Adventure Peaks Expedition Report
Ojos del Salado
22nd November – 8th December 2019
By Tom Sylvester
After a long but successful flight to Copiapo, all kit arrived and the team were driven to their hotel to settle in. We had an expedition briefing to give an overview of the trip before heading to the hotel restaurant for a tasty meal, then off to bed for a good night’s sleep. Next Morning we had a kit check as this is the last place to get anything. We packed up the vehicles and were ready to begin the drive to the mountains, it’s amazing how much we can fit in the trucks!
A stunning 3 hour drive through the desert landscape and we arrived at Vallecito, our first campsite, which was located in a small green oasis with a fresh spring. With the tents and dome(mess tent) set up we had our first experience of the fantastic food that you get on this expedition.
The following morning, we took a short but steep walk out of camp. It was roughly 500m ascent and took us 3.5 hours. We walked to a height of 3800m, you could see for miles. At this height the team were starting to feel the effects of the altitude (breathing a bit heavier than usual) but everyone did really well.
Returning to camp we had an amazing lunch, packed up camp and headed for our camp at Laguna Santa Rosa. This is a beautiful spot with salt flats, mountains and a lake with flamingos. The sun sets here are beautiful.
At 4950m, Siete Hermanas is a big peak in itself. This was to be the first of our acclimatisation peaks. From Camp it doesn’t look that high and it never looks windy as there is very rarely a cloud in the sky. The team all successfully made it to the top and were rewarded with some fantastic views. The climb and descent took us 7 hours in total.
A short ride in the jeep and we were ready for our second acclimatisation peak, Cerro Pastilidos. At just over 5000m it can feel quite tough but after the initial scree you are on to the steeper ground and the going underfoot gets slightly easier. All of the team managed to summit this peak and the views from the top were spectacular. It took us 4.5 hours in total.
We left the charming Laguna Santa Rosa behind and drove to Laguna del Negro Francisco. Here we were to be staying in the CONAF ranger station for several nights. This allows us to organise our kit ready for our next peak. This is in a beautiful but barren spot. We saw Vicunas, foxes and the tail of a puma (according to our local guides!) It also has an amazing fireplace which means it’s a barbeque for dinner.
Volcano Copiapo was to be our first time above 6000m on the trip. Climbing a 6000m peak is an incredible achievement for anyone, and for many in our team this would be their first time at this altitude. The day started early with an off-road drive in the dark to the base of the peak at 5100m. We had to stop when we found ice and penitenties blocking the road.
The ascent then involved steep scree and boulders up to a ridge which then led to the summit. It was a tough climb and very cold but the team were all glad that they had their double boots and warm down layers. 5 hours later all but one of the team had made it to the summit. It was a proud moment for many and the highlight of the trip for several members of the team.
We set off for the Atacama base camp. It is about 4 hours drive, this would be our base for our attempt on Ojos del Salado. This is a windy and dusty place and at 5200m is also very cold! The good thing is it isn’t a busy camp and gives us plenty of space to set up our tents and the mess tent. We were to be here for 4 nights in total. After setting up camp we had a lovely dinner and settled down to sleep. We checked the weather forecast and saw a large storm system approaching quickly from the North West so we decided to pull the summit day forward. Our only possible weather window was the Monday, after which the winds would be too strong to make an attempt. This meant that the team didn’t have as much time to recover from their efforts on Volcan Copiapo as we would have liked but it would be our best chance.
Early on Monday morning (2am), myself, Jeff, Paul, Steve and Chantelle set out from camp in the trucks and drove to 5850m (high camp). This left 1000m to climb. We started our ascent in the dark and plodded very slowly up the scree zigzags that lead to the icefield.
We started our ascent in the dark and plodded very slowly up the scree zigzags that lead to the icefield. At approximately 6100m, Paul wasn’t feeling well so he turned around with Jeff. I continued up with Steve and Chantelle. We crossed the ice field and continued up loose Pumice to the crater rim.
From here you can see the path to the climbing and on to the summit. We left our bags before the climbing onwards towards the summit, and ascended a loose boulder field before clipping into the fixed lines and following them to the top. We stood on the summit at 1330, almost 12 hours since we had got out of bed. The views are outstanding and it was an emotional moment.
The following day Andy decided to have a go at getting to his personal best high point. He left early with Jeff and managed to reach 6400m before turning back due to high winds and cold. This was a fantastic achievement for Andy.
We packed up camp and headed back to civilisation. We spend a night in Copiapo, and then spent a further 2 nights in the charming beach resort of Bahia Inglesa. We also went to see some dinosaur fossils at Chiles most important Palaeontological dig. Following some well needed rest and relaxation, the group boarded their international flights and headed home.
Carrie Gibson has traveled on many of our expeditions including Everest North Ridge, Denali, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Island Peak & Ama Dablam. Carrie is also the first British woman to summit Himlung Himal.