Peak(s):  Chicon - 18143
Jampa - 18045
Helancoma - 17552
Maparaju - 17474
San Juan - 19170
Pisco Oeste - 18871
Chopicalqui - 20846
Mariposa - 19161
Date Posted:  10/17/2016
Date Climbed:   08/15/2016
Author:  Emily
 Peru: Cordilleras Urubamba, Vilcanota and Blanca   

Having recently returned to Colorado from a year spent living and working in Cusco, Peru, I thought I'd put together a trip report on my experiences climbing a few of the lesser-known peaks down there. Most people visit Cusco en route to Machu Picchu and save the mountaineering for Huaraz / the Cordillera Blanca, but southern Peru actually boasts some incredible mountain ranges of its own.

No climbers = no route beta, so a lot of my time was spent trying to piece together photos and google maps. What little beta I did have came entirely from Nate Heald who owns the guiding company Sky High Expeditions. In 2010 he saw the potential of the mountaineering scene in southern Peru, has put up tons of first ascents in the area, and was an invaluable resource as I explored these peaks.

Chicon (attempt) - Cordillera Urubamba - 18,143' (with Jenny Bryne)
Jampa - Cordillera Vilcanota - 18,045' (with Jenny Byrne and Diana Gomez)
Helancoma - Cordillera Urubamba - 17,552' (with Tyson Titensor and Yvan Karle)
Maparaju - Cordillera Blanca - 17,474' (with Ryan Marsters, Andrew Reed, Austen Beason and Ben Ammon)
San Juan (attempt) - Cordillera Blanca - 19,170' (with Ryan Marsters, Austen Beason and Ben Ammon)
Pisco Oeste - Cordillera Blanca - 18,871' (with Ryan Marsters, Andrew Reed, Tyson Titensor, Austen Beason and Ben Ammon)
Chopicalqui - Cordillera Blanca - 20,846' (with Tyson Titensor)
Mariposa - Cordillera Vilcanota - 19,161' (with Luis Crispin)

Chicon 18,143' (attempt) - May 7-8 2016

Route photo from Nate of Sky High Expeditions

I talked my good friend Jenny (a badass rock climber and fellow expat) into checking out Chicon with me, which is easily visible from the city of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Day 1 we hopped on a combi (public van transportation, $2) to the tiny village of Huaran. After scoring a filling breakfast of instant coffee, avocado and bread from a local tienda we started hiking up the trail towards the rural community of Cancha Cancha. It would be possible to get a high clearance vehicle part of the way up this road, but eventually it narrows for foot traffic only.

Cancha Cancha with Chicon (Ch'iqun) to the left

From Cancha Cancha the trail turned up a steep hillside towards high camp (~15,000') and we struggled under our fully-loaded packs as an amused Quechua lady looked on while grazing her alpaca herd. The views of Nevado Sahuasiray across the valley made it worth it though.

Sahuasiray 19,088' from Chicon high camp

When we arrived at camp that afternoon Chicon was engulfed in clouds, and an alpine start the next morning meant that we never got to survey the route. We had to gain a scree chute but chose the wrong one and ended up in some exposed 5th class terrain that was difficult to protect. We turned around, tried another scree gulley which appeared even less doable, and by that point had burned enough time that we decided to retreat at about 16,800'. Looking back on the mountain later when the skies cleared I realized that on our second go we were definitely on route, and merely had to hang a right to get back on track. Bummer, but neither of us were eager to do that grueling approach again. Maybe someday!

Cancha Cancha community way down in the valley, as seen from high camp

Jampa 18,045' - May 14-15 2016

Route photo from Nate of Sky High Expeditions

The following weekend we were joined by Diana from Argentina, who has been living in Cusco for awhile and helped to establish its sport climbing scene. Goal: Nevado Jampa, the 'easiest' peak of the Cordillera Vilcanota. A slightly longer (three-ish hour) bus ride from Cusco to Tinki ($3), where we hired a taxi to Pacchanta (bring a towel for the hot springs, but don't expect to find any groceries or wifi here). You will occasionally see trekkers in Pacchanta coming and going from the popular Ausangate circuit trek.

