Cerro el Plomo, at 5434 meters, is the tallest visible peak from Santiago, Chile as well as the tallest, most accessible mountain in the region. It is typically done in 3 days and is an ideal pre-acclimatization route for those climbing Aconcagua or Ojos del Salado, as well as other taller peaks in the Santiago region like San Jose Volcano, Tupungato, or Marmolejo. It is low-technical, with only a short glacier crossing, which makes it a popular introductory route for mountaineers beginning to climb in slightly higher altitudes.
It is known as a sacred mountain in the Andes, given that a 9-year-old mummified Incan boy was found in 1954 amongst other artifacts that indicate the mountain's historical ceremonial significance. There is a pile of rocks known in Spanish as the "Pirca del Inca" or "Pirque del Indio" (The Incan Rockbed) at 5200m, right before the glacier crossing. The first ascent of Cerro El Plomo was in 1898, but the Incans roamed the land for hundreds to thousands of years before.
Considering you are already in Santiago, you head out on Avenida Las Condes and follow the signs towards Farellones and the main ski centers. Once you entering the "Camino a Farellones", you have around 30 kilometers climbing up 40 curves! Once you arrive at Farellones, you continue past the La Parva and El Colorado Ski Resorts until you get to the last one, Valle Nevado.
During summer, if you are in a 4x4 you typically can continue on the vehicle path up to "Tres Puntas", which is the highest ski lift. If there's been rain or bad weather, they won't let vehicles up, so it is important to call beforehand and verify. The local phone number is (56-2) 2477 77 01.
From the parking area at "Tres Puntas, you start on the worn path, which is right below the parking area.
Note: If the vehicle route is not enabled and you have to walk from Valle Nevado, you will need to add an extra day to your expedition, as you will stop and sleep around "Piedra Numerada" the first night, instead of arriving at the "Federacion" Base Camp.
Note #2: You can also start from the La Parva Ski Resort, and take the ski lift, or drive if permitted, up to its highest point. From the last ski lift you had down and then follow the windy path (up, down, around a few times) until arriving at "Piedra Numerada". From there, follow the indications below.
Starting from "Tres Puntas" (elevation 3600m/11800ft) you'll see a path below the parking area that heads downwards to a small creek crossing. It is possible to walk on the rocks without getting your shoes wet. Here you will continue along a wide, marked path that climbs a bit before heading down three long slopes into the valley you'll walk in the rest of the day. About an hour in, you'll get to the base of the valley and see a large rock on your right side, which marks the area known as "Piedra Numerada".
You'll spend the rest of the day walking through this geographically beautiful valley, which isn't hard but does have its share of hills that curve up, down, and around the mountain slopes.
The whole day offers an impressive view of the Iver Glacier and El Plomo mountain, which builds excitement.
This is a common first rest spot, to eat something and fill up water bottles in the stream that runs in this area. If you are not able to drive up to "Tres Puntas" and need to walk from the Valley Nevado Ski Resort, this would be a good camping spot for day 1.
From here the route continues pretty plat along the rocky basin of the valley and eventually crosses a river. This is often another good spot to take a rest and eat something because the climb shortly gets a more pronounced. Eventually you start climbing higher and see a couple of waterfalls in the distance, two on the right and a bigger one just below on the left.
The waterfalls mark about half-way to base camp, so there's still a couple of hours left to "Federación" Base Camp. The path continues over a very rocky basin, where you'll slow down the rhythm a bit due to footing. Passing this part, you climb up and around the hills and finally arrive at camp.
During summer, due to the popularity of the mountain, base camp tends to be pretty full, although the climb up never feels to have too much traffic. There is water in Base Camp, which can be taken from the glacier stream on the top/left part of camp. "Federación" Base Camp is a large flat bowl, surrounded by the El Plomo Mountain to the right and Leonera Mountain / Cancha de Carreras to the left. It pretty reliably closes the day with a gorgeous sunset.
