With its distinctive pyramidal shape, Jirishanca is known to westerners as the "Matterhorn of the Andes". Its equally descriptive native name translates to "Hummingbird Beak of Ice". Jirishanca's beauty makes this peak stand out among its taller neighbors in Peru's little-visited Cordillera Huayhuash. First climbed in July 1957 by Toni Egger and Siegfried Jungmeir, the mountain is notoriously difficult and has seen 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 Southeast 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.
The northeast face looms above Laguna Mitococha, which is one drainage to the northwest of Cachuacocha.
Late May through early September.
SP'er Didier Jourdain successfully climbed Jirishanca in 2003 and adds:
"Lot of climbing in the Huayhuash this summer. Firstly an impressive alpine style climb of the south face. Two of the UK's leading alpinists, Nick Bullock and Al Powell climbed a new route on Jirishanca (6126m) in the Cordillera Huayhuash this summer. The pair had first tried a line directly up the South East face in 2002 but were avalanched off the mountain in rising temperatures. This year, they returned to climb what has been described as "the most significant British ascent in South America since Mick Fowler and Chris Watts 1982 ascent of the South West Face of Taulliraju". The Jirishanca route involved vertical and overhanging rotten ice, difficult aid and is considered by both to be their hardest and most dangerous climb yet. They went very near the summit.
Four Italians tried a new route on the south rock face, but they just reached the north-est ridge below the top of the face. After on September, 2 French climbers, Aymeric Clouet and Didier Jourdain opened a new route on this east face on the right of the old Japanese route. 1200m ED+ 7a A2 100°, a run of 7 days after 4 days of fixing the 300 firstly meters. The summit the 6th day was magic ... after an incredibly thin and unstable snow ridge as walking on a rope to the sky."
The latest info on climbs in the Huayhuash as of April 2004 can be found here.
Few people can hope to ever climb a peak like Jirishanca. However, mere mortals can trek to its base and gaze up at its lofty summit. A two-week trek around the entire Huayhuash range is a worthy high altitude circuit rivaling any similar trek in Nepal. For photos and a report from a June 2001 trek around the Huayhuash, click here.
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 some small lakes are not shown because the mapmakers could not see every slope and had no pictures taken from an 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.
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.