Adventures in Peru – Arequipa Seven Summits – Nevado Coropuna

Nevado Coropuna – 21,079 feet Dec. 10th, 11th & 12th

After a good days rest on Sunday, we left Monday morning for Coropuna, about a six-hour drive from Arequipa. The route first goes across the coastal desert and then through the fertile farmland of the Majes Valley, before starting the climb up to Chuquibamba, where the pavement ends. From Chuquibamba the gravel road climbs up to about 13,000 feet to the high plain, where you get your first view of Coropuna, the Chila range, and if the weather is clear, Ampato. Climbers who take the public bus, get off at a dilapidated building below Lake Pallacocha (which is not visible from the road), and either camp at the building or hike up 15 minutes to the lake to camp. There is also a road to the lake about five minutes past this site, so we drive up there and camped at 15,700 feet, rather than drive to the highest base camp at 16,470 feet. We arrived there just as it got dark, but we managed to find a few cleared tent sites among all the rocks.

In the morning we slept late and then looked around the lake for a while, before making the short drive up to the high base camp, which is about as far as you can drive. There are fewer rocks here and many good tent sites, with a large boulder to shelter somewhat from the wind. We parked the van, had lunch and started hiking at 1:30 pm. It was sunny with some wispy clouds, and a bit cool due to the wind and high elevation. The road does continue for a while but it was not possible to drive much farther because of a rock-strewn gully, just a few minutes from the base camp. We hiked up the road until that turned to go around the west end of the mountain at about 17,000 feet. From there we followed a flaw climber's trail toward the west rib, which is the main route to the summit. Our route took us off to the left and followed an undulating ridge, rather than going directly towards the west rib, because there is a deep gully there and the climb up out of it would have been in steep, loose sand.

On my first climb a few years ago, we had camped higher up at snow line, but this time we decided to stay down lower as we found a nice sheltered site at about 18,200 feet, just below the glacier between the peaks. We had been going slow, I guess the previous week's climbing had taken a lot out of us; and the lower camp saved us from having to take full packs up the steep rocky section to the higher camp. We reached our campsite at 4:36 and settled in early, hoping to get a good night's sleep. Unfortunately it was another rough night for Smiley, just like the night before, with a bad headache and difficulty breathing. For some reason he was not acclimating to the altitude as well as he normally does, although he usually did fine during the day.

Wednesday morning, we left camp at 6:20 in a cold wind and bright sun, with only a few wispy clouds over the summit. We climbed up the steep rocky section on a faint trail, but after that there was not much sign of one. There are a couple of less steep areas but it is a hard climb the whole way, due to the altitude and lack of a trail. We passed the high camps and then came to the start of the steep ridge between the glacier. At 9:15 we reached the top of the ridge at 20,100 feet and stopped to put on our crampons before starting on the glacier. On my previous climb, we had roped up here, and then traversed over to a ridge that was not as steep; but this time we went straight up and without a rope. The climb was about 45 degrees with patches of ice, but the penitents were not near as bad as they often are. I was fairly comfortable with the climb after having done all the passes on the PCT in the Sierras without crampons, but was not sure about coming back down here. By the time we got up to the long traverse to the summit, I was going pretty slow and had fallen behind Smiley and Nathan, but caught up to them at a break before the final summit push.

They reached the summit at 11:30 and I arrived a few minutes later. It was still sunny, the wind had died down a little and it was a balmy 34 degrees at 21,079 feet. The top half of the summit pole was missing, there was almost no snow on Solimana but the views were still great and after photos and resting, we started down at 12:00 noon. I was hesitant about going back down the steep part of the glacier but with Smiley and Nathan leading the way, and the now softer snow, we all made it back to the rock ridge with no problem, arriving there a few minutes after 1:00 pm. There were now some clouds rolling in from the south but it was still clear where we were and on the summit. By 3:00 we were back in camp and there were high clouds over the summit. We took the direct route back to the car, making quick time down the steep sand, and were back at the van at 4:20 for a 10-hour summit day. By this time the summit was totally covered in clouds, which extended down to the top of the rocky ridge. With a little earlier start from this high base camp and a lighter load, it could be a reasonable day hike.

On the way to Cotahuasi, Daniza, my favorite little roadside beggar met us on the road just above her house, along with her little sister, shyly accepting the food we gave them. We were home in Cotahuasi by 7:30, happy and tired. We decided to take a break from climbing and going to Sipia Falls the next day, and climb Cerro Lucmani the following day.

If you want to read about another mountain we climbed at the same time, please see the Ezine article on Cerro Lucmani.