Climb Ojos del Salado, 6893m
Climb of Ojos del Salado, Chile.
At a height of 6893m, Mount Ojos del Salado is the highest mountain in Chile and also the highest active volcano in the world. We run private guided trips to this peak mostly, occasionally open trips and our guiding ratio is 1:6 and we drive from the mining town of Copiapo to the lagunas below the mountain and do a number of acclimatisation hikes before ascending to the base camp and then using one other high camp (in a hut) just before summit day.
Ojos del Salado is normally climbed from December to late March. It´s the warmest period in the southern hemisphere, but it's still windy and dry and conditions can be quite rough also during peak season. There's a good summary of the mountain on summitpost for more information.
This expedition gives a great opportunity to climb high with little technical difficulty apart from the summit rock tower, which is 30m of v.diff climbing with a fixed rope in place, and a gradual acclimatization programme which gives everyone a good opportunity of reaching the summit. The main issues are cold and wind, altitude and sometimes difficult terrain (ice and snow) but there are few objective dangers. It is a very long day and the final section to the top involves a scramble on rock where there are some ropes and chains to assist. This volcano is far less busy than Aconcagua and the dramatic landscape of desert, lagunas and ice capped volcanoes make for a special expedition.
The volcano is located in a unique desert environment of intense, deep, green lagoons contrasting with the colour of the desert and snow covered volcanoes above . At these lagoons its possible to see big flocks of flamingos, horny coots, many ducks,foxes and guanacos, who have all adapted to survive in this environment, with nighttime temperatures reaching – 25 c and winds over 130 kph.
Our expedition is self-contained, driving our own 4x4 land cruisers through the Atacama Desert to reach the volcano. We will prepare our own food and act self-sufficiently on the climb. The distance to the mountain from Copiapo is not that great, a few hundred kilometres, but we take several days to get there and appreciate the change in scenery. From Laguna Verde, the mountain is just a few hours drive away on dirt roads.
Summit day on Ojos, heading towards the crater rim
Camps on Ojos del Salado
We use Laguna Verde as the first lower base camp because it is sheltered and has amazing hot springs near the edge of the lake. From here we can go on acclimatisation hikes. There is a quite large refugio at the beginning of the walk in called Caudio Lucero which can host dozens of people. Nearer the mountain is a high camp at Refuge Atacama which is just an area of open ground where we use tents and occasionally other companies will have set up base camps for multiple groups through the season.
The final hut at Tejos is actually a converted container with room for about 6 beds and anybody else sleeping on the floor. It is quite basic with no cooking facilities and an outside toilet, but at least it is dry and secure inside from the wind.
Our camp facilities comprise the food and equipment that we have brought with us in the vehicles from Copiapo. We will sleep and eat in 2 or 3 man dome tents; occasionally there are some local providers at the camp site. Toilet facilities are communual long drops and washing will usually be via a bowl of water. However at the edge of the Laguna Verde where we camp, we have the luxurious option of bathing in the natural hot springs which are wonderful. The lake itself is highly mineralised and the water is freezing cold. Expect extremes of temperature, generally very hot, dry and dusty conditions while we are acclimatising.
Above basecamp we will be fending for ourselves. Anything we wear, sleep in or eat must be driven in or carried up to the higher camps. We are likely to be primarily eating dehydrated meals especially for mountain expeditions and also noodles, soups, oatmeal etc.
Initially we drive up to the base camp and put the tents up in quite an exposed space where there is likely to be snow on the ground. Meals are cooked here and eaten in the tents, but again there may be a local provider who has a large mess tent we can use.
After a few days we move up to the high camp where there is a converted shipping container to sleep in; it has 8 beds with space to lie on the floor. We have to carry up all our own supplies for this camp and the toilets are outdoors.
After the expediton it is possible to drive all the way back to Copiapo in one day, since we will not be acclimatising.
Mount Ojos del Salado - fitness and terrain
You will need to be physically fit and able to carry often heavy loads on rocky and difficult terrain. We suggest a six month training programme to prepare yourself, working particularly on cardio fitness, thigh and calf muscles, and plenty of hillwalking with a 15kg pack.
This expedition is about the same level as Aconcagua and harder than 6000m peaks like Island Peak. This is predominantly because of the weather, the wind can be very cold and this is a very dry debilitating cold. Good equipment is essential, but also a strong physical and mental capacity.
This is not a technical peak and the climbing is never serious apart from one bridge move just below the summit itself, but it does not require teams to be roped up.
