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Tocllaraju

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Tocllaraju

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: Ancash, Peru, South America

Lat/Lon: 9.347°S / 77.397°W

Object Title: Tocllaraju

Activities: Mountaineering

Season: Spring, Winter

Elevation: 19797 ft / 6034 m

 

Page By: rgg

Created/Edited: Mar 27, 2001 / May 18, 2014

Object ID: 150281

Hits: 48022 

Page Score: 93.35%  - 42 Votes 

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Overview

The West Face
The summit pyramid, with the NW ridge on the left and the S ridge on the right
Shaped like a beautiful pyramid, Tocllaraju is hidden away deep in the mountains. However, because the Cordillera Blanca itself is a relatively small chain, that doesn't mean it's hard to get there.

To the southwest lies Quebrada Ishinca ("Quebrada" means "valley"), to the west Quebrada Akilpo and to the northwest, north and northeast the mountain is surrounded by the long Quebrada Honda, with its small side valleys Quebrada Cancahua and Quebrada Pacliash respectively directly north and northeast of Tocllaraju. From the nearest trailheads, it only takes one day of hiking in any of these valleys to get close. By far the most popular approach is the gentle trail up Quebrada Ishinca. Deep in that valley lies Refugio Ishinca, a convenient place to stay.

Clouds rolling over Nevados Akilpo
Clouds rolling over Akilpo
Tocllaraju is surrounded by glaciers and has steep faces and ridges on all sides. Four ridges shape the mountain, varying from steep to suicidal.

When hiking up Quebrada Ishinca, the first ridge that comes in view is the steep one that starts out to the south, narrowing and turning east after a while, eventually leading to Palcaraju (6274m). At 5550 m, the saddle between the two gives Tocllaraju a prominence of 484 m. In the opposite direction, another steep ridge stretches north, with a side ridge sprouting off towards the northeast after a less than a kilometer. A really steep but somewhat less pronounced ridge goes east straight from the summit, and last but not least there is the NW ridge, which actually doesn't quite lead to the summit but joins the north ridge with just 100 (horizontal) meters to go. The relatively wide NW ridge quickly drops to about 5200 m, before narrowing and rising steeply again to the twin summits of Nevado Akilpo (5560m).

The paddle points to Tocllaraju.


Even if you're not going to climb anything, just the hike into Quebrada Ishinca alone is worthwhile, as you can enjoy the impressive views of the massive bright and dazzling glaciers tumbling down from the ridge between Tocllaraju and Palcaraju. When you first enter the valley, the glaciers are not visible yet, but as you go deeper, they'll first appear in the distance and then just keep getting bigger and bigger. And if you don't hike back the same day but stick around, eventually the glaciers will no longer be bright and in the few minutes before darkness you may see something like this:

Tocllaraju panorama
Panorama from base camp, with Tocllaraju on the left and, with the summit far behind, the slopes of Palcaraju on the right.

Now, if you want to climb an easy 6000 m peak, the Cordillera Blanca is the wrong place to go. However, for mountaineers with a bit of experience it truly is a fantastic playground. And of all the 6000-ers, when in perfect shape, Tocllaraju offers one of the least difficult normal routes to the summit, so it comes as no surprise that it is climbed regularly. It is also one of the lowest 6000-ers, making it very suitable as an acclimatization peak for those dreaming about climbing even higher ones. Make no mistake about it though: one of the least difficult routes still doesn't make it easy. Not at all.

Quebrada Ishinca offers several easy mountains as well. Deep in the valley, at 4350 m, sits Refugio Ishinca, at the edge of a large flat area also known as base camp. Both Urus Este (5420m) and Nevado Ishinca (5530m) are regularly climbed from there and make fine, easy acclimatization peaks. Both take a day to climb, though it must be said that the route to Urus Este is decidedly shorter. For Tocllaraju, base camp is too low for all but the strongest climbers, and most will need to spend a night camping between 5100 and 5300m before starting the summit attempt.

For the sake of completeness, the same base camp is also used for climbing Ranrapalca, (6162m) but that's a slightly more difficult mountain. And next to Urus Este there are also the rarely climbed peaks of Urus Central (5495m) and Urus Oeste (5450m).

