Forums Trip Reports The Ishinca Trifecta y other tales of the Cordillera Blanca
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    Aconcagua from the flight:

    I lean forward, ducking my head a bit, and peer through the window across the aisle. A hulking mass that I recognize as Aconcagua pierces the sky above us. Golden rays of a setting Chilean sun light it. My neighbor seated next to me, a sleek, manicured businessman in a suit with a dark mustache. Has the look on his face like he is superior. I sitback, wondering what he knows, but knowing that I wonder.
    It is hard to know where to begin when writing a story about a trip like this. Probably because the beginning is hard to pinpoint. The Cordillera Blanca is a range so renowned, so exotic, it is one of those places that you know you’ll just have to go and visit, someday. It is considered the worlds second largest mountains, second to only the Himalaya. A guidebook author likened them to a mix between the Alps and the Himalaya. But like all trips of a lifetime, many don’t arrive. Indeed, if we visited every place we wanted, most people would be travelling their whole lives to get there. True that I could’ve booked a plane ticket long ago, after one of my many seasonal stints ended with sufficient funds in the account. But I had to work up to this trip, had to prepare mentally, physically, intellectually, and in skill. My “training” plan was to use the mountains of home, of the western US to hone my skills. People would sometimes ask, “have any aspirations of bigger and better mountains?” Well, maybe so, but I have lots to do right here at home. Gradually, I began taking steps in the outward direction. Working as a mountain guide in Washington, Working a job in Chile, speaking Castellano. Going back to Chile for a second season, the time came to make it all happen. I had done some trips abroad previously, but this was different. I was going solo into the world’s second largest mountains.

    The researching can only do so much before a trip like this. It is, afterall, South America. Tiempo latino rules the day. Nuances and inconsistencies are to be expected. The first person I engaged with was a sweet girl working behind the stand of a snack shop at the bus station in Lima. I cracked a weak joke or two, but she loved it. I knew I was in a different land. The way people look you in the eye and show genuine sincerity and hospitality. Welcome to Peru.
    The first day I set out exploring Huaraz, asking about conditions, keeping an eye for a partner, and trying to set up my ride up to the mountains the next day.

    Street vendor in Huaraz:

    Always with a watchful eye toward the glaciers, trying to figure out the weather pattern. Comparing the weather to my trusty meteogram forecast. Buying fruits when they looked good, buying dried foods when I came upon something I could use. I waltzed into a respectable looking mountain guide office. I recognized the name, Victor. I may have read about some guides who worked with his company. We sat down and chatted for a while. I got some gas, which was brought over from a beautiful light haired woman. And we agreed to some terms for my ride to Quebrada Llaca and Vallunaraju the following morning.

    Vallunaraju at sunset:

    The next morning came after lots of anticipation. I was packed and ready, but relaxed and cool. When I walked outside to have a stretch and a look around, my ride showed up. Perfect timing, wow. I grabbed my bag and threw it in. Said goodbye to Victor, who showed up to make sure everything was running smooth, and the driver and I were off. Incredible views of the countryside, and a glimpse into the lives of the people. The city was nice and all, but this was why I was here. We took the direct road, climbing very steeply straight up the moraines. Looking ahead at the hillside, I was trying to figure out where the road could possibly go to get from here to the Quebrada, Spanish for break, as in break in the mountains. It was quite an amazing road, the hillside was probably inclined at 60 degrees above each switchback until it finally turned the corner and traversed up into the valley. The valley itself was full of green grass, a snaking creek, granite boulders, and grazing cattle. The latter which is a big problem in the Huascaran National Park due to overgrazing. Trying to figure out where I was on the map, the driver and I said our goodbyes. We dropped off the Guardaparque worker that we had picked up on the way. I registered with the park, paying a fee of 25 USD for a one week pass. In the past the fee was good for one month. The Gobierno de Peru figures they can make some more money on us foreigners, and they are right. My pack weighed a lot. It was slow going, and since I was starting at 14000 feet, it was essential to watch my breathing. When I found a camp at 15500 feet, I took it. It was a bit before the popular “moraine camp” that I had planned on going to, but it just didn’t make sense to me to haul a large pack up higher, sleep higher, and climb less with a light pack the next day. I would feel better camping down here, there was good water, sun, and views. Afterall, this was an acclimatization ascent, and I wanted to spend as little amount of time hurting as possible. I ended up making the right decision, as I felt good sleeping, but the first night above 14k is always intimidating.

    Last rays on Ranrapalca’s West Face:

    I got to camp early and hung out for a number of hours in the sun. A guided group walked past a few hours later, a few of which I had met at the hostel that I was staying at the night before! Pretty funny I thought. We were chilling on the rooftop and I was packaging food, I had told them what I was up to, even pointed at the mountain I was going to climb. But they never mentioned they were headed here too! Perhaps they didn’t know what they were in for.