Ojos is an old volcano so it has easy gradient slopes up to the caldera, which are snow covered and exposed. The caldera itself is not difficult, and there is a lake to walk around which is the highest lake in the world but only very shallow and mostly frozen over.
Just below the summit is a short section of steep rock with some fixed lines in place. At most this is HVS, although the altitude will make you pant! It is not a long section, and there is one bridging move which has some air beneath your feet, but again it is not particularly hard. The final summit is oddly small and rocky, given such a huge and broad mountain.
For the rest of the trip expect desert scrub and arid conditions which are common to the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world except for Antarctica. There is almost no rainfall at all, so we need to bring all our own water into the camps from Copiapo. This means the vehicles carry everything for the whole trip. The acclimatisation walks, especially around Laguna Verde, are spectacular experiences, and you often come across petrified remains of wildlife like cougars. It is very hot and dry and dusty in some areas, but there are verdant areas of vegetation lower down. The stark landscape is beautiful, dotted with mulitiple volcanoes as far as the eye can see.
Experience needed for Ojos del Salado
Good teamwork, knowledge of high-level mountain trekking, camping and altitude sickness all provide useful experience for this trip. It is important to be efficient and conversant with cold weather survival skills, and all the basics of camping.
Putting a tent up in a strong cold wind is not easy and cooking a dehydrated meal for 3 people in a confined space can be difficult. Physical fitness in itself will give people confidence to climb the mountain, but the preparation should also involve reading about the mountain, knowing what to put in rucksacks, and where to put stuff. Issues on Ojos del Salado also include sunburn, cold injuries and tiredness from being so high.
For more information, see our page on High Altitude Climbing.
Ojos del Salado trip preparation
You need to get to Copiapo in Chile, almost certainly via Santiago in Argentina.You can fly to Santiago with a number of variations, via Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo being the main nearest hubs. Airlines which serve the route include LanChile, TAM Brazil, Iberia, Air France and British Airways. Flights can become very expensive so best to book early.
After flying to Santiago we take overnight coach to Copiapo. We may organise a private coach for the whole party (11 hours). Or you can take the public coach. From Santiago Airport terminal take the Bus Sur, which departs every 15 minutes and takes 30 minutes to Terminal de Buses Alameda. From there it's an 11 hour bus ride to Copiapo. Best 'class' is semi cama which includes ‘bed’, food, drink and cost about £14.00 or 20 euro. There are many buses going north to Copiapo, Pullman is good too.
Vaccinations and Travel Health
There are currently no required vaccinations required for entry to Chile however you should consult your doctor if you have any concerns regarding existing conditions or health issues.
Please clearly mark your luggage with your own contact details and contact details for Adventure Alternative in South America which we will supply prior to departure.
We advise you to take out your insurance as soon as possible to cover potential events that might cause you to cancel your trip. You need to ensure that you have a policy which covers trekking to 6893m, but it does not need to cover technical climbing. You should bring with you a copy of your policy and ensure that other people knows where you keep it. It is also worth bringing a photocopy of your passport and to keep it separate to your own documents just in case you lose your passport. Please also see our 'More Information' page entitled 'Insurance'.
UK passport holders do not require a visa to enter Chile for a period of less than 90 days subject to your passport being valid for at least 6 months beyond your homeward flight date and a homeward flight ticket having been purchased. Chilean Consulate.
The local currency in Chile the Chilean Peso (CLP). This is not to be confused with the Argentine Peso (ARS) when exchanging money as they are different by a factor of 100! You can order both currencies before you travel. There are ATMs in larger towns which take Visa and Mastercard, and there are banks with forex facilities. Be aware that the exchange rate offered at the airport is likely to be unfavourable. Do also remember to have small denomination notes because many local places will not be able to offer change for large notes. You can take sterling, euro or dollars, and change it easily. If you are travelling from Northern Ireland then remember to bring Bank of England sterling notes, not the Northern Irish sterling notes which are not recognised.
Flying into Santiago you can either stay for a few days enjoy a relaxing time in the capital of Chile or head straight to the small mining town of Copiapo. You can either fly there or take the coach, a journey inland of about 12 hours. The coaches are very comfortable - known as semi cama - and it is well worth noting that the internal flight has a lower baggage limit than the international flights.
Copiapo is a traditional mining town on the edge of the Atacama Desert which was made famous by the disaster in 2010 when a mining accident caused a team of men to be caught underground. The town is quite bustling and has a good range of shops, and we stay in a comfortable hotel doing the shopping in preparation for the trip. Since there are no shops or even any fresh water in the Atacama we have to provide everything for the trip and load up the 4x4 vehicles that we will be driving. This means rationing fresh bottled water and being very careful about the meal allocation.
