Yerupaja is Peru's second highest peak and the highest point in the massive Amazon River watershed. Yerupaja crowns the stunning Cordillera Huayhuash in the north central Peruvian Andes, a compact range that boasts several peaks over 6,000 meters.
Yerupaja is sometimes overshadowed by its more flashy neighbors, which include the beautiful Jirishanca and the imposing Siula Grande (a peak made famous by Joe Simpson in his epic Touching the Void). However, Yerupaja is an imposing world class mountain all by itself. Before it was finally climbed in 1950 by Jim Maxwell and Dave Harrah, Yerupaja was the highest unclimbed summit outside of Asia. It would be sixteen years before the mountain saw another successful summit bid, this time by Jorge Peterek and Canadian Leif Patterson. That same year, a pair of up and coming mountaineers received their first taste of high altitude climbing by summitting Yerupaja via the unclimbed East Face and bagging the first ascent of its smaller cousin -- Yerupaja Chico. They were none other than Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler, who would both go on to do some fairly impressive climbing on even higher mountains.
Like all peaks of the Huayhuash, Yerupaja rises in a nearly vertical wall of rock and overhanging ice. It also possesses a knife edged summit ridge draped with the beautiful but brittle snow flutings that are so prevalent in the Huayhuash. Not surprisingly due to the combination of these natural defenses and its high elevation, Yerupaja sees very few successful ascents.
The Cordillera Huayhuash is located in north central Peru, just south of the more popular Cordillera Blanca. The closest legitimate population center is Chiquian, where guides and burros can be obtained. The closest town of any significance is Huaraz, capital of the Department of Ancash, where most people first stop en route to this area (good for acclimatization). Huaraz is easily reached by bus (about 8 hours) from Lima's city center. The overwhelming majority of visitors to Peru arrive in Lima.
There is bus service connecting Huaraz to Chiquian, but details are spotty. Best to inquire locally in Huaraz upon arrival. You may also be able to rent a private car to drive you to Chiquain (about 3.5 hours from Huaraz). At last check, there was also direct bus service from Lima to Chiquian, but again, inquire locally, as this likely changes frequently.
From Chiquian you are northwest of the Huayhuash range. For the west side routes, approach Laguna Jahuacocha (4066m) either by a 3 day trek, or by taking a colectivo to Llamac on a newly constructed mining road. From the small hamlet of Llamac, hike over one of the high passes to the east and this will drop you down to Jahuacocha. While the new road certainly speeds up the approach, it is a shameful intrusion into one of the world's most beautful places.
The collectivo from Chiquian to Llamac leaves in the morning from Chiquian (mas o menos 9:00am), Cost is 5 pesos for locals, but you may pay 7 up to 10. It is a 2-3 hour drive. The return collectivo is at 11 am.
The approach to the East Face is from the area around Lago Carhuacoccha. To access the Carhuacocha area, head north from Llamac (along the aforementioned road) to the settlement of Matacancha, at the base of the Cancanampunta Pass. Cross this pass -- which divides the Pacific watershed from the Amazon Basin -- to the east, and wind around the northern end of the Huayhuash range. Alternatively, from Chiquian, take a bus to La Union, where you can catch a colectivo to Queropalca. A few hours hiking up the Rio Carhuacocha gets you to the lake.
When To Climb
The mountains of the Huayhuash are generally climbed from May to September.
Camping is available at Jahuacocha and Carhuacocha. Beware that en route (depending on your approach route) some settlements have been known to extract a camping fee for crossing their watersheds. I do not believe this is a problem on the more established trekking route to the mountain via Llamac.
Much has been made of the change in appearance of the Huayhuash peaks since the last El Nino phenomenon, particularly the retreat of the glaciers, the opening up of huge crevasses and formation of improbably large seracs. While one source had reported that "the West Face route is now largely deemed too unstable due to serac danger" (click here for a description of recent thwarted attempt on the West Face, including some impressive photography of the serac danger), the West Face was recently climbed by SP'er David Bruder. According to this website, "the South Face and South West Ridges were still possible in 1998."
UPDATE: Latest info on climbs in the Huayhuash as of April 2004 can be found here.
Trekking around the Huayhuash
A magnificent trek that rivals just about anything in Asia is the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit. Click here to see a journal of our May 2001 trip around the Huayhuash.
Maps & Guidebooks
When I was in the Huayhuash, good topo maps of the area (or even any good maps of the area) were difficult to come by. However, the Alpine Mapping Guild has recently published an illustrated shaded relief topo map at 1:65 000 scale of the Cordillera Huayhuash. This is probably the best currently available map (as of 2004) of the area. A sample can be found here here.
Mathias Z adds:
There is a map of the Cordillera Huayhuash, made in 1939 by the first explorers of the Cordillera Huayhuash lead by Hans Kinzl. Among the mapmakers was famous swiss Ernst Schneider. With a scale of 1:50000 it is the best map available, but somes small lakes are not shown because the mapmakers could not see every slope and had no pictures taken from airplane. The map can be ordered at DAVlifeAlpin by clicking here.
Also, Canadian Jeremy Frimer is working on a guidebook to the area, tentatively titled "Cordillera Huayhuash: Select Treks and Climbs". It will be available in 2005 from climbing shops in Europe, North America and Peru, or from the publisher Elaho via its website www.elaho.ca. UPDATE: This book is now available. Click on the "more info" link above this section for more details.
The Huayhuash was effectively off limits in the 80s and early 90s due to the Shining Path resistance. The area has in recent years opened up and is seeing a lot more activity. In 2003, the film version of Touching the Void was released, which will probably spark renewed interest in this area. Along with more visitors inevitably come problems. In July 2004, reports were made of trekking groups being held up at gunpoint along the Huayhuash circuit near the Huayhuash settlement (near Lago Viconga). See this link.
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