Success on 17,913' Yanapacha - Cordillera Blanca, Peru

The Blackbird team standing on top of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru

The Blackbird team standing on top of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru on June 21, 2022. Photo: Zeb Blais.

Two days ago, all members of the Blackbird team stood on the summit of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.  The weather was fantastic and the climbing conditions were fun and engaging, making it an unforgettable day.

Sunset on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.

Sunset on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru.Photo: Zeb Blais.

We began from base camp at 3:30 am.  The night was warm and clear and we started in only a light fleece over our base layer tops.  The climb begins with a rocky trail to the fern line of the glacier, where a steep step of ice provides access to the snow covered glacier of the West Face of Yanapacha. With our bodies feeling somewhat adjusted to the altitude, we were feeling good by the time we hit the glacier.

The first pitch of steep climbing on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

The first pitch of steep climbing on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais.

After climbing the short pitch of ice to get onto the glacier, we traversed across the broken glacier to the start of the steep climbing.  Conditions on the lower angle part of the glacier were excellent with widespread firm and supportable snow.  As the glacier steepened, the snow became faceted and hard to climb.  Areas where seracs or cornices had fallen and work-hardened the snow were much easier to climb.  We aimed for these to make travel more efficient and headed to a crevasse crossing on the climbers left that avoided many of the overhead hazards on the right side of the route.

IFMGA Guide Rena nearing the summit ridge of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru

IFMGA Guide Rena nearing the summit ridge of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais.

We set our anchors at the lower side of the crevasse and began climbing steep snow.  The snow was soft and our ice tool placements were often not supported by substantially strong snow.  After searching for harder spots and taking a few swings with each tool, we’d find placements that were good enough to move up on the steep snow.  The front points and secondary points of our crampons were doing the bulk of the work keeping us engaged on the wall.  

A Blackbird team standing on top of the summit ridge of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais

A Blackbird team standing on top of the summit ridge of Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais

After two pitches we were within a few feet of the summit ridge.  From here there were two options to gain the summit: a steep, snowy chimney that previous climbers had burrowed through the cornice overhanging the slope we were on, or traversing left to the end of the cornice and ascending the knife edge ridge to the summit block from there.  Renato Rodriguez, our Chilean IFMGA expat guide living in Huaraz, Peru, boldly opted for the icy chimney.  I decided against the overhanging chimney of soft snow and intermittent ice and went for the ridge option.

Rena pulled through the steep chimney and began belaying his team to the ridge as I brought my climber to the ridge at the same time.  The ridge was amazingly exposed: steep snow and cornices in both directions with hundreds to thousands of feet of steep terrain below.  We anchored our teams to the snow with picket anchors as we coiled our ropes and began short roping our climbers to the summit of Yanapacha.


Despite the exhilarating relief and steep terrain, the climbing was straight forward and our teams were moving well.  We moved smoothly up the ridge as clouds moved in and out, threatening to take away our visibility, but never doing so completely.  

IFMGA Guide Zeb Blais and the Blackbird team on the summit of Yanapacha with Pisco Oeste and Pisco Este in the background.  Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

IFMGA Guide Zeb Blais and the Blackbird team on the summit of Yanapacha with Pisco Oeste and Pisco Este in the background.  Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo: Rena Rodriguez.

We reached the top with thick clouds to the west, obscuring our view of Huascaran and Chopicalqui.  Thankfully, we were able to see to the northeast and we got amazing views of Chacraraju and had good visibility for our descent, which was definitely welcomed given the exposed ridgeline we had to descend.

A Blackbird team descending from the summit of Yanapacha in Peru.  Photo: Zeb Blais

A Blackbird team descending from the summit of Yanapacha in Peru.  Photo: Zeb Blais

The descent went smoothly and quickly.  We down-climbed the summit snow pyramid to the ridgeline where there was a fixed picket that had been established by a previous team.  We backed it up with one of our own to test the fixed anchor and rappelled a full 60m pitch to another previously established anchor.  Rappelling with our other set of 60m ropes, I backed this anchor up with a picket and threaded the second set of ropes through the lower anchor as the rest of the team rappelled down to me.

Rena rappelling from the summit ridge on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais

Rena rappelling from the summit ridge on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais

After our second rappel, we were off of the steep, exposed terrain and back onto the glacier.  We transitioned to roped glacier travel and began our descent on the glacier.  The snow was perfect for plunge stepping and made for quick travel.  Mindful of the looming seracs, we made our way back to the fern line of the glacier and lowered everyone back to the rocky moraine.


Back at camp we were greeted by our camp cook, Hernan, and his assistant, Mastedonio, who treated us to a delicious lunch of taquitos with fresh guacamole and Causa, a Peruvian specialty of potatoes, chicken and sauce.  We hastily kicked off our boots, guzzled some water and gorged ourselves on the fresh food!  Our afternoon was a lazy one, relaxing in our tents and napping after our early morning climb.

Descending the lower glacier back to Yanapacha Base Camp in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.  Photo: Zeb Blais.

Rena rappelling from the summit ridge on Yanapacha in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. Photo: Zeb Blais

The next day, on our hike out of the Llanganuco Valley, the weather was spectacular.  Tiny clouds dotted the otherwise crystal clear sky and we got incredible views of a massive part of the Cordillera Blanca.  The Chacraraju and Pisco Oeste looked amazing standing next to Yanapacha and the Huandoy group’s sharp towers pierced the sky with jagged rock.


Rounding the corner from our camp, Huascaran Sur, the highest peak in the Cordillera Blanca and in Peru, reared its head along with its slightly shorter brother, Huascaran Norte.  These peaks are so magnificent that they command your attention for the entire hike.  They are massive, covered in glacial ice hundreds of feet thick, and incredibly steep.  The Cordillera Blanca has countless peaks like this, which is one of the reasons it is such a magnificent range.  It is not a one-hit-wonder with one or two main attractions, the list goes on and on.

Views of the Cordillera Blanca on our way our from Yanapacha. From right to left: Huascaran Norte, Huascaran Sur, and Chopicalqui.  Photo: Zeb Blais.

Views of Peru's Cordillera Blanca on our way out from Yanapacha. From right to left: Huascaran Norte, Huascaran Sur, and Chopicalqui.  Photo: Zeb Blais.

As we neared the trailhead, another gem of the Cordillera Blanca came into view: 6,354m Chopicalqui.  Views of Huascaran, Chopicalqui, the Huandoys and the Laguna de Llanganuco and Llanganuco Orconcocha was the perfect way to end our trip in the Llanganuco Valley.  Content and excited about our summit success, we headed back to Huaraz.  

Leave a comment