Zooming in on the Palcaraju summit pyramid
Zooming in on Palcaraju from the top of Tocllaraju
Tocllaraju from Ishinca
Tocllaraju from the south, from high on Ishinca

Trekking Options

From the trailhead, you can hike to the head of Quebrada Ishinca and back in a long day. Alternatively, you can sleep at the refuge or bring a tent and camp, making it a two day trip.

A popular 3 day "trekking" route in the Cordillera Blanca connects Quebrada Ishinca with Quebrada Cojup further south. To get from one valley to the other, the route crosses a high pass real close to the summit of Nevado Ishinca. Some of the best views of Tocllaraju along this trek can be enjoyed on the trail north of the pass. But there is a reason for the quotes around "trekking": this route involves a glacier crossing. It's neither a very crevassed nor steep one, but it's still a glacier. Nevertheless the agencies in Huaraz offering this route advertise it as a trekking package. Some even include climbing Ishinca, which makes sense since the pass isn't far from the summit anyway.

I've also seen offers of trekking packages connecting Quebrada Akilpo and Quebrada Ishinca. I don't know the route that connects these two valleys, but given the terrain it has to pass somewhere between Urus Este and Tocllaraju, which means it comes pretty close to the latter.

A Few Facts

The Name
The original Quechua name of the mountain is Tuqllarahu, which comes from the words "tuqlla", meaning "trap" or "snare", and "rahu", meaning "snow covered mountain". Sometimes the mountain is called Nevado Tocllaraju instead of simply Tocllaraju. However, since "Nevado" means "snow covered mountain", just like "rahu", that seems superfluous to me. In fact, many climbers simply call it "Toclla". 

Elevation
The Peruvian IGN map gives the elevation as 6034 m, the Alpenvereinskarte as 6032 m.

Early Ascents
First ascent: Walter Brecht and Hans Schweizer, 31 July 1939. Approach via Quebradas Honda and Cancahua to the north of the mountain, then across the glacier and finally via the NW ridge to the summit.

Second ascent: Leigh Ortenburger and Kermith Ross, 1959. Approach from the north as in the first ascent, but via the north ridge to the summit.

Current normal route: Daniel Bach, Albert Bezinge, Jean-Jacques Fatton and Carlo Jaquet, 7 August 1963. Approach by Quebrada Ishinca to the SW of the mountain, across the glacier and then up the NW ridge as in the first ascent.

Getting There

There are direct intercontinental flights to Lima, the capital of Peru. From there, the bus to Huaraz, the main logistical center for the Cordillera Blanca, takes about 7 hours.

If you're travelling light and have some time to arrange things, you could buy or rent everything you need for the climb. However, I advise to bring at least some of your own gear, especially boots and two ice tools, or at least a long axe and one tool. Snow pickets can be made cheaply and quickly in many hardware stores in Huaraz.

With the exception of freeze dried food, the local supermarkets and the big central indoor market sell all necessary supplies. Camping gaz is a bit expensive and some of the tourist agencies have a few cartridges for sale. White gas is much cheaper, and much easier to find at several of the hardware stores around the central market.

The drive from Huaraz to the trailhead above Pashpa or to the neighboring village of Collon takes 1-1.5 hours.

Routes

Alpine flowers near the Ishinca trailhead - with Urus Oeste in the background
Flowers near the trailhead - in the background is Urus Oeste

NW ridge (normal route)

By far the most popular route is the NW ridge. Depending on the guidebook, the route is rated AD or D. With the excellent conditions by mid 2011, I judge it AD.

Tocllaraju High Camp at Dusk
View from high camp on the glacier at dusk
The trailhead for the Ishinca valley lies at the end of the road shortly above Pashpa (3650m). It's an easy 4 hour hike to base camp. The agencies in Huaraz can arrange an arriero with mules waiting for you to carry your gear. Alternatively, you can try to find one yourself in Pashpa.

