Alpamayo Summit Report
19,511 feet 5947 meters

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My mom, Ida, passed away from Alzheimer's in 2009.

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Peru's Alpamayo, one of the world's most beautiful peaks, is in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of the Peruvian Andes.

I was attracted to this climb due to the beauty of the Cordillera Blanca, the technical aspect of the summit climb and to do a serious climb in Peru. The fluted face is reminiscent of the Peruvian peak, Siula Grande, made famous in the movie Touching the Void - not a great reference if you have seen the film! :)

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click to enlarge I arrived in Lima, Peru after a relatively short 6 hour flight from the U.S. on June 21, 2012. The plan was to meet up with the small team of six organized by Phil Crampton's Altitude Junkies company. I was met at the airport by the hotel, San Antonio Abad in Miraflores and taken to this simple but clean hotel outside the main city. I had an extra day in Lima so took in a few sights including the Huaca Pucllana, a giant adobe pyramid built around 500 AD. Overall however, I found Lima a bit dreary, crowded and full of poverty.

Phil had organized transportation to the trailhead with an overnight stop in the mountain gateway city of Huaraz. The drive up the Peruvian coastline along the Pan American Highway was interesting for its desolation. We turned inland after a few hours and soon were navigating extremely twisting roads that went from sea level to Huaraz at 10,000'. The landscape was impressive with wide open spaces covered in brown grass against an ever increasing backdrop of snow capped mountains.


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Huaraz, a city of 125,000, had nice parts but overall continued to show the poverty and the third-world nature of Peru. An earthquake in 1970 destroyed most of the city and killed half the population at the time. We stayed at small hotel, Olzas which was arranged by Chris Benway, an American expat living in Huaraz for over 15 years. The view from the rooftop deck was outstanding both during breakfast and at sunset.

Chris runs a logistics service for climbers plus the nicest restaurant in town, Cafe Andino. He also arranged our transportation, hotels, base camp cooks, burros and two porters to carry gear to our High Camp, all for a very low and reasonable price. Phil arranged all the climbing details including tents, climbing gear and arranged for our team to have a second leader, Samuli Mansikka, who is the president of the Finnish Alpine Club.

After a relaxing evening at Cafe Andino we took a private van north towards the tiny country village of Cashapampa. This is where we met our Arrieros and burros, paid the park fee to enter the HuascarĂ¡n National Park. This was the last place we had local cell phone connection via Claro Wireless.

Trek to Base Camp

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The trek was normal for high mountain valleys following a glacial river along steep mountain walls, cascading waterfalls and ever increasing altitude at an overall gentle grade other than at the start. I was surprised to see many people just trekking this valley but should not have been. We trekked from 9000' in Cashapampa to our first camp at Llamacorral at 11,500'. It took less than four hours covering about eight miles. A small shop sold soda and beer there.

The next day we continued following the river passing two turquoise lakes, Ichicocha and Jatuncocha, before taking a sharp left turn into a hanging valley to gain over 1,000' reaching the base camp at 14,000'. This took under five hours and the remaining 10 miles. The burros beat us there.

The cooks set up their tent and a dining tent as we set up our Mountain Hardwear EV3 individual tents. The views were fantastic with the north east side of Alpamayo just above us providing a clear view of the route to the Col. To our south was the mountain allegedly used by Paramount Pictures for their logo, Artesonraju.

Alpamayo Base Camp

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We had a great dinner that night before turning in for a carry to the Moraine Camp the following day. That night, my stomach let me know something was not right. After a tough night of near vomiting and constant diarrhea, I took the next day off trying to recover by sleeping the day away. The rest of the team made a carry of personal and group gear up the rocky, scree and slab hillside to the Moraine Camp at 16,500'. It took them about 5 hours round trip.

The next day was a rest day and appreciated by all, especially me. But Phil, Samuli and our two porters made a carry of tents, food and fuel to the Col Camp.

The weather was good with clear, cold nights (in the F20s) and warm days. The night-time sky was excellent with clear views of the Milky Way and Southern Cross. The only complaint was that there was a lot of livestock around, from burros to horses to cows thus a lot of animal waste so you had to be careful where you stepped, or put something down. Also, the cooks used water from a nearby flowing river but I was not sure of the overall hygiene. This may have been the cause of my stomach issues.

High Camps

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Now on day five of the climb, and my stomach feeling much better, we made the move to the high camps in anticipation of a summit attempt around July 4th. Since I had missed the carry the previous days, my pack was a bit heavy around 45 pounds with my climbing gear (harness, helmet, crampons, carabineers, ice screws, and three ice axes) plus extra clothes, food and my sat gear. I took my time along with one of my teammates as we wended our way through the scrub trees, onto the open hillside then loose scree and finally onto the large slabs that marked the end of the hill and the beginning of one of the glaciers coming off Alpamayo. I arrived at camp and promptly vomited. That done, I felt much better!

