The enormous massif of Tres Cruces is particularly impressive especially from the west, i.e. if one comes via the Portezuelo Maricunga.
The massif lies approximately 150 km east of Copiapó (Region III of Chile and approx. 700 km north of Santiago). Cerro Tres Cruces Sur is the highest elevation of that mountain range running from north to south and is at the same time the second highest mountain of Chile.
The second Polish Andes-expedition, which visited this area at the beginning of 1937, was extremely successful: While two participants first-ascended the highest summit of the Atacama desert, the 6893 m high Nevado Ojos del Salado, Stefan Osiecki and Witold Paryski succeeded in the same time, reaching the approx. 25 kilometers remote summit of Cerro Tres Cruzes Sur for the first time.
Because of its exposingness at the western edge of the Puna de Atacama, he receives the residual moisture of the west hoist coming from the Pacific Ocean and has therefore more snow and ice than the other summits in this area. One sees the snow showers above all in the afternoon moving like a curtain toward the enormous massif. Snowfields and some small glaciers at all 3 summits are the result of the precipitation, caused by this damp west hoist.
Only a pass with a height of approx. 6000m separates the two highest summits, Cerro Tres Cruces Sur, 6748 m and Cerro Tres Cruces Central, 6629 m. This makes it practically possible to climb both summits successively.
The high position of the high camp (5900 m), the isolation and the bad accessibility resulting from it, low temperatures (to -20°C is no rarity), as well as violent hoist (main from the west) are the largest difficulties of a climb.
Cerro Tres Cruces Sur is attainable from the two largest, international airports of the region: Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires.
From the Chilean side:
Either one flies to Santiago, in order to acclimatise oneself here somewhat, or one continues to fly right to Copiapó, an oasis in the midst of the arid coastal strip of Chile.
Also several buses drive several times daily from Santiago to Copiapó. It is recommended to take one of the night buses.
One leaves Copiapó (the Pullman bus terminal / supermarket Lider = kilometre 0) on the two-lane Avenida Ramon Freire and/or Kennedy southeastwards. After 7 kilometres one turns left off at the crossing with the reference "D. de Almagro" (S27 25,135 W70 16,452, 449 m). One drives by the desolate industrial area of Paipote, mostly repair shops and suppliers for the close mine companies. To the right enormous stockpiles of the nearby mines are.
After further 16 kilometres one turns off at the next crossing (S27 19,002 W70 09,789, 657 m) with the reference "Camino International" right.
On the Carretera International 31 one drives toward Paso de San Francisco. After further 48 kilometres one comes to the branching (S27 06,540 W69 43,464, 1584 m) to the Laguna Santa Rosa, i.e. one has now 2 options:
Option 1, via the Carretera International 31:
At the branching one drives straight ahead and arrives after 162 km starting from Copiapó at the border station Complejo Fronterizo San Francisco (S26 50,433 W69 02,738, 3802 m). Who would not like to leave the country from Chile, but will be only in the border area, must the passport with the Permit from DIFROL (only necessary for climbing border mountains, www.difrol.cl) under indication of the return date deliver here. On the Carretera International 31 one drives on and meets after 9 km at S26 55,858 W69 01,192 (3794 m) the intersection from southeast (from the Mina Marte and/or from the Laguna Santa Rosa).
Option 2, via the Laguna Santa Rosa:
At that crossing one turns right. If one should arrive without previous acclimatisation, the possibility for camping and acclimatising arises at Vallecito (S27 03,616 W69 20,842, 3010 m, 108 km starting from Copiapó), a beautiful green spot.
On the Ruta Patrimonial de Cordillera a Mar El Derrotero de Atacama one reaches after 133 km starting from Copiapó the Portezuelo Maricunga (S27 04,643 W69 13,641, 4121 m) with wonderful view of the Laguna Santa Rosa as well as the 3 summits of the Macizo Tres Cruces: Norte, Central and Sur. After further 7 km one reaches the Refugio Laguna Santa Rosa (S27 04,831 W69 10,540, 3786 m). Here the possibility for further acclimatisation exists.