    Glaciers edge:

    Vallunaraju’s S Summit, my descent

    Atop Vallunaraju, 5686m

    On my way down from Vallunaraju, I saw two white cars. My pickup was supposed to be a white car. I waved him down from a hundred meters, just about onto the road from the steep, knee bashing trail. I hoped he would see me, had to do all I could to avoid the uphill slog back up to the lot. Nope, no movement… Damn. If I was paying good money for this ride, he could at least pull on down here and pick me up! When I showed up to the lot and park building I gladly dropped my heavy ass pack. The driver of the car I suspected to be Juan’s cousin (my driver) was asleep with the seat reclined all the way back. I took a leak and thought about waking him up. When I walked back, he was up. Said he was waiting for “dos clientes”. Nope, not my guy. The driver of the pickup was a very nice, approachable guy who offered me a ride. I told him I should have one coming, but if not I’d go with him. I hung out for a bit, meanwhile his clients, a couple guys from Israel came back from their day of ice climbing with a guide, Joni. The driver mentioned to jump in, so I did. They served me a French fry and mayo sandwhich, and an avocado sandwhich. Alright! Stoked on a ride and some food! On the way down we got a flat. In typical South American style, the jack didn’t lift the truck as much as we needed to put the bigger sized spare tire on. I used the adze of my ice axe to dig down where the tire would go, and dug away enough road for the tire to fit. We picked up Joni’s wife and baby girl in the little town of Llupa, gave her the seat in the truck instead of in the pickup where she originally insisted. So there we were, an Israeli and an American bouncing along, making our way down the sweet scented, thick air filled, pastoral countryside outside of Huaraz. Mmm, the smells, fresh air and incredible countryside, evening light, warm temps, the breeze flowing through my hair, and culture!

    Women herding the flock of sheep, washing their families clothes in the ditch, kids helping to carry crops. Ahh, yes, No great trip is complete without a ride in the back of a pickup.

    Enjoyed a fresh glass of jugo de naranja on my rest day, about 35 cents:

    These ladies came all the way from Cuzco to sell their beautiful knits:

    Marciello starting the trip to Ishinca Basecamp:

    Wow, so much uncertainty going into this trip. I was at Ishinca BaseCamp, undecisive. Rain rolling through, dark thunderheads, pouring snow/rain, nourishing the diverse ecosystem.

    I was hesitant to do anything. Kept looking out the tent door… rain, clouds, covered. Back to sleep.

    Then, a sign of clearing! 10:30, I head out, up actually, bound for Urus. A quick wave goodbye to Marciello and I’m bounding up the steep moraine trail. I think that’s when it hit me, although I wouldn’t consciously confirm it till the AM of… The Ishinca Trifecta.

    Urus, the route coming down the face on the right skyline, then wrapping over the ridge, towards the camera:

    View down the route from atop Urus:

    My plan was Tocllaraju from day 1. Funny that I did actually follow through. But it wouldn’t be til day 3 until I accomplished this one. Nope, Day 1 was a quick dash to the top of Urus. A few brief clearings through the clouds, and a taste of steep skiing in the Cordillera Blanca.
    Day 2: 1:00am Peering out through the tent, the day seems lost to the weather. Rain, covered. I think I see some stars, but, hmmm.. it’s a long ways to go to get shut down, Toclla in a day that is. I give in to my tiredness and fall back asleep.
    5:00am Oh shit! Next thing I know it’s 5 and it looks nice out! Headlamps on Toclla. Could I catch em? Too late. Backup plan- and also a goal- Ishinca. The dawn reveals an incredible valley, boulderstrewn and lush, hummocks of moss lining the sinewy creek. Bursts of reds and greens. First light on Ranrapalca N Face.

    Climbed up and around, finally skinned on the glacier. Found a giant dead bumblebee.

    I don’t go over the bridges I don’t trust. I go over some that I don’t like, but these I trust. Trust with an edge, treading lightly.

    Tocllaraju from Ishinca:

    At the top I have a look around, clouds hovering over my location. Sun just out there all day! But here, on my slope, all cloud and low light? Come on, just if, maybe, oooh, ahh, I’m ready for ya… nope. It just doesn’t happen. Within the span of what seems like a few hours, I watch and wait. I have time afterall, but my slope remains in the shade of the cloud. I ski off the top, pinpointing my dropin point on the West Face. Then, a quick hop turn, and slowly enter toe side, using my tool and whippet for security. Wow, this is steep, wow, this is icy. I look up at the band of icicles from the wall of glacier above, trying to judge if there might be water ice on the slope I’m traversing into.

