The majestic Ojos del Salado is the highest mountain in the Chilean Andes and the highest active volcano in the world. It dominates
the large number of Six Thousand Metre Peaks in this remote region. Despite the controversy between the Pissis Volcano in Argentina
and the Ojos del Salado over which is the second highest mountain in the Andes, the Ojos is sufficiently attractive to make it the most
visited massif in the north of Chile. The great “Ojos” is a natural frontier between Chile and Argentina in the Atacama region. It’s name
comes from the enormous deposits of salt that, in the form of lagoons or “eyes”, appear in its glaciers.
The mountain is a calderic volcanic complex, with a main crater of huge dimensions that contains a total of 38 craters, cones and
domes, one of which reaches the otable height of 6,893 m. To the north-west of this peak, in the largest crater at 6,500 m, is a field
of fumaroles which give off a strong sulphuric smell. These are the the only sign of the mountain’s latent volcanic activity. They put
on a show in 1993, when a column of dark-coloured gases and small explosions were observed in the crater. However, the process
lasted only about three hours and didn’t cause any damage, very different from its last great eruption that occurred between 1,000
and 1,500 years ago.
Even though there are no signs of inhabitation or of sanctuaries of the aboriginal cultures, this magnificent mountain has still been a
witness to important parts of Chile’s history. What is now the San Francisco border crossing was initially a Trans-Andean corridor used
by the Incas. This was also where Diego de Almagro first set foot in Chile, in 1536. It is said that more than 10,000 indigenous people
and nearly all the horses died in Almagro’s crossing.
The access route is similar to that of the El Ermitaño Volcano and
the other Six Thousand Metre Peaks in the Ojos del Salado area.
Taking the city of Copiapó as a point of departure, head towards
and then take the international road, Ruta 31, that leads to Argentina
via the San Francisco border crossing.
In the area of the Maricunga Salt Lake is the San Francisco border
post where it is necessary to register your expedition.
Continue along Ruta 31 to Laguna Verde (4,342 m) where there is
a police station that is closed during the winter and re-opens at the
beginning of October. Here, the budget company Aventurismo can
supply radios, water, bathrooms and hot springs which makes it a
good place for the process of acclimatisation.
From Laguna Verde it is necessary to go back to the turning that
leads to the old police station next to what was the Murray Hostal
and is now the Claudio Lucero Refugio (4,540 m) where it is possible
to set up camp to continue acclimatising.
From the Lucero refugio follow the route that leads into the Ojos
del Salado Gully until the Atacama Refugio which belongs to the
Atacama University (5,300 m). This is an ideal place for establishing
BC but, as there is no water, it is recommended to bring water
containers to fill up in Laguna Verde and transport from there. The
road goes through sandy areas that make progress difficult and serve
as a reminder of the need to make the approach only in a 4x4.
The company Aventurismo has built toilets and cairns here to protect
the tents from the wind. There is also a radio base station, which
allows communication with the expeditions on the mountain. For
security, there is oxygen and a hyperbaric chamber in case any
climber suffers from extreme altitude sickness.
The first part of the ascent can be made by vehicle from the Atacama
Refugio to the Tejos Refugio (5,833 m), the highest habitable refugio
in the world.
From Tejos you can make the ascent to the summit in a day, but it
is recommended to spend the day previous to the ascent just
surveying the route, which also helps with the acclimatisation process.
In the first part of the ascent it is advisable to use the route created
by the machinery that carried out the rescue of the pilots who
crashed a helicopter on the mountain in 1984.
The route then goes to the left and follows a gorge that ascends
until you can see the zig-zag path to the snow field, which must be
crossed with crampons. A high level of technical ability is not
necessary and the snow-field only lasts for about 100 metres. After
the snow-field, the path becomes difficult to see, but it is possible
to continue towards the crater which is already perfectly visible at
The crater should be circled from the left, following the clear track
that leads to a rocky area. Here there are some ropes to facilitate
the ascent but it is recommended that you dont use them as it is
difficult to know how long they have been there or how much use
they have had. After a simple climb you arrive at the ridge, a place
that demands a lot of concentration as it is quite exposed. From
here you should continue until the summit, where you can find the
remains of antennas, crosses and boxes with summit testimonies.
The descent follows the same route as the ascent.
• To climb the Ojos del Salado it is necessary to pay an admission
fee to the company Aventurismo (32-235340, www.aventurismo.cl),
who have had the access rights for the area since 2004. The charge
includes a series of services and access to the facilities at Laguna
Verde and the Claudio Lucero Refugio. You only have to pay
if the expedition is carried out between November 1st and
• You should also inform the police in the San Francisco border
post of your expedition, giving them a letter showing participants,
nationalities, passport or ID numbers, details of activities and
specific itineraries, dates, route and a map of the area. As the
mountain is on the border, foreigners must ask for permission
from DIFROL (www.difrol.cl).
• The best option is to take a 4x4 vehicle. See appendix for
recommendations. Buy sufficient fuel in Copiapó as there are no
other places to buy it during the rest of the journey.
• If you do not have your own transport it is recommended to send
a letter asking for support to the headquarters of the Army 1st
division in Antofagasta (Av. Ejército 01180, Antofagasta). Once
approved it will be sent to the 23rd Regiment in Copiapó, which
will co-ordinate the support.
• Another option is a transport service from Copaipó. Among the
companies that offer the service are Aventurismo (52-235340 /
mobile: 99694654, who also offer transport from Laguna Verde
to the various mountains), Gran Atacama Tour Operador (52-
219271, www.granatacama.cl) and Atacama Chile Tour Operador
(mobile: 98723652, www.atacamachile.com).
• The permanent snow next to the remains of a glacier just before
arriving at the crater does not present many obstacles, and is
relatively easy to negotiate it. However, at times the snow is very
hard and it is therefore essential to use crampons and ropes to
be assured of safety in case of a fall.
• It is recommended to take equipment and clothing suitable for
high altitude mountaineering. As part of the equipment it is
recommended to take an ice axe and crampons.
• Take sufficient water for the whole expedition. This can be taken
from Copiapó or Laguna Verde.
• The Puna de Atacama area has high precipitation in winter and
summer, when it is slightly affected by the “Alti-Planic winter”.
The climatic instability can also be accompanied by strong squalls
and wind-storms. It is therefore strongly recommended to climb
during the months of spring and summer, as the winter presents
very low temperatures and abundant precipitation. It is necessary
to keep up-to-date with the weather forecast.