South America, Argentina and Chile, Northern Andes, Argentina, Ten Years of Exploration in the Puna de Atacama

Publication Year: 2005.

Ten years of exploration in the Puna de Atacama. During the last decade, exploratory mountaineering has achieved importance in the Puna de Atacama, a high plateau (altiplano) at about 3,500m in northern Argentina and Chile. This Andean region, one of the least explored corners of the world, is a desert featuring vast salt plains and the world’s highest volcanoes. The Incas invaded it about 500 years ago and left many archeological remains, even atop mountains over 6,000m high.

Before 1994 only pioneers, such as the 1937 Polish team Mathias Rebitsch, Johan Reinhard, Philippe Reuter, and members of the Club Andino Tucumán, visited this isolated region. Since then, exploration has become intense and fructiferous. The 6,500ers have been the main objective, but other notable ascents have also been achieved.

Greg Horne (Canada) published a brief guide in a specialized magazine after climbing some of the highest peaks in summer 1995. Between 1999 and 2005 Henri Barret (France) explored the least known part of the Puna, the northern section of the Argentine province of Catamarca, and made the first ascents of Vallecitos (6,168m), Colorados (6,053m), Condor (6,373m), Cumbre del Laudo (6,152m), the western summit (6,326m) of the volcano Antofalla, and Aguas Dulces (5,642m). In 1999 Alex Von Gotz (Germany) and some partners opened routes on Walter Penck (6,658m) from the south and Bonete (6,759m) from the west. The following year John Biggar (Scotland) led the first ascent of Baboso (6,070m), situated due south of Laguna del Inca Pillo, in La Rioja (Argentina).

Jaime Suarez (Mendoza, Argentina) has organized several expeditions, climbing many of the highest summits. They opened new routes on Bonete (from the southwest, actual normal [meaning it is now the “normal route” on the mountain], 1996), Incahuasi (6,638m, from the north, 1996), Tres Cruces Sur (6,749m, from the southeast, 2001), Walter Penck (from the southeast, actual normal, 2000) and ATA peak (6,497m, from the northwest, 1998). The Grupo Rosarino de Alta Montaña made the outstanding first ascent of the south face of Tres Cruces Sur (from the southwest, 2000) and the first winter ascent of Patos (6,239m, 2001). Fernando Santamaría and other mountaineers from Mendoza made the first winter ascent of Incahuasi in 2003.

Several expeditions organized in the coastal Argentinean town of Mar del Plata between 1998 and 2005 opened new routes on Pissis (6,882m, from the north, actual normal), Tres Cruces Sur (from the south, direct), Vallecito (from the northeast), Antofalla (6,440m, from the north, with partners from Mendoza and Salta) [Antofalla’s elevation differs depending on the map.—Ed.], and Bonete (from the west-southwest). They also achieved the first modern ascents of Aguada (5,810m) and Archibarca (5,629m), near Antofalla, and Inca del Mar (5,135m), near Laguna de los Aparejos. At the top of these three mountains they found Inca ruins. They also made the first ascents of the last remaining virgin local summits above 6,500m: Pissis’s west summit (6,775m), Walter Penck’s south summit (6,575m) and Bonete’swest summit (6,501m).

While gathering information for the first climbing guide to the Andes’ thirteen 6,500ers, between 2000 and 2003 Dario Bracali (Argentina) climbed all the local main summits higher than 6,500m in a simple and fast style. Meanwhile, he explored the area, helping to establish the most direct approaches, and made the first ascent of Lampallo (4,975m), in the Chaschuil Valley.

In a decade of exploration many of the most obvious routes to the highest peaks of the Puna have been climbed. Now it is time for first ascents of subsidiary peaks, harder or less accessible routes, and winter ascents.

Guillermo Almaraz, Mar del Plata, Argentina