Tinki on the upper left, Pacchanta marked in the middle and Jampa circled below

The trek to base camp has amazing views of Nevado Ausangate (the highest peak in southern Peru at 20,945'), Tinki 17,880', Caracol 18,455', Concha de Caracol 18,503', Puca Punta 18,832' and many others.

As soon as we arrived at camp it started hailing like crazy. We were shocked to see two other climbers (Yvan and Sandrine from France) wander into camp around dusk, and they remain to be the only other climbers I've run into on any peak near Cusco. We decided to join forces for route-finding the next morning.

We started around 4am and the route was luckily much more straightforward than Chicon. You basically follow the circuit trek trail up to Jampa pass, then take a right to gain the ridge -- talus-hopping followed by a short glacier walk that gets steeper towards the end. We topped out in t-shirt weather at 8am. Summit views are fantastic, as you are surrounded by mountains and can see all the way to the Quelccaya Ice Cap, the largest glaciated area in the tropics.

First light on the way up Jampa

Upper slopes of Jampa

Diana, me, Jenny (L-R) on the summit, with Ausangate behind

Descending Jampa (photo by Jenny)

Helancoma 17,552' - June 25-26 2016

I was heading to the Cordillera Blanca in July, and wanted to get in one more training peak. Yvan suggested Nevado Helancoma in the Cordillera Urubamba. I couldn't even find it on a map, but Jenny had done it once a few years ago and gave us a little bit of info. Tyson (another American expat in Cusco and one of my Blanca climbing partners) rounded out the team of three. We caught a bus up towards Abra Malaga Thastayoc and asked to be dropped off at the curve where the approach begins.

Small red circle is where we got off the bus and the other circle shows the lower and upper glacier that I refer to below

Base camp is at a small lagoon. We did some scouting after setting up our tents and couldn't locate an ideal glacier entrance (darn clouds), so decided to just start early and hope for the best.

Our tents down at base camp

Being lost became the theme of the day. It took us forever to find an entrance to the massive lower glacier, and then a sea of crevasses forced us to exit up higher than we wanted. The middle scree section was fairly straightforward, but the upper glacier posed more issues - we went all the way right before getting blocked by a ridge, then retreated back around to the left. The summit pyramid was a loose mess that puts the Elks to shame. Then on the way down we got caught in a whiteout and tried to exit the lower glacier early and scramble up along the ridge, but got cliffed out and had to retrace our steps back to the glacier with little visibility. We finally stumbled into base camp after a much longer day than expected. On the bright side, we were picked up within minutes while hitchhiking back to Cusco by a Peruvian man with a super comfy SUV and jamming reggaeton tunes. Home by 8pm, with a total tab of $3 for the weekend (for the bus ride there).

Sunrise views of Nevado Veronica 19,393'

Nevado Salkantay 20,595'

Yvan at the lower glacier entrance with Helancoma's summit in the background

The photo above is a look back at Helancoma's lower glacier from the scree field before the upper glacier. We entered the glacier at the spot circled in red on the left, and exited at the spot circled on the right, just above the ice cliff in order to avoid that crevasse maze at the bottom.

Maparaju 17,474' - July 5th 2016

Flash forward to three full weeks in the Cordillera Blanca. The weekend after Helancoma I flew from Cusco to Lima and then bussed it to Huaraz on Cruz del Sur. On July 3rd I met up with Ryan Marsters (Monster5), Andrew Reed (areed20), Austen Beason (Grimpeur), and Ben Ammon. Tyson joined later for Pisco and Chopicalqui.

I'm not going to write a detailed TR on these particular climbs, but everyone should read Ryan's report on the earlier part of our trip and their Huandoy epic. Meanwhile, here are a few more shots:

Approach to Maparaju base camp

Ben and Austen on the Maparaju glacier with views of Cayesh

Nevado Huantsan 20,896'

Ryan and Andrew near Maparaju's summit with San Juan behind

Maparaju turned out to be a fairly straightforward climb, aside from one exposed move, with incredible views of Huantsan, San Juan, Cayesh, and Chinchey. Highly recommend this one as an acclimatization peak.