    It becomes more concave, more of a place where there might be. But at the same time, the aspect of the slope changes angle a bit, and it should have some more solar energy on it, softening it. Cautious traverse puts me onto some more edgeable snow. Some steep jump turns lead to toe side lowering, its quite hard again. Above the cliffs. Past an ice cliff, wow, what a place I think. Then back to it. Soon, I can relax a bit and make some more turns. Then a traverse out left, set me up for the rib. Rib of my dreams. Smooth, double fall line, incredible! The Rib of Dreams rides just like it, and steep smooth corn continues until I stop at the bottom, choosing my route through some rocks. The sun shines through, and all of a sudden the place turns into an oven. Dampened with intense heat, it feels like its 90 degrees. Oh shit, I think, and look up at some rock above. They start letting loose right then, tumbling and bouncing down the slope a few hundred meters adjacent to me. I wait in my relative safe position for this stream of rockfall to stop. It does, I wait a bit longer, just to make sure. Then a quick ride out with some sweeping turns down to the moraine, to the lake, and I am stripping my layers, laying out on the beach in no time. I don’t want to walk back down to camp. I explore a refugio on the way down, now defunct, and wonder if anyone has ever skied this line before?
    Ishinca, route goes down left from the peak, then cuts into the West Face at first available drop in. Rib of Dreams below:

    Memorial rock and Urus Oeste behind:

    Remember, the Ipod. At the last leg, I do. I come into camp pumping some CCR, rejuvenated and stoked for the next day.
    At camp I meet a fellow soloist. We chat about the things, and then we go to pick the brains of the American team that just put in the route up Tocllaraju’s NW Ridge. I find myself well along the process at this stage. I’m packed, I eat a huge meal of spaghetti with sauce, basil, and most importantly with dried potato flakes to beef it up. This was the key, I’ll think as I look back later. I’m asleep at 6:30.
    Day 3: 11:00pm, I wake up and take a look around. Stars glistening, not a cloud in the sky. “Start hydrating”, I say to myself.

    12:45am, My alarm goes off, I am already up, eating some ramen. I set off at around 1:30 with a barely over a liter of water, and a thermos full of coffee, with sugar of course. I start out slow, going back to camp to pick up my forgotten GPS. I thought my pack seemed light. Now that its with me, I can really feel that weight! Wandering to stay on the trail through the moraine, and steady climbing up into the night. When I break at early times like these, I like to put on my puffy coat, fill up a cup of coffee, and sprawl out. It’s important to rest all of the muscles in the body, so why not catch a few Zzz’s while your at it? The micro bivy. After 15 minutes I’m up again and moving slowly. The body does weird things to you after lack of sleep, carb loading, and excess coffee. Rest stop at high camp. Minimize the transitions, minimize the transition time, I think. Just as long as I keep on moving. Doesn’t have to be fast, just keep moving. I settle into a great steady pace, and before soon the sun is blessing me and the day. Sunrise on the crest of the Blanca is something so incredibly unreal. Makes you really appreciate the size of these mountains. I’ve seen sunrise on the crest of many a mountain range, but this place.

    Marking waypoints, have to prepare for the worst. Weaving some big cracks, but the route is sealed. The Austrian team, guided by a Peruvian that I befriended comes cruising down. Holy mackerel, they summated at 5:30? Fast crew, and an early start from high camp. I stash my skins and a pole, then start up the cruxy 70 degree section. I hesitate halfway up, I don’t want to downclimb this, I think. But remember the ramp, oh yes, the ramp. Hitting the ridge, spindrift is constant. The sun sure feels good though. Wearing all my clothes I work on perfecting my breathing and keep rest stepping.

    High on Toclla’s NW Ridge:

    Found an old crown line, looked like it cracked all the way out onto the ridge, and crossed the ridge to the other side. Persistent weak layer??? I think so! If I had to guess I’d say it was some radiation re-crystallization, especially because I saw it earlier on Vallunaraju. The slope angle of the crown couldn’t have been any steeper than low 30’s. Soon enough, I am confronted by a wall, squinting my eyes, I see the bootpack.

    Well, that looks like all she wrote for the snowboard descent. I do the spider cruise across a large dip in the snow, a big old crevasse. Stashing the board below the bergshrund, I am glad I don’t have to walk across that section again. The climbing is straightforward and steep. A couple practice downclimbs, and I am feeling more confident for the reverse. But now I top out, flatness of a summit ridge, ahh. I take it a step or two to the side of the established track, those cornices can go big. A quick look around, a few photos, and my mind is intensely focused on the way down. I almost forgot to enjoy it.