Weather on Ojos del Salado
Weather on Ojos del Salado is generally extreme. The dryness of the desert combined with often very strong winds and the altitude can lead to some cold days. The hot springs near the Laguna Verde are a welcome respite after a hike in such conditions. However down near base camp if there is no wind it can be very hot and dry.
At lower elevations, during the period January to March, the air temperature is likely to vary from around 27°C at mid-day to a minimum of around 10-15°C at night, with isolated maximums of perhaps 30°C. Of course, higher up, the perceived temperatures may be dominated by the radiant sun glare and wind chill factor. The Atacama is renowned for its extremely low precipitation and the number of days with clear, cloudless skies of brilliant blue. Later in the year, access to snow and ice melt can be easier so that drinking and cooking water is easier to obtain. Average wind speeds are also likely to be lower at this time of year.
Mount Ojos del Salado itinerary
- Arrival (day 1)
- 4x4 travel and acclimatisation walks in the Atacama (days 2-5)
- All day treks in the high mountains (days 6-7)
- 4x4 to Ojos Base Camp, acclimatisation and main peak climb (days 8-13)
- 4x4 return to Copiapo for travel home (days 14-15)
|1||400m||Arrive in Copiapo, either by connecting flights or by bus. Copiapo is a small mining town on the edge of the Atacama Desert. We use the hotel Montecatini or other similar hotels in the town, and take a rest day for the jetlag and journey, and for shopping.|
|2||3000m||2 hrs||The morning and early afternoon is spent packing gear in the cars and buying food and water. After lunch we drive for 2 hours /120 kms to Vallecito through the Atacama Desert. Vallecito is a small oasis at 3000m, situated at the base of an abandoned mine of semi precious stones and its full of colas de zorro one of the few food plants that goats and sheep eat. It's a wonderful setting after driving through the desert with running water, and green grass. After setting up camp there is time to explore and begin our acclimatization programme.|
|3||3600m||2 hrs||After breakfast we drive further across the desert and over two passes over 4000m to reach lagoon Santa Rosa at 3600m. The lagoon is situated at the start of the Maricunga Salt Deposit and has over 40 species of birds including flamingoes, Andean Geese and mammals such as fox and guanacos, and a wide variety of bushes and plants of the high Andes.|
|4||4800m||After breakast we will trek to siete hermanos at 4780m. It takes about 4 hours to the summit, initially on a good trail then steeper and more rocky ground. From the top stupendous views of our journey into the desert ahead and the lagoon below. In the evening dinner at our campsite next to the lagoon.|
|5||4400m||5 hrs||After breakfast we drive to Laguna Verde at 4400m. This lagoon is in a spectacular setting deep in Tres Cruces national park. Just before arriving we get our first view of Ojos Del Salado and an idea of what type of conditions we can expect on the volcano. We camp next to the lagoon where there are 42c pools for you to bathe in, surrounded by an intense green lagoon and surrounded by snow-clad volcanoes including Tres Cruces at 6753m.|
|6||4400m||all day||We take a trek with only daypacks around Laguna Verde to aid our acclimitisation and marvel at the mountain scenery above and the lake shores below.|
|7||5900m||all day||We will trek from the campsite to Mulus Muertes 5097m. Near to the summit there are wonderful views of the summit ridge of Ojos Del Salado and a vista of mountains and volcanoes stretching into Argentina.|
|8||5250m||5 hrs||Depart in the jeeps to the Refuge Atacama at 5250m. The vehicles will transport our baggage and supplies all the way but we will walk from 5000m with small packs to aid our acclimatization, and appreciate the desert terrain around us. The refuge is set on a wide open desert plain with the volcano ahead.It is often windy and temperatures down to -10c.|
|9||5500m||half day||Trek near to Refuge Atacama with light daypacks to further aid acclimitisation before returning to the refuge to rest and sleep.|
|10||5750m||5 hours||After breakfast we will carry food, water and summit equipment to refuge Tejos 5750m. Overnight camping at Refuge Atacama.|
|11||5750m||3 hours||A relaxing morning, then we depart to return to refuge Tejos with sleeping bags, mats and other essential equipment.|
