The Peruvian Andes provide an incomparable spot for mountaineering and make Peru a magnet for lovers of South American mountains. There are many reasons: a unique concentration of mountains and relatively few mountain climbers; mild weather almost all year-long, and relatively easy access to sites that are nevertheless cut off from hectic city life. It is an ideal combination that makes Peru one of the most attractive destinations for mountaineers worldwide.
Although the lowest summit of the Huascarán massif, the world's highest tropical mountain, was first climbed in 1,908 by US climbers Annie Peck and two Swiss guides, mountain climbing in the Andes only took off in Peru in the early 1,930s thanks to the pioneering European expeditions that launched the great Andean travel adventure in search of new climbing challenges.
Since the 1,932 expedition led by Austrian climbers Borchers, Schneider and Kinzl reached the southern summit of Mount Huascarán (6 768 masl) -Peru's highest-, Peru's peaks have been the scene of many more spectacular ascents.
If willing to practice mountaineering in Peru you should follow these recommendations:
- Climbers should get information on the state of trails and the degree of difficulty of the climbing route. It is best to check with the local inhabitants.
- Bear in mind that local inhabitants have different notions of time and distance. The classic response "aquicito nomás" (just around the corner) can mean long hours of trekking up steep slopes.
- Do not pull up or cut live plants or light fires within highland forests.
- Do not move trail signposts.
- Do not hunt or fish during the dry season (trout fishing ban).
- Always inform local authorities or mountain climbing associations in the area of your entry into mountainous areas.
- Never go on climbs or treks unaccompanied.
- Always bring back litter. Leaving it on the mountainside can harm the fragile environment.
- On the coast: Visitors should bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
- In the highlands: Sunscreen is recommended, plus warm clothing. High altitude sickness known locally as soroche can set in at over 2,500 masl. Take precautions by resting the first day, drink plenty of liquids and avoid heavy food and alcohol.
- In the jungle: Never travel without insect repellent, a raincoat and sunscreen. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are recommended to ward off insect bites. A yellow fever vaccination is obligatory. There are also vaccinations for malaria, tetanus and Hepatitis A and B, as well as local treatment for leishmaniasis (uta) and malaria.
Other important information to be considered if willing to practice mountaineering in Peru:
Seasons for visiting:
May to September: The only time of year for high-altitude mountain climbing. The dry season coincides with winter in the Southern Hemisphere, which due to Peru's proximity to the Equator, means 30-50 minutes of daylight less per day. Temperatures drop below freezing at altitudes over 4,500 meters. July is the best month for climbing, as stiff northern winds start gusting in August.
September to December: This is a good time of year for climbing smaller mountains and for trekking. This season is the equivalent of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a time of gentle spring showers, generally after midday as a result of clouds gathering in the morning. Rain showers, sometimes accompanied by electric storms, tend to peter out within minutes before giving way to clear skies and starry nights.
December to May: The rain season. It rains heavily nearly every afternoon for two or three hours, although there are occasionally lighter and more drawn-out showers. Like the season just before it, most precipitation falls in rainstorms. This season is not apt for climbing. Only on days when it does not rain is it possible to walk through any of the gullies. Streams, while nearly entirely dried up during winter, eventually become impossible to cross during this season.
Climate in the mountains
There is a saying in tropical mountain chains that goes: "there are no seasons throughout the year, but rather days that feature all four". In the Peruvian Andes, in the morning there is sunshine but the air is cool, like in spring; after midday the sun heats up, and one often has to take to the shade, as during the summer; in the afternoon, the clouds that have gathered all morning long begin to cover the sun, and it feels like autumn; when the skies are completely overcast, it becomes so cold that it feels like winter.
Glaciers are also receding in the Andes, where the snowline loses two meters every year. This sparks continuous changes in the aspect of the mountains, access routes and how to tackle them. Large chunks of compact snow called seracs constantly break away from the mountains. Rain in the valley generally turns to snow above 4,500 meters. Snow generally sticks well to steep Andean slopes, and often forms cornices on cliffs on the windless side of the summit. Occasionally one comes across cornices on both sides of a cliff. Another characteristic of the region is the formation of layered walls of snow.
Because the mountains are located in the Southern Hemisphere, the consequences of the directions the various mountain slopes face change compared to the Northern Hemisphere.
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