The Vilcanota mountain range in South-East Peru is one of the perfect places to get lost, I mean really out there where the corona virus never arrived. I have been exploring this mountain range for ten years, climbing all of the peaks over 6,000m and many of the 5,000m peaks. There are still very wild and interesting parts of the range that I was eager to see. Many mountains that have only been climbed once in history and a few that were never climbed. At the North-Eastern edge of the range, beyond Yayamari and the Ritipampa de Quelcaya lie many peaks whose rivers abruptly drop 12,000ft to the Amazon in the NE, to the SE the San Gaban River divides the Vilcanota Range from the Carabaya range in the Puno region.

Researching ascents of these peaks is quite difficult. Many of the names and locations are vague, the only registered explorations and ascents being back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Many ascents were made by notable climbers that explored other very remote parts of Peru: Piero Ghiglione, John Ricker, Olaf Hartmann and Miss Faye Kerr. As I pieced together reports and maps, the principal mountains of the area revealed themselves to me.

Overview of the Eastern Cordillera Vilcanota, taken from the summit of Yayamari (6,050m)

East of Yayamari  and North of the Quelcaya Ice cap, several groups of glaciated peaks with satelite peaks are: Alccachaya (5,780m), San Braullo (5,674m), Sombreruni (5,645m), Imata (5,475m), Chimboya (5,550m), Kishuarniyoq (5,665m), Kiscalaya (Taltoquere) (5,645m), Taipicala (5,485m), Kellurata (Chilimoco) (5,500m), Huinccocha (5,315m), the Huallanhuañusca group of Ocororopata (5,031m), Yanaruna I&II (5,302m), the Ayachincana/Llushcarite/Chuquichanca group with the highest peaks Quiruyoq (5,250m) and Huayacauri (5,240m), the Pomachanca group with the highest peak of Huamanlipani Grande (5,305m).

All of these peaks appear in the reports of past explorations by these climbers but one, the furthest east had escaped their notice: Machu Riti (5,310m), which is the last glaciated going East before the San Gaban River, and a few kilometers north of the mining town of Corani.

Machu Riti mountain as seen from the Chimboya pass.

In October 2018 Thomas Schilter and I went in a 4×4 truck over the Chimboya pass to Corani, and turned north into a valley with a couple large lagoons, just SE of the Machu Riti massif. We skirted the lagoons and a day later were camped at 5,000m below the south flank of the main ridge which runs West to East and then curves South. Although we were quite close to the summits and could have gone to the top, we would not have seen far, it started snowing heavily and we decided to retreat when it did not stop after a day and a half. The weather in this area is difficult to deal with since the clouds come up quickly from the jungle just to the north.

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A year later in December 2019 Thomas, Maximiliano Taylor and I explored the Rock Forest of Jayllua just south of Corani with some other friends, and got to know the area a bit better, which kept it in my mind.

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I was stuck in the USA when the coronavirus pandemic started in March 2020 and was not able to get back to Peru until late in the climbing season. With the year almost gone Thomas, Maximiliano and I decided to give Machu Riti another try, and explore some other peaks in the area. After studying Google Earth and remembering dirt roads that went to the town of Quichu, between the Pomachanca and Machu Riti massifs we, decided to go to the Western side of the peak.

After a long day in the truck from Urubamba we arrived to a pass at 4,800m where there were some stables and homes of Alpaca herders, called the Community of “Alto Chia” next to a couple lagoons. A friendly guy named Eddy Mamani rolled up on his motorbike and said his family owns the pastures there and we are welcome to park the truck and camp near his house. He said that even 15 years ago all of the Machu Riti mountain was covered with ice, but now the northern side had melted to all rock, leaving the southern side with glacier.

Starting the approach to Machu Riti.

The peak we could see from camp turned out to be a false summit, but in any case there was no visible snow or ice, so we left the ice screws and snow stakes, but took one axe each and rock gear just in case. On October 10th we traversed the West ridge staying on the northern side, over a few false summits and the last remnants of glacier close to the top.