Bad camp site
Too close to the W face!
ABC at 5300m. Tocllaraju...
Camping at 5300m
For high camp, the first suitable location is moraine camp (±5100m), SW of the mountain, right at the edge of the glacier, about than 4 hours from base camp. Sometimes there is a trickle of running water, but I wouldn't count on it if it's cold. Furthermore, moraine camp is not all that big, and since it is a popular route it isn't always real clean. I advise to treat or boil the water before using it.

If you go a bit higher, the glacier levels off at around 5200m. Though not many people camp there, there is lots of flat space, it's clean, and the summit is a little closer. Obviously you'll have to melt snow to get water. If you want to, you can continue a bit further still as there are plenty of suitable spots to camp up until about 5300m. After that you'll get a bit too close for comfort to the west face and the debris lying below it, and the area gets a bit more crevassed.

The best place to get onto the NW ridge varies over the years, depending on the conditions. During the climbing season, unless there is fresh snow, there often is a trail. If not, it may take quite a while to find a suitable route, especially if it's still dark.

Gaining the NW ridge on Tocllaraju
The crux in 2011: getting on the NW ridge
Jaymie leads on Tocllaraju
Climbing right above the crux, still steep

An accident waiting to happen
An accident waiting to happen: a serac at the edge of the NW ridge
For the most part, the ridge itself is wide. So wide in fact that you can get lost in poor visibility if the trail isn't very clear. We had good visibility, but because the snow was real hard, occasionally the trail was difficult to spot and on the descent we actually had to search a little. Still, I was happy with the conditions, for hard snow is a lot easier to ascend, and the snow bridges over the crevasses are be much stronger.

Toqqlaraju North West Ridge The schrund
Crossing the bergschrund high on the NW ridge, 2002
There are several big crevasses on the ridge, and if you read older trip reports and route descriptions, the main difficulty of the whole route often is a big bergschrund with less than 100m to go, right at the base of the final steep section, and this is the reason for the D rating. In 2011, we had no such problems at all. To save time we decided not to protect it, so we unroped and both soloed up.

In 2011 the crux had been the steep section right before gaining access to the ridge. It was 70º right at the bottom, above a small bergschrund, but quickly easing to about 60º and easing still a bit more higher up. In less than two rope lengths we were on the ridge, where we could simply walk. Higher up there were a few more steep sections, but never more than 55-60º, and mostly we could just walk up.

With the route being in great shape, we took 6 hours from our camp at 5200 m to the summit, matching what the guidebooks say. Descending went much faster. Occasionally rappelling but mostly walking and climbing down, we were back at our tent in less than 2.5 hours, and after a break and packing up we got down to Refugio Ishinca in another 2 hours.

Judging by the Climber's Log entries, the difficulties in 2013 were comparable - except that the snow wasn't nicely packed and hard, but sugary. Well into the season it should have been consolidated. That it wasn't illustrates how conditions in the mountain can be quite different over the years.
 


Tocllaraju west face reflecting the sun

The west face reflecting the sun, 2011

West Face

A distant second in popularity, the steep West face is climbed occasionally. It looked dangerous in 2011, with lots of debris below the face and massive seracs hanging above it; and part of the route was bare rock. I seriously wondered if it would get in shape again in the years to come.


North Ridge

This was the route of the second ascent. Whether it's ever been climbed since, I don't know. For what it's worth, the Second Ascent report doesn't state how difficult it was back then, but the glacier has probably changed a lot over the years anyway. The map contours show that it is much steeper than the NW ridge, suggesting that it's harder.


Tocllaraju Sunrise
Summit view to the northern Cordillera Blanca. You have to start real early for this sunrise!

Red Tape

The whole of the Cordillera Blanca lies in the Parque Nacional Huascarán. To enter, you need a ticket, which costs 65 soles (in 2011). On the ticket it says that it's valid for a week, but in fact it's valid longer. Should you you visit the area in the future, feel free to add an addition with the latest situation.

To climb anywhere in the park without a guide, you need a special permit. You can get one at the park office in Huaraz. It's free, but you have to prove to the officials that you know what you're doing - one way to do so is to show your alpine club membership card. A small stone building not far into Quebrada Ishinca serves as checkpoint where a park official may ask to see your ticket and permit. I was checked once, but on three other occasions, all in the afternoon, I could just walk through. I can only guess that that's because the majority of visitors enter the valley in the morning.

