Volcan Licancabur – Potosi Region, Bolivia

Ever since we’d been to San Pedro de Atacama in 2002 we’d fancied climbing the perfect cone of Licancabur which dominates the skyline to the east. So after a week resting, we spent a day and a half cycling very slowly up from town to Laguna Blanca – a climb of over 2,000m. There we ended up staying 2 nights, as the day we planned to go to Licancabur base camp the weather was unsettled and all the locals assured us it would snow.

When it didn’t, we set off early the following morning for the base camp, 11kms away. We had vague thoughts that if we could get there within 2 hours, we might try and climb the mountain that day as we were feeling good and were well acclimatized. When we stumbled into the Inca ruins that comprise base camp 7 hours later we decided it would probably be best to put off our climb til the morning.

The journey to base camp turned out to be the hardest part of climbing the mountain. Fierce headwinds and a sandy road meant that we were forced to push our bikes almost from the moment we left our refugio at Laguna Blanca. Three and a half hours and 7kms later we decided to dump the bikes behind some rocks by Laguna Verde, transfer our kit to our rucksacks and hike the rest of way. We were so tired from the pushing that the 4km walk took us 2 hours.

We were delighted to find that the Inca ruins provided perfect shelter for our tent from the wind, and we passed a comfortable night as the temperature only fell to -2C. This meant we didn’t have any trouble getting up early the next morning, and set off as the sun came up at 07:00. As the mountain is climbed reasonably often (though for the 2 days we were there we saw no other sign of life – human, animal, bird or even insect) there is a decent path for most of the way to the summit, and we followed this up a sheltered gulley to around 5,200m.

Here the path climbed up to a rocky ridge – much easier to climb up than the scree in the gulley. But much windier as well. For the next 2 hours we struggled up the path into the strong wind. Frequently we had to stop to steady ourselves against the gusts, and a number of times the stronger gusts knocked us both to the floor. We wondered a few times whether we’d be able to get up the steeper part of the climb between 5,600m and 5,800m with this wind, but fortunately this section was more sheltered and provided no problems.

We made it to the top 4h45 after setting off – which was longer than we’d expected it to take, but Haz didn’t have any problems with the altitude as she had on Cerro Plata. We didn’t stay long on the summit (even though the views were good and it would have been interesting to go down to the frozen crater lake) because of the wind, and soon began our descent. This also took longer than expected as we didn’t find the fast route down scree to camp (we went into the main gulley but it was full of big loose rocks that we didn’t like being on at all) so ended up going back down the path in the wind, arriving at camp 8 hours after we’d set off.     
Some GPS points

Description Lat Long Alt
Inca ruins basecamp 22.83209 S 67.85630 W 4,701m
Licancabur Summit cairn 22.83315 S 67.88270 W 5,938m

(As most of the way is on a clear path that starts by the ruins, I didn’t keep any other waymarks.)

2 thoughts on “Volcan Licancabur – Potosi Region, Bolivia

  1. Eric

    Update Sept 2012

    Access : the way up from Laguna Verde to the car park is not easy to cycle, especially if you have this superstrong headwind (which I think is the most common situation). It was late, we saw no shelter near Laguna Verde and we could not make it to the car park but luckily there is a rocky outcrop 2km before it which provides really good shelter. So good that we found two pegs on an already really nicely flattened area :). It may even be nicer here than to get to the car park because the camper-made stone-wall shelters are dirty and not so well protected in my opinion. In any case, even if the Inca ruins provides good shelter, taking a loaded bike up there (100 alti-meter above) would be a REAL PAIN on this steep rocky trail.

    We walked up from our shelter, leaving the bikes there and we had no trouble finding the trail up to the summit. It was windy too, with strong gusts. It took us about the same time for the return trip and we saw nobody except jeeps in the distance, until we get to Laguna Blanca BUT :

    When we get to the checkpoint at Laguna Blanca, the park ranger wanted us to pay a US$ 100.- fine for climbing without a guide and without any permit !! (Don’t know how he knew we were up there as we didn’t see anyone for 48 hours. Maybe he saw us with his googles or a 4×4 driver told him). He even threaten us that the immigration officers would stop us at the border if we escaped without paying. We asked for an official paper for this regulation and an official bill for the “fine” and during 30 min we let him and the guy from the “casa de Alta montana” look for it. They could not find anything official and they offered us to pay “only” half of the fine. We finally set off again without paying anything, thinking they were not so close friends with the immigration.
    6 km later, the immigration officers were really friendly and unaware of what happened 1h before.
    We honestly don’t know if this is a real regulation, I am still waiting for an answer to my email to the park direction, I will update here if I eer receive one. But the way these 2 men behaved really looked like they just wanted to screw us …

    Thanx again a lot for these really good route information !


  2. Harriet and Neil Pike

    Thanks for the update Eric. Interesting to hear about the problem with the park rangers – I doubt it’s an official rule!
    Yeah, getting bikes to the Inca ruins would be hard work – we were glad to have left the bikes down by Laguna Verde.

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