Climbing La Esfinge (The Sphinx) in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Climbing La Esfinge (The Sphinx) in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Area Overview: The Cordillera Blanca is an absolutely magical mountain range located 400 km north of Lima. The range has countless numbers of glaciated peaks rising above 6000m, impeccable granite walls up to 950 meters, crystal clear alpine lakes, and a network of trails (or “Chakinanis” in Quechua) perfect for trekking and mountain biking. In short, the Cordillera Blanca is an Alpine playground for all things adventure.

The town of Huaraz is a great place to base yourself for adventures in the Cordillera Blanca and Negra. Huaraz has been the adventure capital of Peru for well over 30 years, and has everything from dirt cheap local food, and hostels to upscale western restaurants and luxury lodges. There is a wide range of tour operators in Huaraz that offer everything from transportation, and day trips to fully guided multi-day expeditions. A great place to get oriented in Huaraz is the Casa de Guias located in Parque Periodista, or at one of the many agencies in Huaraz. We suggest stopping by QUECHUANDES located on Avenida Luziarga and talking to David and Marie. Although we didn’t use their services, they are very sweet, eager to help, and they wrote the guidebook on rock climbing in Huaraz (see resources for more info).

La Esfinge is a 950m granite big wall, located in Quebrada Paron, above the town of Caraz. There are 22 routes on then East, South, and Southeast faces ranging from 5.10dR to 5.13a, and multiple aid routes from 5.11a A2 to 5.10b A4. Check out Huaraz: The Climbing Guide for a full list of topos, and route descriptions.

la-esfinge-overview-peru

The Route: The 750 meter 1985 Route 5.10d R was the first route climbed on La Esfinge (The Sphinx). In 1985, Spanish climbers Antonio Gomez Bohorquez, and Onofre Garcia put in an incredible effort on the first ascent. Using a ground up ethic, they completed the climb after spending 9 nights on the wall. The route was first freed by Julio Fernandez, David Rodriguez and Guillermo Mejia.

See Mountain Project for a pitch by pitch description.

See “Suggested Trips and Itineraries in the Area” below for more route suggestions.

 

Gear Needed: We brought a single rack of BD cams from #0-0.4 and a #4, a double rack from #.5-3, a single rack of Alien offsets from #0-0.4, a full rack of offset DM brass nuts, 12 alpine draws, and two 60 m half ropes. We (2 people) climbed this route in 2 days: For our bivy we brought a single 0 degree down sleeping bag, and used our backpacks and ropes as a sleeping mat. For water we brought 6 liters total for 2 people.

We highly recommend bringing offset cams and nuts if possible; they significantly cut down on runouts in the second half of the climb. However, the climb is mostly safe without offsets, and most people we talked to while in Huaraz did not bring them.

 Our Bivy on the 9th pitch of La Esfinge (plenty of room for up to 3 people)

Weather/Best Season: The seasons in the Cordillera Blanca are split into “Wet” and, “Dry”, with the weather in-between being much less predictable. The Dry season in the Cordillera Blanca is between late May to early September, with the most consistent weather for climbing big routes spanning from late June to early August. You can expect crystal clear blue skies every day from late June to early August, as well as the most tourists in town and in the more popular “Quebradas” (mountain valleys). The Wet season spans between November and March. During the Wet and In-between seasons, the weather pattern typically involves daily rain in the afternoon, with dry crisp mornings. If you find yourself in the area during these seasons, it’s much better to head to the many amazing bouldering areas around town, or rent a mountain bike to go ride the tasty singletrack that surrounds Huaraz. The most commonly used weather site is Mountain Forecast.

Time needed: The summit of La Esfinge is 5350 meters (17,470 ft) above sea level. Due to the altitude, and length of the climb/approach, I’d recommend a minimum of 10 days for preparation, acclimatization, climb and descent. However, 2-3 weeks would be a much more comfortable time frame to first climb at lower altitudes, and sample what the Cordillera Blanca has to offer. Many climbers stay for the entire season, accomplishing many objectives in the various Quebradas surrounding Huaraz.
For the route: The various people we talked to started from Base Camp, hiked to the wall in the morning and finished the route between 4-36 hrs. There is a nice ledge at the top of pitch nine that has a great flat spot for 2-3 people at the start of pitch 10 (far left of the ledge), and many more that aren’t so flat but sleep-able.

Level of Adventure, Difficulty and Danger: La Esfinge has everything from A4 horror show testpieces, to the entirely manageable and accessible 1985 Route 5.10d R. For us, the route felt safe and manageable; very little loose rock, good placements, and manageable runouts. The crux to the route without a doubt is not getting lost in the second half (which we did). It is hard to retreat after the 10th pitch, although entirely possible with two 60 meter ropes. There have been deaths/accidents on La Esfinge, and there is no chance of a swift rescue; no helicopters or professional rescue squad, so the ability to self-rescue is a must.

The R rating comes from the last 9 pitches, however only one pitch felt significantly run out to us and it was around 5.7/5.8. This was likely due to the offset aliens and nuts that we brought; we highly recommend bringing them if you have access.

***Disclaimer***

We have tried to be as detailed and accurate as possible with the information included on this site to inspire and prepare you for your adventure ahead. However, no amount of information is a substitute for experience and judgment.  Weather, conditions, perception and experience level can cause this information to change.

Permits and Fees: You are required to pay a community fee of 5 soles for each person. The Huascaran National Park fee is NOT required for this climb.

Getting There:

To Huaraz from Lima: You can take a night or day bus, fly, or drive.

