Trekking and climbing

The Cordillera Blanca offers the most popular - and some of the best - trekking and climbing in Peru, with a network of trails used by the local people and some less well-defined mountaineers' routes. There are numerous possibilities for day hikes, trekking and climbing. Of these, only a very few routes are currently used by most visitors, and so they have accumulated rubbish and other signs of impact. While these favourite treks - notably Santa Cruz-Llanganuco and the Alpamayo circuit - are undeniably interesting, you should consider the various excellent alternatives if you want to enjoy a less-crowded experience and help conserve the area's great natural beauty.

Trekking options

The many other options include:
Laguna Parón
, with its impressive cirque of surrounding summits (access from Caraz);
Hualcayán to Pomabamba
, traversing the northern end of the Cordillera Blanca with fine views of Alpamayo and many other peaks (access from Caraz);
Laguna 69
at the end of Llanganuco valley (access from Yungay); the
Ulta Valley
Laguna Auquiscocha
, between the massifs of Huascarán, Ulta and Hualcán (access from Carhuaz); to name but a few. There remains a good deal to be discovered in the area and your creativity in choosing a route is certain to be rewarded.

There are two traditional trekking routes in the
: a complete loop around the range ; and a half-circuit, starting from the trail head at Cuartel Huain and ending in Cajatambo. These are but two of very many excellent options and hikers are urged to be creative in choosing their routes and campsites - both to enjoy more pristine surroundings and to allow over-used areas to recover.

Advice to climbers

The height of the mountains in the Cordillera Blanca and nearby ranges and their location in the tropics create conditions different from the Alps or even the Himalayas. Fierce sun makes the mountain snow porous and the glaciers move more rapidly. Deglaciation is rapidly changing the face of the Cordillera, so older maps do not provide a reliable indication of the extent of glaciers and snow fields (according to some studies 15% of the range's glaciers have disappeared since the 1970s); local experience is important. Climbers should not assume that their experience on other ranges will be sufficient for the Cordillera Blanca and first-timers here should take a guide for safety.

The British Embassy advises climbers to take at least six days for acclimatization, to move in groups of four or more, reporting to a reliable fellow climber, an agency, your hotel or embassy before departing, giving the date at which a search should begin, and leaving the telephone number of your embassy with money.

Departamento de Salvamento de Alta Montaña (DEPSAM)
, has a 35-member rescue team in Yungay, with 24-hour phone service and vhf/uhf radio dispatch. They have trained search-and-rescue dogs and a Peruvian army helicopter. At present, they will rescue anyone - climbers, trekkers, tourists - without asking for cash up front; insured climbers will be billed but rescues are currently free for uninsured climbers, although this policy is likely to change. DEPSAM will only take the injured person as far as Caraz or Huaraz hospitals, from where additional costly medical evacuation may be required. It therefore remains imperative that all climbers carry adequate insurance; it cannot be purchased locally. Be well-prepared before setting out on a climb. Wait or cancel your trip when weather conditions are bad. Every year climbers are killed through failing to take weather conditions seriously. Climb only when and where you have sufficient experience.

Advice to hikers and trekkers

Most circuits can be hiked in five days. Although the trails are easily followed, they are rugged and the passes are very high - between 4000 and nearly 5000 m - so you should be fit and properly acclimatized to the altitude, and carry all necessary equipment. In the Cordillera Huayhuash you must be entirely self-sufficient. Evacuation in the event of illness or accident may require several days. Essential items are a tent, warm sleeping bag, stove and protection against wind and rain (climatic conditions are quite unreliable here and you cannot rule out rain and hail storms even in the dry season). Trekking with mules or donkeys demands less stamina, since equipment is carried for you. Nobody should trek entirely on their own. Something as minor as a sprained ankle can become a disaster if there is no one to assist you or go for help. As with the British Embassy advice to climbers above, you should always inform trusted friends or associates where you plan to hike and the latest date you plan to return.

Safety and conduct

Before heading out on any route, trekkers and climbers must always enquire locally about public safety. Following hold-ups of trekking parties in the Cordillera Huayhuash in 2003 and 2004, the local communities agreed to provide an armed escort for all groups hiking between Huayhuash and Viconga Lake. The Cordillera Blanca is generally quite safe, but muggings have taken place on the way to Laguna Churup, to the Mirador Rataquena above Huaraz, the Mirador above Monterrey, and at Wilkawain. The eastern side of the Huayhuash/Raura range, in the Department of Huánuco, has a reputation for more aggressive behaviour; be especially cautious in this area.

