The northeast face is a moderate snow/ice climb with an (avoidable) rock band near the summit ridge. While not technically demanding, it does require proficiency in glacier travel, route finding, and snow climbing, at a minimum. The route is relatively free of objective danger, although more can be expected as the season progresses and more rocks are exposed.
Thanks to a beautiful high camp at 5,300m, the summit can be reached in 5-7 hours for an acclimatized climber. This is the easiest established route on a beautiful mountain. Combining the northeast face with the southwest slopes of Ishinca can make an excellent acclimatization sequence for those looking to tackle bigger routes.
Ishinca base camp
It is possible to approach the northeast face via either Quebrada Ishinca or Quebrada Cojup, but in reality the Ishinca approach is used by almost all climbers. Q. Ishinca is one of the more visited valleys in the Cordillera Blanca, with Nevados Urus and Ishinca, both popular walk-ups, accessed via the valley. Nevertheless, it is certainly spectacular.
From Huaraz, you may take either a taxi or colectivo. Look for a colectivo going to the small village of Collon. From there you will need to follow the road towards Pashpa (approximately 2 km), an even smaller collection of houses. A taxi can take you all the way to Pashpa. In a soccer/football field just above Pashpa, it is possible to arrange for an arriero and burros to transport loads to base camp. It is best to pre-arrange for an arriero to meet you at the field, although it may be possible to find one on the spot. Many large commercial groups use this valley, so there are many arrieros and burros available.
From the field, walk east towards the valley on the dirt road, following a fence line. Once at the bottom of the hill (5-10 minutes), cross an irrigation channel and make your way up the hill. Follow the wide, well-travelled path up and to the right, passing a makeshift gate. Continue following the path southeast through open fields, eventually skirting along and then entering a grove of trees. Continue up a few switchbacks to gain a ridge before descending a short distance, entering Q. Ishinca. The valley floor will be well below you at this point. The trail continues on level ground straight up the left side of the valley. Eventually the stream that flows out of the valley will be adjacent to the trail, and you will follow this all the way to base camp, gradually gaining elevation. About half way to base camp, there is a small concrete building that serves as a Parque National Huarascaran checkpoint. Here you will need to stop and register with a park ranger. Note that the checkpoint is not usually manned on Sunday’s. Past the checkpoint the valley floor becomes wider and more open, with the magnificent peaks coming into view.
Many people establish a base camp in the field (“pampa”) at the end of the main valley (~3-5 hrs, 15 km from Pashpa, elevation 4,400m). There is also a refugio available, which can be used for sleeping or just for meals. The pampa is a large area that can easily accommodate dozens of tents. An outhouse is available and its use is encouraged to help keep the area clean. Be sure to filter or purify all water and protect all food as cows graze in the field.
At the base camp, the valley splits. The left side heads toward Urus and Tocllaraju, while the right goes towards Ishinca and Ranrapalca. To access the righthand valley, follow the trail that ascends from the west end of the pampa where a small wooden footbridge crosses the stream. Follow this trail through switchbacks up the side of the valley. A sign indicates the trail towards Laguna Ishinca shortly after leaving base camp. Follow this trail for about three hours up steep slopes, then skirting around the right side of a high alpine field, then continuing up more rocky switchbacks. Keep on the main trail when a small trail veers to the left to heads towards the northwest slopes of Ishinca. Eventually you will gain the moraine ridge to the west of and high above Laguna Ishinca.
[It is possible to set up a camp in the sandy area on the east side of the lake, below another primitive hut. This is an excellent place to camp if you want to skip the crowds at the regular base camp. Laguna Ishinca can be reach in about 6-8 hours from Pashpa. If you use an arriero, he can be persuaded to make this trip as well, although you may have to pay a bit more. It is possible to make a push for the summit from this camp, although it makes for a long day.]
Follow the moraine ridge above the lake, ascending to avoid some rock butresses. Eventually you will drop down to the glacier (~ 1 hour from the outlet of the lake). Cross the glacier, following the tracks toward the southwest slopes of Ishinca. Before reaching the ridge, turn right and head for the col (5,300m, 2-3 hours from Laguna Ishinca, 4-6 hours from Ishinca base camp) that is tucked under the northeast ridge of Ranrapalca. Here you will find a flat area on the glacier large enough for several tents that is somewhat protected.
From the col, head around the corner of the ridge, then up moderate, mostly unbroken glacial slopes of maybe 30-40 degrees for approximately 400-500m of elevation gain. About half way up the face, a brief serac zone must be navigated, including one or two crevasses that must be jumped. The way through is fairly obvious (as of June 2009), with a short section of 60 degree climbing. Above the serac zone, navigate to the right side of the face to cross the first bergschrund. Here, the face steepens to approximately 55 degrees. In 2009, we were forced to traverse back to the left in order to pass a second smaller bergschrund.
Earlier guidebooks, such as Brad Johnson’s Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, show the route dividing into two variations above the first bergshrund. One variation ascends directly up through a band of blocky rock (UIAA IV) to gain the summit ridge. The second variation avoids the majority of the rock by climbing steeper (60 degree) snow and ice, with only a few brief mixed moves to also gain the summit ridge (4-6 pitches). Because of the need to traverse left to pass the second bergschrund, this second variation is now more direct.
Once on the summit ridge (more like a broad plateau), traverse left and up gentle slopes to the actual summit (6,162m). It is possible that this ridge will be covered in deep snow, depending on recent weather conditions.
Through the Glacier
The Final Pitch
Descend the route, making a few rappels from the ridge, then downclimbing through the seracs, then making your way down the glacier to the col. Be prepared to make your own anchors (pickets or rock anchors) for the upper section, but you may find some left from previous parties if you are attempting the route later in the season.
Two technical axes or one technical axe and one mountaineering axe, depending on your comfort level
Snow pickets, ice screws (more necessary as the season continues), and a small selection of rock gear (depending on which route you take)
When to Climb
The route is in the best shaper early in the climbing season (June-July), but some years it can also be climbed into August. The Casa de Guias in Huaraz provides current condition information.
The Northeast face is in the morning and midday sun (southern hemisphere). While this can be a blessing after a cold alpine start, it also softens the snow. If you are too late, this can impede progress.
Ranrapalca lies within Parque National Huascaran. A park pass is required, and there are some restrictions regarding access without hiring a local guide. See the Huaraz page.
Video from High Camp on the Ishinca-Ranrapalca Col. After reaching the col in the early afternoon, we waited out a storm for a few hours before emerging from our tents to this fantastic scene: