Cordillera Vilcanota—1969

Publication Year: 1970.

Cordillera Vilcanota—1969

John Ricker

Naming of Andean Peaks. As previously suggested many times in this journal, local names for peaks should be sought out and used. Barring this, descriptive names in Quechua or at least Spanish are acceptable. Names of cities, towns, girl friends, and other monuments to one’s native land simply will not be accepted by the Peruvian government. These cause nothing but confusion when local names are discovered.

Sometimes mountains are given the names of nearby lakes, rivers or settlements. Rivers are commonly called by the names of local villages or haciendas along their length; thus one river may have many names. Peaks may have different names in different valleys and even individuals living in the same valley may use different names for the same mountain. In isolated villages the men are the most knowledgeable and if anyone has a command of Spanish, it is they. Children home from school can often provide a translating link from Spanish to Quechua – or Aymara. One’s porters can help in discovering local names. Caravan traders sometimes know the geography and nomenclature of the mountains but often they do not. Men who farm chacras in several different parts of a region usually know the most. Still, there are people who seem unable to recognize mountains at all, no matter how spectacular; when asked for names, they supply the names of high pastures or other hills in the direction of your unnamed mountain. The best rule of thumb is to ask, ask again and keep asking until order appears out of what had seemed chaos.

Words commonly used in names south and east of Cuzco in describing mountains are jatun = big, riti = snow or ice, yurac = white, yana = black, puca = red, orcco, loma, or huichay = mountain or hill, pata = an indefinite term referring to the base of a mountain or hill, the mountainside or the whole mountain, rumi = stone, punku, abra, punta, cuello, collado, apacheta = pass, karu = far,juc = one, iskay = two, quimsa = three.Mayo = river and cocha = lake need not be combined with similar Spanish terms (río or laguna, lago).

Throughout southern Peru the indigenous come up with the story that mountains are full of silver or gold or have silver crosses (colque cruz) on their summits. Hence the proliferation of Nevados Colque Cruz. Fortunately there are usually alternate names. I have heard this name applied to prominent, steep mountains in the Cordilleras Urubamba, Vilcanota, and Apolobamba. Mountaineers have conserved its use for the most prominent Colque Cruz of all, on the main divide of the Cordillera Vilcanota. There should not need to be any others.

In the Cordillera Vilcanota the names Chimboya and Quenamari are used frequently by the locals. There is the Nevado Chimboya (54891 meters) in the Nudo de Vilcanota at La Raya Pass. (Others have reported this peak as only about 5100 meters.) There is another Nevado Chimboya (c. 5100 meters) near Río Salcca, 20 miles northeast of Sicuani. Chimboya Pass separates the icecap area from the high peaks of the main divide. There is also a Nevado Chimboya here, which shifts, ghost-like, from mountain to mountain depending on which expedition and which native informant are in the area. There is Mina Chimboya on the east margin of Chimboya Pass. In the Cayangate group, a Nevado Chimbaya appears on some expedition maps at the head of the Río Chimbaya. Quenamari is the name on the Hoja Sicuani for the Jurucucho Icecap (A.A.J., 1968, 16:1, p. 198). This is distinct from the larger icecap Ritipampa de Quelccaya, adjacent and to the north. Quenamari is also used to refer to the isolated mountain south of Macusani.

What is the Cordillera Vilcanota? The word “Vilcanota” appears on M.F. Paz Soldan’s maps of the Departments of Cuzco and Puno, published in 1865 in his Atlas Geográfico del Perú (A. Durand, Paris), near La Raya Pass. Antonio Raimondi’s map of 1890 (Atlas de Raimondi, Erhard, Paris) recognizes Nevado Vilcanota and indicates the “Río Vilcanota” flowing northwest from a lake of the same name near La Raya Pass. The most recent map, Hoja Macari2, refers specifically to four high points on the ridge due north of Hacienda Vilcanota as “Nudo de Vilcanota.”

