Olmedo, or Santiago Olmedo is a high volcano on the Puna. The peak got its name after the first person to reach the summit. Señor Santiago Olmedo is a locally well known horseman who travelled a lot in the mountains in the area. He's now over 80 years old and lives in the little town Fiambalá in the Catamarca province in Argentina.
The peak is quite typical for the area. It's high, non-technical, dry, but also a bit of an eye-catcher. It's red in color and also a prefectly shaped volcano. It's located SE of Cazadero and south of Ojos del Salado and El Muerto which are the mountain's closest neighbors on the high pleateau.
The southern approaches are a little bit less steep, but the prominence is larger. It can easily be climbed from the same base camp as Cazadero, but you then have to negotiate a high pass, penitentes and some rocky terrain. It has two summits whereof the northern are slightly higher and has a little cairn. An Argentinian climber from Cordoba left his driving license under the pile of rocks on the highest point to prove that he had summited the peak. Perhaps you encounter this little piece of climbing history when you arrive at the summit.
From the summit you have good views of the nearby Nacimiento massif with it's triple headed top, the Tres Cruces Massif, Cazadero, Ojos del Salado, del Viento and further to the NE you can see Incahausi and El Fraile. All these peaks towers over 6000 meters and the area is famous for the highest concentration of peaks of this altitude outside Asia.
The altitude is somewhere between 6250m (my map) and 6200m (my GPS said 6207m). The lowest promince is about 300m from a pass that connects Cazadero with Olmedo.
Getting There & some about organizing the climb
To Fiambalá and further to the trailhead
La Rioja and Catamarca are the two major cities in the area and both are the capitals of the provinces with the same names. When in any of those quite large cities; look for local transport towards Tinogasta and further to Fiambalá. Most buses only goes to the former and you may have to change there to get to the latter, which is the perfect base for all the climbing in the area. If you arrive late in Tinogasta and there are no more buses, shared taxis runs until very late and even if you have to rent one for yourself, it's inexpensive at USD$10 for the 50-55km ride.
All necessary basic food items can be found in Fiambalá and one of the persons who knows the area best of all, Mr Reynoso is operating from here. 4x4 vehicles can be rented with a day's notice and will take you for a two hour ride on good asphalt to Refugio Cazadero Grande, a hut along the main road. This is a good place to spend a day, if not acclimatized. The 4x4 can take you another 10-12km on a bumpy path until you hit the Cazadero Grande River Canyon. There is a little primitive refugio close to the river, almost at the entrance of the canyon. Look for this shelter on the left hand (S) side of the river.
Most expeditions have arranged with mulas to take over from here and extremely few have done this trek towards the peak unsupported. For the first day there are plenty of water to Aguas Calientes, the source of the river, which is a spring with lots of warm, almost hot water coming straight out of the ground. Good camp spots all along the way and plenty of curious vicunas (llamas). It's a 5-10 hour walk from Cazadero Grande to Aguas Calientes.
From here on you have to choices. The mulateros will probably try to convince you it's better and shorter to go to Agua Vicuñas (which it's not).
From the trailhead directly towards Olmedo
Leave Aguas Calientes straight towards the mountains in a wide valley. After some minutes you'll see Nacimiento on your left. Continue into a little canyon and keep on walking on the sandy path. When you arrive at a little "path-fork", you'll see a grey rock formation on the right hand trail. It's about a hundred meters up valley. On your left you see another canyon, with a path much less used. Go left.
Continue in this dry valley upwards. After many hours walk, the path gets steeper. Walk over a flat pass. On the other side a wide valley welcomes you. At the end of it, on the left hand side you'll see Volcan Santiago Olmedo - the huge red cone of a peak. Looming behind it is Cazadero. The wide valley is at about 5300m and probably the first source of water since you left Aguas Calientes.
You now have the choice of where to set camp. In the wide valley and have a longer, but flatter ascent, or head up and over the next pass for a camp at the NE side of the peak. The latter give you a shorter, but steeper ascent.
It's a steep walk up the hill to the pass there and keep right at the glacier. Further to the left it may looks easier, but there are hidden hills behind the ridge. After you've walked around, or over the penitentes field, head down to a large bowl-like place. There are plenty of melt-off from small glacier and penitentes fields here and it serves fine for a base camp. The last pass is high, almost 5700m and the camp is at 5600, so be very sure to be acclimatized! No fun walking back down those hills.
