Pequeno Alpamayo is not the tallest mountain in Bolivia or even the Cordillera Real but it is one of the most beautiful in South America. A spectacular pyramid of snow and ice sitting in close proximity to a multitude of amazing peaks, the Condoriri area offers you many options for climbing. Pequeno Alpamayo may not be the centerpiece for the area (obviously, the Condor group is as the namesake would indicate) but Pequeno Alpamayo is definitely a must see opportunity!
Getting to the area is pretty straight forward. From La Paz, talk to any one of the multitude of travel agencies on Sarganaga Street and find a price that works best for you. I paid about $28 each way and the trip via taxi took a little less than two hours to arrive in Tuni. From Tuni, you can rent mules but its not required and carrying your own gear up to base camp is simple. From Tuni, hike up onto the hill and then head left around Lago Tuni along the road that bounds the reservoir on the South side. Cross the dam and then head North along the road up the valley. You´ll start to enjoy views of the Condoriri group. There are several small lakes and dams, along with a few houses but mostly you´ll be in the company of sheep and llamas. Just past the last little farm but before another small dam (Lago Condoriri) there is a use trail that heads up and right onto the hillside. Follow this use trail, gradually ascending up to Chiar Kota. The care taker serves fresh trout dinners and the food is both good and cheap. Go around the right side of the lake on the trail until you reach the East edge and base camp. You´ll have to pay a small fee of 10 Bolivianos per night to camp here but there are stone toilets and running water available. It can be crowded on weekends too. Base camp sits in the shadows of the Condoriri group and you can see the Tarija glacier just to the right of camp.
From base camp, leave early in the morning (your preference depending)and head over the hill into the next basin to the East. The trail is easy to follow and in less than a half hour the trail ascends the terminal moraine and to the edge of the Tarija glacier. Start of the right hand side of the glacier and work your way generally up and slightly left. The lower part of the glacier is ice but contains very little in the way of crevasses. Nearing the middle of the glacier you´ll end up left-center and heading up the ice/snow as you navigate the crevasse fields. The crevasses are big and easily seen and only one near the top of the field requires crossing a snowbridge.
Once at the top of the glacier, you are immediately left of Tarija. There is an easily identified route up and to your right that will take you through the penitentes and across a crevasse about 2/3 of the way up. Turn left and follow the snow to the plateau just under Tarija´s summit. Here you get your first views of Pequeno Alpamayo. Remove your crampons and follow the use trail up to the top of Tarija and then descend down the other side. A rope is not needed but useful if you/your party are uncomfortable with the exposure. Once down the other side of Tarija, you are at the start of the Normal Route´s ridge with a rock wall on your left side and the snowfield below Pequeno Alpamayo on your right.
Immediately past the rocks, drop down and route onto the snowfield and head towards the bergschrund at the base of the mountain. It is passed most easily on the right side. From here you begin the Direct Route, ascending the West Face on steep mixed hard snow and ice. You should remain on the left hand side of the "corner" as you climb up. The angle is about 70-degrees inclination. Follow the face up, just past the horizontal rock bands on the right hand face (other side of the "corner")
When the rocks give way and access to the right hand face becomes available, traverse to your right and continue up the route towards the rock outcropping above. Take care when crossing the "corner" (and along the whole route) as climbers on the ridge tend to knock ice down this face.
Once underneath the large rock outcropping near the top of the route, head up and to your right to gain access to the final section of the route. Once above the rocks, move back slightly left and ascend the final section of smooth, hard ice to the rejoin the Ridge Route only a few meters from the actual summit. Scramble over the lip of the ridge and then continue forward to the summit and enjoy the amazing views of the Cordillera Real!
If climbing solo: two technical axes, a helmet and your skills & courage.
Parties can do this route with the standard climbing gear: a rope, two technical axes, harness, a couple of ice screws and maybe a picket for protection.
The climbing can be done either as a simul-climb or belay.
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