The use of the name to indicate a mountain range is also indicated on Paz Soldan’s map for the area southwest of La Raya Pass. He referred to the area north along the main divide towards Colque Cruz (P 6111 on Hoja Sicuani) and Ausungate as “Cordillera Oriental,” in which he also included the area southwest of Macusani. His Cordillera Carabaya is east-southeast of Crucero. In his 1:50,000 map, Cordillera Vilcanota, which accompanies his Ihr Herren Berge (1959, Engelhorn Verlag, Stuttgart), Günter Hauser extended the previously accepted boundaries of the range to include the Ausangate group. If we accept Hauser’s extension, we must include the highland area bounded as follows: Río Vilcanota and Río Paucartambo on the west; Río Madre de Dios Alto on the north; the Río Marcapata system on the north and east; Río San Gaban on the east; and Río Azangaro and Río Ayaviri on the south. Parts of this area are sometimes, but never precisely, referred to as belonging to the Cordillera Carabaya on general maps of Peru. Because of cartographers’ unfamiliarity with the terrain, there is considerable variation. The best geographical boundary for the separation of the Cordillera Vilcanota from the Cordillera Carabaya are the Ríos San Gaban and Azangaro. The lowest pass between the two systems lies on the little-known road from Nuñoa to Macusani. This separation would place the isolated Nevado Quenamari, climbed by Hans Katz (See Mountain World, 1955, pages 184-6.), in the Cordillera Carabaya.

The Cordillera Vilcanota includes: the Ayacachi group in the north; the Ausungate-Cayangate-Jatunhuma group and its extensions in the west; the main divide region of Colque Cruz (6111 meters), Yayamari (6007), Alccachaya (5779), “Nevado de Sombreruni”, Chimboya Pass, Ritipampa de Quelccaya; and the Nudo de Vilcanota in the southwest. From the Chimboya Pass area east to the canyon of the Río San Gaban near Ollachea, lies a highland of minor peaks; several groups extend north from this area like fingers from a hand, parallel to the main divide and east of it. These are from west to east the group dominated by Kishuarnioq between Quebrada Lacco and Río Tillpa; and unnamed group between Río Tillpa and Río Socapata;and the “Yushcariti” (also called “Ayachincanas”) group east of Río Socapata. There is one isolated massif, the smallest “Lacco” group, between the main divide and the Kishuarnioq group, bounded by the south branch of the Quebrada Huiscachani and the Quebrada Lacco. All the tributaries flow north into the Río Marcapata.

Climbs in the Cordillera Vilcanota in 1969

Main Divide. A number of climbs were made in 1969 on the long north ridge of Colque Cruz VI3. For part of its length it separates the Paucartambo and Marcapata river systems and is the main divide. The high ridge of Colque Cruz has six individual peaks, all above 6000 meters. The highest, Colque Cruz I, lies to the northwest and the others to the southeast, terminating in Colque Cruz VI. Quimsachata is the highest point (c. 5300 meters or 17,389 feet) on the north ridge of Colque Cruz VI and is several kilometers from it. This trident-shaped rock tower, especially prominent when viewed from the cemetery at Marcapata, was climbed by New Zealander Pete Barry and German Olaf Hartmann on July 13 by its east slopes and northeast ridge to the highest and northernmost peak. Hartmann and I scrambled up “Iskaychata” (c. 5090 meters or 16,700 feet) on the 14th by its northern scree slopes and rock face. It is a twin-towered summit, immediately east of Quimsachata. We approached the area from Marcapata, via Río Chumpi, the town of Chumpi, Quebrada Quimsachata and Sorapampa in a day’s walk. Climbs in this area by the British-Australian expedition will be found in the “Climbs and Expeditions” section.

Jonas and Elizabeth Osauskas in May climbed to the high point to the west of P 5435 (c. 5600 meters or 18,373 feet) as well as P 5435 (17,831 feet) (Hoja Sicuani) on the main divide southeast of Yayamari, approaching from Hacienda Finaya to the south. Pete Barry and I climbed the northeast slopes of a snow peak (c. 16,700 feet) on the northeast ridge of P 5841 (Hoja Sicuani) on July 18 from the south branch of the Quebrada Huiscachani. We then traversed into Pocapocamayo and Quebrada Lacco. On July 19 we were on the route of Ghiglione, Marx and Zaltron (1955) and John Jewell and party (1956). Crossing Abra Laccopata (c. 16,700 feet), we walked up the snow point (c. 16,900 feet) immediately southwest of the pass. On the 20th we climbed Pichiya, marked 5454 meters on the Hoja Sicuani but by our estimate less than 5300 meters or 17,389 feet, by its sandy northwest slopes which rise above Chimboya Pass. A road goes from Mina Chimboya all the way to Mina Korani and Nuñoa (A.A.J., 1968, 16:1, pp. 198-200), but it is in poor condition.

