Become a mountaineer in northern Chile: peaks for novices

Northern Chile’s massive Andean peaks may seem daunting to novice mountaineers, but the region offers many relatively safe and manageable climbs that reward climbers with thrilling vistas and a robust sense of accomplishment.

Becoming a mountain climber

Novice mountain climbers must carefully research and prepare for the rigors of high-altitude climbing prior to embarking on a serious ascent. Good physical fitness and proficiency at winter mountaineering are essential prerequisites for any attempt to conquer a larger peak.

True mountaineering generally begins around an altitude of 6,000 meters, where altitude sickness and fatigue can be a serious danger. Climbing to this elevation requires adequate and appropriate gear and training, to compensate for weather conditions and to understand and treat the symptoms of altitude sickness.

High-altitude climbers must be strong, persistent, and possessing the capacity to tolerate low blood-oxygen levels. But the sense of exhilaration after successfully conquering a slope of 6,000 meters or more is well worth the pre-climb training and adequate preparation.

Best peaks for beginners in northern Chile

Numerous snow-capped mountains and volcanoes preside regally over the sprawling desert in northern Chile, part of the formidable Andes mountain chain. The following peaks are around 6,000 meters high and contain routes that can be acceptable for novice climbs.

Licancabur, 5,920 meters – Located near San Pedro de Atacama, this volcano is a relatively straightforward ascent, with a crater lake at the summit that is covered in ice most of year. The peak is surrounded by Inca ruins.

Parinacota, 6,350 meters – A relatively easy climb at certain times of the year, Parinacota volcano has the added benefit of being located near Chile’s Lauca National Park, a beautiful travel destination in itself.

Llullaillaco, 6,740 meters – On the border between Argentina and Chile, Llullaillaco is the fifth highest volcano in the world. The volcano can be climbed without special mountaineering techniques or equipment, aside from crampons and an ice axe, but the extreme altitude may be difficult to overcome. Furthermore, land mines may exist on parts the mountain, so extreme caution is urged. The highest archaeological site in the world is located at the top of Llullaillaco.

Ojos de Salado, 6,893 meters – Considered to be the world’s highest active volcano, Ojos de Salado’s formidable size can still challenged without special mountaineering skills or gear. Climbers are able to access the mountain from the nearby town of Copiapó.

When to go and how to ascend

Plan to climb under ideal weather conditions. Summer months of December and January are likely best. However, potential climbers in this area must also consider the “Bolivian Winter” period, which brings frequent rain and high-altitude snow to northern Chile from nearby Bolivia, usually between January and March.

It is recommended that beginning mountaineers ascend with the help of a reputable and experienced guide. Many travel companies in Chile lead such climbing expeditions.

By Gretchen Stahlman, written for Chile.Travel
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