Ojos del Salado, which is located on the Chilean/Argentine border, has one substantial claim to fame. The highest active volcano in the world, it towers over the altiplano at a breath-taking 22,615 ft. (6,893m). It’s also the second highest mountain in the southern hemisphere, falling just short of nearby Aconcagua’s stately 22, 838 ft. (6,961m) above sea level.
Important facts about Ojos del Salado
- As well as taking the title for highest active volcano in the world, it also counts as Chile’s highest mountain – and receives numerous visitors per year looking to summit its formidable peak.
- It is located in the Nevado de Tres Cruces National Park, 180-miles (290 km) from the town of Copiapó, in the Atacama Region of Chile.
- A stratovolcano (characterized by its conical shape composed of layers of lava, pumice and volcanic ash), it is believed by scientists to have last erupted between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago – although ash was ejected from the volcano as recently as 1993.
- The Spanish name “Ojos del Salado” means “Eyes of Salt” and describes the round, salt lagoons that are found on the side of the volcano.
- These lagoons are home to flamingos who fish for algae and krill in the salt waters.
- One of them, Laguna Verde, which sits at 14,400 ft. (4,400m) above sea level, is actually a thermal spring fed by the volcanic activity in the area.
- The crater lake at the top of the Ojos del Salado mountain has an elevation of 20,960 feet (6,390m) making it thought to be the highest lake in the world.
- Ojos del Salado actually has two summits: one in Chile and one in Argentina, although the difference in elevation of the two summits is less than 3 ft. (1m).
- It is featured on the list of the Volcanic Seven Summits – the highest volcanoes on each of the seven continents. It is considered a mountaineering feat to summit all seven.
Facts about climbing Ojos del Salado
- It was first summited in 1937 by two members of a Polish exploration team, Jan Alfred Szczepański and Justyn Wojsznis.
- It isn’t considered to be a challenging technical climb, particularly given that vehicles can access as high as 19,030 ft. (5,800m) to Refugio Tejos if there is no ice. However, the final route up to the summit does require some stretches of climbing with ropes.
- Given the arid, desert conditions from its location on the Puna de Atacama (the high altitude area straddling the border between Argentina and Chile), there is rarely snow on the peak except during the winter months.
- The best hiking times are during the summer months when the likelihood of snow at the top is significantly reduced.
- All year round, strong winds can be experienced as you reach the peak, thus making the final stretch to the summit more challenging.
How to arrange a hike up Ojos del Salado
- To hike up to the summit, you must take a guide and inform the Chilean police department, CONAF (the National Forest Corporation) and the Atacama Sernatur (the Chilean tourism service).
- To summit Ojos del Salado, the route normally starts at Laguna Verde 14,400 ft. (4,400m) above sea level where a police post checks permits before allowing you to continue further. From here, you can drive to either the Refugio Atacama at 17,060 ft. (200m) or even higher up to the Refugio Tejos at 19,030 ft. (5,800m) to start the climb.