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Vallunaraju Southwest Route Solo, Huaraz, Peru

Original Post
Matt Pennock · · Portland, OR · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 441

After a week of battling travelers diarrhea I was more than ready to get out and climbing something. Everyone gets sick here. Part of the Peruvian travel package. After 4 days of it I was fed up and started taking antibiotics that were recommended to me. The antibiotics and cost me 2 soles, less than a dollar and solved the problem almost immediately.

Vallunaraju is an easy climb in terms of route finding and steepness. Mostly a hike to the top. The crux for me was getting there as the roads were torture by motorbike.


For this trip I went solo so I opted to ride my motorbike up. While the Southwest climbing route is rated PD- (slightly difficult) riding the roads up felt like a TD (très difficile) for really difficult! This made for a slow, grueling ride that took a couple of hours at barely 10 miles an hour most of the way. I nearly turned around during the worst section of road after turning off from the main dirt road when a local on a motorcycle passed by me. He was also going to the top and didn't seem too concerned about the road so I decided to follow with more confidence. Eventually the road would ease up a bit and become much less mentally demanding to ride.

Riding up the valley of Quebrada Llaca

Base Camp

After 2 hours of riding 15 miles (with a few wrong turns), I finally arrived at the refugio close to 5pm, an hour before dark.I setup my tent at the base camp area (14,500 feet) next to the refugio. There were plenty of other climbers and campers coming and going from this place.
The park attendants where duly interested in my Colombian bike. I was just interested in making dinner. After cooking and eating a ton of food to make sure my body produced plenty of heat during the night I tried to get to sleep at about 8pm and was awoken by cows at 9:30pm. They can be super annoying putting their noses into your tent and will bother you all night. Sleeping at altitude is not easy when you're getting acclimated. I managed to get 3 or 4 hours.

Base camp at the refugio

Summit Day

3:45am - I woke up and started to get ready. The night was mild and I stayed perfectly warm in a summer sleeping bag with my clothing on and feet wrapped in my jacket.

4:00am - I wasn't very hungry but cooked a pot of oatmeal and had some yogurt anyway. Crucial energy for the 5.5 hour climb ahead of me!

4:40am -Packed and ready I double check my tent to make sure I haven't forgotten anything. It'd dark and although I flash my head lamp everywhere I still manage to forget my helmet. Fortunately there is little objective danger on the Vallunaraju route.

4:50am - I reach the trailhead and start the ascent. The trail is weeeeelll marked with arrows, labels, and painted rocks. They even painted distance numbers everywhere.

Well marked trail

The approach is steep with a lot of (easy) 3rd class scrambling up and out of the canyon. As daylight breaks I'm out of the canyon and traversing through a a field of rocks and boulders following the white paint towards the moraine camp.

The "trail" traversing toward the moraine camp

6:15am - Approximately an hour and 15 minutes into the hike/climb I reached the moraine camp where people are still sleeping with a few beginning to stir.

Moraine camp. Camp here and save an hour but is it really worth hauling so much camping gear up?

Passing the moraine camp, the trail is no longer marked. I picked an easy looking route up the slabs and and headed for the glacier above. Once there I had to wander around looking for the way up onto the glacier. I found one route which turned out to be an obscure one up from the main track and had to do more route finding to get to the main track.

I took the corner slab at left.
The toe of the glacier
The sort-of-maybe-helpful trail markers
The glacier

~7:00am - After a break and putting crampons I head up the glacier following the path.

A nice easy hike in the snow. But can you handle the altitude?
The peaks of Vallunaraju in the distance. 3 hours to go!

9:00am - I'm getting close. The track winds and twists through a lot of beautiful icy terrain. The closer I get to the summit the slower I'm going and the longer it takes to get there! My legs are constantly burning and crying for oxygen. I have to focus hard to get the right groove and pace...step, step, exhale....

Nearing the summit

Near the summit there is a large crevasse which the track winds down and around. It's a simple step/hop to cross.

The route winds down and around this large crevasse

10:15am - The summit saddle at last. There's two summits and, leaving my bag at the saddle, I take the slightly lower one since is a safe 50 foot climb up 50-55 degrees. The main summit requires some belaying and protection.

At the col of the mountain. The route to the main summit can be seen in the distance.

10:26am - Summit. 18,310 feet.

View from the summit!
Not much there.


The descent was nice and quick, about 2.5 hours to the canyon. By the time I was descending the trail in the canyon I was exhausted and done. But I was not entirely done--I still had to descend the stupid road on the bike. I arrived at base camp at about 2pm, shed my clothes, and laid out in the sun for awhile. Another large group of student climbers from a Canadian college class had arrived. By three o'clock I was packed and hit the road on the bike. The ride was not as bad as I was expecting with gravity helping a little down the rocky road. I took an alternate way back staying on a nice dirt road which was longer but worth it.

6:00pm - By six o'clock, totally exhausted having been up since 3:45 and on 3 hours of sleep, I had returned the rental gear which cost me about $12 to rent for a day (ice axe, trekking poles, crampons, helmet, gaiters, and sleeping pad) and was enjoying some awesome chili and cheap cerveza. I could have eaten a double portion it was sooo good.

Pleasantly surprise by the quality of the chili here! I'm going to ask for a bigger bowl next time.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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