The summit pyramid, with the NW ridge on the left and the S ridge on the right
Shaped like a beautiful pyramid, Tocllaraju
is hidden away deep in the mountains. However, because the Cordillera Blanca itself is a relatively small chain, that doesn't mean it's hard to get there.
To the southwest lies Quebrada Ishinca ("Quebrada" means "valley"), to the west Quebrada Akilpo and to the northwest, north and northeast the mountain is surrounded by the long Quebrada Honda, with its small side valleys Quebrada Cancahua and Quebrada Pacliash respectively directly north and northeast of Tocllaraju. From the nearest trailheads, it only takes one day of hiking in any of these valleys to get close. By far the most popular approach is the gentle trail up Quebrada Ishinca. Deep in that valley lies Refugio Ishinca, a convenient place to stay.
Clouds rolling over Akilpo
Tocllaraju is surrounded by glaciers and has steep faces and ridges on all sides. Four ridges shape the mountain, varying from steep to suicidal.
When hiking up Quebrada Ishinca, the first ridge that comes in view is the steep one that starts out to the south, narrowing and turning east after a while, eventually leading to Palcaraju
(6274m). At 5550 m, the saddle between the two gives Tocllaraju a prominence of 484 m. In the opposite direction, another steep ridge stretches north, with a side ridge sprouting off towards the northeast after a less than a kilometer. A really steep but somewhat less pronounced ridge goes east straight from the summit, and last but not least there is the NW ridge, which actually doesn't quite lead to the summit but joins the north ridge with just 100 (horizontal) meters to go. The relatively wide NW ridge quickly drops to about 5200 m, before narrowing and rising steeply again to the twin summits of Nevado Akilpo
The paddle points to Tocllaraju.
Even if you're not going to climb anything, just the hike into Quebrada Ishinca alone is worthwhile, as you can enjoy the impressive views of the massive bright and dazzling glaciers tumbling down from the ridge between Tocllaraju and Palcaraju. When you first enter the valley, the glaciers are not visible yet, but as you go deeper, they'll first appear in the distance and then just keep getting bigger and bigger. And if you don't hike back the same day but stick around, eventually the glaciers will no longer be bright and in the few minutes before darkness you may see something like this:
Panorama from base camp, with Tocllaraju on the left and, with the summit far behind, the slopes of Palcaraju on the right.
Now, if you want to climb an easy 6000 m peak, the Cordillera Blanca is the wrong place to go. However, for mountaineers with a bit of experience it truly is a fantastic playground. And of all the 6000-ers, when in perfect shape, Tocllaraju offers one of the least difficult normal routes to the summit, so it comes as no surprise that it is climbed regularly. It is also one of the lowest 6000-ers, making it very suitable as an acclimatization peak for those dreaming about climbing even higher ones. Make no mistake about it though: one of the least difficult routes still doesn't make it easy. Not at all.
Addendum: Since the 1930's Tocclaraju was believed to be well over 6000 m, but analysis of modern SRTM data shows that it is probably closer to 5980 m. So, if it's the 6000 m mark that you want to exceed, you better look for another mountain. Personally, I don't climb something because of its elevation, but because I like what I've read about a route, or because I like how a mountain looks. And Tocclaraju still looks as stunning as it looked when I thought it was some 50 meters higher.
Quebrada Ishinca offers several easy mountains as well. Deep in the valley, at 4350 m, sits Refugio Ishinca, at the edge of a large flat area also known as base camp. Both Urus Este
(5420m) and Nevado Ishinca
(5530m) are regularly climbed from there and make fine, easy acclimatization peaks. Both take a day to climb, though it must be said that the route to Urus Este is decidedly shorter. For Tocllaraju, base camp is too low for all but the strongest climbers, and most will need to spend a night camping between 5100 and 5300m before starting the summit attempt.
For the sake of completeness, the same base camp is also used for climbing Ranrapalca
, (6162m) but that's a slightly more difficult mountain. And next to Urus Este there are also the rarely climbed peaks of Urus Central
(5495m) and Urus Oeste
Zooming in on Palcaraju from the top of Tocllaraju
Tocllaraju from the south, from high on Ishinca
From the trailhead, you can hike to the head of Quebrada Ishinca and back in a long day. Alternatively, you can sleep at the refuge or bring a tent and camp, making it a two day trip.
A popular 3 day "trekking" route in the Cordillera Blanca connects Quebrada Ishinca with Quebrada Cojup further south. To get from one valley to the other, the route crosses a high pass real close to the summit of Nevado Ishinca. Some of the best views of Tocllaraju along this trek can be enjoyed on the trail north of the pass. But there is a reason for the quotes around "trekking": this route involves a glacier crossing. It's neither a very crevassed nor steep one, but it's still a glacier. Nevertheless the agencies in Huaraz offering this route advertise it as a trekking package. Some even include climbing Ishinca, which makes sense since the pass isn't far from the summit anyway.