    The downclimb takes seemingly forever. One step at a time, focusing on each placement. But soon, and finally, it is. I click into the board, always a good feeling. The partially ripened corn is hard and smooth, just the way I like it. Great grip when it is more frozen than most people prefer. I like the security of it. Not to mention safer with avalanches. It is a workable medium, and though still frozen it is easier to work. I take off the board for the downclimb on the ramp. Making some turns over the convex roll, I realize this is a dangerous maneuver. Each turn reveals a harder icier, less breakable, and steeper surface. Yup, the time has come. A quick transition to spikes, and I’m cruising down. Don’t even break through the shrund at all. Wrapping around the crack below, I realize I am through the worst, and I can breathe noticeably easier. The long ride down the glacier is firm and smooth, softening with elevation to perfect fast corn on the mellow angles. Keeping speed through a few dips is not a problem. Yip, Yip, Yip. Yeeeehaaaawww! Ai, ai , ai , ai ayyeee!!! I cackle.

    Toclla’s NW Ridge Route, taking the line of least resistance to the ridge, then up and right to the top:

    I am beaming, bounding through the brush, making my way to camp and the thick air of 14,000 ft. I can’t believe I did it. Tocllaraju in a day. The Ishinca Trifecta.
    Back at camp, I round up Cirilo the arrierro, and a few other climbers to celebrate. We meet up with the Austrian group and drink wine till the sun goes down.
    Soon, Marciello shows up, shivering of wetness and cold. Heavy rains down in the valley.

    Me and my friends, the father/son team of arrieros. Cirilo on L, Marciello on R. Cirilos daughters below.

    The arrierros accomplish quite a task with what they have. They make the walk up in half the time it usually takes climbers, and on his way up he didn’t have any food, just some cocoa leaves. I made him a snack mix for the way down after he and a burro packed me in.
    The next morning we had some coffee together before packing everything up and heading down.

    Peruvian woman watching the flock and knitting some cool things, taken from my way out of the Ishinca:

    I lucked out with my timing, and came back down from the mountains on dia de Shaqsha, an ancient Inca holiday. Handfuls of dance teams everywhere, good traditional music:

    Huascaran from a distance:

    Campo Santo memorial site:

    This incredible experience was coming to a close, but not before I go and visit the site of the worlds most destructive avalanche. On May 31, 1970, a large earthquake struck the area. A monstrous chunk of ice was dislodged from Huascaran, and the resulting debris flow avalanche came down roughly 15,000 vertical feet and buried the town of Yungay, killing about 18,000 people. Only the lucky 5% of the people who happened to be on or near the hill survived. These are active mountains, things are in constant motion.

    Last but not least, a celebration dinner of Picante de Cuy (guinea pig) and Pisco Sour

    2486 Posts


    620 Posts

    Damn Steepy, that has to be the best TR I have ever had the priveledge of reading! Thank you for sharing! :headbang:

    875 Posts

    Wicked trip :clap: :clap: :clap:

    165 Venture Divide/Spark Frankenburners/La Sportiva Spantiks
    163W Jones Solution/Phantom Alphas/Dynafit TLT5s
    162 Furberg


    830 Posts

    Paging Kronicle. This is good stuff, so well written and the pics, wow. Solo too, you are a stud.

    312 Posts

    @rughty wrote:

    Damn Steepy, that has to be the best TR I have ever had the priveledge of reading! Thank you for sharing! :headbang:

    thanks for the stoke!!!


    2068 Posts

    Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to post!!!!

    202 Posts


    692 Posts

    HOE LEE SHIT!!!!

    This is the type of TR that COMPLETELY reorganizes my brain.

    Thank you Steepy, for the inspiration to strive for RADDNESS!!

    :headbang: :rock: :rock: :headbang:

    34 Posts

    Incredible. Great pictures, and the wildness of the place, combined with the altitude. Makes the sierras easy and so much less committing.

    46 Posts

    Cheers guys, glad to be of some inspiration. If anyone is planning a trip in the area lemme know and I can share some beta…Sweet blog rod, looks like you’ve been to some wild places too!
    Wow, thank you kindly Rughty and Whistlermaverick!

    wasatch surf
    979 Posts

    Amazing. Thank you for sharing, like snowsavage’s TRs this seems like a very personal account and it is a joy to read. Big solo trips are super inspiring to me.

    Kyle Miller
    510 Posts

    Nice work man the glaciers down there look gnarly!

    ta hui
    45 Posts

    Nice work Steepy :headbang:
    those boulders at camp look killer!
    way to keep it safe and real yo :thatrocks:

    1382 Posts

    Booyah! :rock: :headbang: :thatrocks: :bananas: :bananas: :bananas: :disco: :bananas:

    2 Posts

    Haven’t checked in here in a while but this is RAD, and I’m glad I did. Kick ass write up and photos.

    1114 Posts

    Wow steepy. You have it. The vision. Thanks for sharing it with us. The Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash are the stuff of dreams…

    351 Posts

    Beautiful trip report!!!

    spruce cabin
    263 Posts

    You sir, are a rock star.

    1421 Posts

    Awesome TR! Just like all your other reports, this one was truly inspirational. Thanks for sharing the stoke.

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