Eastern Groups. At Hacienda Huaracuni (“Hariconi” in Herr März’s note in A.A.J., 1969, 16:2, p 442), I headed north with the last of the food into the isolated eastern part of the “hand.” I walked to Okucocha and the pass beyond, followed an abandoned road from there to an abandoned Mina Santa Rosa, some three miles to the east. The road seemed to start and end nowhere. On the 22nd I climbed an unnamed point (c. 16,700 feet) above the mine and found myself in the unnamed group at the head of the Río Socapata. Gentle peaks rose from a broad summit-glacier platform. After skirting the north margin of the group, I crossed an unused and cliffy pass in an electrical storm. The pass separates the “Yushcariti” group from this unnamed one and also the Marcapata from the San Gaban drainages. I descended the cliffs into the head of the Río Sorapata, walking northeast toward the town of Quichu. On the 23rd I partook of chicha and several hours of festivities at Quichu before heading over a pass to the southeast to Chea. There I was misdirected and spent another two days getting to Ollachea via Korani, instead of going by some mysterious, direct, one-day route, which alcoholic friends in Quichu described.

Olaf Hartmann and Pete Barry climbed Kishuarnioq (c. 18,500 feet), the highest in its group, on July 10 and a lower satellite to the northeast, “Taltoquere”, on the 8th. Olaf returned for a solo ascent of “Nevado de Chilimoco”, above the Estancia Chilimoco on August 7. It lies north of Kishuarnioq on the main ridge of the group. Lastly Olaf made a solo ascent on August 9 of the dome-like “Nevado de Sombreruni”, one of the highest snow peaks in the area from the Quebrada Sombreruni; only Alccachaya, Kishuarnioq and Yayamari are higher. All were climbed from the Quebrada Tillpa system, to the east. [Felix Marx has identified for me the route that he, Piero Ghiglione and Francesco Zaltron climbed on the north ridge of Nevado Huinccocha (probably less than 5500 meters or 18,045 feet) on July 28, 1955 from Quebrada Lacco. This peak lies immediately north of Nevado de Chilimoco. I had been unable to determine which peak it was on Ghiglione’s map (Süd Peru, 1:100,000, Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research).]

Nudo de Vilcanota. On October 17 I climbed solo Nevado Chimboya Norte (c. 5350 meters or 17,553 feet) by its northwest ridge. I approached from the unnamed sickle-shaped valley above Hacienda Vilcanota and descended the north slopes into the Río Suruma valley and back to the Cuzco-Puno highway.

Western Groups. In early November, Americans Steve Webster and Malcolm Moore walked with me southeast from Mallma (km 100 on the Urcos-Quince Mil road) up past Laguna Serina (not on Hoja Sicuani) and the glacier between the Ruppa-Jatunhuma and the Colque Cruz massifs to an 18,000-foot glacier pass overlooking Sibinacocha. In the basin below Huiscachani (“Jatunriti”), northwest of this pass is a two-mile-long glacial lake in a deep depression with no surface outlet. On November 12 we crossed the pass, descended toward Sibinacocha, climbed via its eastern slopes a snow dome (c. 5625 meters or 18,455 feet) on the Sibinacocha corner of the Jatunhuma massif, and then traversed on in thigh-deep snow to Quebrada Acero. On the 13th I climbed Cerro Palomani (c. 5200 meters or 17,060 feet) above Hacienda Pinaya from the east and traversed in scree down to the solitary lake at the base of a spur of Ausungate’s south ridge, joining the others. We then crossed the low point of the ridge which joins Pucapunta to the south ridge of Ausungate and into the basin containing three lakes below the true south face of Ausungate. (Only one of these is indicated on the Hoja Sicuani and it is shown draining east, whereas this valley drains northeast into Río Crucorcasa towards Hacienda Laura- marca.) On the way out to Tinki we noted several boiling hot springs on the south edge of the swamp at Upis. One of these had a slight geyser-like action, with scalding hot water too salty for making tea.