I've also seen offers of trekking packages connecting Quebrada Akilpo and Quebrada Ishinca. I don't know the route that connects these two valleys, but given the terrain it has to pass somewhere between Urus Este and Tocllaraju, which means it comes pretty close to the latter.
A Few FactsThe Name
The original Quechua name of the mountain is Tuqllarahu, which comes from the words "tuqlla", meaning "trap" or "snare", and "rahu", meaning "snow covered mountain". Sometimes the mountain is called Nevado Tocllaraju instead of simply Tocllaraju. However, since "Nevado" means "snow covered mountain", just like "rahu", that seems superfluous to me. In fact, many climbers simply call it "Toclla".
The Peruvian IGN
map gives the elevation as 6034 m, the Alpenvereinskarte
as 6032 m. However, the latest edition of John Biggar's authorative book on the Andes explains that the elevation is probably somewhere around 5980 m, well below the magical 6000 m mark.
First ascent: Walter Brecht and Hans Schweizer, 31 July 1939. Approach via Quebradas Honda and Cancahua to the north of the mountain, then across the glacier and finally via the NW ridge to the summit.
Second ascent: Leigh Ortenburger and Kermith Ross, 1959. Approach from the north as in the first ascent, but via the north ridge to the summit.
Current normal route: Daniel Bach, Albert Bezinge, Jean-Jacques Fatton and Carlo Jaquet, 7 August 1963. Approach by Quebrada Ishinca to the SW of the mountain, across the glacier and then up the NW ridge as in the first ascent.
There are direct intercontinental flights to Lima, the capital of Peru. From there, the bus to Huaraz, the main logistical center for the Cordillera Blanca, takes about 7 hours.
If you're travelling light and have some time to arrange things, you could buy or rent everything you need for the climb. However, I advise to bring at least some of your own gear, especially boots and two ice tools, or at least a long axe and one tool. Snow pickets can be made cheaply and quickly in many hardware stores in Huaraz.
With the exception of freeze dried food, the local supermarkets and the big central indoor market sell all necessary supplies. Camping gaz is a bit expensive and some of the tourist agencies have a few cartridges for sale. White gas is much cheaper, and much easier to find at several of the hardware stores around the central market.
The drive from Huaraz to the trailhead above Pashpa or to the neighboring village of Collon takes 1-1.5 hours.
Flowers near the trailhead - in the background is Urus Oeste
NW ridge (normal route)
By far the most popular route is the NW ridge. Depending on the guidebook, the route is rated AD or D. With the excellent conditions by mid 2011, I judge it AD.
View from high camp on the glacier at dusk
The trailhead for the Ishinca valley lies at the end of the road shortly above Pashpa (3650m). It's an easy 4 hour hike to base camp. The agencies in Huaraz can arrange an arriero with mules waiting for you to carry your gear. Alternatively, you can try to find one yourself in Pashpa.
Too close to the W face!
Camping at 5300m
For high camp, the first suitable location is moraine camp (±5100m), SW of the mountain, right at the edge of the glacier, about 4 hours from base camp. Sometimes there is a trickle of running water, but I wouldn't count on it if it's cold. Furthermore, moraine camp is not all that big, and since it is a popular route it isn't always real clean. I advise to treat or boil the water before using it.
If you go a bit higher, the glacier levels off at around 5200m. Though not many people camp there, there is lots of flat space, it's clean, and the summit is a little closer. Obviously you'll have to melt snow to get water. If you want to, you can continue a bit further still as there are plenty of suitable spots to camp up until about 5300m. After that you'll get a bit too close for comfort to the west face and the debris lying below it, and the area gets a bit more crevassed.
The best place to get onto the NW ridge varies over the years, depending on the conditions. During the climbing season, unless there is fresh snow, there often is a trail. If not, it may take quite a while to find a suitable route, especially if it's still dark.
The crux in 2011: getting on the NW ridge
Climbing right above the crux, still steep
An accident waiting to happen: a serac at the edge of the NW ridge
For the most part, the ridge itself is wide. So wide in fact that you can get lost in poor visibility if the trail isn't very clear. We had good visibility, but because the snow was real hard, occasionally the trail was difficult to spot and on the descent we actually had to search a little. Still, I was happy with the conditions, for hard snow is a lot easier to ascend, and the snow bridges over the crevasses are much stronger.
