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South Face Glaciers

South Face Glaciers

South Face Glaciers

Page Type: Route

Location: Catamarca, Argentina, South America

Lat/Lon: 27.11353°S / 68.49°W

Object Title: South Face Glaciers

Route Type: Mountaineering, Ice Climbing, Mixed, Scrambling

Time Required: Expedition

Rock Difficulty: Class 4

Difficulty: High altitude alpinism on easy snow and ice. Some scrambling.

Route Quality: 
 - 3 Votes


Page By: Nadios

Created/Edited: Mar 2, 2006 / Mar 20, 2006

Object ID: 177628

Hits: 2411 

Page Score: 75.81%  - 6 Votes 

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Most of the peaks of the Puna has no snow, but El Muerto's south face is an interesting exception. The route looks steep from afar, but it's not so steep as it appears. There are some shorter sections of maybe 45 degrees, but most is 5-10 degrees less. The final parts on rocks are an easy scramble, but beware of icy and/or loose rocks.

Even if the technical difficulty is low it's a demanding climb. It's long, sometimes the choice of route is not obvious as you have the choice of going on the glaciers or the rocky parts on the side. You have to be prepared for deep snow. The constant high altitude also takes its toll.
Route on El Muerto
The route on El Muerto.

Getting There

  • Go to either Catamarca or La Rioja and get a bus to Fiambalá, usually via Tinogasta.
  • From Fiambalá you either have to rent a vehicle or hitch hike on the lonely road to a place called Cazadero Grande. If you have rented a vehicle, it can usually take you a bit off road towards the valley which will lead you to the peak.
  • Pass the little refugio on the left hand side of the valley. From here on you have access to water from the little river, which you will walk beside for days.
  • Follow the river on the side you like best. There are tracks of Vicuñas and mulas on both sides.
  • Take a right out of the wide valley, still following the river and continue to where the spring which feeds the river is located. The place is called Agua Calientes - warm waters. Bring a lot of water when leaving this place! There is none for the next 6-9 hours!
  • Walk along the trail towards the huge peaks in the horizon. At about 4950m there are good camp spots and this is where the trail gets steeper.
  • Walk over Portozuelo Negro a 5550m high pass. The trail drops a little to a valley with the first water. Some good camp spots here.
  • To your left you will see Cazadero, in front Ojos del Salado and to you right a peak which I don't know the name of. Head for gap in between Ojos and "No Name" until you see a glaciated peak in the distance - El Muerto.
  • Walk over some small passes and sandy valley. At the foot of El Muerto's large glaciers you will find good camp spots and water. The altitude here is about 5400m.
  • GPS coordinates here.
    NOTE: It's only the last 10 entries in the table which is relevant and they have to be used from the bottom and up when walking in.

    Route Description

    The climb itself starts in a valley with a small creek filled with a lot of boulders. Some trickling water can be found the first couple of hundreds of meters. Fill your water bottle here.

    Depending on the conditions, you're either walking on loose gravel or light snow the first part. Navigate through the maze of boulders until you reach the first snowy fields/glaciers. It's a good idea to put on the crampons early as some solid ice can be hidden underneath the snow.

    The glacier field is easiest walked on the right hand side. If you're uncertain about "penitentes holes", keep on walking on the rocks on the right. After some time it flattens out a bit and you're on a flattish part with deep snow.

    The steepest section is the one leading to the snowfields below the summit ridge. The right hand glacier is up to 45 degrees. For steeper ground, hold to the left, but then you have to watch out for small crevasses in the middle of the glacier. The other negative aspect of climbing on the steeper end (left side) is that you then have to walk through deep snow to reach the summit ridge.

    When you have negoitated the steep section it flattens out a bit. A part with some small crevasses has to be passed to reach the summit ridge. They are not deep, but be careful anyway. A little notch is in front and then you're on the ridge which consists of black rocks and boulders. I found it easier to keep to the left of the ridge. After a couple of hundreds of meters you arrive to a place which you probably thought to be the summit. When there, you realize it's not.

    To your left there's a snow field. Walk over it to four or five rocky islands. The true summit is a bit to the right. A suitcase (!) of aluminum can be found under some rocks. In this you'll find a summit register book.
    There are cairns built on at least two other high points, but I'm pretty sure the "suit case rock pile" is the highest point.

    Essential Gear

    Warm clothing - it's a very windy peak.
    Good boots.
    Lots of water.
    Walking poles.
    An ice axe is optional. I didn't need mine.
    Sun block and good sun glasses.


    El Muerto\'s glaciersRoute on El Muerto