19,511 feet 5947 meters
Alpamayo is a popular climb for those wanting to climb in Peru's famous
and beautiful mountains in the Cordillera Blanca Range. I am asked many questions
especially since I am not a professional climber. So here are the most popular
questions with my answers. As always, this information is based on my experience
and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any
serious climbing decisions.
A: Alpamayo, aka Nevado Alpamayo, is one of the world's most beautiful peaks located in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of the Peruvian Andes. The Cordillera Blanca has 29 summits over 6,000m. We met up in Lima, Peru then drove to Huaraz. At 19,511 feet it is serious altitude but not the highest in Peru, that would be Huascarán at 22,205', 6768m. View Alpamayo on a larger map
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: Being in the southern hemisphere but close to the equator, the climbing season is best from June through September when it is the driest. However, the weather can be extremely cold and windy anytime.
Q: Is an Alpamayo climb dangerous?
A: Alpamayo is a relatively safe climb by the standard route but there have been avalanches. In 2003, 8 climbers were killed in an avalanche from a snow meringue that collapsed above the Ferrari Route.
Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: There are no central statistics on summits but it is estimated abut 50% of climbers who reach base camp do not actually summit. Our team of 6 saw 3 summits.
Q: How did you train for this climb?
The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.
You cannot do much to acclimatize while at a low altitude but there
are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through
specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at
higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems
but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website.
They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside
Magazine posted an article in
2013 questioning their effectiveness.
A: The South West Face with the Ferrari or French Direct routes through the fluted face. Most people use the French Direct today after the Ferrari avlanched back in 2003.
Q: How long does a climb usually take?
A: The entire trip took about 18 days. 3 days to travel to Peru from the US including a day or so in Lima/Huaraz. Then 2 days trek to base camp at 13,500'. Another few days at BC then another two to get to the Col Camp, a day to climb and another few to return to Lima.
Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $1000 to $5000 depending on who you use. If you do everything yourself cut the highest cost in half or more. See my Guide page for more details. As with any trek in third-world countries you can save money but at a huge cost for comfort, hygiene, convenience and sometimes safety; so beware of the "deals".
Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: All climbers regardless of route or guides must buy a park (not climbing) permit to the Huascarán National Park, about US$23 in 2012.
Q: Do I really need a guide for Alpamayo?
A: It all depends on your skills, money and time available. Alpamayo is a serious high-altitude technical climb. Many people climb without a formal guide and contract with local agencies for burros or carry everything themselves. There are usually a lot of climbers on Alpamayo so you would probably not be alone but could be. We summited with only 2 other people at the Col Camp but there were 20+ heading up as we went down in early July 2012. In harsh weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill level carefully. Helicopter rescues are available if you post a cash bond before hand.
Q: Are there local guides for Alpamayo?
A: Yes, there are many quality choices based out of Huaraz . Some are less expensive than traditional Western companies but most charge from $100 to $200 USD per day. My usual advice is to get recent references from a climber with a similar background and skill level as yourself. Get everything in writing. Especially understand the acclimatization schedule since local guides have been known to rush people up and down advertising the entire climb in 7 days starting from Huaraz, we took 11. Finally ask about food, group gear and language skills. Hygiene can be a serious issue.
Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Alpamayo?
A: Most reputable guides ask for your climbing resume and require serious technical climbing experience. Ideally they want to see climbs of 14,000' mountains and technical ice climbing skills.
Q: What is involved if I plan my own climb?
A: Basically everything: permits, travel, hotels, food, gear, routes, communications, emergency contentions - everything. There is a local company in Huaraz (La Cima ) who can provide some services such as getting food or tents to base camp. You can save a lot of money over a western company this way but as I said before, consider your skills in the event that something goes wrong - are you self sufficient? What are your medical skills? Falls, HAPE and HACE are real possibilities on Alpamayo - do you have the proper medicine and training to deal with it? And a hundred more questions. See my guide page for more
Q: Did you summit?
A: Yes on July 3rd, 2012 at 11:30AM
Q: Why did you choose Altitude Junkies and how was it?
A: I have known Phil Crampton, owner of Junkies, for many years and was on Everest with him in 2008. Phil is not a "guide" but rather provides the logistics and attracts independent climbers which I like. He worked with La Cima out of Huaraz for the logistics and everything went very smoothly. Phil runs an efficient and fun experience.
Q: Which route did you take?
We took a few days in Base Camp (13,500') before moving to Moraine Camp (16,500') and then some serious glacier and steep snow climbing to the Col Camp (18,000'). We waited a day for good weather then left camp at 7:45 AM on July 3, summiting at 11:30. We stayed on the summit for half and hour and took 3 to return to the Col Camp. We set 8 rappel stations descending and used ice screws on the ascent or existing threaded ice anchors (aka, Abalokov threads or v-threads).
The climb was long, sustained and physical starting with crossing the bergschrund
highly visible across the base, climbing higher in loose snow then onto hard
ice and fully a mixed ravine to the summit ridge. Two technical ice tools
(BD Cobra) were required with a running belay. I found myself front pointing
often on the steep 50 to 65 degree angled snow and ice.
Bottom LineI found Alpamayo challenging and a rewarding climb. The mountain area is stunning, the people very friendly. Overall Peru is staggering with the poverty but once into the countryside, it is an amazing place.