Mountaineering Nevado Pisco ( – Sweet!)


A famous Peruvian drink is called Pisco Sour. A mountain peak in the Peruvian Andes in the Cordillera Blanca range  is named Pisco. Ascending Nevado Pisco gives you Pisco Sweet!

Getting into it

Before the end of july I had never mountaineered in my life, coming from a flat country where the highest point is 172 meters above sea level.  Neither had I ever seriously considered to do mountaineering, but things can change in a blink of an eye, and so I decided to give mountain climbing a shot. The decision came around when a South African girl called Lauren, who was staying at the same hostel in the mountain town of Huaraz as me, mentioned she was keen on trying to summit a mountain. The idea rattled around in my head for a night and the day after when I freshened up after having a few drinks during the night,  I looked into the possibilities of doing mountaineering along the route I was doing and came to the conclusion that the area around Huaraz is the equivalent of Disney Land for mountaineers and wanna-be mountaineers like me.

We inquired at different agencies at what they would recommend for a couple of rookies like Lauren and I. They had two options, were one of them was Nevado Pisco. They all claimed it was a good peak for beginners as it is non-technical, but it did have a difficult morraine (the area below the beginning of the gletcher) between the basecamp and gletcher which had to be crossed before the ascent on the gletcher could begin. We kind of neglected the emphasis the operators were putting on the toughness of the morraine crossing and decided to take on Nevado Pisco and its 5760 meters of altitude. In the end we chose the operator Quechuandes, as the accommodation would be in a nice refugium instead of a tent (I was tired of freezing my a.. of in a tent) and on the last day on the way down from the base camp we would pass the popular Laguna 69 – known for its extraordinary blue water.

Departure would be in the morning two days after, giving me a day to get prepared and buying some extra warm clothes. The day before departure i spent buying layers of clothes for the challenges the next couple of days and just preparing mentally.

Departure from Huaraz

Early the next morning Lauren and I got up to meet up at the operator office around 7.30am for departure. We met our guide Lucho, got the stuff we needed and headed off towards the Cordillera Blanca to make the hike up to the Pisco basecamp/refugium. After getting drop by the taxi at the trailhead we started hiking up, withg our backpacks heavily packed with food for lunches, ice axe, cramp ons, mountaneering boots, helmet and much more necessary for making the summit. This day we would only have to hike to the refugium, where we would have lunch and a early dinner, whereafter we would go to bed. The plan was to head of for the summit at 1am in the night, so an early bedtime would be necessary.

It took around two hours to reach the refugium in 4700 m.a.s.l. We had our lunch and an afternoon chill session after which we had a good dinner prepared by the kitchen in the refugium. Early to bed we went, but that evening the refugium was filled with kids from a nearby community, and like always with kids on a field trip they were excited. Though, at some point I fell asleep, and at 1am we got up again to have breakfast. After breakfast we got our gear and set off in the dark towards the summit of Nevado Pisco.

Crossing the moraine

First we had to cross the moraine which is the part on the mountain right before reaching the gletcher which covers the top of the mountain. The moraine consists of debris (rock and soil) scraped of the mountain by the glacier. Beforehand we had been warned that the crossing of the moraine would be hard due to it being very rough with many big rocks and boulders and elevation changes. We were walking in the dark of the night with our headlamps on first having to ascend a small ridge i the beginning of the moraine whereafter we we descend into the actual moraine terrain and begin the hike to the edge of the glacier. Due to the darkness we weren’t able to see the 3 hours of morain that was ahead of us. Morals were high and the hike to the edge of the glacier went smooth and according to time.  Around 4 am we reached the edge of the glacier

Glacier time

Before getting onto the glacier we had to change into our gear. This meant changing into waterproof pants, getting our killer mountaneering boots on, strapping on cramp-ons and gators, helmet and just putting on a lot of layers as it was only getting colder from now on.

