Alpamayo FAQ
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.

About Alpamayo Training, Gear & Communication Expedition Basics My Experience

About Alpamayo

Q: Where is Alpamayo?
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.

Training, Gear & Communication

Q: How did you train for this climb?
A: In the previous four months, I climbed eleven of my local Colorado 14,000 mountains to get "real-world" miles underneath me with a 30lb pack plus enjoyed ice climbing throughout the previous winter. I no longer run due to bad knees but aerobic training is always good for these climbs.

Q: Was altitude a problem on this climb?
A: Yes! Anytime you are above 8,000' you can experience problems. Alpamayo is a serious high altitude mountain at 19,500'. The summit push is a long effort involving technical ice climbing with strong concentration and stress on legs and arms. It was quite a mouth breather at times!

Q: Can you prepare for the altitude?
A: Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.

Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American Lung Association this way:

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.

Q: What kind of equipment did you use?
Click for a larger view of my Everest gear. A: Mostly I use the same gear I used on Aconcagua or Denali. Lot's of layers. My personal technical equipment included a short and long handle ice axes, harness, carabineers, ice screws and crampons. It is always critical to protect my toes, fingers and face since these are most susceptible to frost bite. As for warmth, I always wear a knit cap and at least liner gloves when I get the least bit cool - regardless of the outside temp. I use a 3 layer system of Merino wool base layer (top and bottom), heavier fleece as in the Mountain Hardware Power Stretch (a Farmer's John kind of suit) or just my Patagonia Guide pants depending on how cold it is that day then my top wind or warmth layer e.g. Patagonia Micro Puff and/or JetStream Shell. I used my Feather Friends 850 Fill down jacket at the Col Camp and on the summit. See my gear page for a complete discussion and my gear list. I am very pleased with all my gear but have a few standouts that I note on my gear page.

Q: Anything special in your gear for Alpamayo?
A: It was a technical climb so I brought my Black Diamond Cobra ice axes. I was glad to use my Mountain Hardware Power Stretch on the summit push as it got cold near the summit. Overall, It was colder than expected.

Q: Was there web site coverage?
A: I posted dispatches this site at Alpamayo Dispatches using a satellite phone.

Q: How did the Sat Phones work?
A: I used Iridium sat phone. It was spotty connections with all the nearby high ridges. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.

Expedition Basics:


Q: Which routes are most popular?
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

My 2012 Experience
Alan on Alpamayo Summit

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?
A: The French Direct on the Southwest face of Alpamayo.

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).

click to enlargeThe 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.

Q: And the summit?
A: Beyond belief! The views were simply amzing.We gained the ridge and made a short climb to the true summit.

Q: What kind of weather conditions did you have?
A: Perfect, no wind or clouds and temps in the mid F20s.The entire climb was in the shade as it faces the South. It was cold and windy on the summit. We held at the Col Cam for one day due to high winds.

Q: Did you use bottled oxygen?
A: No, supplemental oxygen is usually only used above 26,500'.

Q: Would you climb Alpamayo again?
A: Yes. The entire area is amazing with so many mountains to climb.

Bottom Line

I 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.

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