Eddie Bauer alpine guide Chad Peele is a tough man to track down. Mostly that is because he is constantly booked on guiding assignments in some of the world’s most spectacular alpine and ice climbing epicenters, from the Rockies and the Cascades to the high peaks and thin air of the South American Andes. But like every dedicated climber, Peele has a few favorite climbs. At the top of his list is Peru’s 19,512-foot Alpamayo, which once ranked as the most beautiful mountain in the world in an international survey of alpinists. Peele just returned from another successful climb of the peak in Peru, and this member of the original First Ascent six states his case for why Alpamayo tops his list. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Chad Peele
As a world-traveling mountain guide, I often get asked “what is your favorite mountain?” To be honest, I usually do my best to dodge this question. It’s actually a very difficult question to answer. It’s a really big world out there and just about every place I go is amazing, scenic and offers great climbing. If it didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be hired to go there. But in reality, some trips really do rank higher than others. In my opinion, Alpamayo at 19,512 ft. in Peru definitely comes in at the top of my list.
When thinking of my list of favorite peaks, I broke each one down by their itinerary and categorized them by the major sections of the trip in order to better quantify and describe the awesomeness of each experience.
First is the quality of the approach. Second is the base camp experience. Third is the actual climb. Fourth is the departure/post-climb experience. Every peak I guide can be organized into these categories. Having just returned from Peru, I wanted to break down these segments for Alpamayo to better describe why I rate this as one as the pinnacle climb.
Situated in the Cordillera Blanca twelve hours north of Peru’s capital of Lima, Alpamayo sits nestled in a beautiful cirque. The mountain is easily accessible and offers some of the best moderate high-altitude technical climbing I’ve ever done. Throw in the Peruvian culture, the amazing locals, food & drink, and you have a world-class climbing experience of a lifetime.
After flying into the coastal city of Lima and sampling the tasty ceviche (generally raw fish marinated with lemon juice and hot peppers) and pisco sours (the local drink made with white grape brandy, lemons and egg whites), we hop on a private bus for an 8-hour trip north to the cosmopolitan city of Huaraz, situated at 10,000 ft. Here you will find a very cool city with great hotels, restaurants, clubs and outdoor markets.
Granted, the 8-hour drive can be a little tiring, but the views of the ever-changing countryside make up for it. With Alpenglow Expeditions (who I guide for in Peru & the Himalayas), we hire Julio Olaza at Olaza’s Guest House for a day of van-assisted downhill mountain biking to help us with our acclimatization. This is definitely one of the better and more fun ways that I have ever acclimatized for a climb.
Once rested and acclimatized, we drive another three hours north to the small village of Cashapampa and the entrance to Huascaran National Park. Here we arrange for our gear to be carried by burros and we start the two-day trek towards Alpamayo’s base camp. Hiking along the valley, we pass incredible terrain of creeks, steep rocky faces, lush forests, and the glacial lakes of Santa Cruz. Due to the diverse terrain, solitude and easy trekking, this approach ranks as one of the best I’ve done and explains why so many trekkers venture into this valley.
Base Camp Experience
After arriving at our 13,500-foot base camp, we’re in a beautiful zone maintained by Alpenglow’s Expeditions’ longtime friend and cook Alfredo. Our camp consists of both a cook and dining tent, with spacious 4-season tents nestled into a grassy vegetative field with glaciated peaks all around us. In between carries and acclimatization hikes, this is one of the most beautiful and comfortable locations I have ever “base camped” in. If you’ve ever read about or experienced the comforts of trekking or climbing in the Himalayas, you’ll find yourself right at home here in Peru.
Once everyone is feeling strong and properly acclimatized, we move with our porter to our moraine camp at the base of the glacier at 16,000 feet. Here we are surrounded by glacially scarred rock croppings and sporadic streams of running water, with some of the most stunning blue-sky vistas I have ever encountered.
After weaving through the glacial crevasses, we do some short moderate snow climbing to access the ridge and continue over to our high camp on the other side of the ridge and directly below Alpamayo at 18,000 feet. Assuming weather is stable (this year it was so-so), we will wake up in the dark and make the 45-minute approach to the base of the route and begin our climb. There are numerous routes on Alpamayo’s north face but, like most climbers, we ascend the French Direct route, which offers up seven pitches of sustained snow and ice climbing with an average angle of 65 degrees. On the ascent we protect ourselves with snow pickets, ice screws and V-threads. V-threads are anchors that are created by drilling two holes into the ice, which connect inside the ice and are threaded with cord to make a closed loop anchor protruding from the ice.
Even though the climbing is technically “easy,” swinging axes above 19,000 feet is an extremely tiring affair. After the majority of the climbing, we enter into the steeper section of the summit face and climb onto the actual summit of Alpamayo at 19,512 feet. This year, the tiny summit was large enough to hold three or four people comfortably, but no more. On the descent we use the “fixed” V-threads while we rappel our route back to the base of the climb. This year we were the only climbers on the mountain and enjoyed the solitude on our summit day.
After we return from the summit tired and proud, Alfredo greets us with another amazing feast-of-a-meal and we rest for our final departure back to Cashapampa. Typically we retrace our ascent trail by horse, which makes for an exciting and quick exit back to the park entrance, where we join the family of our arriero (the title of one who handles the burros) for a pachamanca meal. The pachamanca (pacha = earth and manca = oven) is a fire pit of hot coals and rocks covered with meat and potatoes and then buried underground for several hours. When the time is right, the meal is unearthed and we all sit down and devour our flavorful feast. Hanging with this local family, eating and drinking, is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Period.
In my climbing experience, the world is an amazing place and most climbing destinations are worthy and beautiful. But some locations do rank a little higher than others. And for the adventure-loving world traveler looking for technical climbing, Alpamayo tops my list.
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