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South America, Chile, Northern Andes, Sierra Nevada de Lagunas Bravas

Sierra Nevada de Lagunas Bravas. Three years ago John Biggar’s book High Andes came out, listing three 6000+-meter peaks in South America as having “no known ascent.” “No known ascent is not the same as “no ascent,” and I figured these peaks were probably already climbed. They are technically easy—make that technically trivial: volcanic desert peaks formed of low- angle rubble without snow. Two of the three are on the Chile-Argentina border, which was surveyed long ago. Incas visited summits all over the place. Still, it was a good excuse for a trip. I hired a Chilean driver to check out the access and wrote Santiago for permission.

Paul Morgan, Paul Doherty, Tony Brake, and I spent five days climbing Sierra Nevada de Lagunas Bravas (6155m), one of the last three South American 6000-meter peaks with “no known ascent,” per Biggar. We began from a base at about 4400m and put camps at 5100m and 5550m. Sierra Nevada is a typical Atacama Desert volcanic peak, with very little snow and ice. The footing was high-altitude dirt and scree from base camp to summit, though some route-finding was involved. We summited on December 12, 2000 and found no sign of a previous ascent on the rock-strewn summit. We checked both summit hillocks, which are on the international border—the named summit and one of identical height a few meters to the northwest. (Both hills are shown on the Chilean topo map, where the one is named.) After checking with John Biggar and with locals in Copiapo and Caldera who would be likely to supply transportation for modern climbers, we believe this to be a first ascent.

Robert Ayers