Crossing the bergschrund high on the NW ridge, 2002
There are several big crevasses on the ridge, and if you read various trip reports and route descriptions, the main difficulty of the whole route often is a big bergschrund with less than 100m to go, right at the base of the final steep section, and this is the reason for the D rating. In 2011, we had no such problems with a schrund at all, which, judging by both older and newer reports, was unusual. To save time we decided not to protect it, so we unroped and both soloed up.
In 2011 the crux was the steep section right before gaining access to the ridge. It was 70º right at the bottom, above a small bergschrund, but quickly easing to about 60º and easing still a bit more higher up. In less than two rope lengths we were on the ridge, where we could simply walk. Higher up there were a few more steep sections, but never more than 55-60º, and mostly we could just walk up.
With the route being in great shape, we took 6 hours from our camp at 5200 m to the summit, matching what the guidebooks say. Descending went much faster. Occasionally rappelling but mostly walking and climbing down, we were back at our tent in less than 2.5 hours, and after a break and packing up we got down to Refugio Ishinca in another 2 hours.
Judging by the Climber's Log entries, the difficulties in 2013 were comparable - except that the snow wasn't nicely packed and hard, but sugary. Well into the season it should have been consolidated. That it wasn't illustrates how conditions in the mountain can be quite different over the years.
The west face reflecting the sun, 2011
A distant second in popularity, the steep West face is climbed occasionally. It looked dangerous in 2011, with lots of debris below the face and massive seracs hanging above it; and part of the route was bare rock. I seriously wondered if it would get in shape again in the years to come.
This was the route of the second ascent. How often it's climbed since, I don't know. For what it's worth, the Second Ascent report
doesn't state how difficult it was back then, but the glacier has probably changed a lot over the years anyway. The map contours show that it is much steeper than the NW ridge, suggesting that it's harder.
Summit view to the northern Cordillera Blanca. You have to start real early for this sunrise!
The whole of the Cordillera Blanca lies in the Parque Nacional Huascarán
. To enter, you need a ticket, which costs 65 soles (in 2011). On the ticket it says that it's valid for a week, but in fact it's valid longer. Should you you visit the area in the future, feel free to add an addition with the latest situation.
To climb anywhere in the park without a guide, you need a special permit. You can get one at the park office in Huaraz. It's free, but you have to prove to the officials that you know what you're doing - one way to do so is to show your alpine club membership card. A small stone building not far into Quebrada Ishinca serves as checkpoint where a park official may ask to see your ticket and permit. I was checked once, but on three other occasions, all in the afternoon, I could just walk through. I can only guess that that's because the majority of visitors enter the valley in the morning.
When to Climb
The best months are July and August, and June isn't too bad either. Earlier in the year the snow may still be unsettled and avalanche risk can be higher, though avalanches may occur all year round. Sadly, in July 2013 two Argentinian climbers died in an avalanche on the mountain.
By the end of the climbing season the weather can be a bit less stable and strong winds sometimes become a problem. But after a period with little or no fresh snow and with a favorable weather window, a late season attempt is still viable.
Just a small part of Ischinca base camp
In Huaraz there are many hostels to chose from, as well as some more expensive options.
Refugio Ishinca, located at base camp, has bunk style accommodation and serves meals. Alternatively, you can put up your tent (for free), or camp but still order a meal in the refuge, or even sleep inside but prepare your own food. Depending on your plans, you may need to bring a tent and a stove. Always bring a sleeping bag.
To climb Tocllaraju, unless you're very fast, you'll need camping gear for high camp anyway, so using the refuge doesn't save all that much weight, except a bit on food. It's convenient though, and warmer than in a tent.
External LinksTocllaraju on Camptocamp
Tocllaraju on AndesHandbook
Maps and Books
The best map is the Alpenvereinskarte 0/3b Cordillera Blanca Süd (Perú), 1:100000.
John Biggar: The Andes - A guide for climbers, 4rd edition, 2015. ISBN 978-0953608744.
Brad Johnson: Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca, 2009 revised edition. ISBN 978-9975860618.
Wide panorama from moraine camp, spanning almost 270º.
On the left are Tocllaraju, Palcaraju and Pucaranra, on the right Ranrapalca and Ochshapalca, with Quebrada Ishinca below.
Just right of center and left of Ranrapalca, hiding in the shade, lies Nevado Ishinca. It looks rather insignificant, but it's still 5530 m high and one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the Cordillera Blanca. The main reason for that is that it's one of the easiest ones, but the magnificent summit views don't hurt at all either. No surprise, really, if you think about it, with all these wildly glaciated 6000-ers towering above and around it. For just one example, scroll up this page and you'll see a photo of Tocllaraju from Ishinca.