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Trekking - Lascar Volcano


Ojos del Salado
(6893 m / 22,113 ft.)

Highest volcano of the world

Along the 6 140 km of the Nazca plate lies a chain of near 4 000 volcanic centers. Its major elevation is the Ojos del Salado (litterally: Eyes of the Salty mountain), undisputedly appointed as the highest active volcano on earth and, according to some, the highest volcano, period. The controversy about it and mount Pisis beeing the second or third summit of America - after mount Aconcagua - is still unresolved. What is for sure is that Ojos del Salado is the highest summit of Chile. The volcanic complex, composed of 38 craters, shows very scarce activity, except for small fumaroles. There have been no eruptions in the last 500 years and experts calculate tha the last one must have occured some 1 000 to 1 500 years ago. In 1993 there was a small ash ejection. For mountain climbing, Ojos del Salado doesn't require great tecnical skills. With good weather, no crampons or ice axes are needed. The last 30 meters though, require some simple climbing. The access through vehicle allows the arrival to the Atacama refuge, at 5 200 m, and if there is not penitent ice, even up to 5 800 m. It is for this precise reason that this mountain carry a great risk of insufficient height acclimation.

The mountain climber will find in Ojos del Salado wonderful landscapes and practically untouched nature. Some sources allude wrongly to the Atacama desert to describe its location, but the frecuent snowfalls, even in the middle of the summer, prove that the high Andean plateau, or altiplano, has a different climate than the distant desert. The best time of the year to its ascent is between November and April.

Concerning its height, diverse estimates vary in a few hundred meters. The ones registered here correspond to the mesures of our own GPS instruments, which at the summit indicated 25 m more than the official IGM (Instituto Geográfico Militar) measure of 6893 m. Especially wrong were the summit lectures of different instruments based on atmospheric pressure. The height must be adjusted in each encampment, otherwise, beeing this a "six thousander", the mesure deviation can rapidly vary in 200 or more meters. This can be dangerous when chosing the camps: you could be sleeping higher than you think.

Map for this tour

Prof. Manfred Buchroithner of the TU Dresden (Dresden University of Technology) and his team made an impressive simulation of the area around the Ojos del Salado:
Download: MPG-File with 5,8 MB

Starting Point

Copiapó.

Transportation Services

provided by Andrés Illangui, Copiapó, Phones: mobile 09-885 5224, fixed 052-221 319; 052-211 020

How to get there

There are two routes from Copiapó to Laguna Verde: the one through the Paipote valley offers particularly beautiful landscapes, although the best and fastest is the one that climbs through Andres’ valley. If we follow the first option, we’ll find quite a few places to camp along the way, depending on the degree of acclimation. The first of these camps is in the Valle Chico valley, at approx. 3 000 m. It’s a well protected place from the wind, easily recognizable for its rich and unusual vegetation consisting of giant fox-tail plants. On the highest part of the valley you can find fosils.

Those already better adapted to height, can spend the night in the beautiful Laguna (lake) Santa Rosa (160 km from Copiapó) at 3 780 m. When the wind blows too strongly, there is a very elemental hut, on the border of the lake, a few hundred meters to the left of the first road crossing. Short walks along the border will allow us to see flamingos, and to make excursions to some of the mountains behind will help us with the acclimation.

The section between the lake and the main road coming from the Andres’ valley, is in a particularly bad shape, having long patches of sandy surface. Coming from the Paipote valley, after the main road crossing, a 10 km path follows down towards the border post. Just beside, rises a volcano shaped hill from the Maricunga caldera, and right bellow the hill there is a nice place to camp. Here was the last place from which we managed to communicate through mobile phone with the external world. At the border post we had to show our passports and the ascent permit given by DIFROL.

From here, the road goes on climbing in the direction of Argentina, to the Paso San Francisco. On the way, it’s worth it to make a halt at the Río Lama waterfall. On this scenary of ample volcanic landscapes, guanacos can be seen with frecuency.

If the better raod is followed, and after going 265 km from Copiapó, you arrive at the Laguna Verde (green lake) at approx. 4 400 m, which with its shining turquoise waters offers a place relatively well protected against the wind. In an also very elememntal hut there is a hot springs with 40 ºC waters (if closed, ask for the keys at the carabineros post in the vicinity). This is an ideal place to pass a few days acclimating, but please, don't forget to bring the garbage with you!

