Skiing in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Copa and Quitaraju

Lee Lyon | ClimbingClimbingBackcountryBackcountry

This May and June I had the opportunity to join a trip to try and ski some high peaks in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. This report is from the third part of our trip: attempts to ski Nevado Copa and Quitaraju. Check out the first and second parts of our trip here: Quebrada Ishinca and Artesonraju.


Having been denied summits twice in a row, we decided to go for a high, but relatively easy peak next: Copa. Copa comes in at 20,302 feet, but is basically a long, glaciated ridge walk all the way to the top. After a day in Huaraz, we were on our way, assisted by donkeys once again.


Copa 1
Photo courtesy of Summit Post. The ascent / descent on Copa follow the looker’s left ridge. Apologies for the lack of visual stoke at this point, both my video and still camera were both out of commission for the rest of the trip.


At 1:00am, we awoke to a mixture of stars and clouds, and decided to get started. By the time we reached the glacier, it was snowing. Again. We pushed on through the night, moving in and out of snow and whiteouts, but with a consistent cloud cover overhead.  Except for a steep few hundred feet at the beginning, and a short section of ice, the climbing was relatively easy skinning.


Copa 2
Huandoy, alpenglow.


However, as the day grew older, and the sun had still yet to make even the slightest appearance, it started to become clear that our summit bid was not meant to be. We passed through some more technical snow bridge crossings, which we doubted we would be able to find again in the whiteout. So, down we went, defeated by weather once again.


Copa 3
Skinning through clouds on the glacier. Not looking very motivated.


At this point, morale had really hit a low point. We had been thwarted by weather on our past three peaks, and there wasn’t any real indication that sun was going to start visiting the high peaks more frequently. Also, we had been in and out of the mountains for a month now, and were starting to feel the wear and tear.


Copa 3a
When motivation is low: beer.


We decided on one last trip, to try for Alpamayo’s more ski – friendly neighbor: Quitaraju. Our approach took us up the well traveled Santa Cruz trek in reverse, from Cashapampa up to Alpamayo’s base camp. This is quite a long approach, covering a similar distance in one day that the tourist trekkers do in three. Luckily, we had a coked-out miniature Peruvian Indiana Jones named Alquiles who sweated as much as he talked to see us on our donkeys through.


Copa 5
Approaching through the beautiful but touristy Quebrada Santa Cruz, led by our fearless arriero, Alquiles.


Copa 5a
Alpamayo base camp.


After a long day that went from pleasant to confusing to hilarious to annoying, we arrived in base to camp to – you guessed it – clouds, rain, and snow. We were told it had been raining in base camp and snowing on the mountain for over a week straight now. We were also informed by a group that had tried for the summit the day before that they had been forced back by deep snow and dangerous avalanche conditions. We decided to move towards col camp the next day with extreme caution.


Copa 4
Photo courtesy of Quitaraju’s beautiful north facing ski line lit up in alpenglow.


Copa 4a
Quitaraju from basecamp. The ski line is on the back. Col camp is just over the ridge on the right side of the photo.


As we worked through the moraine and up to the glacier the next morning, we saw and heard a couple of soft slab avalanches and serac falls. Upon reaching snow line, we found about a foot of fresh powder. At this point, we decided that even if we could reach col camp safely that morning, the odds of being able to make a safe summit attempt the next day were slim to none. After some quick low angle glacier powder turns, we packed up and headed back for base camp.


copa 6a
Getting tricky with the skin track, coming over a snow bridge.


Copa 6
Last turns of the trip.


After a rest day in Alpamayo base camp, we packed up and headed back to Huaraz.


Copa 7
New friends in camp. Flaco Guillermo.


Copa z
This is not a dried up lake, it is debris from an avalanche that came off Artesonraju’s north face last year. It continues well behind the photographer and around the corner up valley for a long ways.


Copa 7b
30 seconds of sunlight is enough for a quick dip in glacier fed streams.


Overall, our trip was a mixed bag of success and failure. We only reached two of our six summits, and struggled with bad weather from start to finish. But, we had an incredible and memorable ski descent on Artesonraju’s SE face, and had managed to ski from high on every peak we tried. More importantly for me, this trip was a fantastic learning experience, and an introduction into another way to travel and ski in mountain ranges around the world. I’m already starting to plan the next ski adventure!


Copa 8
Next year?
Photo courtesy of Summit Post.

Related Articles

4 thoughts on “Skiing in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: Copa and Quitaraju

Got an opinion? Let us know...