San Juan 19,170' (attempt) - July 7th 2016

I had tried San Juan in 2015 from a non-standard side and failed, so was excited when Ryan said he wanted to go back. Unfortunately, the standard route has melted out and we needed to find a creative way to gain the ridge. When we woke up at 2am it was snowing, so we delayed our start by a couple hours and then got stuck in a sketchy area in the dark on the way up to the glacier. Combo of weather and lack of route info made us decide to turn around and head back to our tents at sunrise, and it proceeded to rain/snow for the next five hours.

It got nice again in the afternoon, so Austen and I scouted one direction and Ryan another. We all found plausible (if crappy and scree-filled) routes to access the ridge. However we foolishly had not built in a weather day and everyone was eager to move on to other objectives, so we headed down early the next morning. There's always next year...

Ryan approaching moraine camp

San Juan ridge and summit on the far left

Pisco Oeste 18,871' - July 11th 2016

Pisco is another great acclimatization peak, though quite a bit higher than Maparaju. The route is non-technical, easy to follow, and the summit has some of the best views in the Blanca. We hired mules to the base camp hut and then packed up to moraine camp since Ryan, Andrew, Ben and Austen were planning to head over to Huandoy Norte, but Pisco on its own could be easily climbed in a day from the hut.

Laguna de Llanganuco

Pisco Oeste

The route from the Pisco hut to moraine camp requires descending this glorious mess

Chopicalqui from Pisco moraine camp

Moraine camp kitchen

Sunrise on the Huandoys

Chopicalqui, Huascaran Sur, Huascaran Norte (L-R)

Group summit shot by Ryan

Tyson descending Pisco

More Huandoys because they are awesome

Chopicalqui 20,846' - July 14th 2016

After splitting up with Ryan, Andrew, Ben and Austen the day after Pisco, Tyson and I decided to take a rest day hike over to Laguna 69 (first stopping for cappuccinos and omelets in the Pisco hut). It's actually possible to reach the lake directly from the hut without returning to the main trail way down in the valley, so we did a nice big loop. This route requires a ton of elevation gain, so be prepared! However the views of Chacraraju from Laguna 69 are totally worth it.

Pisco hut and Chopicalqui

Laguna 69 and Chacraraju 20,039'

After hiking to Laguna 69, Tyson and I went all the way back down to set up camp at the park entrance (we had already sent our stuff down earlier on a mule from the Pisco hut). This was a great decision as it gave us a night at lower altitude to recover, and was sooo much warmer than Pisco moraine camp. We met our ride the next morning to head up to Chopicalqui moraine camp.

Couldn't get over these views

Many people use high camp for Chopicalqui, but being already acclimatized we decided to start from moraine camp at midnight for a round-trip effort of 13 hours. The ridge seems to be never-ending with a few steeper sections (up to 70 degrees) and many, many false summits. Be ready for a long day out!

First light on the way up Chopicalqui

Tyson and the Huascarans

Chopi summit block

Looking south from the summit

Down we go

Mariposa 19,161' - August 15th 2016

Back in Cusco, I'd decided to make a move back to the States and finish up my contract remotely, but wanted to do one last climb before leaving. Originally I had hoped to try Nevado Veronica, however logistics led me to Mariposa's north face which is slightly easier, still Grade D and 19,161 feet. For this one I was partnerless and hired Pacchanta local Luis Crispin who guides for Nate Heald. On Saturday morning I took the bus from Cusco to Tinki and Luis met me in town, then we headed to his house in Pacchanta. The next morning we trekked to base camp with his horse, which stayed down below as we lugged all our gear up to high camp right beside the glacier.

Luis' home in Pacchanta (he has a few small guest rooms for climbers)

Mariposa on the left, Ausangate on the right

The red line shows our approximate route up Mariposa

A 1am start led us up through relatively easy glaciated terrain, navigating large penitentes. Our first major obstacle was a mixed pitch consisting of detached ice blocks over rock, making it a little overhanging. From there we climbed through a steep chute to the base of obstacle number two, a massive crevasse blocking the upper slopes. Luis tried one bridge and retreated, then we moved further right to a vertical ice bridge (around 18,000ft at this point) which allowed us to cross over without too much trouble.

