The name of the peak doesn't make you feel welcome. El Muerto - The dead one. If you look beyond the name it's a beautiful peak well worth to climb. It's the 16'th highest peak on the South American continent and is right on the border between Argentina and Chile. It doesn't recieve many attemps and the main reasons are: The closest neighbor is Ojos del Salado
, South America's second highest peak and world's highest volcano. El Muerto is very hard to reach from the Argentinian side. It was first climbed in 1950.
The glaciers on the Argentinian/south side offers some good snow and ice climbing and a nice change from scree peaks of the Puna. It's never really steep, even if you have the choice of going up to 60 degrees, but it's long, tough and demanding. The views from the summit are fantastic!
A landscape of blue lagoons, volcanoes and the vasteness of the plateau is stunning.
Getting ThereFrom Argentina
Go to either Catamarca or La Rioja and get a bus to Fiambalï¿½, usually via Tinogasta.
From Fiambalï¿½ 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 Vicuï¿½as 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 on 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.
I don't know anything about this and am grateful for any help on this. My guess is you follow the trails to Ojos del Salado and then head for El Muerto instead.
A temporary photo!
Shot by Gremo.
Walking up the glaciers of El Muerto. In the backround, from left to right: Volcan del Viento(6028m), Nacimiento (6436m), Volcan Santiago Olmedo (6250m) and Cazadero/Walter Penck (6658m).
Red TapeArgentina - None
Chile - A border permit is required. DIFROL is the authority.
CampingCamping is allowed everywhere in the area and is the only way to spend the nights. The closest huts are those located on the Chilean side of Ojos del Salado, but they are too far off to be of any use for climb of El Muerto.
Snowy El Muerto
On the Puna the weather changes can very quick and really high winds are common. Pay close attention to the gathering of clouds around the higher peaks, it can be a sign of bad weather coming in. Blizzards are common and even if they usually only last for a short time they can be fierce.
Fiambalï¿½ - the baseThe sleepy little town is perfect as a base for the climb. Three cheap hotels to choose from. A compact little centre with some supermarkets where you can find all the basic provisions. One internet cafï¿½, an ice cream parlor and some nice thermals close by makes the picture complete.
WaterIt's a very dry area and on the walk in it's very hard to find water. When you're above 5000 meters there are usually penitentes fields, snow and small glaciers to melt water from. In the daytime there are small melt off streams. When walking up to or down from the high elevations be sure to bring a lot of water!
When to climb and mountain conditions
Chest on the summit
The usual months to climb in the area is in the South American summer. December, Januari and Februari. This is when it's the warmest. Even then you have to be prepared for night temperatures down to minus 20 C and on the summit it can be very cold on a chilly day. The winds makes frost bite and issue.
El Muerto is not like most of the other peaks in the area, at least if you choose to climb the south face. Be prepared with crampons, an axe and boots that really can take snow and ice. Gaiters is a must. Walking poles are really of help.
Organizing the climbIf you need a ride to the starting point at Cazadero Grande, you can either go by taxi, which will drop you on the road side, or rent a vehicle, preferable a 4x4 which can take you about 10km off road. The latter is preferable. Almost the same price and you don't have to deal with a very boring walk over a huge sand field.
Jonson Reynoso is the real expert of the area. He can arrange transport, mulas, rent you some gear and has tons of information about the area.
He's located in a little shop on a corner at the main square of Fiambalï¿½. Posters about "Direct TV" and other film related stuff is what to look for.
Altitude warning!The elevation around El Muerto is very high. You have to be very well acclimatized before even going to the the foot of the peak. Our base camp was at 5300 meters and there were some passes over 5600 meters on the way. The place where the 4x4 or taxi drops you at is located at 3600 meters and that's high enough to get sick.
Many climbers try to spend about a week around Las Grutas border post to acclimatize. A suitable acclimatization peak there is the easy San Francisco.
The walk in is long and if you get sick up there you are in deep trouble. There are two long days out, even with mula support on the lower stretches (the mulas can usually go to about 5000 meters).
I even heard of climbers with altitude sickness who had had to enter Chile illegally to get down on lower ground quicker than they could have on the Argentinian side. Better to acclimatize properly!
MapA good map of the area.
LinksA list of the highest South American peaks.