From the trailhead via Arenal to Olmedo
If you plan to climb for example Ojos del Salado or any of the other peaks north of Olmedo, it may be a good idea to follow the more travelled path up to Arenal, Ojos’s normal base camp area.
Leave Aguas Calientes straight towards the mountains in a wide valley. After some minutes you'll see Nacimiento on your left. Continue into a little canyon and keep on walking on the sandy path. When you arrive at a little "path-fork", you'll see a grey rock formation on the right hand trail. It's about a hundred meters up valley. On your left you see another canyon, with a path much less used. Go right.
The walk to Agua Vicuñas is a dry and windy walk over wide plains and in sandy valleys. Nacimiento and Incahuasi dominates the views. Agua Vicuña, despite the name, is usually a camping place without water, but the camping options are great. The going gets steeper and tougher on looser scree and the rough path finally takes you to a pass called Portezuelo Negro at 5500m. There are plenty of water on the north side of the pass and a beautiful little lagoon can be seen to the right.
Hold to your left on the most of the time visible path. You now have clear views of Ojos del Salado and soon Cazadero. When you see the latter aim for it and walk on until you also see Olmedo and find a suitable base camp.
For your own safety, you may want to register with the police in Fiambalá. The Puna is a very desolate area and can be a good idea to let someone know you're up there if something happens.
There is no choice but camping in the area, allthough there are some alternatives just in the beginning of the walk-in. There's a refugio at Cazadero Grande, from where you start the approach. It's located at the main road (Fiambalá - Paso de San Francisco). There's another primitive hut half a day's walk along the trail, but at that point you're still days away from the base camp of Olmedo.
Camp spots are very easy to find in the open terrain, but water can be scarce. Pay a lot of attention to how you anchor your tent. Fierce and sudden gusts of wind are common and the force of both katabatic and Viento Blancos (white wind) can be extremely strong.
Weather conditions and when to climbThe normal months to climb in this area is from December to March. This is the warmest period. On the other hand, rain and thunderstorms are common and it's also the driest time of the year. Some prefer to go later as it's easier to find water then.
The Puna is one of the driest areas of planet earth, so too much snow is rarely a problem. When I climbed Cazadero in February, 2006 there was a lot of snow on the higher parts of the peak. The hard weather the prior week had also succeded to dump a lot of verglass on the rocks on higher elevation. Beware of dry-looking but ice-covered rocks high on the peak. Not common, but there may be snow to take into account even in the Puna.
Organizing the climb and Fiambalá
As for all the other peaks in the Puna, Jonson Reynoso is the person to contact. He's located in Fiambalá and knows the region as the back of his hand. The services he can offer include transport, mulas, info and he has some gear for rent.
If arriving in Fiambalá without any prior contact with him, you'll find him on one of the corners of the main square in a building marked Seguridad Turistica - tourist police. This is also the place where you register before haeding for the mountains.
Fiambalá has a few good restaurants. Ohlala is one of them. It's located on the main square and is run by a french girl. Excellent food. Another option is the flashier and more expensive Pizzeria Roma a block away from the square. There are bakeries, some small supermarkets and food shops. Two farmacies, two internet joints and some highly recommended hot springs makes the place a perfect base for the climbing adventure on the Puna.
The town is also famous for good vines and archeology.
The place to stay for a mountaineer is of course Hostel Campo Base. Located a two minute walk from the main square and ran by Jonson's daughter Ruth, who also is an alpinist with good knowledge about the area. The location is quiet and one can use the kitchen. A great base.
Books and maps
GPS CoordinatesAll the below coordinates are GPS-coordinates. If you for some reason want to convert them to any other system; check here.
|Agua Vicuñas||27*11’788||68*25’791||4965||No water|
|Portezuelo Negro||27*09’910||68*27’550||5553||Pass, water nearby|
No coordinates from Arenal to the foot of Olmedo, but a good place for a base camp is at roughly -27.177354 S -68.521945. That’s at about 5600m, as low as you get after arriving on the Arenal plateau.
External linksInteresting info about volcanoes.
Olmedo is a high peak. Beware of the altitude.
A link to a good source of info about how to avoid getting sick. See more below in the next section.
Altitude warningThe area around Olmedo in particular and the whole area after leaving civilization in general, is at a high elevation. Even going to Cazadero Grande straight from the lowlands is a risk.
Some acclimatization before taking off for the walk-in is a must as you quickly gain altitude.
When you've reached the foot of Olmedo you're already at roughly 5500m and there's a very long way back to the lowlands. Be very sure you're feeling 100% before attempting the peak.