Peru, the center of the Andes, is home to some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. These are high mountains with steep granite peaks, rising above icy ridges and twisted glaciers. The snow and ice on the ridges is often beautifully sculpted, carrying large and complex cornices.
The Pacific coast is at places only 60 miles from the main crest of the mountains, and never more than 100 miles. Considering offshore depths, the altitude differential here is 40,000 feet in just 180 miles. Short rivers tumble steeply to the sea. To the east, glaciers feed the headwaters of the vast Amazon system to flow some 3,500 miles to the distant Atlantic.
Throughout the mountains there are reminders of the Inca empire, who made their base here. The mountain people who currently reside here are descendants of the Incas. Many live as high as 16,000 feet, farming potatoes and herding flocks of llamas.
In Peru the rain comes from the hot damp Amazon forests in the east. The dry season generally lasts from May through August, although brief storms can be expected anytime. The best snow conditions are in early June. High winds spring up late in July.
The Peruvian Andes are divided into the following ranges, of which the first two are the highest and contain the most popular climbs:
The Cordillera Blanca is deservedly the most popular of the Peruvian Cordillera. Over seventy summits rise above 18,000 feet, including eleven major 20,000 feet giants. The mountains are easily accessible, and there is climbing at all grades. Even some of the largest peaks, including Huascaran (22,204 ft.), the highest, are not technically difficult by their regular routes, although familiarity with sustained snow and ice terrain is necessary.
Most of the range lies within the Parque Nacional Huascaran. Good roads lead from many villages into the mountains. This accessibility, along with fabulous scenery, great climbing, and dependable weather, combine to make the Blanca one of the most popular Andean ranges. The town of Huaraz is the trekking and climbing hub of the Cordillera Blanca, and many small hotels and guide services are available. Good weather can normally be expected from May to mid August.
Cordillera Huayhuash, a concentrated cluster of icy granite peaks and glaciated spires, is Peru's second highest range. Six summits rise above 20,000 feet, while 28 top 18,000. The shape and character of the mountains resembles the higher Cordillera Blanca, just 35 miles north, although Huayhuash is the more difficult range in that every peak is a technical climb; there are no walk-ups. Huayhuash is also less accessible than Blanca. No roads penetrate the massif, so most summits require a two day approach. Still, Huayhuash is only twenty miles long and fifteen miles wide, and the entire perimeter of the range can be hiked in 8 to 12 days.
The Cordillera Central is actually a composite of several lesser ranges, including the Cordilleras Huagaruncho, Huarochiri, Ruara, Guaico, Millpo, and Tunshu. The mountains of these Peruvian ranges are generally less significant than those of the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash, although this fact alone makes them attractive for someone looking for solitude. The town of Oyon is the center for much of the climbing in this region.
The Cordillera Occidental is a cluster of volcanic peaks in extreme southwestern Peru, near the city of Arequipa. These are some of the highest peaks in Peru, and are much easier to climb than the high mountains of the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash further north. These mountains were frequented by the Incas, for whom the summits had religious significance, and customarily served as burial grounds.
The Cordillera Oriental is easternmost of the high Peruvian ranges. It is comprised of several smaller ranges and isolated massifs that rise in the region surrounding the city of Cuzco. Each of these ranges is described below, listed in approximate order from north to south:
Cordillera Vilcabamba is a sixty-mile mountain range that runs west to east, northwest of the city of Cuzco in west central Peructx_peru. The range is comprised of a cluster of massifs, which jut out into surrounding lowlands.
The Cordillera Urubamba is located just north of the Peruvian city of Cuzco, where its rugged, snowy mountains rise above the Urubamba river. It is the smaller of the Oriental sub-ranges. These mountains rise on the edge of the Amazon Basin and receive very heavy precipitation, though most of it falls in the rainy season, from October through April. The heavy precipitation is the reason for the area's extensive glaciation. The range is dominated by its highest peak, Nevado Veronica (19,100 ft./5822 m).
The Cordillera Vilcanota stretches for over 100 miles with more than forty peaks rising above 18,000 feet. Most of the mountains are isolated massifs, and many are heavily glaciated. Generally the peaks are more alpine in character than the exotic ice formations of the Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash, further north.
The Cordillera Carabaya is an isolated group of folded, uplifted mountains, with rugged rocky peaks and ridges. The region was first explored in the late 1950's and has many fine climbs, but is seldom visited today because it is so remote and inaccessible. The Cordillera is topped by two high peaks, Yanoloma and Quenamari, each measuring 19,163 ft./5,850 m.
The Cordillera Apolobamba is a remote snowy range that stretches from southern Peru into northern Bolivia. In Peru, it is the southernmost of the sub-ranges comprising the Cordillera Oriental. The remoteness of its high peaks, coupled with extreme glaciation throughout the range, lend an expeditionary quality to the approaches here.
Peaks of Peruvian Andes
Check out any of the following peaks for additional information:
- Alpamayo - 19511 ft./5947 m.
- Americo - 17323 ft./5280 m.
- Ampato - 20630 ft./6288 m.
- Artesonraju - 19767 ft./6025 m.
- Ausangate - 20945 ft./6384 m.
- Caraz I - 19767 ft./6025 m.
- Chachani - 19872 ft./6057 m.
- Chopicalqui - 20846 ft./6354 m.
- Copa Norte - 20253 ft./6173 m.
- Coropuna - 21079 ft./6425 m.
- El Misti - 19101 ft./5822 m.
- Gatuyoc - 17388 ft./5300 m.
- Huandoy - 20981 ft./6395 m.
- Huandoy Sur - 20210 ft./6160 m.
- Huantsan - 20981 ft./6395 m.
- Huanya Picchu - 9100 ft./2774 m.
- Huapi - 17785 ft./5421 m.
- Huascaran - 22204 ft./6768 m.
- Ishinca - 18143 ft./5530 m.
- Jirishanca - 20099 ft./6126 m.
- Maparaju - 17474 ft./5326 m.
- Milpocraju - 17388 ft./5300 m.
- Nevado Solimana - 19990 ft./6093 m.
- Nevado Veronica - 19100 ft./5822 m.
- Pariacaca - 18865 ft./5750 m.
- Picchu Picchu - 18583 ft./5664 m.
- Pico Del Chinchero - 14400 ft./4389 m.
- Pisco - 18871 ft./5752 m.
- Pumasillo - 19915 ft./6070 m.
- Quitaraju - 19816 ft./6040 m.
- Ranrapalca - 20216 ft./6162 m.
- Salcantay - 20574 ft./6271 m.
- Shaqsha - 18711 ft./5703 m.
- Sirijuani - 17716 ft./5400 m.
- Siula Grande - 2115 ft./6344 m.
- Tocllaraju - 19790 ft./6032 m.
- Urus - 17880 ft./5450 m.
- Vallunaraju - 18654 ft./5686 m.
- Vicos - 17438 ft./5315 m.
- Volcan Ubinas - 18609 ft./5672 m.
- Yanapaccha - 17913 ft./5460 m.
- Yerupaja - 21765 ft./6634 m.