Nevado Illimani 6438 m is a majestic peak belonging to the Cordillera Real. It's the highest mountain of the Cordillera Real and the second highest one of the whole Bolivia, after Nevado Sajama. Massive mountain located in the North-Western part of the country, Illimani is a beautiful snowcapped mountain and a sought destination by the mountaineers from all over the world. Towering over the south of the town of La Paz, Illimani is a revered mountain by the Bolivians. The name seems to derive from the word Aymara Illi mani, meaning Golden Eagle. Illimani counts four main summits: Pico del Indio 6109 m, Pico Norte 6403 m, Pico Central 6362 and Pico Sur 6438 m. From La Paz you can see three of them, with Pico Sur, the highest, on your right. Illimani’s south summit is the mountain’s high point and is accessed by the standard western climbing route. A full traverse of the summits is possible, with a very long develope (about 6 km). This summits are separated and far away from each other and the mountain is very extended, so that it is considered almost a mountain group instead of a peak. Illimani dominates the sky on the background of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and its profile is visible from hundreds of miles out on the plateau. 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 Normal route to summit is located on the West side. The access is relatively easy and the climb straight forward. Good phisycal and aclimatization condition is required since altitude and length can be very challenging. The climb is enjoyable: there are crevasses all along the route, but the overall technical demand makes the climb a not very difficult undertaking. The only exception is the crossing of a bergshrund, a tricky step but never a hard one. Ask the local climbing community before you go.
The first alpinists to explore Illimani were the French Charles Wiener with J. de Grumkownd and J.C. Ocampo in 1877, which didn't reach the highest summit, but a SE fore-summit, named by Wiener "Pic de Paris". The first recorded ascent of Illimani 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. However they found a piece of an ancient Aymara rope at over 6000 m, so that an earlier ascent cannot be completely excluded. The current standard route on the mountain follows the West ridge of the main summit. It was first climbed in 1940, by the Germans R. Boetcher, F. Fritz, and W. Kühn.
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 Pinaya, a rural village and very small, 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 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.
When you arrive in Pinaya, you can rent donkeys 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. The walk of these 8 km takes from 3 to 4 hours. Also in Estancia Una you can hire donkeys, for a service that will take you to the Puente Roto.
From Pinaya walk towards the massif, following the rough path to Puente Roto 4400 m. of altitude. You have to hike for another 10-25 minutes towards the West face of the Illimani to a flat meadow with a stream that allows to put a very nice camp. There is a rough miners road just above the meadow. Porters can be arranged from here to go to the high camp. To get to the high camp, follow the miners road for 15 minutes before heading left for the obvious scree slope that leads to the rock ridge leading down from Pico Sur. Join the ridge and walk up to Nido de Condores (5450m, 4-6hrs, no running water but next to glacier).
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.
Illimani Normal route
Summit altitude: 6438 m
Difficulty: Alpine AD-, max 50°
Route length: 700 m the first day for the ascent to Camp I, 1000 m for the ascent to the high camp on the second day, 1000 m on the third day for the ascent to the summit
The Normal route of the Illimani is a high altitude "course" 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. The starting pointof the climb is Nido de Cóndores, The Condor’s Nest.
Approach to the High Camp (Nido de Cóndores) - From Puente Roto you take a path that goes up an easy rock spur. The route to the high camp traverses different scree fields and smooth rock ground done over time by ancient glacial movement. Several runoff streams cut across the path. Illimani’s glacier has receded considerably. A few tens of years ago the glacier covered most of the now-barren lower slopes. In about 4h - 6h to Nido de Cóndores 5400 m, a place very suitable to put the high camp, is reached. Here usually it starts the ice and it can be taken an amazing and perfect view to the whole mountain.
Route description - From Nido de Cóndores directly behind the camp climb an uphill steep frozen ridge 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. Anyhow 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.
Descent: reversing the same ascent route. Approximately 3-4 hours to the Nido de Condores, 2-3 hours to the base camp and 1 hour to the village of Pinaya. The descent (about 2700 meters in difference of level) is usually divided into two days.
Complete high altitude equipment, rope, harness and ice material: ice ax, crampons, 2 ice pegs
Illimani is quite a broad and complicated mountain, so that it's often considered as a massif rather than a single mountain. A variety of routes exist in addition to the Normal route.
Illimani North Peak (Pico Norte)
- Left Hand Alternative Route D-
- Via Khoya Khuyu D+ A Mesili, E Sanchez July 1972
- Via Del Indio D-
- South Ridge – German Route D- H Ertl, G Schroder May 1950
- Normal Route PD R Boettger, F Fritz, W Kuhm March 1940
The SE is high and wide, has a number of difficult routes, with plenty of room for more.
- Jeager Mesili Route TD A Mesili, N Jeager Sept 1972
- Jacquier Mesili Route D+ A Mesili, C Jacquier May 1978
There are also complicated traverses of the massif, which can take 18 hours for the traverse of the three main central summits, to 4-5 days for a traverse of all the summits.
In the year 2010 the German Florian Hill with Robert Rauch climbed a new route on the South wall, Deliver Me (WI 6 and M6+, 1700 m) along the South West Ridge, a steep wall dominated by huge seracs.
An attempt to climb the wonderful knife edge of the stunning West ridge was done in the year 2014 by the Italians Marco Erbetta and Enrico Rosso with Father Antonio Zavattarelli, currently a missionary at Penas, a small village on the Bolivian plateau. More info: Planetmountain
The most recent new route realized on Illimani is called "Directa italiana" and was made in June 2015 on the South wall by the Italians Marco Majori and Marco Farina, two mountaineers from the Military High Mountain Section of Courmayeur. More info here: Montagna.tv
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/October, 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.
Camping is possible and there are no fees that I know about.
More Information about Bolivia:
"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)