(6893 m / 22,113 ft.)
volcano of the world
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
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.
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
by Andrés Illangui, Copiapó, Phones: mobile 09-885
5224, fixed 052-221 319; 052-211 020
to get 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
525 m ,
3 hours, 5830 m
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.
25 m ‚,
7-9 hours, 6918 m
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.
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
Old carabineros' post
Border of the crater
day by day planning
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.
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.
Acclimation excursion to Mulas Muertas (5897 m). Here what it
counts is not the summit, but the adaptation to height.
Transportation by 4x4 vehicle to the Atacama refuge, at 5280 m.
Equipment transportation by foot to the Tejos refuge at 5830 m,
and descent back to the Atacama hut.
Ascent to the Tejos refuge.
First try for the summit (7-9 hours).
Second try for the summit and descent to the Atacama refuge.
Trip back to Copiapó.
Map for this tour
Guanaco besides the road
Acclimatation at Mulas Muertas
Near Camp Tejos
Climbing section below the summit