Ayacachi Group. From October 20 to 28 Steve Webster and I crossed the pass, Q’asa Ugoruro, at the northern end of the group, while travelling from Ccapana to Q’ero, then on our return I traversed the west side of the range to the Urcos-Quince Mil highway while Steve went back to Ccapana. I climbed in and out of five valleys; the one above the town of Ancasi, the one which contains Estancia Huaypaconga, the one of the Capilla Coylloriti, the valley of Colquepunkumayo, and the one of Ok’apampa down which I travelled to reach the settlement Patahuasi at km 107 on the road at the head of Laguna Jampatuni but west of the pass Hualla Hualla. The standard route into the group used by Marx and Ghiglione, the Spanish in 1961 and the Japanese in 1961 is from the road at Mahuayani (km 96) to Capilla Coylloriti, about a half-day’s walk.

On October 26 I climbed Pinkilloni Sur (c. 5135 meters or 16,845 feet; probably “Cataluña”* of the Spanish expedition of 1961) from the Capilla Coylloriti. The other high point of the ridge in this section, Pinkilloni Norte, is a few meters higher (probably “Gaudi” of the Spanish). The other Spanish expedition names are not prominent points on the ridge (“Lolita”, “I. Capeta”, “Magagall”, and “Angel Mateo”). On the 26th I continued my traverse over a peak (c. 5055 meters or 16,585 feet), which lies due northeast of Laguna Jampatuni. (Other local names include Colquepuncu I, II, III, and IV in place of “Montserrat”, Colquepuncu, “Soledad” and “Julia” respectively. Many of the points on the ridges of Coylloriti are minor, including “P. Brasas”, “Peñalara”, “Castilla”, “Mendez”, “Galayos”, “Larios”, “Carmen”, “Pedraforca”, “Conchita” and “Marta.” (These are prime examples of unacceptable names, deplored in the section on names! – Editor.) The summit ridge northwest of Coylloriti has another peak, which could be Coylloriti Norte but is locally referred to as Chunticollo (probably “Guadalupe” of the Spanish). Torre Antapunku, a rock tower at the end of the Colquepunku ridge should replace the Spanish expedition name “San Gerónimo.”

1 Altitude given on the Peruvian map, Hoja Macari.


Instituto Geográfico Militar, Hoja Macari and Hoja Sicuani, 1:200,000, 50-meter contour intervals. These were made from survey work in 1938 and 1939-40 respectively. The maps of the old series incorporate many errors in topography in high-mountain regions, where surveyors never walked. Some heights are accurate for high mountains, especially isolated peaks. Usually mountain names are not placed on the maps with sufficient accuracy to indicate which peak is referred to. Above 5000 meters areas are usually left white and not shaded, giving the illusion of snow and ice, even where there is none. The mountain names are often inaccurate and usually do not come from the people who live in the highest valleys. However, for the present that is all there is for many areas; they are valuable for indicating approach routes to the high country and a very general indication of topography.

3The Harvard party called Colque Cruz VI “Nevado Zapato.” (A.A.J., 1958, 11:1, pp. 60-64). The peak to the southeast, called “Jatunriti” by the Harvard party is referred to as Nevado Huiscachani by those living on the east side of it. It is prominently seen from the town of Marcapata’s cemetery. The high point of this peak (6067 meters) is on the north and the lower summit is on the south. They are reversed on the Hoja Sicuani.

*It is hoped that these unacceptable names will be discarded soon and replaced by existing local names which have as yet to be learned. Mountaineering and archeological journals have also mentioned the following names in relation to peaks of the Ayacachi group: Cahuinayoc, Huamanripa, Condorani, Payaracra and Paccopampa. – Evelio Echevarría.