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.
|Inca ruins basecamp||22.83209 S||67.85630 W||4,701m|
|Licancabur Summit cairn||22.83315 S||67.88270 W||5,938m|