Aconcagua 5 of 4: Ojos del Salado Side Strip

In 2. Aconcagua, South America, Project 7in4by Steve

I Haven’t Lost my Marbles (Yet)

Ok, ok….. I know “Update 5 of 4” doesn’t make any sense, but don’t worry, the altitude hasn’t affected me that much, yet. I can still count to 5. It’s just that this report is for a little side trip we threw in after Aconcagua. It is not part of the main Project 7in4 challenge but possibly the most interesting time we’ve had so far so I decided I’d throw it in on the back of the Aconcagua reports as a technically non-existent 5 of 4.


With a week spare after Aconcagua, to fill in time we flew to Copiaco, Chile to attempt Ojos del Salado (not part of the 7 Summits).

Situated in the Atacama Desert, Ojos del Salado at 6893m is the 2nd highest mountain in South America and highest active volcano in the world. A typical climbing itinerary is 10 to 12 days. Pre-acclimatised we thought we could do it 2 days. It was meant to be a relatively easy gravel / scree track to the top. A walk up.

We thought we could fly to Copiaco, pick up a hire car, drive to the base, walk up, walk down, drive back to Copiaco, fly back to Mendoza and then continue with our original itinerary to Kilimanjaro. Easy right! What could go wrong?

For what started out as a quick side trip to fill in time, it turned into quite an adventure.

Do You Want The Short Story Or Long Story?

I’ll go with the short story.

  • We flew from Mendoza to Copiaco on Friday 2nd February and overnighted there.
  • We couldn’t find a hire car. They were all booked out.
  • We eventually got a car on Saturday afternoon, a red 4×4 Hilux.
  • We drove a few hours east along a rough, windy and sometimes questionable unsealed road, up over a 4500m pass into the Atacama Desert.
  • We got stopped at a security checkpoint, weren’t allowed through at night.
  • We drove a kilometer back, parked up on the side of the road next to a large salt flat and slept under the stars in the tray of the truck till morning. Now it doesn’t rain in the desert right? Well naturally the night we were sleeping out It rained!
  • We got up early Sunday morning, made it through the security checkpoint and continued driving to Laguna Verde (Green Lake).
  • Had a dip in the freezing cold lake and bathed in the hot thermal pools of Laguna Verde.
  • We followed a rough, sandy 4WD track to Refuge Atacama (5200m), at the base of the Ojos del Salado.
  • We met a nice Russian group waiting at the refuge who said the mountain was closed due to weather and high levels of snow forecast or something.
  • We told ourselves it doesn’t snow in the dessert (like we told ourselves the night before it doesn’t rain in the desert).
  • We packed our bags, locked the car and started climbing up.
  • We made it to Refuge Tejas (5837m). The weather started to set in, visibility dropped and it started snowing.
  • We woke early Monday morning to about 3ft of fresh snow.
  • We tried climbing up to the summit. Wading through snow and continually slipping backwards made for incredibly slow going. Plus for some reason I felt terrible that moaning making us even slower.
  • We persevered for a few hours with very little progress.
  • We decided to pulled the pin and descend back down so we could get back in time to drop the car off and catch our flight back to Mendoza.
  • A hot a tiring slog later we arrived back to Refuge Atacama. The car was covered in snow and the 4WD track to get out barely recognisable.
  • Trying to drive back to the main road we slid into a small gully and got bogged in the snow.
  • We eventually managed to dig ourselves out.
  • We lost the 4WD track so ended up going cross country, very lucky to make it back to the main road.
  • We drove the 4hrs back to Copiaco, the entire way thinking we were going to run out of fuel (we made it back to the first a service station in Copiaco just as the fuel light turned on).
  • We dropped the car off and overnighted in Caldera by the sea.
  • Tuesday morning we flew back to Mendoza.

All’s well that ends well (even if we missed the summit).

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.