The Illimani is, in the words of people, a beautiful mountain. It dominates the sky on the background of La Paz. It was first climbed by Sir William Martin Conway (UK, 1856 to 1937), an early explorer of the area, together with Aconcagua and other mountains in Patagonia, however, he was not a prolific Climber, he attempted only a few mountains in his life.
When you fly to Bolivia be sure to be seated on the right side of the plane so you can tale a look at the imposing massif!
The access is relatively easy and the climb straight forward. Good phisycal and aclimatization condition is encouraged since altitude and length can be very challenging. The climb is enjoyable: there are crevasses all along the route, but overall technical demand makes the journey a rather easy enterprise. The only exception is the crossing of a bergshrund, a tricky step but never a hard one. Please be aware that this part has changed and as of september 2005 I have been told that now there is an overhanging wall on this part of the route. Ask the local climbing community before you go.
Illimani is the second higest mountain in Bolivia, and the higest on the Cordillera Real range. The mountain has 5 summits, and a full traverse is possible. From La Paz you can see three of them, with Pico Sur, the highest, on your right. The west side is where then normal route is located.
The approach to the Illimani starts from the La Paz. There are two basic approaches to the west side, and both will take you to Puente Roto, the place for the first camp. I will describe the one I know about which is the most popular, and give some hints about the second one, and alternative approach.
The approach via the villages of Estancia Una or Pinaya: The trip takes about 2 to 3 hours on a private car (4x4) depending on the conditions of the road (ask first), and can be very expensive (I know people paid about $200US!, but a normal would be around $150US) but is understandable since the road and the distance is huge, although you may feel you can touch the mountain with your hands from La Paz…
There is also a bus service to near town called Quilihuaya, but them you will have to walk two ours in direction to Estancia Una. The bus can be found near the Mercado Rodriguez (market) at around 5:00 AM. Please ask for the bus BEFORE you go there because schedules change, as well as the roads may not be accessible.
If you wnat you may wnat to share your expenses with other climbers. You will find them everywhere, but you can also hang out in the Hotel Torino, downtown La Paz, and try to find other climbers aiming to go to Illimani. I placed a note in one of the billboards and in a matter of a day I had two Climbing partners. Through one of them I met my wife! So keep on going! Another good place to hang ou and meet climbers, used to be the Restaurant MONGOS. Check your guidebook.
From Estancia Una you can hire mules for about $8 US or so, for a service that will take you to the Puente Roto with all your toys. If your car can make it up to Pinaya (that is what I did) then you will have to hike for one hour or so. Mules are available at this place as well, and they will be about $6 US.
After you reach this point of Puente Roto (4.400 MTS), you have to hike for another 10-25 minutes towards the west face of the Illimani, toward a flat area that will allow a very nice camp.
The approach via Cohoni: by bus from La Paz to Cohini, available at the San Pedro district , calle Luis Lara and Calle Boqueron. Please check schedule and availability. You probably will have to get to the area and ask. The trip takes about 5 hours. The following is the description of this approach, taken from Yosi Brain’s Guide Book: From Cohini, follow a road toward La Paz, and then follow a path that will take you to the right. After half hour you will see the west side of Illimani. Continue on the path until joining the river Huascanasca and eventually you will arrive to Puente Roto. Please check Brain’s guide for more details or ask locals.
No when I climbed there (Summer 1999)
When To Climb
June, July and August are the best months to climb, but the season is from May to September. This is the Bolivian winter, which is dry and normally the weather is quite stable. On August expect some wind, and later, November to March, the temperature is higher and the rain will make any climb umpleasent and dangerous, since the coctail of hot weather plus rain plus snow is not very apealing.
Yes, camping is possible and there are no fees that I know about. No huts were available when I went (1999)
More Information about Bolivia:
The CIA World Fact Book
The US Library of Congress
Historical Weather and other resources
The US University of Massachusets Geosciences Group
Bolivia, a Climbing Guide. Brain, Yossi, The Mountaineers, 1999
also, another guidebook is:
La Cordillera Real de los Andes-Bolivia, by Alain Mesili (www.andes-mesili.com), comes in English under he title "Andes of Bolivia"
Lonely Planet Bolivia. Swaney, Deanna, 4th ed.