The highest volcanoes in the world

General Description

Mt. Ojos del Salado and Mt. Pissis are the two highest volcanoes in the world. This unique expedition has been designed to climb both peaks in a reasonable period of time, while allowing the body to acclimatize to the high altitude. It takes place in the northwest of Argentina, in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on Earth. Due to its remoteness, the area is still unspoiled, wild and uncrowded. The landscape is an intense composition of colors with turquoise salted lagoons and over 200 gigantic perfectly shaped volcanoes. Along with the climbing, we visit hot springs, watch wild animals such as vicuñas, flamingos, guanacos, llamas and experience technical 4WD off road driving to get to the base camps.

The acclimatizing is done mostly from “La Gruta” (4000m), close to the international San Francisco Pass (4800m) between Chile and Argentina. LaGruta is an ideal place because of its geography, accessibility, water availability and proximity to the mountains. The San Francisco pass is a natural mountain pass to cross the Andes used by many civilizations and in the XVI century, by the first colonization troupes (Diego de Almagro) on their way to what is now Santiago de Chile. Archeological sites, historical points and traces of ancient communities can be visited along the trip.

Trip Info

  • Location: Atacama Desert, Argentina
  • Duration: 19 days
  • Ascents: Mt. Falso Morocho (4500m), Mt. Bertrand (5250m), Mt. San Francisco (6018m), Mt. Pissis (6782m), Mt. Ojos del Salado (6893m)
  • Best time of the year: November to March
  • Difficulty: moderate, the difficulty is determined by the fact that all hikes are in high altitude. Excellent physical condition is required; experience in mountaineering is desirable but not necessary.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival Catamarca airport and drive to Fiambala

We meet you at the local airport of Catamarca provincial capital city. We drive about four hours to Fiambalá, a small colonial village.  We go over the expedition plan and check your personal gear in case you need to buy or rent anything. We spend the night outside Fiambala in the comfortable hotel Termas of Fiambala at 1550 m of elevation.

The hotel is built around the hot springs with 14 rock pools displayed amongst the trees in cascading terraces. The highest pool is the warmest at 51° C (123.8°F) and the lowest is 28° C (82.4°F). It is a very enjoyable and peaceful place. The hot springs are classified as hyperthermal, containing sulphate, silicate, alkaline bicarbonate and natural chlorine. They are very relaxing, cleanse the tissues, detoxify the body, and improve the general health of travelers.

  • Atacama Catamarca

Day 2: Fiambalá – Hotel Cortaderas

We have breakfast at the hotel and spend the morning relaxing in the hot springs. After lunch, we drive approximately three hours from Fiambalá to the Hotel Cortaderas, situated at 3360m of altitude. We check in at the modern hotel before going out for a short hike to start acclimatizing. The landscape has changed now from fertile green valleys to the colorful arid desert.

  • Atacama Fiambala

Day 3: Drive from Cortaderas to La Gruta

After breakfast, we drive to the La Gruta approximately one hour away. This is a flat area that has the only human settlement within miles. Beside Route 45, there are a few simple buildings, a gendarmerie post, a highway administration shelter open to visitors (by arrival priority, meaning that if you get there and there is place, you can stay) but no reservations can be made; there is no land line phone or services offered. Close by, there are two hot springs, one is outdoor and one under a manmade structure. There is a little cave that gives its name to the place and an interesting archeological site, traces of the Inca Empire from the XV century. Once we are settled, we head for our first peak ascent Mt. Falso Morocho (4500m).  It’s a gratifying hike three to four hours with a 500 m ascent giving us beautiful views of Mt. Incahuasi (6621m) and Incahuasito. Night in tent.

  • Mount Pissis cortaderas Atacama

Day 4: Ascent Mt. Bertrand (5250m), La Gruta

After a healthy and abundant breakfast, we climb Mt. Bertrand (5250m) that has a remarkably round and huge crater. This is the second volcano peak of the expedition chosen for the beautiful scenery and for being the logical next step in a gradual acclimatization.  In the afternoon, we will return to have dinner at our camp. There are hot springs a short walking distance, for those who love them, or you can choose just to relax and spend the evening admiring the desolate and magnificent environment.

