Three Ranges Exploratory Trek
The northern reaches of the Peruvian Andes have for centuries been prime real estate for those who want to get lost—or at least remain unfound. The Cordilleras Raura, Huayhuash, and Blanca—three ranges consisting of massive blocks of nearly impenetrable ice and rock—are the setting for this intense 25-day mule-supported exploratory trek. You might recognize some of the scenery: British mountaineer Joe Simpson's epic tale of survival, as recounted in the book and recently released documentary film Touching the Void, unfolded in these mountains. Starting in the Cordillera Raura, a two-day drive from Lima through Peru's central plains, you'll explore the eastern fringes of this ancient range on a four-day trek, camping in verdant meadows or along glacial moraines. Rarely will you be lower than 13,000 feet. Next you'll cross into the Cordillera Huayhuash—a formidable mass of skyscraping peaks that include Peru's second-highest, the serac-scarred 21,765-foot Yerupajá;. The air will seem as thick as llama wool when you reach 9,932-foot Huaraz, the Chamonix of Peru, for a two-night rest at an inn. Set out the following morning into the 112-mile-long Cordillera Blanca—one of the largest concentrations of 20,000-foot peaks in the world—for more than eight days of trekking past Inca ruins, through paperbark forests, and across 15,000-foot passes. From your campsite, you'll have plenty of time to ogle the fluted pyramid of 19,511-foot Alpamayo.
High Point: The views of Huayhuash National Park—from your 14,350-foot campsite—will take away what little breath you still have.
Low Point: The tropical mountain-climbing paradox: high-altitude chills, intense equatorial sun. Slather on the sunblock and lip balm during the day, but don't forget the down jacket and booties for camp at night.
Travel Advisory: Make your peace with switchbacks before signing up for this trip. You'll climb no fewer than 11 passes in 18 days.
Outfitter: Wilderness Travel (800-368-2794, www.wildernesstravel.com)
When to Go: May
Price: From $3,795