We spent the night and began the serious snow climbing the next day. We roped up into teams of three and began to traverse the glacier complete with a few very deep crevasses. Eventually we reached the base of the final section to the top of the Col. it was about 300' of loose snow at a 45 degree angle. The last pitch approached 55 degrees. With our heavy packs this was challenging as we crossed 18,000'.

Once across the Col, we down climbed about 100' to the Col proper and got our first clear views of Alpamayo to the north and Quitaraju to the south. I must admit that I was a bit intimidated upon first view of the Alpamayo Face. It was steep, never ending and unforgiving. The good news was that there were only a few other climbers on the Col and they seem to come and go quickly. I had read and heard horror stories of how crowded it could be so was happy to see we might have it to ourselves.

Preparing for the Summit

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Once again the stomach bug struck but this time it hit everyone else but me and my tentmate Mclean. Sounds of running to the toilet pit or vomiting was common throughout the night. We were never sure of the source as we double boiled our water at the Camp or had re inspected the cook's processes at base camp.

In any event the clouds moved in and the winds picked up encouraging us to take a rest day at the Col Camp on July 2nd. However half our team made the decision to return to Base Camp and forgo the entire climb. Phil took them back down while Samuli, Mclean and I stayed at the Col Camp. The sunset and dawn views were incredible but the face of Alpamayo stood high above all else occupying our thoughts.

The Summit Push

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After a full rest day, everyone was feeling good and we set off to climb the Southwest face at 7:45 AM. There were two other climbers already high on the Face but no one else around - perfect. The skies were perfectly clear, temps in the 20sF and no wind - ideal conditions.

We roped up with Samuli (34) in the lead and Mclean (27) at the end. I guess they wanted the old man (55) in the middle! There were several sections to the climb: cross the bergschrund, climb to the summit, the summit ridge and the descent. We used two 60m ropes.

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It took about half an hour to reach the long crack across the face, an ever-present image in all pictures I had even seen. I was surprised at how fast the angle went from easy to steep. The bergschrund proper was probably over 60 degrees. I started breathing.

The next section eased a bit to maybe 50 degrees, still very steep, with loose snow. I carefully placed my two Black Diamond Cobra ice axes along with my Black Diamond Sabertooth Pro crampons into the Face. The climb went smoothly at this point.

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The middle section turned to hard packed ice with no snow. It took a few swings at times to get a good tool placement and some serious kicks to plant the front points. It was physical. The angle now increased to a sharp 60+ degrees. Samuli placed ice screws with a quickdraw that we clipped our rope into when there was not a cordlett already attached to the ice using existing threaded ice anchors (aka, Abalokov threads or v-threads).

The climbing was serious, sustained and tremendous fun. I was having a blast!

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I took a moment and looked between my legs to see Mclean not far behind cleaning the route of our pro. He was doing great but I was also struck by the steepness. If I fell, I had serious doubts the pro would stop my momentum. I took another kick into the ice and reset my tools.

The final section eased a bit again to maybe 55 degrees before increasing the final 100' and turned back to soft snow. In spite of what we had heard, there were no "steps" already kicked into the route so each move was fresh and clean at over 19,000'.

Samuli already on the ridge, belayed me in. As I stepped on the summit ridge I felt immense satisfaction with what I had just accomplished. A quick look back down the route and of our tents far below on the Col gave me perspective. It was very windy on the summit so I put on my down jacket after climbing in just a shell the entire day.

Mclean soon joined us and I noticed a small boot track to a slightly high point, the true summit. I walked up only to see one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in the mountains. I smiled and let out a whoop without regard. For the next half hour we celebrated our climb, savored the views and took way too many pictures, if that is even possible.

I took it all in once again reflecting on how fortunate I am to do these climbs and gave a silent honor to the victims of Alzheimer's; around the world. I vowed to seal the view into my memory forever.

The Descentclick to enlarge

We gathered ourselves and prepared to return to the Col Camp. It took eight rappels and three hours to reach the Camp. Each rappel required moving the two 60 meter ropes, tying it into the v-threads or creating anew anchor. It took a lot of time to do it safely.

We had planned on climbing Quitaraju but the crevasse danger was too big and no other team had even attempted it this season.

We camped that night at the Col Camp and returned to Base camp the next morning. We departed for Cashapampa the following day and onto to Lima for our flights home after a celebration in Huaraz.


Climbing Alpamayo was a highpoint of my climbing career. It was technical, challenging and rewarding. It was not a high-altitude "hike". The expedition was well organized and went very smoothly in spite of the stomach issues. The Cordillera Blanca area is stunning with it's mountain beauty. My only regret was that I had not been there earlier in my climbing career.

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