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For those who feel the magnetic pull of the mountains, Peru is an inescapable destination. With an astounding 33 peaks above 6,000 m and many above 5,000 m, the Cordillera Blanca, in particular, carries some of most beautiful and dangerous mountains in Peru. In the nearby Cordillera Huayhuash lies many other majestic but unforgiving mountains; insolently daring the bravest to climb.While the ascent of many of these dangerous mountains can only be considered by experienced mountaineers, for mere mortals it can be a memorable experience just to see them.
Here is a brief introduction to 10 of the intriguing mountains in Peru and how to reach them.
Located in the Cordillera Blanca and towering over the surrounding landscape at 6,768m, Huascaran is the highest mountain in Peru. This mountain should only be climbed by experienced mountaineers. However, technically, it is considered much less difficult than some of the country’s less lofty peaks. Thus, making it a popular objective. For those unwilling or unable to attempt this tough six-day ascent, views of Huascaran feature prominently on the Santa Cruz trek, a walk of moderate difficulty that can be arranged from the town of Huaraz, where most people base themselves. If you are short on time, then opt for the Laguna 69 day hike or Laguna Churup day hike; Huascaran National Park is filled with turqouise gems like these lakes.
As a gentler introduction to the world of mountaineering for those seeking something more adventurous than just a ‘simple’ trek, an ascent of Mount Pisco has always been a popular option. Also located in the Cordillera Blanca, an ascent of this peak is more realistic for those with no previous mountaineering experience and can be combined with the Santa Cruz trek. The ascent usually takes three days and affords stupendous views of the surrounding mountains, although in recent years the climb has become more challenging due to its melting glacier. Most people stay in Huaraz and organise their climb from there.
Until very recently, this bizarre and unique geological formation was unknown to tourism – but no longer. Now it is possible to take a day tour from Cusco involving a six-hour trek to the top and back to see this seemingly fantastic striped mountain that ought to have no place in the real world. It may be possible to visit independently but it is much easier as part of an organised trip. The rainbow mountains are also a popular stop on the Ausangate trek. However, now the secret is out, the area often becomes quite busy with tourists.
Perhaps the most notorious of Peru’s giant peaks, Siula Grande was the setting for Joe Simson’s harrowing ordeal, as described in his book Touching the Void. It is, of course, still possible to climb Mount Siula Grande for those with the necessary technical skills who remain undeterred by Simpson’s traumatic account. For anyone else, simply catching sight of Siula Grande is one of the highlights of the Huayhuash Circuit trek, which can be arranged from the town of Huaraz.
The Santa Cruz trek is the most popular of all the Cordillera Blanca treks and is named after the Santa Cruz Mountain, which the trail passes below. It is possible to attempt a technical ascent of Santa Cruz Mountain but most visitors satisfy themselves with the views from below while undertaking the moderate four-day trek in the mountain’s shadow. The Santa Cruz trek can be organised from Huaraz.
Rising in the distance above the town of Arequipa, the almost flawless iconical form of the volcano known as El Misti exerts an inexorable draw on many visitors to the region and it is possible to reach its summit on a two-day trek. The climb to the 5,825m-high rim is tough and challenging and requires specialist climbing equipment at times of year when the peak is covered in snow but the thrill of climbing and conquering a towering active volcano makes it worth the effort.
For those wishing to get a 6,000 m peak under their belt without the need for technical mountaineering, Chachani, at 6,057 m is considered one of the best options in the world. Reached on a two-day trek departing from Arequipa, the most common difficulty encountered on this mountain in Peru is altitude sickness since Arequipa is not high enough to prepare the body for such altitude.
Alpamayo is considered challenging, and not without danger, by the mountaineering community but it is a mountain that is often attempted as it is also regarded as one of the most beautiful in South America, if not in the world. Not quite reaching 6,000m but presenting considerable technical difficulties, especially during the demanding final sections of the ascent, many experienced climbers consider the conquest of this near-perfect symmetrical peak the most rewarding of their mountaineering careers. Alpamayo is in the Cordillera Huayhuash and climbers base themselves at Huaraz.
The highest mountain in the Cordillera Huayhuash and the second highest in the country, Yerupajá presents a serious mountaineering challenge for even the most experienced practitioners of the sport. It is considered one of the most difficult climbs in the Andes – there have not been many successful ascents of this peak and many lives have been lost attempting it – putting it far beyond the capabilities of any casual visitors to Peru. However, just the chance to glimpse such a mighty and intimidating mountain can be humbling and this opportunity is afforded to those embarking on the Huayhuash Circuit Trek, organised from Huaraz.
For those with little or no previous experience who hope for a taste of mountaineering, a popular mountain in Peru is Mount Diablo Mudo, also known as Rajucollota, in the Cordillera Huayhuash. This peak presents a moderate challenge, requiring the use of climbing equipment. However, with a guide, this can be attempted by anyone in good physical shape. The ascent and descent of the mountain are usually completed in one day and it is a common addition to the classic Huayhuash Circuit trek. The trip can be organised from Huaraz.
For serious mountaineers, Peru holds irresistible challenges for every level and ability. For those who prefer adventures of a less extreme nature, there is still ample opportunity to come face to face with some of the most sublime peaks of the Andes – from a safe distance far, far below, from some of Peru’s best treks.