From the Refugio Laguna Santa Rosa one continues to drive to the east and bends after 6 km at S27 06,250 W69 08,811 (3765 m) left, drives in northeast direction further 22 km and meets here the Carretera International 31 (S26 55,858 W69 01,192, 3794 m).
Option 1 and 2 together:
On the Carretera International 31 one drives first in southern direction. At the Cascada Río Lamas the road finally bends to the north.
From the Argentine side:
From Santiago there are several times daily bus connections to Mendoza, (approx. 7 hours), which can be fully booked in the high season in December or January days in advance, however.
That approx. 150 kilometres distant San Juan can be attained likewise very well with buses. At the latest here one should supply oneself with food supply. Numerous supermarkets have a rich offer; actually one will miss nothing. Also one should carry sufficient quantities of water.
The access to the Cerro Tres Cruces Sur does not become so simple. Either one confide oneself in an agency, which represents the more comfortable and safe variant with security. As alternative one can rent a car (4x4) in Mendoza or San Juan and drive on own risk into the region around the Laguna Verde. The advantage is that one is independent and not under time pressure.
One continues to leave San Juan on the 40 in northern direction over San José de Jáchal to Nonogasta, then over Tinogasta to Fiambalá. From here one drives further to the Paso de San Francisco. Finally one continues to the Laguna Verde.
One flies via Buenos Aires to La Rioja. There one takes a bus to Tinogasta or Fiambalá, where one turns to an agency or rents a car.
On good road one arrives at the Paso de San Francisco and continues to the Laguna Verde, starting point for many routes in this region.
Variant 1 and 2 together:
On relative good road one continues to drive to the west.
Now approach from Chile and Argentina together:
One drives up to kilometre 211.45 (see on the right of the round posts, which indicate the kilometres, S27 02,518 W68 53.413; 4398 m), where one leaves the road to the south. Already soon one meets a relatively well passable road, which one follows to S27 04,159 W68 53,668 (4424 m). From here one follows the numerous tracks, which go southeast toward Tres Cruces, (S27 05,004 W68 53,059, 4503 m / S27 05,689 W68 51,138, 4778 m / S27 05,526 W68 50,682, 4875 m). At S27 05,481 W68 50,642 (4885 m) one meets camp I.
On ever more badly becoming tracks further. The area is rough, often it is stony at the surface, but beneath very sandy. Via S27 05,852 W68 50,031 (5056 m), S27 05,959 W68 49,782 (5104 m) and S27 05,889 W68 49,593 (5148 m) one arrives at camp II (S27 05,780 W68 49,339, 5221 m).
Starting at camp II, one traverses at the foothills of Cerro Tres Cruces Sur toward northeast. One meets again and again a path, which facilitates the ascending in the loose scree for something.
After one crossed a snowfield (S27 05,286 W68 48,477, 5578 m), one traverses further toward northeast, but gains more and more height, till one finally is below the pass and ascends now directly to the pass.
One establishes the camp (S27 04,986 W68 47,642, 5896 m) beside the highest situated lake in direct height of a snowfield, where one has usually good drinking water. The water of the lakes is salty and brackish.
Red TapeAs of 1 of December 2004, the regional authority licensed the company Aventurismo y Expediciones that is authorized to receive a rate of admission from the national and foreign climbers that wishes to accede to the sector around Laguna Verde. Concerned is the access to the Volcán Ojos del Salado, Cerro el Muerto, Cerro Tres Cruces, Nevado de Incahuasi, Refugios Atacama and Tejos and the termas de Laguna Verde. Consultations can take place in www.aventurismo.cl
In January 2006 the Permit of Aventurismo cost 160 USD for Non-Chilean and was then 12 days long valid. This Permit could be paid only in Copiapó, not at the Refugios. One controlled the Permit only directly at the Refugio Laguna Verde and at the Ojos del Salado Base Camp, the Refugio Atacama. A longer stay than 12 days under normal conditions was not a problem, one only must let know the attendant in time; those are not so precise normally.
