Cordillera Raura Alpine Traverse

This post is an overdue account from Skyler’s trip to Peru in August 2014.

We hadn’t had much luck with our mountaineering objectives in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca this season. On Pukaraju, our nice line of climbable snice (snow-ice) had turned to powder on slab a mere 30 meters below the ridge. On Artesonraju, Artem Bylinskii and I found wind-affected, unstable snow conditions and backed off at the bergshrund. On Mururaju, we drank from a stream tainted with lead and failed to make up for time lost clutching our stomachs before the weather blew in. Finally, after Nick arrived, we managed to touch the summit of Shaqsha – I recounted that story here. But still, the weather continued to be uncooperative for our alpine climbing objectives. Even if the weather permitted an ascent, the alpine ice that the Cordillera Blanca is famous for wasn’t forming reliably in presence of so much afternoon cloudiness.

Looking across at a cloudy Cordillera Blanca from the Cordillera Negra.

Looking across at a cloudy Cordillera Blanca from the Cordillera Negra.

With ten days left before my flight home, and a week before Nick’s departure, we decided our best bet at an enjoyable outing in the mountains, and a happy ending to our trips in Peru, would be found through trails, valleys and passes. That we could find almost no information about the Cordillera Raura, the kid-neighbour to the much taller and more famous Cordillera Huayhuash, had drawn our attention in earlier mountaineering plans, but the challenging logistics and lack of information had always turned our dreams away from the range. At some point toward the end of my seven week stay in Peru, we found that Google Earth had updated the 30 year old, low-res satellite imagery of the area with crystal clear imagery from May 2014. We had a remotely-sensed, and nearly up to date conditions report. Armed with a GPS with no basemap, a map of the Huayhuash that included about 30% of the Raura, and memorized details from the satellite photos, Nick Gobin and I caught a bus one afternoon to Chiquian and then on to Llamac. In Llamac we arranged a 4×4 to Quartelhuain, on the main trekking circuit for the next morning.

Llamac workers piled into truck at dawn before heading off to work in the hills or fields.

Llamac workers piled into trucks at dawn before heading off to work in the hills or fields.

Over four days, I hiked – first with Nick, and then alone – past the main peaks of the Huayhuash, and then through the remote heart of the Cordillera Raura’s western arm, ending at Mina Raura – a large, high altitude mine in the centre of the range. While any trip through the Huayhuash is memorable for the stunning mountain scenery, my crossing of the western Raura is notable because there has been so little documented exploration of these mountains. Indeed, this report is the first to document a link-up of these high Raura passes into a continuous alpine trekking route (though miners and prospectors have undoubtedly visited every pass in the range).

What follows is a photo documentation of the journey (clicking on any one of the photos will allow you to click through a slideshow of the images in higher resolution – though not perfectly in order).

Nick climbing toward an alternate pass between Quartlehuain and Mitucocha.

From Quartelhuain, Nick and I hiked over a narrow pass between the busy trekking trail at Cacanampunta, and the difficult Alpine Circuit option at Paso Garacocha.

Looking back at Mitucocha from whence we came, on our second big climb of the day.

Looking back at Mitucocha from whence we came, on our second big climb of the day.

Evidence that these limestone peaks were once ocean floor, found at a 4800m pass.

Evidence that these limestone peaks were once ocean floor, found at a 4800m pass.

Looking east, over craggy limestone hills.

Looking east, over craggy limestone hills.

We watched frequent ice avalanches tumble some 1000m off the shoulder of Yerupaja, they Huayhuash's highest peak, into the lake below. When I passed through the same area in 2011, the lake had recently burst its natural dam and was empty but for some ice blocks.

I captured an ice avalanche tumble some 1000m off the shoulder of Yerupaja, the Huayhuash’s highest peak, into the lake below. When I passed through the same area in 2011, the lake had recently burst its natural dam and was empty but for some ice blocks.

That first night, we camped near Carhuacocha, beneath the Huayhuash Range's highest peaks. These two are Jirishanca (6094m) and Jirishanca Chico (5445m).

