How to climb a South American volcano
Ojos del Salado, Chile/Argentina border – 6,893m
This is the monster: the highest volcano on Earth, rising out of the grey moonscape of the Atacama Desert. Volcanic activity on Ojos del Salado has been as recent as 1994 – and sulphuric acid fumes still sometimes waft around its peaks. The mountain can be climbed from either country. From Copiapó on the Chilean side, it is possible, in theory – conditions permitting, and if the vehicle you contract can handle it – to travel by 4x4 as high as 5,800m. In 2007, a Chilean expedition on the mountain reached the highest altitude ever attained by motorised vehicle: 6,688m. From the Argentine side, 4x4 access and guided treks can be arranged with locals in the village of Fiambalá or pre-booked with a commercial mountain guiding company such as Aymará Expeditions in Mendoza. Though the route up is mostly a walk – and to avoid altitude sickness, most trekkers do make a slow, walking ascent, rather than using a vehicle to cover distance on the mountain itself – a hands-and-feet scramble near the summit might stymie you unless you have a head for heights. Towering penitentes can also sometimes block the route. Above all, be prepared for wind, sun and nights of bone-chilling cold. This is raw, awesome nature – perhaps the most extreme high-altitude experience attainable for non-mountaineering mortals.