Nevado Illimani 6462 m is a majestic peak belonging to the Cordillera Real and one of the highest mountain of the whole Bolivia. It's located in the north-western part of the country and is, in the words of people, a beautiful snowcapped mountain. Illimani counts four main peaks: Pico Paris, Pico del Indio, Pico Kuhm and the Cumbre La Paz located in the middle of the massif and also known with the name Condor. It dominates the sky on the background of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.
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 highest mountain in Bolivia, and the highest of 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 first ascent was performed by the British Sir William Martin Conway, with the Italian guides Jean-Antoine Maquignaz and Luigi Pellissier in the year 1898, September 9th. Sir William Martin Conway was an early explorer of the area and climbed also Aconcagua and other mountains in Patagonia.
The approach to the Illimani starts from the La Paz. There are two basic approaches to the West side, via Pinaya and via Cohoni and both will take you to Puente Roto, the place where it's convenient to arrange the Base Camp.
Approach via Pinaya: i will describe this one I know about which, the most popular, and give some hints about the second one, and alternative approach. The approach is via the villages of Pinaya or Estancia Una. From La Paz you can arrive by car to the town of Pinaya, located on the slopes of this great massif at 3,700 meters above sea level, in about 3 to 4 hours by 4x4 vehicle, depending on the conditions of the road (ask first). The trip can be very expensive, but it's 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 the possibility of approach by foot, after a walk of about 8 to 10 hours along the same route.
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 want you can 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 climb Illimani. Another good place to hang out and meet climbers, used to be the Restaurant Mongos. Check your guidebook.
When you arrive in Pinaya, you can rent mules for the approach to the bottom of the valley, where the Base Camp is located. This place is called Puente Roto, at an altitude of 4,400 meters. Until there it arrives an old mining road already in disuse. The walk of these 8 km takes from 3 to 4 hours. Also in Estancia Una you can hire mules for a service that will take you to the Puente Roto with all your toys.
After you reach this point of Puente Roto 4400 m. you have to hike for another 10-25 minutes towards the West face of the Illimani, to a flat area that allows to put a very nice camp.
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.
The Normal route of the Illimani is a route of medium technical difficulty, but has exposed areas that should be taken with caution. It's recommended only for skilled climbers with an excellent acclimatization. In addition to the optimal acclimatization, capability in the use of crampons, ice gear and rope is required.
Approach to the High Camp (Nido de Cóndores) - From Puente Roto you take a path that goes up an easy rock spur, until arriving in about 4h - 6h to Nido de Cóndores 5400 m, place of the high camp, where the ice usually starts and you have a good view to the whole mountain. This place is very suitable for camping, it is a wide plain with an incredible view to La Paz, Lake Titicaca and the high plateau.
Route description - From Nido de Cóndores you climb an uphill edge to the left. At about 5700 m you will reach an exposed area where you must climb carefully by the presence of crystal ice and a 40° ice slope. At about 5800 m there is the access to a field of crevasses that must be avoided without meet major difficulty. Further up, always climbing to the left, you come to a seemingly impassable crevasse. Anihow on the left there is a bridge that is overcome without great difficulty. From there take a snow-slope that leads to the North of the main summit. At 6300 m you come to a plateau from where you can see the whole massif and its 4 summits. From there, take the long summit ridge in a Southern direction to reach the summit.
Helmet, harness, crampons with antibots, 2 ice-axe, 50 m rope, several snow stakes
No when I climbed there (Summer 1999)
The best time to climb in the Cordillera Real is between May and September, when the weather is dry. Usually June, July and August are the best months anyhow. This period is the Bolivian winter, which is dry and when normally the weather is quite stable. Possible some fresh snowfalls sometimes. The wind starts in July and as the season progresses more crevasses appear in the glaciers and the penitents in the snow grow. November to March, the temperature is higher, but the rain will make any climb unpleasant and dangerous, since the coctail of hot weather plus rain plus snow is not very appealing.
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:
Historical Weather and other resources
"Bolivia, a Climbing Guide" - Brain, Yossi, The Mountaineers, 1999
"La Cordillera Real de los Andes - Bolivia" by Alain Mesili (www.andes-mesili.com), comes in English under the title "Andes of Bolivia"
"Lonely Planet Bolivia" - Swaney, Deanna, 4th ed.
You can watch a 5 min video of Illimani here: A video of Illimani (youtube)