Cordillera Blanca: Mountain Range (Peru)

Cordillera Blanca: Mountain Range (Peru)

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 14:03

The Cordillera Blanca is a mountain range in Peru that is part of the larger Andes mountain system. It is located in the north-central part of the Cordillera Occidental (the westernmost part of the Peruvian Andes) and is the world's highest tropical mountain range.

Cordillera Blanca

The Cordillera Blanca is a mountain range in Peru that is part of the larger Andes mountain system. It is located in the north-central part of the Cordillera Occidental (the westernmost part of the Peruvian Andes) and is the world's highest tropical mountain range.

Huascarán National Park encompasses almost the entire range and has also been designated by UNESCO as both a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

There are 27 mountain peaks in the Cordillera Blanca that are over 6,000 m (19,685 ft) and well over 80 peaks that are at least 5,000 m (16,400 ft) high. The highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán, at 6,768 m (22,205 ft) high, is located here. There are hundreds of individual glaciers.

The snow capped range extends about 110 mi (180 km) and has a southeast to northwest trend. It lies in the Ancash region and runs parallel to the Santa River valley on its west. The range is separated from the Cordillera Negra to the west by the Santa River and the Huaylas Valley.

The range also acts as a continental divide: the Santa River on the west drains into the Pacific Ocean, whereas the Marañón River on the east drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Map of Peru and its cordilleras: Cordillera Blanca is located in the north-central part of the Cordillera Occidental
Map of Peru and its cordilleras: Cordillera Blanca is located in the north-central part of the Cordillera Occidental

 

Geography

The Cordillera Blanca is the most extensive tropical ice-covered mountain range in the world and has the largest concentration of ice in Peru. Snow melt provides part of northern Peru with its year-round water supply, while 5% of Peru's power comes from a hydro-electrical plant located in the Santa River valley.

Most of the glaciers found here, 91% of the total, were classified as mountain glaciers (they are generally short and have extremely steep slopes); the rest were classified as valley glaciers, except for one ice cap.

Like all Andean glaciers, the Cordillera Blanca has witnessed a major retreat of its glaciers during the 20th century due to global climate change. Studies have shown a retreat of over 15% since the 1970's. Based on analysis of satellite imagery, in 2003 there were 485 glaciers left, covering an area of about 570 sq km (220 sq mi).

Among the most important lakes in the range are:

  • the Llanganuco Lakes, which are located on the northern side of Huascarán and are accessible from the town of Yungay
  • the deep-turquoise Lake Parón (the biggest lake in the Cordillera Blanca), located just north of Huandoy, accessible from the town of Caraz
  • Lakes Ichiccocha and Jatuncocha, which are near Artesonraju and Alpamayo and are accessible only by trekking or on horseback from Caraz

Other notable lakes are Lake 69, Lake Allicocha, Lake Auquiscocha, Lake Palcacocha, Lake Querococha and Lake Conococha.

Among the most important hot springs in the area are Monterrey and Chancos, which have been transformed into thermal bath facilities.

Ecology

The main types of plant communities present in the area are the vegetation of inter-Andean valleys (xerophytic plants in the lower elevations and shrubs and grassland at the higher elevations) and high-altitude vegetation (Puna grasslands and patches of high Andean forest).

Plants in the range have adapted to the intense solar radiation, low temperatures and water availability. Most plant species have pubescent leaves, an adaptation that protects the plants from water loss due to the intense solar radiation and low nighttime temperatures of the mountain climate.

More than 120 bird species have been reported in Huascarán National Park. The most notable include the Andean condor, the torrent duck, the puna tinamou, the brown pintail, the Andean crested duck, the white-tufted grebe, the giant coot, and the Andean gull.

Among the mammals reported in the same area are the colocolo, the Andean mountain cat, the spectacled bear, the taruca deer, the vicuña, the white-tailed deer, the puma, the northern viscacha, the long-tailed weasel, the hog-nosed skunk and the Andean fox.