With its bubbling belly, and fumarole head at an altitude of 6,893 m, Ojos del Salado, which translates to “Eyes of the Salty One”, is the highest active stratovolcano in the world. Its curvy body is covered in irises of salt water pools that form from enormous salt deposits on its glaciers. This makes this Andes stunner doubly interesting to visit, and has unsurprisingly become a top mountaineering attraction in South America.
This bicultural mountain is half Chilean, comprising the east of Copiapó in the Atacama region, and half Argentinean, comprising the west of Fiambalá in the province of Catamarca. As such, it offers different alternatives to tackle the stunning summit, each with its pros and cons, though from the top it is one world.
Whichever route you wish to take, due to the altitude and logistics that climbing to the summit of a peak such as this one entails, it is always best to go with a certified mountain guide. The hike to the summit is straightforward most of the way, but gets tricky in the last stretch.
Below, we’ve put together some key information to consider before you set off on this thrilling adventure. Also, make sure to check out the different alternatives to climb Ojo del Salado with one of the certified guides registered at explore-share.com.
The ascent to the summit of Ojos del Salado varies depending on the side you tackle it from. Tours from the Chilean side take between 9-15 days, depending on the acclimatization program. From Argentina it will take between 13-15 days as the route is a little longer. The last stretch to the summit takes around 8 hours and requires rock climbing skills and enduring very low temperatures and rough winds.
The easiest way up is via the Chilean side. This option will require you to get a permit in Copiapó. This 14 day ascent from the Chilean side also considers acclimatization and will take you up some other peaks in the area as part of the training before tackling the Ojos del Salado summit.
The other option is to go up the Argentinean side where a permit is not required. The ascent on this side is a bit longer and more challenging, with fewer amenities on the way. This 13-day ascent kicks off from Fiambalá.
For a longer trip that combines other challenging climbing options in the Andes, you can also check out this 33-day Aconcagua, Ojos del Salado and Pissis tour.
In terms of accommodation, the Chilean side has three mountain huts on the way up, they are Refugio Claudio Lucero, at the beginning of the route, Refugio Atacama (5100m) and Refugio Tejos (5800m). It also has the highest high mountain rescue hut in the world at 6100m. These are all very basic huts with few bunks, and most tours contemplate setting up base camps on the way and sleeping in tents as well.
On the Argentinean side, you will definitely be sleeping in tents and there are four camping areas on the way which are Quemadito, Aguas de vicuña, Aguas caliente and Arenal. Quemadito has a small hut as well.
Climbing Ojos del Salado is not technically too difficult, that is until summit time. Of course, due to the high altitude acclimatization needs to be taken into consideration all the way.
When you approach the summit you will need to be ready for temperatures that range from -25ºC to-30º C, and winds over 80 Km./Hr. Furthermore, you will go through a 100m stretch of snow at a 35º inclination nearing the top. Finally, once at the crater of the volcano, you will need to climb a level 5.6 30m stretch.
Due to its geographical location in the Andes and the Atacama dessert, the climate and weather of Ojos del Salado is truly unique. This is a very dry region, without much snow in the summer months (January, February and March) which are the best for climbing this volcano. However, although snow is scarce, temperatures are very low year round. Even in the summer, at night, temperatures can drop as low as -10°C, and at the summit can drop to -30°C with extreme winds.
Since it’s so dry, water supply is something that must be considered throughout the trek. There are usually more sources of water on the Chilean side. An experienced guide will know how to administer water supplies on the way, which is another great reason to choose a seasoned expert for your trip to Ojos del Salado!
Of course, given the extreme temperatures and weather conditions you will need to take adequate clothing, shoes and a sleeping bag that can shelter you from the cold. Furthermore, you will need to protect yourself from the sun and also moisturize skin and lips. We also suggest tear supplement eye drops and a saline nasal spray. Also, you will need to take bottles for water storage.
In terms of climbing equipment, ropes, crampons, and a stick will be essential for the last stretch.
Your best bet is to hire an experienced guide that can give you tips and suggestions, as well as help you organize for this stunning challenge! Furthermore, keep in mind that most guided treks also include mules to help carry equipment and bags thus lightening the load.
The estimated price for a tour to the Ojo de Salado summit will vary depending on duration and services. An average 13-day ascent with full board porters and transport costs around $4500 per person for a group of 2.
Keep in mind that in Chile you will need a climbing permit that is issued in Copiapó. Make sure to check with your guide regarding this issue.
The Andes is a vast mountain chain with plenty to do on both sides. In the region surrounding Ojos del Salado, you can find a lot of great outdoor adventures, from some great mountain climbing and trekking options in Catamarca, Argentina, to some thrilling mountain bike and trekking excursions in the Atacama region.
Also, while in Fiambalá, make sure to visit the famous hot springs, specially good to recover after your climb. Or, if you’re on the Chilean side, make sure to head to the stunning Playa Chorrillos.
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