Climbing South America
From the Amazon jungle to the volcanoes of Patagonia, South America has more than it’s fair share of mountains. Hit the heights with your head held high and lots of energy.
TEXT: José Francisco Hurtado @jfhurtado
At 12,230 feet above sea level, the Lanín volcano offers one of the most beautiful panoramas of the lakes and volcanoes in the south of the continent, with 180-mile visibility in any direction. The trek to the peak passes through araucaria forests and crosses ancient lava beds. It generally takes two days from the ranger’s post on the Argentinean side. There are several mountain lodges on Lanín, but a company from Junín de los Andes installed some eye-catching new domes last season. With a dining area and a bedroom, they’re a good alternative to the military facilities and mountaineering clubs.
Winter and spring are the best times to visit, ascending the snowy slopes by randonnée. In 2014, Lanín welcomed the Avalancha en Volcán competition, with skiers and snowboarders making their way to the bottom at a breakneck pace.
Truly adventurous souls can embark on a weeklong dogsledding adventure through the park on both sides of the border. You’ll embrace the call of the wild as you explore the Argentinean peak, plus Villarica, Quetrupillán, Lonquimay and Llaima in Chile.
Cerro El Plomo
Making the summit generally takes five days during the summer.
The local discoveries dispel any doubt: Santiago is a city with plenty of mountain history. In 1954, the mummified body of an eight-year-old boy from the southern province of the Inca Empire was found near the summit of Cerro El Plomo in the Andean foothills near the city. In 2013, the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural presented “Mapocho incaico,” establishing the existence of a Tawantisuyu settlement beneath Santiago’s old quarter.
Nowadays, trips to the mountains are easier than the demanding odyssey that the “Niño del Plomo” once took: the route primarily involves paved roads, which also lead to the top ski resorts near the Chilean capital. Ascending the mountain generally takes five days in the summer, including a short and simple glacier crossing requiring crampons. High-altitude trail running races are becoming popular, and this summer will see Andes Infernal, with ultra-marathon distances to the peak of Cerro El Plomo exceeding the maximum altitudes reached at events in Nepal like the Everest Extreme Marathon and the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon.
Huaraz, a mountain city in the Cordillera Blanca of the Andes, is South America’s answer Kathmandu (in the same way that the Rocky Mountain town of Banff is the Canadian Chamonix). After the Himalayas, the Cordillera Blanca is the world’s premier destination for high-mountain activities, which is why Huaraz offers an incredible array of companies dedicated to adventure tourism. In 2014, this Peruvian city of just over 120,000 inhabitants was the site of the third National Congress of Tourism Professionals. It also hosted the celebration of the tenth edition of Inkafest, an event that brings together filmmakers, professional athletes and climbing enthusiasts to screen the best mountain movies alongside talks given by legends in the field.
In the northern part of the city, the pyramid-shaped silhouette of Chopicalqui can be seen behind that of Huscarán. Both are gigantic peaks exceeding altitudes of 19,000 feet. Ascending to the summit requires an arsenal of equipment and considerable expertise. Novices can get the full experience of Chopicalqui (20,846 feet) with a nine-day program that includes two days of acclimation and a week of mountain activities. Steep slopes, ice bridges and a final stretch along the southwest face – where great caution has to be taken against potential falls – finally lead to the peak of “Chopi,” a mountain that really has it all, just like Huaraz.
Pico da neblina
This mysterious mountain offers the challenge
of exploring virgin jungle in the Amazon.
In addition to putting your climbing abilities to the test, this mysterious mountain offers challenging explorations of virgin jungle. Welcome to the Amazon at the Brazilian border with Venezuela, the home of the Yanomami peoples. At 9,820 feet, the Pico da Neblina is closed to mass tourism, and the adventure of reaching its peak can take more than two weeks, including long treks through Amazonian forests, navigating the Rio Cuburis, extreme 4X4 experiences and the final ascent to the rocky peak, which involves the use of fixed ropes.
It’s a demanding journey, unless you’re accustomed to dealing with jungle pests and the humidity of an area that sees more than 150 inches of rainfall a year. Another challenge comes from the Yanomami themselves. The indigenous communities are opposed to the illegal mining of gold, the exploitation of the jungle and the diseases brought in by outsiders. Visiting the area requires careful negotiation with the indigenous communities through the organizations that represent their interests.
A two-hour drive from Quito, the Parque Nacional Cotopaxi takes its name from one of Ecuador’s highest and most perfect peaks. The Cotopaxi volcano reaches an altitude of 19,347 feet and, after Chimborazo, is the second highest mountain in this verdant and humid stretch of the Andes. The guides from the major tour agencies promise a 90-percent chance of successfully reaching the summit, in favorable conditions. The greatest technical challenge is overcoming the steep slopes of the glacier past the 16,400-foot mark. That’s why the José Rivas lodge offers a place for guides and clients to practice ice-walking techniques, but take note: this year, the lodge is undergoing renovations to offer improved services.
The national park also hosts a fun mountain bike race: La Vuelta al Cotopaxi, a ride around the entire symmetrical cone of the volcano. For the past ten years, this event has been held in September and October. While the excursion is moderate in terms of difficulty, it becomes more difficult as the miles and altitude add up.
Solo para expertos:
Escalada en el Paine
Alongside Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, the Paine massif ranks among the most technically difficult climbing challenges in Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia. Those who want to venture beyond the beautiful trekking opportunities offered by the W circuit to experience the Torres from on high should be warned. It takes more than a few days of acclimation or walking across a short stretch of glacier propped up by two watchful guides. The companies that offer Paine climbing excursions require that their clients have previous climbing experience. The trip involves about ten days of vertical adventure, including long portages and longer waits.