This page is being updated. More pictures to come.
This is the main route for climbing Mercedario. Technically no more than a walk-up, altitude, weather and isolation are the main dangers here. Navigation is fairly straightforward.
See the mountain’s main page. Rent a car or hire someone to drive you to the Laguna Blanca shelter at 3150m. The road continues further, but it is gated and locked (as of February 2018). If you see it unlocked, see an alternative at the end of this page.
Segment 1 : The unmanned Laguna Blanca shelter contains only basic shelter, but you may find locals gathering there.
From there, an obvious path, which used to be a mining road and therefore is graded as such, goes up the valley on climber’s right of a creek. 4 km later, Guanaquitos is reached at 3600m.
Segment 2 : Guanaquitos is a surprisingly green area where the climber is rewarded a first view of Mercedario’s summit. Clear water can be obtained from two streams, unlike the main creek, but filter it as vicunas are plenty in the area.
At the second stream, turn right and follow it, leaving the old road. When the valley opens up and the stream temporarily disappear under rocks, keep near the valley bottom on the left. At the end of the valley, a steep climb awaits, then Cuesta Blanca is seen and soon reached at 4.8km and 4375m.
Segment 3: Cuesta Blanca, as a bowl, is already quite sheltered. Clear water flows in the stream. Your pick on filtering it or not.
Many paths ascend the bowl on its forward-right slope. Once on top of it, follow the valley up and as it flattens, aim for the highest point slightly left until a last slope leads you to Pirca del Indio at 5175m, 4.2km from Cuesta Blanca.
Segment 4: Pirca del Indio is also inside a bowl, but its orientation makes it less sheltered than Cuesta Blanca, so previous climbers have built fortifications. To believe whether one of these pircas is actually of Inca origin is up to you. At the bottom of the glacier on the northern slopes, liquid water can be found during daytime.
Two paths ascend the bowl: one to the left (east), switch backing up; the other straight south, more suited for descent. Once they meet back, it is only a short ascent until a traverse lead to the first snow patches and then La Hoyada, at 2.3km and 5650m.
Segment 5: Unsheltered and with minimal rocks to make walls, La Hoyada is at the mercy of wind. Melt ice from snow or glacier nearby.
Reach and ascend the ridge south of the camp. Many switchbacks later, the path leaves the ridge and enters a flat spot at 6100m, El Diente. After that, it is a very long traversing ascent between the ridge and the Hoyada glacier. So many false summit are passed – I was told seven but did not count – that even near the real summit at 4.7km, I took out my GPS as I thought another further one was higher! Easy scramble to summit.
It would be very easy to ascend too fast this route. One should plan for a schedule similar to Aconcagua, except maybe with one less day for the approach and exit.
One acclimatization hike would be to follow the old mining road past Guanaquitos to the Paduszek and Caballito glaciers (which are routes themselves).
There are many alternative smaller camp spots between 3800 and 4000m (along the stream, limit of mules), around 4520m (in the middle of a steep slope, no water), between 4800 and 5000m (anywhere flat), around 5300m (on ridge by the ascent track, beautiful but wildly exposed, no snow), around 5350m (by the descent track, not that flat), around 5625m, around 5725m (past a dead animal corpse) and around 6100m (El Diente).
See the descent on the GPS track.
From Cuesta Blanca descending to the trailhead, head back to the steep slope at 4250m. Instead of following the trail down and right (east), scramble down and left (northeast). Past the initial scramble, it is a long traverse until hitting the ridge; try staying at 4175m and aiming for S31°55.515’ W70°02.710’. From there, it is a matter of getting across a plateau and then down to a road, which then leads to the Laguna Blanca shelter. I used it to make a loop for descent, but it would be very attractive for ascent too if the gate past the Laguna Blanca shelter is unlocked, since one could then drive to 3750m. No water.
From La Hoyada to the summit, it is also possible to follow the glacier on or along it instead of the ridge and climb back on the trail whenever past 6200m. On my way down, I took a wrong fork from the normal path and ended up doing this variation. No crevasse seen, but the slope was not steep enough to glissade.
Ice axe and crampons, though it is possible not having to use them. Keep your poles during summit day in that case.
4-season tent and knowing how to rig it properly, especially for wind. Snow less of a concern but could be.
-15C would be a normal temperature for daytime at summit and nighttime at high camp. I packed for -25C.
Equipment list info:
Here is a brief list for you.