Of the rock climbing destinations in Peru, the infamous Hatun Machay invariably gets most of the press. There are (or at least were) pretty good reasons behind this – a beautiful setting, excellent rock quality and a bounty of bolted routes of varying difficulties.
But the prestige of Hatun Machay has suffered greatly in recent years due to a bitter and violent saga that ended with chopped bolts and arson. The upshot of this is that many routes of easy or moderate difficulty were removed and the hollow shell of the refugio discouraged many travellers from attendance. The situation has improved greatly in the last year, but there remains plenty of work to be done to restore the crag to its former glory. I’ve written a report on this intriguing state of affairs for Climbing Magazine, which you can read here.
Local route developers have since shunned the sacred rock forest of Hatun Machay, opting instead for nearby venue which, until recently, flew under the radar. Although smaller in scale, Inka Waqanqa is certainly equal in majesty – a spectacular outcropping of volcanic rock wreathed in swirling Andean mists. Here is a blank canvas which promises explosive development in the years to come.
In Huaraz, you can arm yourself with a 5-sole printed topo at the guiding company Andean Kingdom. They can be found in Parque Ginebra (or, as we call it, Gringo Square) in the centre of town. Apart from that, all you’ll need is a tent, food, the usual sport climbing accoutrements and a crash pad if you’re into that sort of thing.
Unless you’re on a super-sick South American overland adventure like we are, you probably won’t have your own transport. If that’s the case, you have two options – either take a collectivo to Catac, followed by a taxi past the town of Conococha (where you can buy excellent cheese for a song) or simply take a taxi direct from Huaraz (definitely a more expensive option).
Either way, you’ll step off the road to find a tranquil campsite nestled amongst a vast complex of boulders. In comparison to Hatun Machay, the campsite at Inka Waqanqa has two main advantages – the first is convenience, being located close to the main road connecting Lima to Huaraz. The second is cost, being entirely free. Hatun will cost you 10 Peruvian Soles per day for climbing, and the same again for camping, and this fee will not provide you with anything more than Inka Waqanqa can provide – there are modest but clean pit toilets and a tap for clean drinking water to be found.
If you’ve only recently arrived in Huaraz, sport cragging at 4000-ish metres may come as a bit of a shock. The uphill approach will feel like a tedious slog and two pitches will feel like ten… but persist with some of the easier routes and you’ll be ready to take on more pitches and harder grades in a few days. Unfortunately, these easier routes are mostly found on the farthest reaches of the crag and demand the longest approaches. C’est la vie.
Like any newly developed crag, Inka Wanqaqa will continue to improve with the modest application of traffic. At the time of writing, there exist a mere 70 routes, but I expect that this number will probably double or even triple in a few years. Some of the existing routes remain in need of a good clean, but for the most part, the rock is every bit as solid and interesting as that of Hatun Machay.
The Huaraz Climbing Guide, published not long after initial development began at the crag, suggests that there is incredible potential for bouldering, sport and trad. Personally, I don’t see a great deal of quality traditional climbing being available at Inka Waqanqa, but the bouldering is almost limitless. In this early stage of development, pebble wrestlers will be able to put up new problems until their fingertips fall off, and sport bunnies with restless Makitas will also be able to put them to good use with remarkable ease.
Despite the many virtues of Inka Waqanqa, it remains the one of Peru’s best kept secrets – almost none of the climbers I spoke with in or around Huaraz had even heard of it. Apart from local shepherds and the odd donkey or goat, you’ll probably have the entire crag to yourself. But I don’t imagine it will stay this way forever, particularly if the plethora of guided outfits in Huaraz begin using it as a day-trip venue. In its heyday, Hatun Machay had upwards of 150 punters every day during peak season, and if the current attendance at the urban crag Los Olivos is anything to go by, climbing in the region is still pumping.
It’s rare to find a quality sport crag with such a high level of convenience and yet a total absence of crowds. My suggestion is to try to experience Inqa Waqanqa as soon as you possibly can, because once the cat gets out of this bag, it’s staying out.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.