False summits of Machu Riti

There are a few rocky summits sticking out the top and we tagged the two highest of them which gave a GPS reading of 5,310m. The way up was relatively easy with no technical roped climbing but great scrambling and a few class 4 moves on the summit. The weather was not great but the clouds hung at 5,400m giving us at least a clear view of the peaks close by.

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The next day we moved camp to the Chimboya pass at 5,150m and parked the truck there. On October 12th we climbed the peak “Imata” (5,475m) just North of the pass, which is the southern outlier of San Braullo (5,674m). Again the weather played games with us and the clouds beat us to the summit, but were passing over intermittently. Thomas took the opportunity to bring his Unicycle to the top and complete the highest descent starting point on record in Peru!

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That same day we packed up camp and started the truck midmorning after the sun had time to heat up the engine and oil a bit. Parking your truck overnight at those altitudes can be a bit delicate! So far from any help in no mans land would be a bad place to have a problem, but luckily it started after a few turns warming up. We descended towards the town of Phinaya, and then turned North, on the road below the east flank of Alccachaya (5,780m) that runs to the pass of “Abra Laccopata” at 5,200m. This impressive dirt road winds through sandy dunes and a gap in the Suyuparina glacier to reach one of the heads of the Marcapata River watershed.

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In April 2017 I had come here to mountain bike the entire 3,000 meters (10,000ft) of downhill, from the pass to Marcapata, with a friend Bill Koch, and my Parents following us in the Land Cruiser. But that time we did not see any peaks due to the typical Marcapata fog.

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This time though we were blessed with savage views of the north side of Yayamari, and our objective: the west face of Kishuarniyoq (5,665m) and the impressive tooth like Kellurata (5,500m) on the ridge running north.

Kellurata (5,500m) and Kishuarniyoq (5,665m), both peaks only have 1one ascent each from the other side (east side), this face is unclimbed.
Kishuarniyoq west face
Kellurata west face
Thomas with Huilayoc and Yayamari NE side in the background.

We found a family there pasturing Alpacas at 4,800m, near their earth/mud/thatch home. Luis Alberto Soncco Jancco and his wife Genoveva have 7 kids: Aldo, Alicia, Franklin, Alvaro, Alberto Lenin and Pavel. At first he was a bit wary, but quickly realized we were good natured and told us to park the truck next to his house. Before we even finished setting camp the kids came out with a big bowl of boiled potatoes and Oca for us which is a common aspect of Andean hospitality. We shared our food stuffs, and made popcorn and drinks, he was especially happy we had plenty of Coca leaves and Llipta (pronounced “Yipta”, is usually the ash from burning quinoa stalks or other plants that when chewed with Coca releases the alkaloids and gives it a stronger effect). The kids loved our company and spent the entire afternoon learning knots and checking out our mountaineering gear.

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The next day we hired Luis to help us port our gear to the base of Kishuarniyoq. His daughter Alicia, wanted to go so badly that she cried at first when her parents told her she could not, but then they let her go. She helped carry Max’s camera bag for to get her tip. In the afternoon the clouds cleared nicely showing what seemed to be a perfect setup for the climb and getting our hopes up. But that night the clouds rolled in again like I have never experienced after a clearing, and it snowed all night. We awoke at 11pm and waited for a few hours until deciding that we would not climb. These peaks are so beautiful that it would be worth coming back in better weather!

Houses in the Marcapata Valley below freshly snowed mountains.

It took only an hour to get back to Luis Alberto’s house, where we gifted food and some carabiners to the kids, before loading the truck and taking off, with a promise to come back and visit again. Two hours later we hit the Interoceanic Highway at Marcapata and drove over the Pirhuayani pass toward Cusco. We decided to delay our return one more night by visiting my Compadre Luis Crispin in Pacchanta and having a glorious soak in the thermal baths of the village, well deserved after some cold nights in the remote Vilcanota!

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