That first night, we camped near Carhuacocha, beneath the highest peaks in the Amazon basin. These two are Jirishanca (6094m) and Jirishanca Chico (5445m).

In the morning, we walked south past these peaks, now following the popular trail on the Huayhuash circuit...

In the morning, we walked south past these peaks, now following the popular trail on the Huayhuash circuit…

...under Yerupaja, and over Punta Siula.

…under Yerupaja, and over Punta Sioula.

Near the hamlet of Huayhuash, we stopped to chat with Jose, a shepherd who has lived his life above 4000m, tending to his flock of 150 in the shadow of Sioula Grande.

Near the hamlet of Huayhuash, we stopped to chat with Jose, a shepherd who has lived his life above 4000m, tending to his flock of 150 in the shadow of Sioula Grande.

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We were doubling up days on the main Huayhuash circuit, and made for Lago Viconga on day two. Here, passing over our second 4700m pass of the day, we got our first good view of the Cordillera Raura. The next day I would cross through the pass to the left of the sharp, half-snow pyramid just left of centre.

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We passed Lago Viconga at dusk, watching two children corral a herd of alpacas into a stone enclosure for the night.

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In the morning, before anything, Nick and I made a detour to the exquisite hotsprings a short ways down the valley from Lago Viconga.

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At the first pass south of Lago Viconga, Nick and I parted ways. Nick, due to leave the country in just a couple of days, walked south, along this old mining road in the valley west of the Raura spine, some 20km out to Oyon. I left the road immediately, and headed east into the depths of the Raura, where I’d cross four high Raura passes over the next two days, making an alpine traverse of the range.

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Before long I was donning crampons, crossing a 5000m glaciated pass over the continental divide. This photo looks back toward the Huayhuash.

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My decision to carry crampons but no ice axe didn’t end up being a problem, as the main difficulties were on rock, as I made my way from this first pass, toward the snow-dusted notch at centre-left.

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I made a scrambling traverse along the huge eastern wall of the Raura.

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_1100334 I descended, at dusk in to an eerie valley directly east and below Yarupac, one of the range’s highest and most formidable peaks. The next day my route would take me over another glacier and up narrow snow ramps to the lowest notch in this photo. I made camp below Torre de Cristal (top).

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The only access into this valley must have been through this now-abandoned mine shaft, as no roads lead out above ground.

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A few dilapidated mine structures add to the eerie ambience.

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Over another glaciated 5000m pass, I looked down at more active parts of the Mina Raura. The final pass of my route – and fourth time across the continental divide in as many day – can be seen at the far right, on another glacier.

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A selfie pointed back north along the eastern side of the Raura.

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One more short march across a mellow glacier brings me over a final 5000m pass…

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…Where I cast one final glance back toward the col between Torre de Cristal and Yarupac, from whence I came.

From that last pass, I dropped down to a mine road, where I was able to hitch to the security checkpoint at the front of the mine. From there, the security guard negotiated me a ride down the hill in a food truck where an ancient herder and I earned our passage to Churrin by helping transfer several tonnes of rice, cooking oil, and condiments from a larger truck – unable to make the final switchbacks to the mine – into the smaller truck.

The old man could have been sixty or ninety; years lived above 4000m, as a subsistence farmer, planting tubers in rocky ground, herding sheep on the side of mountains, or piling rocks into homes, weight heavily on the body. Despite his curved spine I had to insist that he didn’t try to move any 50kg bags of rice.

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The luggage of two hitch-hikers.

You can check out our Facebook page for more frequent updates on how we’re spending the winter, and additional photos from adventures that haven’t earned themselves a full report on the blog.

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2 thoughts on “Cordillera Raura Alpine Traverse

  1. Dear Skyler, my notes are as follows…-1100152
    …under Yerupaja,and over Punta Siuta

    1100364

    1100370

    -“one more short march across a mellow glacier”.

    how do you deal with the differences in life on earth?It changes my view to know you, and to have seen where you are speaking from….
    i could be that shepherd…and i want his hat.
    best,christina

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