On all treks in this area, respect the locals' property, leave no rubbish behind, do not give sweets or money to children who beg (a serious problem on popular routes) and remember your cooking utensils, tent, etc, would be very expensive for a
, so be sensitive and responsible. Do not leave your gear unattended at any time and stow everything in your tent overnight.

You will encounter many cattle with dogs guarding them; it's best to give both a wide berth. Carrying a walking stick or crouching to pick up a stone will usually discourage the canines but throwing stones has been known to provoke an attack.

Rubbish is a significant problem at the usual campsites and you should personally pack out everything you bring in; you cannot trust muleteers in this regard. Much of the area is above the tree line; the remainder has been badly deforested. Make sure you have a reliable stove and enough fuel for cooking and resist the temptation to use what little firewood remains. Camp fires spreading out of control have caused huge damage in critical areas of the Andes. Improper disposal of human waste is also a problem. Exercise great care in this fragile environment.

Hiring guides and muleteers

Dirección de Turismo
issues qualified guides and
(muleteers) with a photo ID. Always check for this when making arrangements; note down the name and card number in case you should have any complaints. Prices for specific services are set, so enquire before hiring someone. You should also make your priorities clear to the muleteer in advance of the trek (pace, choice of route, campsites, etc) or else you will be led around with the line, 'all the gringos do this'. Some guides speak English and are friendly but lack technical expertise; others have expertise but lack communicative ability. You may have to choose between the former and the latter. Avoid 'private' guides who seek you out on the street.

For the Cordillera Huayhuash treks, it is sometimes a problem in the high climbing/trekking season to hire mules straightaway. This is because all the ones at the northern end are kept at Llamac and Pocpa and it may take a day to bring the mules to your starting point. The muleteers are a mixed bunch, ranging from excellent to irresponsible. Get a recommendation from someone who has recently returned from a trek.

Mountain shelters

There are four shelters: Refugio Peru Pisco (4765 m, 80 beds, meals, two hours from Llanganuco), Refugio Don Bosco Huascarán (4675 m, 60 beds, meals, four hours from Musho), Refugio Ishinka (4350 m, 60 beds, meals, three hours from Collon) and Vivaque Giordano Londoni at Ishinka (5000 m, 18 beds, no meals, five hours from Collon). They are operated by
Operazione Mato Grosso
,, and are open in high season only. In the rainy season there is a guard but no cooks.

Provisions and equipment

Huaraz is the region's supply centre and all but the most specialized items may be obtained here . Check all camping and climbing equipment very carefully before hiring or buying it. Hired gear is of variable quality and most is second hand, left behind by others. Also note that some items may not be available, so it's best to bring your own. All prices are standard, but not cheap, and all require payment in advance, passport or air ticket as deposit and will only give 50% of your money back if you return gear early. Many trekking agencies sell camping gaz cartridges. White gas (
) is available from
, but shop around to avoid overcharging. If you require freeze-dried meals, these should be brought from abroad.

In the Huayhuash, Chiquián's shops are usually well stocked with basic supplies, including locally produced butter and cheese, although prices may be a bit higher here. Almost nothing is available in the hamlets along the route, but fresh trout may be purchased by some of the lakes and a very few items (mostly beer, soft drinks and potatoes) might be purchased in Llamac, Pocpa, Carhuacocha, Huayllapa and Pacllón. Take coins and small notes as there is seldom any change. Bring a fishing line and lure to supplement your diet.

Maps and information

Casa de Guías
,, is the climbers' and hikers' meeting place. It has information, books, maps, arrangements for guides,
, mules, and so on. There is a noticeboard, postcards and posters for sale. The Casa de Guías has a full list of all members of the
Asociación de Guías de Montaña del Perú
) throughout the country.

A good tourist map of the Callejón de Huaylas and Cordillera Huayhuash, by
Felipe Díaz
, is available in many shops in the region
and at
Casa de Guías
in Huaraz ; it's not accurate enough for hiking the less-travelled trails.
Alpenvereinskarte Cordillera Blanca Nord 0/3a
Alpenvereinskarte Cordillera Blanca Süd 0/3b at 1:100,000
are easily the best maps of the Cordillera Blanca; they are available in Huaraz (also in Lima). Stocks locally are small, so it's best to get it before you arrive.
Instituto Geográfico Nacional
has mapped the area with its 1:100,000 topographical series. These are more useful to the mountaineer than hiker, however, since the trails marked are confusing and inaccurate.
South American Explorers
publishes a good map with additional notes on the popular Llanganuco to Santa Cruz loop.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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