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Illimani - Climbing Cordillera Real - Bolivia

On a clear day in La Paz it’s impossible to miss Mount Illimani - the majestic 6,400 meter mountain that guards over the de-facto capital, dominating the southern skyline. Mount Illimani is seen as the Queen of the mountain gods in Aymara culture and is considered one of the most beautiful peaks in the country, if not the whole of South America. It is the highest peak in the Cordillera Real, the second highest in Bolivia and is the most southern in that range, situated at the opposite end to the King of the mountain gods, Illampu.


Although the vista from La Paz gives the impression of a three peaked mountain, Illimani actually has five major summits, plus numerous smaller peaks, and is about eight kilometres wide. The Pico Sur is the highest peak, but also is the summit of the easiest route on the mountain. The Pico Norte is also the summit of a number of climbing routes.


It’s possible to do a multi-peak climb incorporating the north, central and south peaks. This climb is extremely challenging and involves spending three nights above 6,000 meters.




The main approach route is via Estancia Una or Pinaya. You will need to arrange a jeep from La Paz, which should cost about $200 and take about two hours. It’s also possible to take a bus from Rodriguez Market in La Paz, which normally leaves in the early hours. It goes to the village of Quilihaya, which is about a two hour walk from Estancia Una. Make sure you check if the bus is running before the day of your departure. Mules and porters are available for hire in both Estancia Una and Pinaya. From Estancia Una, follow the road up to Pinaya. From Pinaya it’s an easy walk out towards Illimani and the camp at Puente Roto, just below an unused mining road.


From Puente Roto, you follow the mining road before heading left towards the rubble strewn scree slope that leads to a ridge heading towards the base of Pico Sur. This ridge takes you to the high camp of Nido de Condores (the condor’s nest). Porters are available from Puente Roto to Nido de Condores. Running water may not be available at the camp but you can melt snow.


Pico Sur – Normal route


From high camp, you continue along the narrow, steep ridge, which will be covered in snow or ice. You will need to take care on this part as there are a number of crevasses. There is a bergschrund along this stretch that is extremely challenging. You will need to climb a vertical ice wall to pass it. Continuing along the steep ridge to the right, you will arrive at a false summit. From here you will need to continue along the long ridge to the right to reach the final summit. This stretch can be extremely windy so be prepared. The temperature is extremely cold throughout the whole climb. The ascent normally takes between five and seven hours and it’s recommended to leave high camp at 4 a.m. The descent takes two to three hours to Nido de Condores and a further two to three hours to Puente Roto.


Pico Norte


The less common summit on Mount Illimani offers a variety of routes and some of the most spectacular climbing on the whole mountain. The German route follows the Normal Route from Nido de Condores before dropping off to the glacier basin to the left. It’s a grade III climb, is steeper than the normal route and had a ascent time of about 12 hours. The Vía Khoya Khoya starts from Puente Roto but vias off to the left before the Nido de Condores camp. It is said to be one of the most impressive climbs on the mountain and is a grade III climb.


Here are other activities in and around Cordillera Real that may be of interest: Cordillera Real Climbing , Condoriri Massif Climb, Ancohuma Climb and Huayna Potosí Climb.

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