January 26 – 31, 2020
Day 474 – 479
After my time in Peru and Bolivia, I was missing one thing: to climb a high mountain. Most of the good climb of south America were behind me, more in the North, as I was going south. And I didn’t made it to the summit of the Huayna Potosi.
So by looking online, I obviously saw the mountain Aconcagua: highest mountain in America and highest mountain outside of the Tibetan plateau.
But there is one trick. The permit to climb the Aconcagua cost around 1000$. Definitely not in my budget.
I then look at the second highest: the Ojos del Salado, a volcano, the highest active one in the world. It doesn’t need a permit. Perfect!
This will probably be my last time in high altitude during my trip. So I quickly made it after Bolivia to not loose my acclimatation.
After 4 days in the north of Argentina, in order to hitchhike to the pass between Argentina and Chile, I successfully made it there, at the bottom of the volcano. This is where I begin my trek to the volcano Ojos del Salado.
Laguna Verde – 4,350m
I spent my first night in Laguna Verde, at the bottom of the trek. It is a beautiful blue lagoon, with salty water. Next to it are some thermal water, where I can enjoy my last warm bath in a long time.
From there, it is a 32km hike (+1000m) to the base camp. This with my two backpacks full of food. A challenging hike this day, but normally the longest one.
It took me 11h to get there. This was an awful hike, and very difficult. I arrive exhausted, but I will not go further with all my gear, as I will leave most of it here at the base camp.
Atacama Base camp – 5,285m
I made it to the base camp at 5,285m, late and under the snow. From there, you can see the summit of the Ojos del Salado.
I will spend the two following nights here: the first one in the refuge, and second one in my tent. That would be the first time I sleep in my tent above 5000m. And my tent could withstand the challenge.
Being in a desert, there is no water here. So the only way to get some, is to melt snow.
I spend two days here to acclimatize myself of this high altitude. I met other climber with who I could exchange on the weather, the mountain and so on. Ready for the next part ! The next stop is the high camp which you reach after a 3 hours hike. I leave most of my stuff at the base camp and take my warm clothes and enough food.
Refugio Tejos – 5,837m
3 hours later: the Refugio Tejos at 5,837m. Here, I will sleep in the refuge. No way my sleeping bag and my tent are warm enough for sleeping outside.
At night, the temperature go down to -20°C approximately. So I wrap myself in my two sleeping bags. I boil water in water bottle and put them in my sleeping bag for extra heat. And hope for the best for the night! It is not hot, but I am warm enough to sleep.
First time I ever sleep at this altitude (and probably the only time in my life. 5,837m is a pretty high refuge). You get a weird sleep and it is harder to fully rest. But my acclimatation is good so I don’t have any headache or respiration problem (for now). The big difference here is that EVERYTHING freeze. Whatever you don’t put in your sleeping bag will freeze overnight: water or food. So be careful.
I meet other climbers and especially Martin, an Argentinian who will give me very good advices on the mountain.
From the Refugio, you are just next to the mountain Ojos del Salado, which dominates us from here.
It is day 4. I leave the refuge at 3am to attempt the climb. After 2h30 climbing, I reach 6,500m. At this point, it is still dark and very very cold. The wind is killing me and I cannot feel my feet nor my fingers. I prefer to play it safe and come down. My trekking gear (gloves and shoes) are not enough for this extreme weather.
So I go down and rest. After a few hours of sleep, I meet again with Martin. This Argentinian guy is on his third attempt to reach the summit. He see me with gear and laugh. “It is dangerous to go up with this. It is gonna be cold”.
But he has an extra pair of gloves and boot.
So I go down to the base camp to take them and go back up to the high camp. I rest for the day to be ready for the real climb, next day.
Day 5: I leave at 5am. I start the climb. The hike up is quite easy and gradual until the crater. There is quite a lot of snow but it is still ok. The sun is out and warm me up. My new boots and gloves are very useful.
The first part is mostly going up zigzagging until 6,500m, where I turned back the day before. From there, it is gonna be a diagonal, on snow or ice. So my crampons are very useful.
The first diagonal go right to the edge where I turn left to reach the crater, at 6,700m.
In the crater, the last part is to come. I have 500m and +200m elevation left. Easy, right ?
Well it is the worst part. There is so much snow here. At first, the hiking up is not very steep. But the more I continue, the more it is getting steeper and snowier.
Being a bit faster than everyone else, I am in front of everybody at the crater. Which means I have to make the way into the fresh snow from yesterday.
At some part on the last part, the snow reach up to my hips. It is like swimming in the snow.
The path is also really steep. And the lack of oxygen makes it harder. I have never felt that in my life. At one point, for every step I made, I had to take 6-7 breathing.
I then reach the rock wall, the last stretch. 30m left for the summit. Now is time for the climbing.
There is a rope to help you go up. I have never been such in lack of oxygen. These 30 meters probably took me 15 minutes. So I went slowly, and with many breaks. After this climb is… The summit.
Summit of the Nevado Ojos del Salado – 6,893m
When I reached the summit, I cried for literally 5 minutes. This was the most amazing view I have ever seen in my life. It was incredible.
The fact to just finish this 6h30 of hiking/climbing makes it so much better. At am here, on top of the highest volcano the world, second highest mountain in America.
I am also very lucky as the weather is perfect. No wind, it’s warm.
This was incredible. No word can describe all of it. A memory I will keep all my life.