Cordillera Blanca Research Expedition
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The American Alpine Institute and the American Climber Science Program are leading a month-long research and climbing expedition in Peru’s spectacular Cordillera Blanca this summer. Scientists, volunteers, students, and climbers are invited join us for an expeditionary experience that includes research, conservation, and adventure in Huascaran National Park.
Research assistants recharging field equipment from our solar panels. Courtesy of ACSP
You can come primarily to climb but also to offer assistance in the data gathering for the research projects, come to trek and spend part of your time assisting in the research, or come primarily to participate in the research. There are four college course options with 300 and 400-level credits through Western Washington University. Graduate students can also do their own field research and receive assistance. See details below.
Our climbing goals include easy and intermediate-level glaciated peaks. The trekking includes both low and high mountain valleys, possibly some walking on non-technical glacier terrain, and travel and camping below some of the world’s most beautiful high altitude mountains.
The team will include scientists and educators in several fields, and the range of research will include:
- the impacts of air pollution on the rate of melt of mountain glaciers
- the indicators that surface deposits on glaciers provide for air pollution and general health of the ecosystem
- methodologies for restoring alpine tundra from the effects of over grazing
- water quality and content assessment
- insect populations as indicators of ecosystem health
Our itinerary will also include work with local communities and land managers on conservation projects within the national park.
This expeditions is ideal for:
- Volunteers who want to trek, camp, and contribute through hands-on projects in the spectacular Cordillera Blanca while interacting with scientists, locals, and other expedition team members;
- Climbers/ mountaineers who would like to help us do research up to the summits of key peaks (5000-6000 m) throughout the range.
- Students interested in getting hands-on experience in field research methodologies and graduate students looking for help facilitating their field data collection.
- We also invite researchers to bring new projects to our expeditions. We can plan to facilitate and support approved projects. Please contact us to get more information on research logistics in this region.
In sum, there are three types of expeditionary experiences for which you can register:
1) Trekking only – Volunteers choosing this option will participate in all research and conservation projects below glacier level in low and high mountain valleys up to glacier boundaries.
2) Trekking + climbing – Volunteers choosing this option will participate in research and conservation projects and assist with high mountain research on glaciers and peaks.
3) Academic credit + research + trekking
Student researchers taking a break high in Peru's Cordillera Blanca. Courtesy of ACSP
Courses for College Credit
The courses offered as part of this expedition include the following:
Ecology (Environmental Science 325)
International Experience (Mountain Research, Environmental Science 498D)
Biology (Biology 395 and/or 494 depending on student needs)
Participants can register for up to 10 credits.
If you register for credit, you will trek, research, and study. There will not be time to do the climbs.
To register for academic credit, please see Western Washington University's Study Abroad Program.
Cordillera Blanca Research Expedition
This expedition runs each summer and has the following components. You can sign up for any segments that are sequential starting at the beginning, but because of the need to thoroughly acclimatize, you cannot register for later segments without all those that precede it.
Part 1 – June 19-23: Arrival and Acclimatization (4 days)
We get great mountain views during our acclimatization hikes.
We fly to Peru’s capital Lima on the country’s desert coast and then travel by bus eight hours north to the town of Huaraz which lies at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca. Those arriving in Lima in the afternoon or evening normally spend the night in the city, and those arriving in the early morning hours usually transfer to the first class bus station from the airport and try to sleep on the long ride north.
Huaraz lies at 10,013 feet (3052 m), so our acclimatization begins immediately upon arrival, and during our first days there we will go at an easy pace while we let our bodies adjust to the thin air.
Our activities will vary a little depending on participant interests and staff availability, but among the base plans are the following:
- a visit with Superintendent Jesus Gomez and the professional staff at the office of Huascaran National Park to learn about the park’s conservation and restoration policies and activities and its short, medium, and long term goals;
- a visit to UNASAM (the University Nacional Santiago Antuñez de Mayolo) for an introduction to researchers with whom our expedition’s scientists work; our researchers will present a short colloquium to UNASAM graduate students on current status of research and findings. It will be a good chance to meet graduate students from the university;
- a hike to Laguna Cherup offering beautiful lake and mountain scenery at 14,600 feet (4450 m) after a two hour hike; possibly a second hike in the Cordillera Negra, parallel and to the west of the Cordillera Blanca or a drive to the Pastaruri Glacier for a short hike;
- Options for renting mountain bikes for exercise, views of the mountains, and visits to local settlements.
Part 2 – June 24-28: Ulta Valley (5 days)
We drive north from our base in Huaraz to this beautiful valley that lies immediately to the south of Peru’s highest peak, 22,205-foot (6768 m) Nevado Huascaran.
Leaving the main road at Carhuas, we drive through several small and traditional communities to reach our trailhead beneath towering Huascaran to the north and Nevados Hualcan and Ulta to the south. Here we will do tundra monitoring plus water, soil vegetation, and insect sampling. The trekking is easy and the views from our treks and camps are spectacular.
June 29-July 1 – Break in Huaras
Part 3 – July 2-8: Quilcayhuanca Valley (7 days)
The research we conduct here will include water quality; soil, vegetation, and insect sampling; and surface deposits on intermediate and high mountain glaciers. We will establish a base camp in the Cayesh Valley. Most of the terrain is open grasslands, but as we move higher we encounter large areas of surface minerals. It is rare to see deposits like this whose heavy metals have not been mined away, but the high altitude of their location has provided some protection. Stream water normally has a pH of about 7, but here we are likely to measure a pH as low as 3.