We continued another thousand feet or so up steep, penitente-ridden slopes to the 19,161ft summit, with incredible views of Ausangate and the Vilcanota range. We could even see as far as Salkantay and Veronica over in the Cordillera Urubamba.

Ausangate views from the summit

The descent turned out to be even more difficult than the ascent, mostly due to the rope getting tangled on penitentes while rappelling. The only way we managed was to hold onto the rope and let it out a little bit at a time. It took a total of seven 60-meter rappels to reach the lower glacier using pickets and v-threads, and we were back at high camp by 11am. That same day we packed up high camp, hiked down to base camp and Luis' horse, trekked back to Pacchanta, and I somehow managed to catch the last bus and was in Cusco by the late evening.

Rappelling forever

Unlike in Huaraz, there is almost no infrastructure for climbers in the other mountain ranges of Peru. However, cheap public transportation and friendly locals make it relatively easy to get out to these peaks (a little bit of Spanish helps as well, but in the very rural areas you'll find only Quechua speakers). And unlike Huaraz, you'll most likely have whatever peak you're climbing entirely to yourself. If anyone is planning a mountaineering trip to southern Peru and has logistical questions feel free to contact me. There are a ton of other amazing peaks down there that I never got around to climbing (Cerro Soray, Ausangate, Salkantay, Veronica, Puca Punta, and Sahuasiray, to name a few), so someday I'd love to go back. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading!

Comments or Questions

Amazing stuff!
10/17/2016 21:50
Wow, Emily! Viva Peru! These are some stiff routes on some aesthetic peaks - loved the photos. One question - "penitente-ridden slope" - Que es un penitnente? My only frame of reference is people who re-enact some sort of crucifixion walk...


Love it!
10/18/2016 02:33
Writing the report had to be taking you back. All of the good moments that stay with you and incredible climbing. (Cracked up seeing the sherpa-donkey) Heard so much about Peru. Definitely looks like a lot of fun. Was really nice to meet you at the gathering. We'll have to meet up sometime, I'd love to hear more about the trip and next plans.

- Will


where's Emily?
10/18/2016 08:39
Wow! Look at your TR. And these pictures! This is great. Nice job out there.


10/18/2016 11:36
Something I will always admire about you is that while so many of talk about or dream about going on these adventures, you just do it! Thank you for sharing this and hopefully inspiring some of us to get out there


fabulous pictures
10/18/2016 12:09
What a beautiful place, I would love to go there someday. Thanks for the report, very well put together !

10/18/2016 15:45
This is awesome!! Loved the pics, nice job and what a trip!


Thanks for sharing
10/18/2016 21:04
Peru looks amazing! What kind of job should I choose that will get me down there?


10/19/2016 07:24
pretty neat that you are stoked on doing a lot of the lesser knowns peaks down there. Also didn't know you n Ryan went for San Juan....I want that peak

Oh, and as an outsider looking in, Ausangate looks quite worthwhile

Nice work here!


10/19/2016 21:12
Love the report on the esoteric peaks. If you ever want to go back for Ausangate let me know! Best of luck on Ama Dablam next month!


thanks all!
10/20/2016 14:27
Steve - ha, penitentes are spikey snow formations common in the Andes that are pretty annoying to walk / climb on
Will - thanks, great meeting you too! glad you could join us for breakfast at W's
Dillon - are you still in Montana??
Shawn - thanks! I wouldn't mind going back to Antisana (and El Altar) someday if you're interested...
jbren_vt - thanks so much, sent you a PM about Nepal
Runner342 - thank you!!
emgordon - I work for an environmental NGO, but a lot of people there work in the travel industry
Abe - I would totally try San Juan again next year...third time's a charm?
Colin - thank you! yes on Ausangate, and have a great time on Acon if that's still the plan!


Thank you. And more, please.
10/21/2016 19:40
Very understated descriptions of some fine work.

"If you've made it this far"!?
Come on!
More, please.

Looking forward to more of your reports. Even on this one alone, you must still have material left to tell some fine and useful stories.

Please ;)


Holy Schnikes
10/24/2016 09:19
Awesome write up of an excellent trip. The photos on Chopi brought back some good memories. Now on to bigger things to come for you Emily!

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