|12, 13||If the weather is cooperative a summit attempt of Ojos Del Salado 6893m. It will take 8-9 hours to reach the summit. Temperatures may be down to -20c with strong winds. Initially on a good rocky footpath to 6000m, then gain height with a series of zig zags on snow, then a long rightwards traverse to the crater of the volcano. Circle the edge of the caldera to the far side and climb to the final ridge where there is a final 30 metres of easy rock climbing up into a couloir with a fixed rope in place. From the top, dramatic views of the high Atacama desert and multitudes of peaks and volcanoes of Chile and Argentina. After lots of photographs we will descend to refuge Tejos, pick up our equipment and continue down past refuge Atacama to camp overnight there or descend to Laguna Verde. An extra summit day is added here in case.|
|14||400m||After breakfast, a final bathe in the thermal pools at Laguna Verde, then drive through the desert on our return to Copiapo. Overnight in hotel and farewell dinner.|
|15||500m||Travel from Copiapo by bus or internal flight to Santiago.|
Mount Ojos del Salado cost from £2895.00
- Peak permits and permissions
- 4x4 vehicles and fuel
- Tents and cooking equipment
- Drinking water
- All meals on expedition (except off the mountains eg in Copiapo)
- Pre-trip advice and all organisation
- Hotel in Copiapo, bed and breakfast
- Guide and assistant guides (British leader normally unless a small group in which case a local leader)
- Travel to and from Copiapo (Santiago - Copiapo return is about £250.00)
- Hotel meals or meals in towns
- Excess baggage charges
- Visas or vaccinations
- Travel insurance
- Costs associated with early finish
A deposit of £100 is required on booking to secure your place and we ask that the remaining balance (trip price minus the deposit) is paid in full 6 weeks prior to your departure.
Private group departures available, please contact us.
Travel insurance will need to be purchased by each team member to cover all costs associated with medical, rescue, equipment, cancellations etc. This should be purchased as early as possible to ensure cancellation coverage in case of any issues arising that cause you to cancel your trip.
The policy must be checked for validity in the regions through which we will be travelling and also for trekking/mountaineering to 6893m. Many specialist insurance providers have common peaks named on the policy description so it is worth contacting the company to check which is the appropriate level of cover. You should bring with you a copy of your policy and ensure your tent mate knows where you keep it. It is also worth bringing a photocopy of your passport and to keep it separate to your own documents just in case you lose your passport.
Mount Ojos del Salado kit list
The basic idea of the kit we will take is to keep you warm, dry, protected from the sun, able to move efficiently on the mountains and able to be comfortable in the evenings and night.
- BAGS - Large Duffle Bag ~120L (carried in the 4x4) + Medium Daypack ~45L+ (carried by you on day walks and carries on the mountain)
- SHELL - Top and bottoms
- BASE LAYER - thermal tops and bottoms
- FLEECE LAYERS - several layers of fleece and lightweight down and heavy jackets (see below)
- FEET - Crampon compatible double boots, hiking shoes
- HARDWARE - Crampons, Walking axe, trekking poles
- SLEEPING - 4 season sleeping bag, closed cell mat, thermarest or equivalent
- EATING/DRINKING - Water bottles, flask, insulated mug, bowl/plate and utensils, snacks
- WASHING & MEDICAL - washkit, suncream and lipsalve, personal first aid kit
- MISCELLANEOUS - headtorch, powerpack for charging, book, camera, sunglasses, goggles
Airlines are very strict on the weight limitations, especially between Santiago - Copiapo. Think very carefully about your clothing and equipment and try to stay close to 20kg plus carry on.
|- 2 T-shirts long sleeve
- 1 T-shirts short sleeve
- 2 expedition style base layers
- 1 fleece jacket
- 1 breathable jacket such as Gore-Tex with hood
- 1 down jacket or polarguard parka with hood
- Down or Polarguard parka with hood
- White long sleeve shirt (for sunlight in the desert)
|- Sun hat
- Ski/mountain hat, fleece or wool
|- 1 pair of liner gloves
- 1 pair of heaby gloves
- 1 pair of gloves doubles (neoprene or fleece internal layer /Gore-Tex shell) or mitts
|- 2 pairs of thermal bottoms
- 1 fleece pants
- 1 breathable windproof pants or bibs such as Gore-Tex (full length side zippers recommended)
- 1 lightweight trekking pants (for drive days and lower camps)
|- 4 pairs of trekking socks
- Trekking boots or lightweight trekking shoes
- Plastic double mountaineering boots or Leather/synthetic layer
- Sandals and short for hotsprings
Choose a scheduled date or contact us to set up private dates or a bespoke itinerary. The minimum deposit is £100.00 and the balance is due six weeks before travel.