  • Atacama Falso Morocho

Day 5: La Gruta rest day and visit to Laguna Verde

This is our day to explore the area without much physical effort.  We drive less than an hour across the border to Chile to visit the dazzling Laguna Verde. The color of the lake water is a deep turquoise, usually embellished by flamingos and partially enclosed by pink rock walls and a fascinating palette of colors. We stroll around the cold salted lake to find that beside the shore there are hot waters emerging from the ground. The hot springs pool we can soak in is a wonderfully natural environment. We return to spend the night at our camp.

  • Ojos Del Salado Laguna verde Atacama

Day 6: Climb Mt. San Francisco (6018m).

Climbing Mt. San Francisco is our next challenge. After breakfast, we drive an hour up to 5000m in the 4WD truck and continue from there on foot. The views from this climb face north so we can appreciate other attractive volcanoes such as Dos Conos (5790m and 5880m) and the width of San Francisco mountain pass. We return to spend the last night in our camp in La Gruta. Night in tent.

  • San Francisco Volcano Atacama

Day 7: Drive from La Gruta to Real del Rasguido camp at 4350m

In the morning, we drive south to the beginning of the Ojos del Salado base camp track. The first part of the track takes us west to Laguna de los Aparejos. From there, we turn north and drive towards a place called “Real del Rasguido” at 4350m. We will drive about 170 km in total; the last section the driving is very technical and tricky, and can take us up to six hours. We camp beside a creek that gives the name to the camp. Night in tent.

  • Ojos del Salado real del rasguido Atacama

Day 8: Drive from Ojos del Salado base to camp El Arenal 5500m

Few people have been on this track before us. Most expeditions to climb Ojos take four days to get to base camp and use mules to carry the gear.  We prefer to spend our time climbing in La Gruta and then ascend a remote and seldom used track to base camp.  Our guides are expert drivers with 4WD experience but we must drive slowly as others before us have gotten stuck.  We cross swamps uphill and there are rocks of all sizes and shapes. This forces us to drive at walking men pace until we reach 5500m.  Being so remote is a wonderful part of the adventure. Night in tent.

  • Ojos del Salado

Day 9: Carry to high camp (5850m)

After a nice breakfast we take a load of supplies to the high camp at 5850m. We get an idea of what our next camp will look like and return to rest, have dinner and sleep at base camp El Arenal (5500m). This carry helps to acclimatize and to walk lighter the next day.

  • Ojos del Salado

Day 10: Move to high camp (5850m)

We take down the tents and carry all our necessary gear up. We set our camp, have dinner, warm tea and go to bed. It is a very high spot to spend a night so you might find it different from most all other nights before. The evening before the summit attempt is exciting, we want to have everything ready for the great next day.

  • Ojos del Salado

Day 11: Summit Ojos del Salado (6893m)

Early while still dark, we eat a light breakfast, wear our best gear and go for the biggest climb of the expedition to the summit of the highest volcano on the planet. As the sun rises, we realize how high we are and the immensity of the surrounding volcanos. We stop for short breaks to re adjust layers and have snack, take pictures and live the moment. Then, the last part of the climb gets vertical and we use a rope for assistance. Rock climbing at almost 6900m plus the strong winds can be threatening. After celebrating our summit, we return to spend the night at our high camp (5850m) and keep celebrating.

  • Ojos del Salado Summit

Day 12: Descend to the base camp El Arenal and drive to Laguna de los Aparejos

We take down the high camp and walk down to base camp (5500m), pick up all our gear and drive back south to a lagoon called Laguna de los Aparejos (4200m) to spend the night. It is kind of a huge U turn driving from base camp El Arenal to our next base camp for Pissis, so we make this intermediate camp at 4200m in as astonishing beautiful place. Night in tent.

