OverviewVolcán del Viento is a somewhat nondescript massif in the high Puna de Atacama summit plain that includes 6,000 meter monsters Ojos del Salado, Nacimiento, Walter Penck, Cerro Medusa, and El Muerto. Volcán del Viento is approximately four kilometers to the southeast of El Arenal, the base camp for many of the aforementioned peaks, and can be easily ascended in a day. Whether Volcán del Viento itself is a "6,000 meter monster," however, is an entirely different question.
While the map of record for this region, produced by Alpenvereins, lists Volcán del Viento at 5,922 m, John Biggar, author of the excellent guidebook, The Andes, lists its altitude at 6,028 m (from a GPS reading). Considering the epidemic absence of authoritative altitude readings for this region, who knows what VdV's true altitude is!
Name ConfusionThere is much confusion regarding the name and location of Volcán del Viento and Cerro Medusa. Which is which?
The short answer: Volcán del Viento is south of El Arenal, Cerro Medusa is to the north.
The long explanation: The confusion can be sourced to the otherwise top-rate Alpenvereins map of the area. It incorrectly IDs Cerro Medusa as "Volcán del Viento" and does not label Cerro Medusa. We know this is incorrect for two reasons:
1. Witold Paryski, who, along with three other climbing companions, put up the first ascent on Volcán del Viento, clearly places the mountain south of the El Arenal basin and south of the Argentina-Chile border on his 1956 Polish Mountaineering Club map of the region (scanned image imbedded). Since he was the first guy to climb the volcano, he should well know where it is!
2. While it's unclear what the provenance of Cerro Medusa's name is, Jill Neate's authoritative Mountaineering in the Andes describes Cerro Medusa as being "S.of Nev.del Muerto, above Laguna Medusa" (Neate's note is on pg. 10 of the .pdf [see previous hyperlink] and on pg. 155 of the book). This pretty much settles things, positively IDing Cerro Medusa as being above/north of the little lake adjacent to El Arenal and leaving Volcán del Viento below/to the South of the lake and El Arenal.
This second map Google Earth map is a nice 3D representation that correctly labels both Volcán del Viento and Cerro Medusa as well as the other nearby peaks (map created by Janne Corax).
This matter could not have been settled without the help of John Biggar, Eberhard Jurgalski, and Janne Corax -- please see the credits section.
(This section is cross-posted to the Cerro Medusa SummitPost page.)
Getting ThereVolcán del Viento is best climbed from El Arenal, the basecamp used for Ojos del Salado and Cerro Medusa. Below I paraphrase the "Getting There" section from the Cerro Medusa article -- it all applies to VdV:
La Rioja and Catamarca are the two major cities in the region and both are the capitals of provinces with the same name. When in either city look for local transport to Tinogasta or Fiambalá. Most buses only go to the former and you may have to transfer buses to get to the latter, which is the perfect base for VdV. 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 50-55 km ride.
All the most basic food items (pasta, Parmesan, etc.) are to be found in Fiambalá, although the minimercados obviously do not cater to the limited climbing clientele that comes through town, so for higher quality food options (granola, oatmeal, dried fruit) buying food in Mendoza, Catamarca, La Rioja, or another larger town/city is an excellent idea. For every other logistical concern, though, go through Mr. Jonson Reynoso, who operates out of Fiambalá and knows the Puna better than just about anyone else. A 4x4 vehicle and driver can be hired 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 (alternatively, you can hitchhike - the pickup rate is astronomical, although there may only be 10-20 cars going through the road/pass on any given day). This refugio is a good place to spend a day or two, if you're not acclimatized. The 4x4 can take you another 10-12 km on a bumpy path until you hit the Cazadero Grande River Canyon, or you can walk it.
Most expeditions make arrangements with muleteers (arrieros) to take over from here and extremely few have done the trek towards the peak unsupported. For the first day there is plenty of water to Agua Calientes, the source of the river, which is a spring with lots of warmish water oozing out of the ground. There are good camp spots all along the way and plenty of curious llamas and vicuñas. The next day's trek to Agua de las Vicuñas is a dry and windy walk over wide plains, where Nacimiento and Incahuasi dominate the horizon. You want to carry plenty of water with you on this stretch as there is *no* running water after Agua Caliente and the first penitente fields (read: snow, thus water) usually appear around Agua de las Vicuñas -- a distance of about 23 km. If you hurt yourself badly, you want to have enough water to do whatever you might need to do, otherwise you're in quite a bind. Also, it can be easy to become disoriented in this stretch as there are many small winding valleys throughout the plain that are just deep enough to obscure your view of the surrounding terrain.
After Agua de las Vicuñas the going gets steeper and tougher on loose scree and the rough path finally takes you to a pass called Portezuelo Negro at 5500 m. In this area there is much more water. Penitente fields, small glaciers, and sometimes even running water in a small creek are easy to find. From here it's hard to make a mistake where to go as Ojos del Salado, VdV, and the other high peaks in the range are visible almost all the time. Many expeditions use a small camp called El Arenal (approximately: "The Sands") as a base camp.
From El Arenal, VdV will be the peak to the south of camp, part of the massif the begins just meters from your campsite. You just walk right up!
The normal starting point is the city Copiapó. Many tour operators are located here and the journey from Copiapó to Laguna Verde takes five to six hours on mostly good roads. If not acclimatized it´s a good idea to make an acclimatization stop at Laguna Santa Rosa at 3,600 m before continuing to Laguna Verde, which is at 4,400 m. There is a police post here and they want to see your climbing permit before you´re allowed to go further. A rough road will take you to the first refugio, Atacama. From there you need to walk around the Ojos massif to the El Arenal basin and VdV is readily accessible.
Photos showing the route, step-by-step.
VdV is entirely in Argentina and while the approach is probably easier from Chile, chances are if you're considering as ascent on a peak like VdV you probably are coming from Argentina. Usually folks who ascend VdV are touring through all the high peaks of this region and to conduct such a tour, it's easier to start and end in Argentina.
The red tape situation for Argentina is quite simple: There is none!
Well, sort of.
The gendarmerie at Fiambalá appreciates you checking in with them for liability reasons, but this is not absolutely necessary (as far as I can tell) and quite frankly it took so long for my paperwork (passport, visa, etc.) to be reviewed that I question whether it's worth it. The locals, however, strongly encourage this. Outside of the gendarmerie, you have nothing else to worry about, though.
If you decide to tackle VdV from the comparative jungle of red tape that is Chile, the story, obviously, is different. See Corax's entry from Ojos del Salado, all of which would apply for a Chilean approach to VdV.
External LinksMany of the links relating to Ojos del Salado relate to VdV, too:
The person who probably knows the area best.
Ojos del Salado Expeditions Service,Transport Service, High Mountain Guide Service, accomodations, Information, photos and Andes Explora Staff.
Route information, access and photos (Chilean side).
A good selection of digital and paper maps from the Military Geographical Institute.
Example, showing a digital map of the Ojos del Salado area
John Biggar's list is probably the most correct around. Also lists of lower peaks on his informative website.
A scientific site about the area.
The climb up Ojos was aborted, although I got to its base and went up a nearby peak (Cerro Medusa). Hopefully this offers a good account and description of the area and the logistics for a trip. Feel free to contact me with any questions!