Nacimiento is a large volcano located on the Puna in northwest Argentina. It is the third highest mountain in the Cordon Ojos del Salado, after Ojos del Salado
itself and Cazadero/Walter Penck
. This is the 19th highest peak in the Andes with an official altitude of 6,436m, however it is one of the easiest mountains of this height in the world to climb.
Map-makers have been slightly confused about Nacimiento in the past. It has been marked incorrectly as ‘Cerro Bayo’ on some maps, and while all maps show the northeast summit as being the highest, Google Earth and GPS readings show that the northwest summit is in fact a few metres higher. On the ground it is not difficult to recognise Nacimiento as it is a far darker colour than the other large peaks in the area.
As with all the mountains in this part of the Puna in Catamarca, Fiambala is the best place in which to base yourself.
Catamarca (capital) and La Rioja are the nearest major cities, both of which have regular connections by plane and bus to the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. From Catamarca there are some direct buses to Fiambala, though it may be faster to get buses to Aimogasta or Tinogasta for onward connections to Fiambala.
Fiambala is a delightful and tranquil town on Ruta 60 - the road that goes from Tinogasta over Paso San Francisco to Copiapo in Chile. There are thermal springs 10 kilometres out of town and as a result Fiambala sees its fair share of tourists. This means there are plenty of accommodation options and a few good places to eat. Ruth Reynoso’s Campo Base hostel is an excellent budget choice, and Audrey’s Oh La La is a great place to tuck into some good food.
There are mini-markets in the town where you can stock up on provisions for a trip to the mountains, but in early 2011 there was only one internet café. It had a slow connection and totally random opening hours.
The Route from Fiambala to Nacimiento
To get to Nacimiento from Fiambala you have a couple of options:
The eastern approach:
This approach from Cazadero Grande (Refugio 3) is slower but best for those wanting to climb the mountain on a tight budget and those who aren’t acclimatized and want to spend a few days slowly gaining height on the walk to Nacimiento.
The refugio at Cazadero Grande is 120kms from Fiambala on paved Ruta 60. The refugio is a solid building which offers excellent protection from the elements however it is unmanned and with no facilities. Water is available from a stream a few minutes walk away to the west. You could try hitching to this refugio but as there are only about 20 or 30 vehicles a day in the ‘busy’ summer season you could have a long wait. Alternatively contact Jonson Reynoso who has an office on the square in Fiambala. He knows the Puna better than just about anyone, and as well as giving you information on all the mountains in the area he can organise transport for you for both this route and the southern approach described below.
Leaving the road at Cazadero Grande head west for about 10kms walking on an open, sandy plain to a basic shelter at Quemadito which has sturdy walls and a corrugated iron roof. If you hire a 4x4 from Jonson the 4x4 can get you all the way to Quemadito. It is also possible to hire mules to carry your equipment from Quemadito to Nacimiento – again sort this out with Jonson in Fiambala.
From Quemadito follow the stream upriver. In 8kms you pass a small waterfall, and in a further 7kms arrive at Las Juntas. Those heading to El Arenal for Ojos del Salado
, Volcan del Viento
and other peaks turn right (north) up a valley here to get to Aguas Calientes. For Nacimiento you need to stay straight (west then northwest) in the Rio Nacimiento Valley - don’t follow the valley that heads southwest.
9kms upvalley from Las Juntas it is possible to head right (northwest) up a valley from which you are able to reach the eastern or northeastern base of the mountain (this is the route we followed on our walk out from Nacimiento), though it would be easier to follow the Rio Nacimiento a few kilometres further still until you are southeast of the summit. From this southeastern basecamp you could make your way to the top. See the Google Earth pictures below to clarify these routes.
The Southern Approach
It is also possible to approach Nacimiento in a 4x4 from the south. From Fiambala this route involves taking the road to Pissis, then turning north from Laguna Azul to reach the southeastern base of the mountain (and the same point described in the paragraph above which you reach from Las Juntas). We certainly saw 4x4 tracks on the slopes of the mountain at over 5,000m, so if you are acclimatized and have the cash to hire a vehicle to get you this close, this is the fastest approach to basecamp.