  • Mount Pissis Laguna de los Arejos

Day 13: Drive to Pissis base camp (4500m) from Laguna de los Aparejos (4200m)

This day is dedicated to make it to Pissis base camp (4500m) and relax there. From Laguna de los Aparejos we drive west about 50 km that can require about six hours. There are sandy sections and the driving is a bit less difficult than the previous days. We drive past the Laguna Celeste of a beautiful light blue color. Night in tent.

  • Mount Pissis Laguna celeste

Day 14: Pissis Base camp (4500m) to high camp (5800m).

As we are better acclimatized by this time of the expedition we move straight up to set the high camp at 5800m. Have an early dinner and get ready for the next and last summit attempt of the expedition. Night in the tent.

  • Mount Pissis Atacama

Day 15: Extra day

We have this extra day in case any circumstance alters the program

  • Mount Pissis Atacama

Day 16: High camp, Pissis Summit, high camp

We get up early, have light breakfast, set out, watch sunrise on the way, climb beside a glacier. We reach a summit that is so large and smooth that does not seen as a summit.  Mt Pissis, together with Mt. Ojos de Salado and Mt. Aconcagua are called “The Three Gigantics of America” because they are the three highest massifs of the continent. Pissis has a central glacier and two main summits on opposite sides. Actually, Pissis has six named summits because its crater is so vast and has an outstanding shape, similar to an enormous crown. Pissis, for those who like mountain stories, was first climbed in 1937 by polish mountaineers and has a controversial history about altitudes. Night in tent.

  • Mount Pissis Summit Atacama

Day 17: High camp to Pissis base camp. Drive to Fiambalá

We hike down to base camp. We drive back to Fiambala. The drive takes between six to eight hours. We visit the hot springs once more. Night in hotel.

  • Mount Pissis Atacama

Day 18: Drive from Fiambala to Catamarca

We wake up at the hot spring hotel in Fiambala and drive to drive back to Catamarca city which takes about four hours. On the way, we drive through a village called Tinogasta. There are several incipient wineries as the land and climate is suitable and the region has a promising future for fine wine production. Night in hotel in Catamarca

  • Atacama

Day 19: Flight back home from Catamarca

We farewell you at Catamarca airport to take the flight back home.

  • Pissis Atacama

Our Services

Mountain guides

  • High Mountain Guides UIAGM-IFMGA- AAGM.

We believe that the guide is the most important piece in a high mountain expedition. Our certified guides are exceptional and experienced people.

Accommodation

  • In Fiambala: two nights in Hostería Termas de Fiambala
  • In Cortaderas: one night in double and triple rooms in Hotel Cortaderas
  • In Catamarca: one night in Meridian or Casino Hotel in double rooms
  • The rest of the nights are spent in tents

Transportation

  • All private ground transportation mentioned in the itinerary in a 4WD vehicle.

Meals

  • All meals during the trip are included (drinks in restaurants are not included).

We pay special attention to giving good quality food during the trips. Fresh and dehydrated fruit and vegetables, meet, cereals, whole grains, rice, pasta, etc. If you have special diets we adapt the menu to your restrictions. Please let us know in advance.

Tents and camping equipment

  • High Mountain tents (The North Face).

Due to the strong winds our tents are high quality and in perfect shape.

  • All cooking equipment,

Just bring your personal plate, spoon and cup. We provide all the necessary pots, stoves and camping gear to make your journey as pleasant as possible in the wilderness.

Communication

We take VHF radios and a satellite phone in case of emergency.

Medical equipment

  • Full first-aid equipment, including oximeter, oxygen tube, etc.

We daily check on every person acclimatization process. We find it is a helpful way to enjoy safe expeditions where there is an inherent related risk.

Services not included

  • Costs associated with leaving the expedition early or emergency rescue
  • Medical and travel insurance
  • Personal equipment
  • Any other expenses not specified on the list of included services.