The place to camp near the old police post is cleaner. To get there, we go back a few kilometers and take the detour to the south. Behind the abandoned post, at approx. 4 500 m, it extends through the landscape a steep wall of clear rock. The semi-circular formations somehow give protection from the wind. Anyways, you have to be carefull with the sandy soil. It could be dangerous even for four-wheelers! Most hikers take here a day for acclimation and climb, at least in part, the Mulas Muertas (dead mules, 5 897 m), which you can access either from Laguna Verde or from the police post. In both cases the ascent can be shortened a bit by covering a stretch with the 4x4 vehicle, which is essential for this trip.

For the last stage in vehicle, covering the 22 km to the Atacama refuge at 5 280 m, you have to take into account a 1 or 2 hours trip. Along the way you'll see numerous tracks that go off the main road. You must ignore them. The Atacama refuge has two bunk beds and a kitchenette. Right beside the cabin there are quite a few possibilities for camping, but water is available only when it snows.

Ascent

First Stage
525 m , 3 hours, 5830 m

Depending on the time of the year and the weather, you can get to the Tejos refuge in a four-wheels-drive vehicle, although sure enough, it's preferable to do it by foot. There is a path that shortens the sinuous road, but we choose to go the less steep way. For this section, we need about 3 hours. It is impossible to get the wrong way: the Tejos cabin is twice as big as the Atacama hut, it has 6 beds and additional place to sleep on the floor. On high season it is indispensable to bring a tent, since you have to deal with the presence of other expeditions. Considering the great altitude, it is a good advice to move the equipment to the Tejos refuge and then go back doen to the Atacama to spend the night there. This operation can even be done in more than a day.

The summit
1060 m 25 m ‚, 7-9 hours, 6918 m

After getting well acclimated, you can attack the summit: not an easy endeavour! With dry weather, it is easy to see the road up to the summit, even from the Tejos cabin. The situation changes totally when it's snowing. For those who want to get going early in the morning, it is better to scout the path the day before, especially the first part, so to be able to walk it even if it's still dark. The first 100 m are just a walk proper, then what follows is a narrow path that goes up through a rocky ground to a slope. From there the ascent continues on a zig-zagging track, allways to the left of a small glaciar until arriving to its top and then arround it to the other side. The track now climbs along the border going northwest until the edge of the crater.

Once at the crater, the summit is almost at hand's reach, but considering the superhuman dimensions of any effort at this height, it's still far away. We go arround the crater and climb the other side. Most of the times, there are cords fixed on the wall that help the ascent to the rocky cathedral of the summit. Technically, this section is relatively easy, although the effects of the often strong winds, height and tireness cannot be underestimated. A false step can have fatal consecuences! It's better not to take risks and cover the last meters with safety cords. The view from the top is fantastic: nothing above us, only the sky.

GPS Data for Ojos del Salado

Santa Rosa lake

S 27°05.331'

W 069°10.429'

3.779 m

Old carabineros' post

S 26º55.714'

W 068º35.969'

4.500 m

Atacama Refuge

S 27°03.668'

W 068°32.857'

5.280 m

Tejos Refuge

S 27°05.257'

W 068°32.292'

5.830 m

Border of the crater

S 27°06.431'

W 068°32.570'

6.764 m

Summit

S 27°06.576'

W 068°32.531'

6.918 m

Proposed day by day planning

1. Morning: shopping. Afternoon: 154 km trip by vehicle from Copiapó to Santa Rosa lake at 3800 m. In case of insufficient acclimation, a previous stay in Valle Chico, at 3000 m is needed.

2. Acclimation excursions and vehicle travel to Laguna Verde, at 4400 m. Campment at the hot springs or in the abandoned post on the road to Ojos del Salado.

3. Acclimation excursion to Mulas Muertas (5897 m). Here what it counts is not the summit, but the adaptation to height.

4. Transportation by 4x4 vehicle to the Atacama refuge, at 5280 m.

5. Equipment transportation by foot to the Tejos refuge at 5830 m, and descent back to the Atacama hut.

6. Ascent to the Tejos refuge.

7. First try for the summit (7-9 hours).

8. Second try for the summit and descent to the Atacama refuge.

9. Trip back to Copiapó.

Map for this tour

 

Laguna Verde
Laguna Verde

 

 

Guanaco
Guanaco besides the road

 

 

Mulas Muertas
Acclimatation at Mulas Muertas

 

Camp Atacama
Camp Atacama

 

 

Camp Atacama
Camp Atacama

 

 

Ojos del Salado
Ascent

 

 

Refugio Tejos
Camp Tejos

 

 

Ojos del Salado
Near Camp Tejos

 

 

Ojos del Salado
Penitents

 

 

Ojos del Salado
Climbing section below the summit

 

 

Ojos del Salado
On top!

 

El Caminante