The Ishinca Valley: Urus Este, Nevado Ishinca and Tocllaraju
Hiking into the beautiful Ishinca Valley in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais
After acclimatizing and refreshing ice climbing and mountaineering skills on Yanapaccha, our team took a well deserved rest day in Huaraz to prepare for our next objective: The Ishinca Valley. The Quebrada Ishinca, as it is known in Peru, is one of the Cordillera Blanca’s most famous valleys. It’s stunningly beautiful, has ideal and widely dispersed camping for large groups, and is home to 5 massive peaks: 5,420m Urus Este, 5,530m Nevado Ishinca, 6,162m Ranrapalca, 6,274m Palcaraju and our main objective for the trip, 6,034m Tocllaraju (Tok-ee-a-rah-hoo). It even has a Refugio, Refugio Ishinca, which was open for lodging, meals and drinks before the Covid-19 Pandemic started (it is uncertain when it will reopen).
The season thus far had been an interesting one, with lots of storms and late season snow. On Yanapaccha, the weather was good enough for a summit, but clouds threatened our climbing for much of the time we were there. Only on the hike out did the weather fully clear, but weather patterns on the approach to Ishinca Valley followed suit and on our way into camp we were greeted by thick clouds and light snow.
Our team hiking the trail to begin the ascent of Urus Este in the Ishinca Valley in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Aside from weather, news from the Ishinca Valley was that only one team had made the summit of Tocllaraju, and the route to the top was broken. Large bergschrunds and crevasses extending across the peak were preventing teams from making the summit without going to extraordinary lengths to pass the cracks. This was unsettling news, but we knew we needed more information to make our own decisions on the conditions of the route.
We attempted our first peak of the Valley, Urus Este, on our first day in Ishinca. Waking up before dawn, I got out of my tent to start the day and was greeted by cold temps and a centimeter of fresh snow blanketing camp. Winds up high looked fierce, and figuring the snow would be deeper up high, we pushed back our start to let things warm up and see if weather improved.
Scrambling the 3rd class rock to gain the Glacier on Urus Este in the Ishinca Valley of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais
Starting after sunrise with warmer temps, we hiked up the steep trail leading to the 3rd class rock and glacier guarding the summit of Urus Este. The hiking trail is steep and demanding, with lots of big steps, loose dirt and very small switch backs that make you dizzy turning back and forth for over a thousand feet of gain. The views make up for the grind of the trail though, and as we hiked, glimpses of the towering Ranrapalca and Ishinca peaks appeared from the clouds. Two of our team members elected to descend near the top of the switchback trail to avoid pushing themselves too hard in the altitude.
The third class rock section just below the glacier was a welcome change to the trail, but as we climbed, the winds increased, pelting our faces with freshly fallen graupel. The storm intensified as we moved onto the glacier, and soon we were leaning into the wind and getting blown back and forth by gusts well over 60mph (and, coming from the Sierra Nevada, I know what 60mph feels like!). Covering every bit of our faces and the edges of our sunglasses with our buffs, we pushed on.
A team climbing next to us closing in on the top of Urus Este in the Ishinca Valley, Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Luckily, the surface of the snow was perfect for crampons and the climbing conditions on Urus Este were quite good. We pushed through the wind, keeping our backs toward the constant push of air, stopping briefly behind a massive boulder for a quick gulp of water and respite from the wind.
Standing on the windy summit of Urus Este in the ishinca Valley of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais
We made the summit of Urus Este, bracing ourselves to keep from being blown off the steep summit pyramid, snapped a couple of very quick photos, and started our descent. This was a stark contrast to my last summit of Urus Este, in which we took a leisurely break on top to soak in the sun and enjoy incredible views of Tocllaraju, alpine lakes Laguna Akillpo and Laguna Milluancocha and the surrounding Cordillera Blanca.
A team of climbers descends Urus Este in the Ishinca Valley on a stormy day in the Cordillera Blanca. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Moving steadily, we descended the glacier and followed ribbons of snow through the third class rock until it was time to remove our crampons. When we could remove our spikes, we were low enough that we were below the winds and after a short section of scrambling through chunky granite, we were back on the trail back to camp.
After a day of braving the famous winds of the Andes and making the summit of a super fun peak in the Ishinca Valley, we were ready for a fresh cooked meal from our Cook Hernan. Having donkey support and a cook at camp is truly a luxury that makes the trip so much more fun for the whole team, and our crew was grateful for the support from Hernan and his assistant Mastedonio.
Up next on our Peru Blogs: Nevado Ishinca. Stay tuned for our second peak in the Ishinca Valley in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru!
View all of our 2022 Cordillera Blanca Blogs:
- Blackbird Teams arrive in Peru
- Arrival in the Cordillera Blanca
- Acclimatizing for Climbing in the Cordillera Blanca
- 100% Success on Yanapacha
- Arrival in the Ishinca Valley and Summit of Urus Este in the Cordillera Blanca
- The Ishinca Traverse: A Classic Climb of the Cordillera Blanca
- Tocllaraju Northwest Ridge: The Abnormal Normal Route