When to Climb

Snowflag on the summit of Toclla
Windy conditions
The best months are July and August, and June isn't too bad either. Earlier in the year the snow may still be unsettled and avalanche risk can be higher, though avalanches may occur all year round. Sadly, in July 2013 two Argentinian climbers died in an avalanche on the mountain.

By the end of the climbing season the weather can be a bit less stable and strong winds sometimes become a problem. But after a period with little or no fresh snow and with a favorable weather window, a late season attempt is still viable.


Accommodation

Ishinca Base Camp
Just a small part of Ischinca base camp
In Huaraz there are many hostels to chose from, as well as some more expensive options.

Refugio Ishinca, located at base camp, has bunk style accommodation and serves meals. Alternatively, you can put up your tent (for free), or camp but still order a meal in the refuge, or even sleep inside but prepare your own food. Depending on your plans, you may need to bring a tent and a stove. Always bring a sleeping bag.

To climb Tocllaraju, unless you're very fast, you'll need camping gear for high camp anyway, so using the refuge doesn't save all that much weight, except a bit on food. It's convenient though, and warmer than in a tent.

External Links

Tocllaraju on Camptocamp
Tocllaraju on AndesHandbook

Maps and Books

[1] The best map is the Alpenvereinskarte 0/3b Cordillera Blanca Süd (Perú), 1:100000.
[2] John Biggar: The Andes - A guide for climbers, 3rd edition, 2005. ISBN 0953608727.
[3] Brad Johnson: Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, 2009 revised edition. ISBN 09789975860618.


Tocllaraju Panorama
Wide panorama from moraine camp, spanning almost 270º.

On the left are Tocllaraju, Palcaraju and Pucaranra, on the right Ranrapalca and Ochshapalca, with Quebrada Ishinca below.
Just right of center and left of Ranrapalca, hiding in the shade, lies Nevado Ishinca. It looks rather insignificant, but it's still 5530 m high and one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the Cordillera Blanca. The main reason for that is that it's one of the easiest ones, but the magnificent summit views don't hurt at all either. No surprise, really, if you think about it, with all these wildly glaciated 6000-ers towering above and around it. For just one example, scroll up this page and you'll see a photo of Tocllaraju from Ishinca.

Additions and Corrections

[ Post an Addition or Correction ]
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andyinthorneUntitled Comment

andyinthorne

Hasn't voted

i just came down from tocllaraju with a guide from Huaraz. we had to turn back because more, wider cravasses have appeared over the last few weeks. more gear needed if you want to attempt the summit. also, the last few hundred meters before high camp are dangerous. this has changed and the end of the glacier is shedding rocks every few minutes. about 100 meters cubed went 50 meters from where we just wlked. very dangerous.


Posted Dec 11, 2004 4:54 pm
ClimberMan420West Face June 8th 2007

ClimberMan420

Hasn't voted

Gain face at highest part(left) of the bergshrund. The bergrshrund was wel open but on teh right side of the highest part it was crossable and here the cliff on the other sside is smallest. May have to hack a notch in it if its to snowy to climb. Climb face directly slowly travrsing to the right past the exposed rocks. Pass the seracs and ice cliffs to the right for the easiest and most direct access to the South west ridge6-8 pitches.



Follow the mellow ridge to the summit. The ridge is easy but has some interesting features of ice cliffs and crevasses to negotiate. It should stay in good shape most of the season. The most likely problem will be the bergshrund at the bottom of the face to access the climb. I suggest an acclimatization day to hike up to the face breaking trail and find access. We used almost exclusively snow stakes and a few ice screw near the top. Climbing 2 ropes and three people we were about 9 hours on the face and then 1 1/2 more on teh ridge pitching up it although a running belay or even solo free climbing could do.



Descend the North ridge hopefully on an already established boot pack as the north ridge is a cvery popular climb. A 50m rappel is a convenient way to descend from teh summit shoulder on teh north ridge.



Brad Johson rates teh face a D+ and the north ridge a D but the ridge as of June 07 was a walk down most of it.
Posted Jun 14, 2007 9:10 am

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