Ishinca – July 2015

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Ishinca and Ranrapalca, at sunset from the Tocllaraju highcamp.

Ishinca.

At the base of Ishinca.

5530m Ishinca is an accessible trekking peak located in the aptly named Ishinca Valley.  The Ishinca Valley is an ideal location for acclimation due to the presence of a comfortable mountain refuge and two easy 5000m mountains – Ishinca and Urus – and thus is a popular destination for climbers at the beginning of a Peruvian climbing expedition.  On this trip to the Ishinca Valley my primary goal was the beautiful and technical Tocllaraju, with Ishinca serving as an acclimation climb and warm up.

Tocllaraju and Ishinca.

Tocllaraju and Ishinca.

We accessed the Ishinca valley via a private taxi from Huaraz, Peru’s climbing capital and the closest city to the Cordillera Blanca.  The drive took about two hours, followed by a ~4 hour hike up the valley to the ~4350m Ishinca refuge.  For a reasonable fee we hired a pair of burros to haul our gear and food during the approach hike.

One of our two burros, comfortably loaded with gear.

One of our two burros, comfortably loaded with gear.

The hike up the Ishinca valley is moderately sloped throughout and quite pleasant with animals carrying loads.  Numerous sharp peaks were visible in the distance.

Distant peaks.

Distant peaks.

The Ishinca valley refuge is comfortable, heated, and very well maintained.  A friendly Italian volunteer was running the refuge during our visit and was absolutely fantastic at it.  The refuge’s comfort and relatively high altitude make it a perfect spot for acclimation.

Despite the accessibility and good environment provided by the refuge, I found myself poorly acclimated on arrival.  Having only spent one full day in Huaraz at ~3000m before leaving to the Ishinca refuge at ~4350m my acclimation was incomplete, and manifest in a near complete lack of appetite.  Unable to choke food down my energy slowly waned, and my already poor acclimation made slow progress.  While this didn’t end up impacting my primary climbing goal of Tocllaraju, or even Ishinca, it did set my entire Peru trip back by burning through a lot of reserve energy quite early into the trip.  The next time I visit Peru I’ll spend at least three days in town and trekking at lower ~4000m elevations before trying to sleep higher.  This was a difficult lesson for me to swallow, given that I’d had very successful acclimation routines based out of ~3000m South American cities in the past.  I simply pushed the schedule too tight.

The Ishinca Valley Refuge.

The Ishinca Valley Refuge.

After a rough evening’s sleep we awoke early and began heading up the base of the valley towards Ishinca.  We had opted to ascend the southwest ridge route, and thus turned right where the boot track split up/across the valley.  As we headed towards the col between Ishinca and Ranrapalca Ishinca itself lay directly across from us, and the entire mountain was visible in the moonlight throughout our hike.

Ishinca across the valley in daylight.

Ishinca across the valley in daylight.

Here the hard reality of climbing in Peru began to set in; mountains in the Cordillera Blanca are enormous, distances are deceptive, and approach hikes are long and physical moraine slogs.  Getting to the base of the southwest ridge took us somewhere around 4 hours of hiking in the dark.

As the sun began to rise we gained the glacier and followed a gentle slope upwards.  Ishinca is the very definition of a trekking peak, with an easy and direct slope leading straight to the small summit pyramid.

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Approaching the soutwest ridge.

The summit pyramid itself was slightly corniced, and a small vertical snow step took us onto the top.  With bright sunshine, warm air temperatures and low wind we relaxed and enjoyed views of the surrounding mountains.  Distant Huantsan glowed in the sunshine, sharp and intimidating.

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Huantsan from Ishinca’s summit.

After roughly 30 minutes on top of the mountain we began to head back down.  On the way down we enjoyed excellent views of Tocllaraju across the valley.

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Tocllaraju in the early morning light.

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Tocllaraju, from the Ishinca approach hike.

Behind us Ishinca’s glacier shone in the sunlight, contrasted against a clear blue sky.  Despite its gentle slopes Ishinca is a large mountain and heavily glaciated.  The glacier’s various formations and icefalls were interesting and beautiful once visible in the sun.

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Ishinca in morning sunlight.

As my first Cordillera Blanca climb Ishinca was an excellent peak for pushing acclimation and getting a feel for the scale of Peru’s high mountains.  While technically easy and very accessible Ishinca was still worth visiting for its summit view and lovely glaciation.  Two days after climbing Ishinca we successfully summited Tocllaraju, in part due to the valuable acclimation stage which Ishinca provided us.

The valley refuge is well maintained, very comfortable, and affordably priced.  The next time I climb in Peru I intend to use the Ishinca refuge to acclimate once again, likely with a hike of Urus, the other easy 5000m peak accessible from the refuge.

Accessibility

Peru is an incredible destination for mountaineering, and attracts climbers from all over the world.  The Cordillera Blanca is a climber’s paradise, with seemingly endless possibilities ranging from the accessible and intermediate to extremely difficult and seldom-climbed peaks.  Peru’s peaks for the most part are technical affairs, and almost all of them involve very physical, lengthy approaches.  Because of this, the Cordillera Blanca is generally not considered a good area for inexperienced climbers to begin learning in.  The Cordillera Blanca also hosts numerous high quality multi-day trekking routes which draw a diverse assortment of travellers into Huaraz.

Huaraz is a city with a thriving tourist industry.  Local guides can be hired on the spot or in advance, and logistics services are easy to obtain from any number of local outfitting companies.  Taxis can be used to reach the starting points of approach hikes, but group transportation is also offered by logistics companies, and is less expensive once the cost is split with others.

I climbed with my Ecuadorian friend Edgar Parra while in Peru.  I hired Edgar as a 1:1 climbing partner and guide, having met him while in Ecuador a few years earlier.  Edgar is charismatic, patient, multilingual, safety-conscious, and an impressively strong, experienced climber.  Edgar’s website is http://www.lonelysummits.com/.

I strongly recommend Brad Johnson’s “Classic Climbs of the Cordillera Blanca Peru” as a guidebook for climbing in the Cordillera Blanca. It contains maps, photographs, detailed approach and route descriptions, and many interesting mountain stories.

 

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