After a little snack, we climb onto the glacier and continued our ascend. Both for Lauren and I, it was our first time walking on a glacier with cramp-ons in stiff boots. Tied to our guide Lucho by a rope 5-10 meters apart we were now walking up on the glacier using our ice axes as a walking stick. Walking upwards in stiff boots with cramp-on was initially a difficult sensation, but soon I found out it was easier to walk kind of sideways instead having my feet pointed in the direction I was moving, which wasn’t comfortable. The effect of the altitude was getting serious and very apparent as we easily got exhausted. We had to walk very slow, and often it was necessary to take a breather and gain energy for another stretch as we were being seriously challenged. Walking in the dark we had no idea where on the mountain we were and how much distance we had covered. Our guide Lucho would periodically ask us if everything was okay, and we would answer. As we pushed on Laurens answer would become more vague for each time. I was walking behind Lauren and I could see fatigue really setting in for her and feeling it myself aswell. Every 5 minutes I would ask Lauren if she was ok, but in the end she wouldn’t even answer anymore. After some time we reached the most difficult section on the mountain, which would be a 40 meter slope of 60 degrees. After a struggle we both made it up, but the section really sucked our energy and we had to take a brake and reconsider the situation. Lauren was really exhausted, and our guide Lucho said one thing was to have energy to reach the top, but you had to have enough in reserve to make it down again. The darkness had by now turned into light, but instead we now had foggy conditions. I said to Lauren to leave her backpack behind here on the mountain and do the last hour of ascending without it. We would come down the same way and could pick it up then. Until then, I would share my water and snacks with Lauren, but we didn’t really have far to go. After a regroup, we kept on pushing on. Shortly after we met a group of local boys who had overtaken us on the way up and who now was on their way down from the top. They told us it would be 40 minutes more, which at this point considering our level of fatigue seemed like a long way, but we kept walking through the fog on motivated by Lucho our guide.

Suddenly at a point where the summit of Pisco seemed further away than ever, the fog cleared and Lucho made us aware the summit was right infront of us, no more than 5 minutes away. At that point very exhausted we couldn’t be happier! With a sudden burst of energy, we made the remaining ascend, and then we were on the top – like that. Usually 10 minutes is spent on the top, before the descend is initiated.

Arriving on the top we were soaking it up, while regaining some of our energy. It was a cloudy day, but the wind was constantely clearing the view of clouds making it possible to see all the surrounding mountains including the south peak of Nevado Huascaran which is the highest point in Peru at 6768 meters. The sensation of actually making the top after 7 hours can only be poorly described with words, not to mention the view we were awarded with. I had brought a little flask of rum which we celebrated with on the summit along with some snacks as energy for the descend.

After 30 minutes and many pictures, we started the descend. After the ascend the descend felt like a piece of cake and it was needed after the exhaustion experienced going up. In what felt like short time we reached the end of the glacier and was back on the moraine, needing only to cross that before we would be back at the refugium. After changing bake into our hike-gear and having lunch, we started crossing. Most of it was downhill and we got a quite a good view of what we had been crossing in the dark, nine hours earlier – a very rough, but beautiful landscape. At the end of the moraine we had to get over the rim of the moraine. In the morning we had almost been sliding down the side leading to the moraine and now totally exhausted we had to put in our last exertion before being back at the refugium. It was a totally energy drainer, and after many breaths and almost crawling on my stomach i made it to the top of the small rim, and from there it was only 5 minutes downhill to the refugium. After 12 hours of ascending and descending Nevado Pisco, we were finally back. A well deserved rest after a shower was now in sight before dinner and more rest to ready for the return to Huaraz the day after via Laguna 69.

Returning to Huaraz

The mext morning we got up early as we had a hike down to the pickup point in the valley via Laguna 69, which is a glacial lake famous for its very intense blue colour. To get there we had to hike across a small ridge separating the two sides of the valley. After a couple of hours we got to the Laguna, where we had lunch while enjoying the silence around the laguna as we were some of the first ones there this day. after another couple of hours hiking down, meeting many people going up to the laguna for the day, we finally reached the road in the bottom of the valley. From there we took a taxi for the last 3 hours back to Huaraz, where we that night celebrated with a pizza and a Pisco Sour.



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