A “Chile” Christmas

I booked a 13 day trip with ChileMontana to the Atacama desert and Ojos Del Salado; at 6,893m its the highest active volcano in the world. Having done Everest base camp and Kilimanjaro my target was not the summit of Ojos but just to get above 6,000m altitude.  For logistics convenience I joined a group of 8 other climbers who were aiming for the summit, and what a great mix of people they turned out to be.

When I booked I somehow knew ChileMontana would be with a good outfit and I wasn’t disappointed. The owner Vivianne answered my emails whatever time of the day it was, my queries about hotel and travel arrangements and trip details were all quickly answered and it was no surprise that it all turned out just as she planned it.

On Christmas Eve we set off from the seaside town of Bahia Inglesa for a 6 hour drive across the Maricunga salt plains to a disused borax mine at Pedernales where we camped for the night. The next morning to stretch our legs we climbed to the summit of Cerro Dona Ines at just over 5,000m. From there it was on to Laguna Verde to set up base camp, a magical place except for the camp Loo which was perched on a ledge overlooking the lake and in full view of all the people at the lakeside. Personal dignity had to be sacrificed to visit the “Room with a View”!

What took us all by surprise however was the extremes in temperature; daytime it was in the mid 30’s C but when the sun went down it very rapidly dropped to Zero, and by midnight it was somewhere between -10C and -15C. We had been warned we had to cope with extreme temperatures and they were not wrong, Brass Monkeys comes to mind!

After a few more climbs to acclimatise that usually ended with a dip into the thermal springs on the shore of the lake we pushed on to the Atacama refuge camp on Ojos Del Salada arriving there on New Year’s Eve where the wind rose and the temperature fell, and fell seriously!

After a few days holed up at the refuge we were at last able to get climbing again and I’m pleased to say that I reached an altitude of 6,166m -well exceeding my 6,000m target – and six of the other climbers reached the summit, well done to all of them.

However we wouldn’t have achieved our personal goals if we’d not been with a well equipped outfit and our experienced guides Roberto and Eduardo. They were always ready to give encouragement and look after our safety. including making daily oxygen checks. Nor would we have succeeded without the culinary talent of our Camp Manager/Cook Carlos who kept us well fed with great food, not to mention the champagne which mysteriously appeared for our New Year’s Eve celebrations. Thank you Carlos (I won’t tell Vivianne),

The highlight of the trip for me was obviously exceeding 6,000m altitude, an added and unexpected highlight however was the Atacama night sky. The starlight was simply breathtaking and no description I can give will do it justice, you have to see it for yourself so Go For It!

Thank you Vivianne and your great ChileMontana team for the wonderful experience.

Jim

Member of the Ojos del Salado Expedition Fixed departure 24th of December 2017

Mountain Guide: Eduardo Unzueta
Base Camp Manager: Juan Carlos Briceño