Back from the Puna de Atacama

Summit view on Ojos del Salado

I had expected the two weeks spent crossing the Puna de Atacama from Fiambala to Copiapo, climbing as many 6000-meter peaks as possible along the way, to be my trip’s physical and psychological crux, and it absolutely delivered. In two weeks, I cycled over 300 miles, and climbed seven 6000-meter peaks: San Francisco, Incahuasi, El Fraile, El Muerto, Ojos del Salado, Tres Cruces Sur, and Tres Cruces Norte. I finally struggled into Copiapo just before dark, after a 120-mile 13-hour ride that would have been much easier without a near-constant headwind for the last 80 miles. While I had anticipated the difficulty, I was surprised by the afternoon snows, which improved the scenery, but made some of the climbing crushingly slow. I suppose I am glad I did it, but I am more glad that it is done. I will write more about the experience over the coming days, or possibly weeks.

4 responses to “Back from the Puna de Atacama

  1. Dan says:

    Man, this is torture! I take a break from being responsible to decompress expecting to read about the Atcama and peaks and this is all I get!? Gah!

    I did, however, potentially figure out your route and saw where the cluster of volcanoes is. Additional Googling turned up interesting reading on the Atcama, some awesome photos on Wikipedia, and realization that you were just shy of 7000 meters. The only I can imagine more epic than the journey was the quantity of water you had to haul…

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Sorry — I know this was a bit of a tease. The Atacama was two challenging and busy weeks in a novel area, so writing about it is sort of an eating-an-elephant thing. I’ll try to get it done before I head to the next peaks.

      As for water, I needed about 5 liters per day. I had to be strategic, but never carried more than 5.5 liters on the bike, or 4 on my back. Surprisingly, I didn’t even have to melt snow. There is one permanent source of (disgusting) potable water at the east end of Laguna Verde. For the rest, I managed to find glacier/penitente melt in some places above 5000m, and either camp next to it, or carry it down from peaks. My one cheat was accepting water from an expedition that had come down from Ojos and was hanging out at the base refugio. Otherwise I would have had to backtrack 20km or so to the Laguna Verde source.

  2. Chris says:

    Way to go Sean! Really enjoying reading about your adventure.

    1. drdirtbag says:

      Thanks! I hope I can convey the otherworldliness and challenge of the Atacama. The rest of my time down here should be more laid back.

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