Our climbing goals in the Quilcayhuanca Valley are Cerro Andavite (5518 m) and Maparaju (5326 m).
July 9-10 – Break in Huaras
Part 4 – July 11-17: Cedros Valley
The research we conduct here will include water quality; soil, vegetation, and insect sampling; and surface deposits on intermediate and high mountain glaciers.
Climbers will ascend and collect samples on Pilanco (17,300 ft, 5273 m) and Miluacocha (17,730 ft, 5404 m).
July 18-19 – Break in Huaras
For-credit students pack and travel by bus back to Lima on the 19th, flying home that night or on the 20th, or flying up to Cuzco to explore that city, the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba, and Machu Picchu.
Climbers have two days to rest and repack for their next climbs in Llanganuco.
Part 5 – July 20-28: Llangancuco Valley
Climbers wil make ascents of and collect samples on Pisco (18,871 ft, 5752 m) and Yanapaccha (17,914 ft, 5460 m) – and enjoy some of the best views in the Cordillera Blanca. Research will include water quality; soil, vegetation, and insect sampling; and surface deposits on intermediate and high mountain glaciers.
July 29 – Break in Huaras
For-credit students spend the night of the 29th in Huaras and return to Lima on the 30th, either flying home to the US that night or flying to Cuzco the morning of the 31st for the optional three-day Cuzco, Sacred Valley of the Urubamba, Machu Piccu Extension.
Climbers rest and repack in Huaras
Part 6 – July 30-Aug 4: Ishinca Valley
Climbers will make ascents of Urus Este (17,783 ft, 5420 m), Ishinca (18,143 ft, 5530 m), and Tocllaraju (19,790 ft, 6032 m). Research will include water quality; soil, vegetation, and insect sampling; and surface deposits on intermediate and high mountain glaciers.
Aug 5 – Return to Huaras
Aug 6 – Bus to Huaras
Aug 7 – Fly home
Cordillera Blanca Research Expedition
John All, PhD, JD
John is a geoscientist whose life has been devoted to exploration around the world as he examines how climate change and resource management interact to impact communities and the biosphere in mountainous regions. He is currently a Research Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Western Washington University, as well as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the American Climber Science Program.
Rebecca Cole, PhD
Rebecca is a tropical ecologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is particularly interested in understanding how human-driven disturbances affect ecosystem structure and function and then using this information to develop viable restoration and land management strategies. Her current work on the Hawaiian Islands examines how nonnative animals and plants affect the community structure and biogeochemistry of forest ecosystems and tests strategies to restore native ecosystems.
Rebecca’s prior work in Costa Rica tested methods to restore tropical forest on degraded lands, measured recovery of ecosystem process during forest succession, and tested the role of soil-plant feedbacks in shaping community composition. Her ongoing projects in the Peruvian Andes examine how land management choices affect key ecosystem services and resilience to climate change in high altitude forests and grasslands. She has also previously worked at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research
Carl Schmitt, PhD
Carl is a Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research where his work centers on the properties of ice clouds and snow particles. His research includes the analysis of ice cloud microphysics and the creation of a computer simulation program to investigate the growth by aggregation of ice particles in the atmosphere. The results of his research are used to improve weather forecasting and climate models and to understand factors causing the rapid retreat of mountain glaciers. His research has taken him on extended trips to the North Slope of Alaska, Norway’s Svalbard Islands, mountain ranges in Peru and Bolivia, and aircraft research flights globally. Carl is one of the world’s leading researchers on the black carbon deposits on glacial surfaces.
Robin Kodner, PhD
Robin is an alpinist and biologist specializing in the study of microbial communities in both ocean and mountain environments, and she uses both as a platform for teaching basic sciences. She received her PhD in biology from Harvard University and did her postdoctoral work at the University of Washington (which happily took her into the beautiful San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest to research algae communities). She is a professor of biology at Western Washington University.
Robin was an outdoor educator for over 15 years on sailboats and in the mountains, and it was her twenty years of rock climbing and her passion for ski mountaineering that led her to expand her research into the alpine realm and to study snow algae communities. She enjoys using her technical climbing skills to collect snow algae in hard to reach places and using her research to document and explain threats to glacial ecosystems. In her current research, Robin employs genomic techniques to take snap shots of microbial community structure, and she uses the snow microbiome as a model to understand how communities evolve in respond to climate change.
Javier Naupari, PhD
Javier is an Associate Professor in Rangeland Ecology and Management and head of the Rangeland Ecology Lab (LER) at the National Agrarian University - La Molina in Lima, Peru. His research area is remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) applied to ecological processes in mountain range ecosystems. He is currently involved in assessing the ecological status and productivity of rangeland ecosystems and the impacts of climate change on livestock production. At the LER he is also working on the conservation of meltwater through specific techniques of pasture management.
Javier is a Fulbright alumnus who was chosen as one of twenty scholars from the Western Hemisphere to work in a NEXUS cohort for two years in collaborative thinking, analysis, problem-solving, and multi-disciplinary research in the areas of renewable energy; social and behavioral adaptation to climate change; measuring climate change and its impact; and climate change and food and water security.