This is my second trip to Ojos del Salado, on my first trip all client flights arrived on time and all their luggage arrived too, so I was hopeful the same would happen this trip. Although everyone on the team arrived on time, only three of their bags arrived, the other three were located at various points around the world with three different airlines. This is never a good start to an expedition, thankfully most of the team had travelled with their big boots, down jackets and mitts (let that be a reminder to us all) so although worried, we hoped that either the bags would turn up on the next flight or worst-case scenario we could pull together gear and shop in Copiapo. Thankfully the hotel has wifi so this helped with the search for the missing bags. By the following evening the good news was that we had two out of three of the missing bags and the bad news that the third bag was completely lost and we were advised it would not arrive.
After a shopping trip to the mall with Nu to get some of the kit he was missing, we were finally able to head for the hills.
We set off towards the Altiplano and after a drive of about four hours we stopped to set up camp. We don’t see many vehicles once we turn off the highway and only two other people as we wind our way up the valley on the way to our camp. Camp is set up in a little green area in the bottom of a steep sided valley, the grass is so green it looks fake. It already feels strange to see green among the sandy coloured mountains. The following morning after breakfast we head out of camp on our first acclimatisation hike to 3800m, the hike is gentle and easy under foot. We are fortunate to see three guanacos who were like a synchronised display team, each turning to pose for the camera at the same time, they let us come quite close and seemed to be allowing us to almost catch up before they would trot on a little further, as if showing us the way.
After a good lunch we headed to Laguna Santa Rosa in the jeeps to set up camp in the idyllic spot next to the Laguna. The laguna is like an aqua blue oasis in the barren landscape around us. This is to be our home for the next three nights. We share our campsite with one or two small teams and lots of flamingos. Did you know flamingos are born grey and turn pink because of the natural dye in their diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Thankfully we are well fed on this expedition, so we don’t need to feast on the algae. It’s windy here so the team work together set up the tents. The team consist of two British, two Romanian, one Irish and one Danish member. The following morning our objective is Cerro Site Hermanas at 4950m, it is a nice walk on easy terrain, hot to begin with but cooler on the way down as it got pretty windy and the spare layer was utilised.
Today we take the jeeps and head up the valley to 4400m, we take the rocky ridge up to the summit of Cero Pastilidos. The ground is a little looser under foot and the team find the walking poles useful. We spend some time on top eating our pack lunch and taking in the endless views, although everything is sandy and rocky it is amazing to see just how many variations in colours there are. It’s a quick walk back down to the jeeps and back for some more amazing food, whilst remembering to keep everything sealed away in the tents from the sly foxes.
We pack up camp and head for the CONAF ranger station at Laguna del Negro Francisco 4100m, it is basic here, but we light a huge fire and have a fantastic barbeque, steak, chicken, sausage, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes and salad.
An early start to have breakfast and left about 4:30am driving to about 5000m until the penitentes block the track. It is a cold start and most of the team have opted for their big boots and big jackets which they are thankful for. I have found on both trips that both Volcano Copiapo and Ojos del Salado are colder mountains thank you would expect. The team have begun to feel the altitude but a slow and steady pace on the loose scree gets us to the top at 6052m. Here there are Inca tombs and ruins another fantastic place to have our lunch now that it has warmed up.
After a good night’s sleep we pack the jeeps and head North, after some distance on the highway we leave the road to cross sand flats, steep rocky sections and some snow in a journey similar to that of an off road driving experience. We only had to get out once to lighten the load, finally we arrive at the Atacama Refuge which is the base camp for Ojos del Salado at 5200m. We set up the dome mess tent and our own tents before dinner and a chat about the days to come.
Today is Christmas Day so after Santa and the elves finished breakfast we organise our kit to leave at the Tejos Refugio, our top camp, and do a light load carry up to drop off our gear. This is an easy walk up the track, we take a leisurely pace and have our pack lunches at the refuge at 5825m, before heading down for dinner, we phone back to the office to get the weather forecast and decide that we would have a rest day in base camp before moving back up to the Tejos Refuge.
Rest days are always great before summit day, it allows you a full day of eating and hydrating and fuelling yourself for the summit push, so that’s what we did.
We have been lucky with only one other team in base camp and they are behind us on the rotation so we don’t need to leave too early to secure our space at the refuge. We have lunch and lounge about before an early dinner and early bed. Up at 4:30am it is a cold start as we head out by torchlight and under a bright moon and we wind our way towards the summit of Ojos. Maria and Roberto really felt the cold and decided to turn back just before sunrise. The route takes us up and over a false summit to the crater lake which is likely to be one of the highest lakes in the world and a great place to stop and take food on board for the final summit push. There are a couple of roped sections which helps keep your focus from tired legs before finally reaching the summit.
The team arrive back at base camp tired and happy with one final night’s camp before heading to the lovely seaside village of Bahi Inglesa for a well earned rest. Some of the team then flew home, the rest went on to do an Aconcagua extension.