By Bus: There are loads of bus lines that run from Lima to Huaraz, and all typically take about 8 hours. We have found that Cruz Del Sur is the most consistent, safe, and easy to use. Click on the link above to view current prices, the times for Cruz Del Sur routes, and buy your ticket online. Cruz Del Sur has two terminals in Lima; one called Plaza Del Norte and one called Javier Prado. Plaza Del Norte is the closest to Lima International Airport, and should either cost around 30-50 soles from an unofficial cab outside the airport terminal, or 100 soles from the airport cab counter (Green Taxi). I have never had issues with the taxis outside the airport terminal, however there have been instances where unofficial taxis have robbed tourists and locals. If arriving too late to take a night bus from Lima, consider staying at Pay Purix Hostel. It is one of the closest hostels to the airport, provides airport pick-up (25 soles b/f midnight, 35 soles after midnight) and transfer to Plaza Norte in the morning (35 soles).

By Plane: LCPeru offers 50 minute flights to and from Huaraz on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for $109-$139 USD, however their luggage allowance is 15 kg for stored luggage and 5 kg hang luggage.

By Car: Huaraz is a 400km drive from Lima. Click here for directions.

To Quebrada Paron from Huaraz:

By Taxi: Costs anywhere from 180 soles to 250 soles and is the easiest/most comfortable option.

By Combi: Take a combi (a public 15 passenger van) from Huaraz to Caraz for 6 soles (leave from all around Huaraz, any local will know: say “Done salen los combis a Caraz?”). From Caraz, hire a taxi to Laguna Paron for around 100 soles.

From Laguna Paron to La Esfinge: From the Refugio, walk back down the main road for 100 meters, where there is a sign pointing to a trail on the right that leads back down the valley (DO NOT take the trail that heads up the valley perpendicular to the main valley, located right behind the Refugio, although there are cairns, this is the WRONG trail!). Follow this well trodden trail for about 30 minutes until it cuts right and heads up the third valley down from Refugio. There is a small hidden stream about 20 min. up this ascent, but is easy to hear and find. Gain about 800m in 2 hrs until cutting left over the ridge, following the well trodden trail and cairns. This is when you see the La Esfinge for the first time. A 20 min. descent takes you to a large sandy and flat area with obvious signs of camping; this is Base Camp. There is water located in a small pond located about 100 m up the hill on the right (when facing La Esfinge), if this is dry continue further up the moraine to find glacial melt streams. From Base camp it is about a 45 minute boulder hop following cairns to the large bivy boulder, and 15 min. more to the East face. There is no water at the bivy boulder. The 1985 Route is just left of center face, at the obvious weakness; a vegetated 5.7 crack below a large dark streak.

Around town (Food, Accomodation and Supplies):

Huaraz:

  • Coffee: Trivio, and Cafe California are the go to places for a good cup of coffee, gringo food and relaxed cheery atmosphere.
  • Food: You can buy anything from a 3.5 sol, two course Menu del Dia, to a 40 sol pizza at Luigis. Here are our favorite spots:
    • El Mercado Central: Everything you need for the mountains (except gear) is sold here at super cheap prices, but get ready to barter. Some stalls show prices for their goods; they can be great places to go first in order to figure out prices. You can buy Cheese, honey, chia, maca, bread, peanut butter, snickers, granola, oatmeal, vegetables, fruits, meats. There are also very cheap Menu Del Dia options and juice cafe’s upstairs (try “jugo surtido” or mixed juice for 1.5 soles).
    • Luigi’s Pizza: Absolutely amazing wood-fired pizza, but a bit a expensive. Perfect for when you’re craving food from the States.
    • Pisces: Amazing Ceviche, located by the bridge next to the Piscicultura.
    • Any place that serves Menu Del Dia: Menu del Dia is a cheap (3-6 soles) breakfast, lunch and dinner option. The menu s are typically fixed with 2-6 options and always come with soup, main entree and drink.
  • Supplies:
    • Gear: The Agencies located along Avenida Luziarga and in Parque Periodista have varying quality of climbing and camping gear for rent, and sale.
    • Fuel: Check agencies for  iso-butane canisters and hardware stores (“Ferreteria”) for white gas (Bencina)
  • Accomodation:
    • Climber Point Guesthouse: Run by local climber Omar Rodriguez, The Climber Point Guesthouse is a homestay about a 15 minute walk outside of the town center, and about 5 minutes from great bouldering. The family is very kind, and mostly keeps to themselves. Omar is a great resource for climbing areas, primarily bouldering and sport climbing. Guests are welcome to use the two house crashpads, and are generally invited out on bouldering and sport climbing trips. Omar has both private and shared rooms. The cost is typically 30 soles per night, although we found Omar very reasonable if staying longer. Contact Omar at Omarclimber@hotmail.com
    • El Tambo: Also know as the “French Hostel”, this is one of the cheapest, and most relaxed hostels that we found in Huaraz. It is located down a gravel alley directly across from the Stadium. Cost is 30 soles per night.
    • Monkey Wasi: Touted as the climber hostel; this place provides cheap (20-25 soles) and relaxed lodging. Located on Plaza Soledad, it is about a 15 minute walk from the town center.

Caraz: You can purchase any supplies needed in Caraz except for gear.

Resources:

Huaraz: The Climbing Guide by David Laza and Marie Timmermons is highly recommended, as it includes high quality color photos, route descriptions, and topos to most of the routes and areas around Huaraz.

Mountain Project: Route Description

Summit Post:

Rock and Ice Magazine article: A well-put together video of a group of three climbing the route in two days.

Super Topo trip report by Vitaliy M. offers a great step by step description and quality photos of the route.

Suggested trips and itineraries in the area:

Quebrada Paron:

  • The Cruz Del Sur route V 5.13a (5.11d obl.) 800m was highly recommended to us by a fellow climber that had just returned for La Esfinge.
  • Bouldering, Artesanraju, 9 pitch climb

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Photo Gallery:

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