The Refugio Laguna Verde lies somewhat apart from the main street, so that traffic on the Carretera International 31 is not observable.
In order to become still clearer: who wants to save the 160 USD, only must avoid the Refugio Laguna Verde and the Refugio Atacama. Who would like to climb however the Nevado Ojos del Salado, is bound to pay the Permit.
CampingCamping is possible at each place.
External LinksTour operator:
Atacama Chile, Copiapó, Chile,
Aventurismo, Copiapó, Chile,
Gran Atacama, Copiapó, Chile,
Atacama Expeditions, Copiapó, Chile,
Difficulties:The high position of the high camp (5900 m), the isolation and the bad accessibility resulting from it, low temperatures (to -20°C is no rarity), as well as violent hoist (main from the west) are the largest difficulties of a climb.
Above all the bad accessibility by the isolation is the principal reasons for the fact that this mountain is climbed so rarely. The long approach from Copiapó (Chile) and/or Tinogasta (Argentina) on partly bad road as well as the difficult ride from the Carretera International 31 to the Base Camp accept only very few climbers.
With public means of transport this area is not at all accessible, not to think of hitchhiking least of all. There are agencies, which bring one to the Base Camp; however, they are expensive. To take a risk in order to rent a jeep (four-wheel drive is indispensable in this area), also only few climbers do. Additionally the required time to acclimatize increases the costs dramatically. Average at least 80 USD per day for a jeep are to be taken into account.
Due to the isolation a convoy of at least 2 cars is recommended preferably. If one should have a breakdown thus with a car, either with the second vehicle the broken down car can be towed, or one can get at least assistance. However to the Carretera International 31 there is 12 kilometers beeline. But here not more than 10 cars per hour pass to the peak hour.
Furthermore additional equipment like a sufficient gasoline or Diesel supply, a second spare wheel, shovel and sufficient drinking water are basic requirement for an expedition into the isolation of the Puna de Atacama. Possibly a satellite telephone can be very helpful in an emergency.
The infrastructure lacking is surely a further reason for the small interest in a climb. The approach goes to the largest part over pathless area without signs. The higher one comes the more sandy the area becomes and thus more difficult to drive. Only drivers with sufficient off-road experience should make themselves on their own account on the way to the Base Camp.
If one speaks of Base Camp, it is recognizable as such only if climbers pitched their tents there. No hut is available, which could deter also some mountain climbers from climbing it.
Only the close snowfield can expect running water. It is better, if one brings along its own drinking water.
The snowfield above the camp gets only in the morning sun. Because of the height and partly extreme cold weather this snowfield froze until late on the day hard. Therefore crampons are recommended. These can be deposited after the second snowfield (S27 05,709 W68 47,092, 6441 m).
After one ascended the snowfields just above the high camp, an enormous labyrinth must be overcome consisting of rock towers, fissure systems and snowfields over enormous, partly shaky ashlars and rocks weighing tons, which give despite their immense weight gladly and incline to the side. Here absolute secure walking is inevitable. The Trekking sticks are here only obstructive. A rope is here however not necessary and brings also no additional security.
The passage through the rock barrier, also gate mentioned, is from down hardly as such recognizable, i.e. the way identification is not simple also with good visibility conditions. This gate is to be overcome in more easily rock climbing. The largest danger threatens however from falling rocks. This is to be considered above all if several climbers follow directly successively or if climbers already return from the summit again - this is to be feared however due to the few climbs only at a larger group.
When descending from the summit labyrinth consisting of enormous rock towers it is important to retrieve the exact position for the descent through the gate since otherwise the crash over the rock barrier can threaten. GPS device ease particularly with bad weather conditions the finding of this position.