In 1932, when a German expedition became the first group to successfully scale Huascarán, the concept of Andinismo – Andean mountaineering – was born. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to enjoy the high Andes of Ancash, however, and there is plenty of scope for trekking and climbing in the two major mountain chains accessible from Huaraz as well; the closest is the Cordillera Blanca. The Cordillerra Huayhuash, about 50km south of that range, is still relatively off the beaten tourist trail and andinistas claim it to be one of the most spectacular trekking routes in the world. In order to hike in the Parque Nacional Huascarán, you need to get permission first from the park office (Parque Nacional Huascarán, Jr Federico Sal y Rosas 555) and the Casa de Guías in Huaraz; both can also provide maps and information.
If you intend to hike at all, it’s essential to spend at least a couple of days acclimatizing to the altitude beforehand; for high mountain climbing, this should be extended to at least five days. Although Huaraz itself is 3060m above sea level, most of the Cordilleras’ more impressive peaks are over 6000m.
One of the most popular trekking routes, the Llanganuco-to-Santa Cruz loop, is a well-trodden trail offering spectacular scenery, some fine places to camp and a relatively easy walk that can be done in under a week, even by inexperienced hikers. The Hualcayan-to-Pomabamba hike offers a much longer alternative and is equally rewarding. There are shorter walks, such as the trails around the Pitec Quebrada, within easy distance of Huaraz, and a number of other loops like the Llanganuco-to-Chancos trek. Experienced hikers could also tackle the circular Cordillera Huayhuash route. Detailed information on all these walks is available from the South American Explorers’ Club in Lima or, in Huaraz itself, from the Casa de Guías, the tourist office or tour companies.
To give a flavour of what you may expect from mountain climbing in the Cordillera Blanca, the expeditions below are some of the most popular among serious mountaineers. Remember to take a local guide if you do any of these; they’re listed in increasing order of difficulty.
Pisco One of the easier climbs, up to 5752m, this is a good way to cut your teeth in the Cordillera Blanca. Little more than a hard trek, really, with access via the Llanganuco Valley (3800m), with a duration of only three days. Rated easy to moderate.
Urus A two-day climb reaching heights of around 5500m; access is via Collon to Quebrada de Ishinca and it takes only two days. Rated easy to moderate for the peaks Ishinca and Urus; or moderate to difficult if you tackle Tocllaraju (6034m).
Alpamayo A serious and quite technical mountain rising to 5947m, and requiring good acclimatization on an easier climb first. Access is from Cashapampa (accessible by bus from Caraz), and it usually takes around eight or nine days. Rated as difficult.
Huascarán The south summit at 6768m is the classic route and really requires thorough acclimatization. Access is via Mancos (from where it’s an hour by bus to the village of Musho), and it normally demands a good week to tackle effectively. Rated, not surprisingly, as difficult.