Regional Map and Introduction
|Cordillera Blanca (Peru)
The most challenging and popular peaks for climbers in the Andes are found in the
Cordillera Blanca of Peru. This is a spectacularly glaciated range, with enormous
ice-covered peaks second only to the Himalaya. The range is non-volcanic, and most
peaks are difficult ice climbs even by the "easiest" route. There is, however, an
established network of backcountry ski routes and guides based in the main town, Huaraz.
The highest and most famous peak, Huascaran,
is conversely one of the easiest climbs, and has been descended on skis. Most of the
precipation in this range falls as snow, often quite heavy, during the southern summer,
with more stable weather in winter (May-September).
Select a mountain from the clickable map above
|Cordillera Occidental (Peru, Bolivia, and Chile)
The central of three major volcanic regions in the Andes begins in southern Peru, and
continues south for over 900 miles (1400 km) through western Bolivia into northern Chile
and Argentina. The Cordillera Occidental runs along the western edge of the high plateau,
the Altiplano, which averages nearly 13000 ft (4000 m) in altitude and divides the Andes
into two parallel ranges in this region. Literally hundreds of volcanoes are found in this
range, with over thirty major stratovolcanoes, including famous peaks such as
El Misti, Sajama,
and the twin cones of Parinacota and
Pomerape. The entire region is quite arid, with
the small precipitation falling as snow on the high peaks in summer. Despite the aridity,
most of the high peaks over 19000 ft (5800 m) are capped with permanent snow and glaciers,
with Coropuna bearing the largest ice cap at
over 50 sq miles (130 sq km)! The symmetrical forms of most peaks makes them easy climbs,
and good ski descents when snow conditions are right. Interestingly, many of these
peaks were first climbed by the Incas, 500 years before other mountaineers reached such
elevations, and Inca ruins, artifacts, and sacrificial victims have been found on several
summits (see National Geographic, March 1992, for an interesting article).
|Cordillera Real (Bolivia)
On the eastern side of the Altiplano in Bolivia rise the heavily glaciated peaks of the
Cordillera Real. There are numerous spectacular and difficult peaks in the range, but
several of the high peaks are also gentler ascents ideally suited for skis, including
Mururata and the highest peak,
Illimani. In addition, the highest ski area
in the world (ancient and meager though it is) is found on a minor peak,
Chacaltaya. The Cordillera Real is quite
popular with mounatineers. The climate is similar to the Cordillera Blanca, with
snowfall in summer and stable weather during the winter dry season.
|Puna de Atacama Region (Chile and Argentina)
The volcanic chain of the Cordillera Occidental becomes increasingly arid, desolate,
and higher in altitude south of the Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina border junction. This
region is the Puna (plateau) de Atacama, one of the highest and driest areas in the world.
It lies to the east of the Atacama Desert in Chile, the world's driest, with no recorded
rainfall (ever!) in some parts. Less than 100 miles (160 km) offshore lies the deepest
portion of the Peru-Chile Trench [over 26000 ft (8000 m) deep], which is the subduction
zone where the South American Plate is overriding the Nazca Plate, causing the uplift and
volcanism of the entire Andes, including the Puna de Atacama.
Over thirty 20000 ft (6000 m) peaks are found around the
Puna, including six of the ten highest peaks in the Andes, yet most have little permanent
snow or ice. The very highest summits do have small snowfields and glaciers, including
Ojos del Salado, which are the highest active volcanoes
in the world. The biggest obstacle to climbing is the isolation and difficult access,
with very long, waterless hikes needed unless private 4WD vehicles are available.