moraine camp, who passed us with relative ease, so we felt like two old horses compared to him. About 1 hour below the summit, the weather changed and visibility became very poor, however, thanks to the trail made by other climbers, we were able to follow their track and finally made it to the summit at 11:00 AM, May 30, 2006. It took us around 4.5 hours of climbing from the Moraine Camp. We felt good to make the second summit and were very happy about that. We could feel the sun through the clouds and decided to stay little bit longer hoping for some clearing, because the views are supposed to be one of the best. After one hour of waiting, we gave up on it and started to descent. After all, we were very thankful for the successful climb and all the views we had before.
In the Moraine camp we talked more to Noel about his climbing plans, his friend was suffering from the altitude sickness and had to return back to Huaraz. They simply traveled too fast too high and I was glad that we took much slower approach. Crossing The Valley of Despair was uneventful and back in the base camp Felix was already waiting for us as promised. We were really impressed how everybody kept the word, our taxi driver arrived sooner as expected, but we did not complain, otherwise we would had to wait at least one extra hour.
Maparachu Climb: The weather continued to be bad and we were advised to stay and wait since this was unusual for the month of June, it should clear anytime. Because of this weather uncertainty, climbing Maparaju appeared to be good alternative peak, since it is not as high as other peaks, “only” 17,470 ft (5326 m). Sunday, June 4 was an election day and Mr. Morales senior invited us for the small trip helping Victor Contim, a Brazilian to find good place for his paragliding trip.
Kevin felt sleepy and decided to stay in the hostel, but I accepted the invitation and joined another couple of German hikers who were also invited. Mr. Morales found very good spot for flying, the wind was perfect so the flight and landing. On our way back we visited small city of Caraz which I really liked and city of Yungay. Unlike Caraz, Yungay was also completely destroyed by earthquake on May, 31, 1975 as Huaraz. It was sad to see big flat field where 18,000 people perished and remained buried there. Next day, June 5, tired of waiting for good weather, we took taxi to Pitec for 100 Soles round trip, paid $10 gate access fee to Quillcayuanca valley and $15 to donkey driver Augustino. The valley was quite flat and boring and after hiking of almost 10 miles it finally started to climb to 13,776 ft (4200m). The weather partially cleared in the afternoon and we were able to see Maparaju peak . It looked hopeful for the next day, but I started to feel bad, I was getting diarrhea. I think it was from the pastry I bought in Huaraz from the street vendor previous day, big mistake, I was doing so good, fortunately Kevin did not make the same mistake and was feeling fine. Following day, June 6, almost all of the mountains around us were in the clouds, it even drizzled a little bit and I still felt bad, so the climb was out of questions and we had to wait one more day for Augustino to show up. Next day, June 7, the weather did not change same as previous day, so we packed our camp and hiked down to look for Augustino. He showed up on time, but to our surprise without donkeys, it took us a long moment to understand that we hired him as a porter, well that’s what happens when you don’t speak good Spanish. We felt a little bit guilty when Augustino carried out our two backpacks on his back, but Anthula said he was a professional porter and he actually made more money that way rather than using donkey.
We enjoyed one extra day in Huaraz, still same weather and finally, June 8 was our departure day to Lima.
Conclusion: I would do it all over again, the mountains of Cordillera Blanca are fantastic and people are very nice. Kevin and I will treasure our memories for long time, I wish my family was there. Kevin proved to be a natural climber, despite climbing only three times in his life. Of course I was hoping for one more peak and if we had known about last 7 days of bad weather, we would rather had traveled to Machu Picchu instead of climbing, but perhaps next time…