This is the second lowest 6,000er in the Andes, and lies just east of the road from Antofagasta de la Sierra to Belen. Like on Nevado Queva, we had little information about the mountain (just a GPS co-ordinate for the top) when we turned up in the nearest village, El Peñon. There it took a while to find anyone who knew about the mountain as it’s not visable from anywhere near the village, but eventually we found a friendly guy who told us his brother had ‘sufrido mucho’, but managed to climb it a few years before.
He gave us an idea of where we needed to leave the main road, and which valley to head for, so we loaded up the bikes with 14 litres of water each and set off.
We pushed the bikes 1.5kms off the road towards the mountain on a sandy track that we couldn’t cycle and as it was getting late decided to stop there to camp. The following morning we left the bikes behind a small bush – the best cover we could find on the sloping, featureless plain – and headed off uphill. We took 6 litres water each as we weren’t convinced there’d be water higher up (we couldn’t see any snow), but were relieved to be able to dump it when, after a few hours, we came across and began following a small stream. We stayed by this until 4,700m at which point it began heading away from our summit co-ordinate, so we decided to begin climbing more steeply up a small side valley, and found a good spot to camp at 4,850m.
The following day was Christmas Day and we set off at first light, climbing reasonably steeply for a few hours up to a ridge at 5,600m. Here we realised our mistake in leaving the main valley so early – it curved round soon after we’d left it and headed straight to the base of the summit mound. We ended up having to descend over 100m to this before beginning the 400m climb up scree and small rocks to the summit.
This was simple enough, but working out which was actually the highest of three undefined summits was slightly harder. My GPS point taken from Google Earth suggested the central one we climbed straight to was highest, but it certainly didn’t look highest when we were on it, so we headed to a point a few hundred metres to the north which had a small cairn on top. My GPS said this was 1m lower, however. There was also another mound about half a kilometer to the south which looked about the same height, so just to be safe we wandered there too, only to find it was 10m lower. Despite being lower, it had a small wall to shelter from the wind behind so we stayed a few minutes and each opened a sole Christmas present!
For the first summit in a while the weather wasn’t great and clouds meant we had few views to the west, and none at all to the east, which was disappointing. Even if we had’ve had views I think this would’ve been one of the least interesting mountains we’ve climbed this trip, and the cloud cover meant that it definitely was.
It took all afternoon to decend to our high camp and then down to the stream, and all the following morning to get back to our bikes. From here we continued south to Belen, and didn’t get any views of the mountain when we passed near it again on the road as it remained completely covered in cloud. In fact, though we stood on its summit we never really once had a view of this mountain at all!
Some GPS points
|Turned off paved road||26.54947 S||67.24422 W||3,554m|
|First water in quebrada||26.54766 S||67.14638 W||4,290m|
|In valley||26.56193 S||67.11732 W||4,702m|
|Follow valley to here||26.53880 S||67.07209 W||5,615m|
|Laguna Blanca Central summit||26.53392 S||67.06110 W||6,008m|
|Laguna Blanca North summit||26.52995 S||67.05939 W||6,007m|
|Laguna Blanca South summit||26.54250 S||67.06238 W||5,995m|
Here’s a link to the page we’ve written on SummitPost about Cerro Laguna Blanca.