Green line shows the route to the SE basecamp from Cazadero Grande. The red line from the south gives an indication of the route a 4x4 would take to arrive at the same SE basecamp. The purple line shows the variation we took to arrive at a base camp on the NE of the mountain. Green line shows the route to the SE basecamp from Cazadero Grande. The red line from the south gives an indication of the route a 4x4 would take to arrive at the same SE basecamp. The purple line shows the variation we took to arrive at a base camp on the NE of the mountain.
Base camp to Summit
Nacimiento is a non-technical mountain and can be climbed from just about any direction.
From a SE base camp
If coming straight from Fiambala (whether by jeep or walking in from Cazadero Grande) it makes most sense to make your base camp on the southeastern or eastern flanks of the mountain, depending on water availability. Climbing from the southeast the Google Earth images below show the route to the true NW summit in yellow.
From a NE base camp
We climbed from a good base camp to the northeast, but chose this because we’d arrived from El Arenal. The red route on the Google Earth image shows this route. The true (NW) summit is on the right.
Despite maps, including the usually reliable Alpensvereinskarte ‘Nevado Ojos del Salado’, marking the northeast summit of Nacimiento as the highest, the northwest summit is in fact about 10m higher. These two summits are 1.5kms apart and separated by a col at 6,350m.
The official altitude of Nacimiento is 6,436m, however the two GPS altitude readings I’m aware of gave the northwest summit heights of 6,478m (my reading) and 6,477m (Corax’s
As with the majority of mountains in Argentina there is no red tape and no permits are needed. Because Nacimiento is in such a remote area it is a good idea to leave details of your trip and when you expect to return with Jonson Reynoso in Fiambala. Jonson has SPOTs which he can rent out to you and in case of emergency these can be used to signal to Jonson that a rescue is needed. Remember that if you have an accident on Nacimiento and have no way of signalling for help it is a long two day walk of over 50kms from base camp back to the road.
Waterfall on the walk to Las Juntas from Quemadito
It is possible to camp anywhere on the Puna, however the frequently strong winds and availability of water will determine where you want to put your tent. Finding a sheltered spot is easier said than done as there are not many large boulders to hide your tent behind, and water can be a bit of a problem. In the summer of 2011 there was very little snow and consequently after leaving the Rio Nacimiento water was scarce.
Looking towards Pissis from the NW summit of Nacimiento
When to Climb
Nacimiento lies close to Ojos del Salado, so I have taken much of this information from Corax's excellent page for Ojos
on this site.
Like most peaks in this part of the Puna, Nacimiento is normally climbed from December to late March. This is the warmest period in the southern hemisphere, but also the windiest and driest. Some climbers choose to go later in the year as water is easier to find (snow and ice to melt) and the average wind speeds are usually significantly lower.
Regardless of when you plan to go to the area, be prepared for very low temperatures and extreme wind force. It may be warm, calm and sunny, but remember that the Puna is infamous for fast weather changes and fierce climate. Wind-proof clothing is an absolute must and so is really good protection for hands, feet and face.
Our experience in the area was of quite stable weather in January 2011 with not many days of strong winds. In February 2011 again winds were generally not that strong, however there were frequent electrical storms which brought some snowfall.
This is taken from near the summit of Cazadero/Walter Penck. Nacimiento's NE summit is on the left, separated from the true NW summit (centre) by the col at about 6,350m. Behind to the right is the lower S summit.
|Cazadero Grande Refugio||27.42016 S||68.13098 W||3,462m|
|Quemadito||27.37242 S||68.22502 W||3,650m|
|Las Juntas (stay in Rio Nacimiento valley)||27.34508 S||68.34022 W||3,954m|
|Valley junction 9kms from Las Juntas||27.30758 S||68.41042 W||4,349m|
|Basecamp we used on the NE side of Nacimiento||27.25459 S||68.49768 W||5,408m|
|Nacimiento NE Summit||27.28055 S||68.51316 W||6,469m|
|Nacimiento NW Summit||27.28098 S||68.52445 W||6,478m|
For information on all 6,000ers in the Andes, John Biggar's 'The Andes - A Guide for Climbers' is an excellent source of information. His website is www.andes.org.uk
Our Pikes on Hikes
website has a short trip report about our climb of Nacimiento as well as information on a number of other mountains on the Puna.