Summit day usually starts around 4/4:30am on a very cold, below 0*C morning. The first push from camp is a constantly steep, rocky / highly sedimentary climb up. It's key to go slow and steady to get your body warmed up. About 30 - 45 minutes in, you'll pass above another camp option, La Hoya (sometimes written as La Olla), although it will still be pitch black and you'll only see the lights of the climbers further ahead. This is a less used camp, due to it being more prone to inducing altitude symptoms and not reducing the summit day climb by hardly anything.
La Hoya is a glacier fed lagoon at the bottom of the Iver Glacier. On the way back, it's a beautiful sight to behold. While crossing this flatter section, you get a slight break after the tiring climb up. From here, you climb another straight jaunt up, but less sedimentary than the last section. Eventually, you'll get to a little shelter with room for maybe 3 sleeping bags, but that typically fits 10 or more cold climbers trying to replenish calories, water and warmth.
After warming and taking a short break, the next section is a constant, highly sedementary incline, where frequently you'll slide down a bit with every step up. The wind tends to blow more heavily in this section, which continues for a few hours without rest. Pay attention to the route, as it slightly curves to the right, which helps you arrive to the next checkpoint from the back, and avoids a relentless direct climb up the sliding sedimentary rocks.
Finally arriving at the top, you come from the back and arrive at a little stack of rocks, where an almost perfectly preserved Incan boy was found in 1954. It is said that the Incans sought out the highest peaks for their ceremonies, in order to be as close to the heavens as possible, and Cerro El Plomo is the highest in this area.
This stack of rocks is perfect for sitting behind and getting a break from the cold and wind. This is right before the crossing of the Iver Glacier, so it's ideal to take a break, eat, hydrate and put on your crampons. The crossing is very short, around 60 meters, but the snow tends to be very hard. Some people choose to climb straight up the glacier towards the summit, instead of crossing and then continuing on the rock terrain.
Having crossed the glacier, you have about 200m / 700ft to the summit, which will take around 1.5 hours. This is again the highly sedimentary rock path typical of the Andes in this region. There's two tiring climbs and crossings before finally arriving to a large, flat section. Here, the summit is just behind, and you've got about 10 more minutes to slow the heartbeat and arrive to the flag that'll surely be flapping in the wind.
It typically takes from 6-9 hours to arrive at the summit, depending on physical capabilities. The summit of Cerro El Plomo offers a gorgeous view of important mountains in the area, including Aconcagua, Marmolejo, Tupungato and San Jose Volcano.
Once leaving the summit, if you're confident with your crampons and ice ax, you can head directly down the Iver Glacier, straight to the Pirca del Inca. If not, head down just as you came. In total, the route back to base camp goes pretty quick and is done in 2-4 hours depending on one's confidence in gliding down the steep, rocky route.
Heading back towards "Tres Puntas" you take the same route as the way in, although you can take some more direct routes instead of the zig zags for the way up. You'll arrive very quickly and without too much fatigue to the waterfalls and then back to Piedra Numerada. However, here it's good to replenish some food and hydration, because the climb up the long, relentless hills out of the valley definitely weigh on a tired body. Additionally, during summer, the temperatures will be very high by the time you're finishing this last stretch.
December – March provides the best conditions. More experienced climbers can extend that window a bit, to November-May, depending on the rain/snowfall that season.
While it’s possible for very experienced climbers to do a winter summit, it would need to be done randonee skiis and prepared for temperatures of -40C with extremely high winds.
Piedra Numerada - This is only used if you're doing the route in 4 days, due to not being able to get to "Tres Puntas" in vehicle and having to start climbing from Valle Nevado Ski Resort. There is water here.
Base Camp "Federacion" - The most common base camp, pre and post summit. Large flat area with water at the base of the El Plomo mountain.
Base Camp "La Hoya / La Olla" - optional Base Camp, for those who don't want to camp at "Federacion". Less used because it's more prone to inducing altitude symptoms as well as only very minimally reducing summit day time. On the way in with full backpacks, it would take 1-2 hours past Federacion, but on summit morning with attack backpacks, it takes 30-45 minutes.