Chile is a country of mountains. That is why on International Mountain Day, we are celebrating the 67% of our territory that lies within the mountains, and highlighting the imposing Andes that accompanies almost all of our landscapes. Are you a mountaineer? Then Chile is your ultimate destination: high, snow-capped peaks and craters are some of the attractions that adventure sport lovers will find here among the highest summits of each of Chile’s regions, from north to south.
Arica and Parinacota
Parinacota Volcano (6,282 meters)
Parinacota Volcano – “place of flamingos” in Aymara – is the highest mountain in the region. It forms part of the snow-capped Payachatas chain inside the Lauca National Park, a biosphere reserve. Legend has it that the Payachatas, the volcanoes located in the Lauca National Park, are the tombs gifted by nature to an Inca princess and prince, which today bear the name of Parinacota and Pomerape. The most recent volcanic activity is thought to have taken place around 1800, consistent with that which is told in Aymara legend. Due to its height and low technical difficulty, it is probably the most-climbed mountain in the area.
Sillajhuay (5,982 meters)
Sillajhuay, which means “devil’s chair” in the Aymara language, is a small mountain range of volcanic origin located on the Chile-Bolivia border. It has several summits, among which Alto Toroni stands out, located a little further north. Considered a sacred mountain or “mallku” in Andean culture, it rises to almost 6000m in altitude, dominating all the other peaks in the area. It astonishes visitors with a small glacier tongue on its south-eastern face, considered the southernmost glacier discovered in the altiplano (highlands).
Llullaillaco Volcano (6.739 meters)
Llullaillaco, which means “hot water” in the Aymara language, is located between Salta Province and the Antofagasta Region, on the border between Argentina and Chile. Despite being the third highest mountain in Chile, with beautiful surroundings and small streams that flow between wetlands and grasslands in ravines replete with guanacos, donkeys and birds, it is rarely visited due to difficult access and the existence of minefields in the sector. There are currently two ascent routes in Chile: the northern route allows you to reach 4600m by vehicle, while the southern route allows you to reach about 5000m. On both routes, it is necessary to cross large snowfields with hard snow; it is therefore recommended that you bring crampons and an ice axe. During the ascent, it is possible to see guanacos, donkeys and the occasional bird.
Ojos del Salado Volcano (6,891 meters)
Located in Chile’s third region, east of Copiapó and straddling Catamarca Province on the Argentine side, the Ojos del Salado Volcano stands out as the most impressive summit among the area’s Andean peaks. It holds several Chilean and world records: it is the highest volcano in the world; the second highest peak in America; the highest mountain in the Chilean Andes; and the second highest in the Argentine Andes, after Aconcagua (6959m).
Because of its location to the south of the Atacama Desert, in the middle of the South American altiplano, it is surrounded by salt flats, sands, flamingos and colorful lagoons, and accompanied by the snow and glaciers that crown the peaks of the Andes’ most arid desert area.
Nevados Olivares (6,216 meters)
As well as being the highest mountain in the Coquimbo Region, Nevado de Olivares is the fourth highest in Argentina’s San Juan Province, after Nevado Olivares Central or La Majadita. It is a “six-thousander” that is little-publicized, due to difficulty of access and the lack of water in possible camps.
The normal route through Argentina begins next to the route to Paso Aguas Negras at the entrance to the San Lorenzo ravine at about 4100m altitude, while the normal route through Chile beings past La Laguna reservoir at about 3400m; the approach is therefore longer through Chile. In addition to the dryness of the mountain on the Chilean side, this means that it receives very few visits from our country.
Nevado Juncal (5,968 meters)
Juncal is a huge snow-capped mountain that occupies an important position in the central mountain range near Santiago. It is the point of communion for large glacial systems that spread out from its four summits in different directions, boasting snow that is unmatched among its neighbors. Few mountains, especially those located in the central Chilean Andes, have a northern slope as snowy and steep as Nevado Juncal. It is therefore a unique case that has drawn the attention of glaciologists from around the world, who have traveled to investigate it in detail.
Tupungato Volcano (6,570 meters)
Tupungato: “observatory to the stars”, “white dove”, “point of the roof”, “high mountain”, “one who scares and rejects”, “one who instils fear or respect”, “hill where the river of gold is born” and “observatory of the condors” are some of the interpretations of its name in the Huarpe, Quechua and Mapudungun languages. It is the highest mountain in the Andes south of Aconcagua and dominates its surroundings with its enormous size and distinctive cone, surpassing all neighboring peaks by many meters. This volcano is a serious challenge for mountaineers seeking high-altitude experience. It is a high, isolated and technically simple “six-thousander” that is as hard as Aconcagua.
Picos del Barroso (5,174 meters)
Many mountaineers who have ascended a mountain in the Cajón del Maipo area have probably been struck by the large, heavily snow-capped, plateau-covered massif to the south. It is Picos del Barroso, a strange mountain that has been rarely visited in recent times due to access restriction policies. Despite being the highest mountain in the sector, it does not have a clearly identifiable summit, but rather what appears to be a large glacial mass that is almost flat on top with four main peaks, two of which are completely within Chile, one in Argentina and another that straddles both countries.
Peteroa Volcano (4,113 meters)
On the border between Argentina and Chile, the volcano complex of Planchón-Peteroa-Azufre constitutes one of the most attractive mountain phenomena of the central Andes. Several glaciers surround it, which provide the source of important rivers. On the Chilean side is the Claro River, which merges with the Teno River at Los Queñes and part of the upper Colorado River basin. On the Argentine side is the Valenzuela River, which turns into the Rio Grande further down. Peteroa is a flat volcano of approximately 3600m. It is located between the Planchón Volcano to the north and the Azufre Volcano to the south, both of which surpass it in altitude. A set of craters awaits the mountaineer at the summit, instead of the classic volcanic cone that Peteroa once had and its neighbor Azufre still maintains.
Nevados de Chillán (3,212 meters)
This volcano rises in the central zone of the Chilean Andes, 70km southeast of the city of Chillán. It is immersed in a rugged environment, where you can see large moraines, crevasses, cracks, glaciers, craters and parasitic cones, as well as its two large neighbors: Nuevo Volcano (3186m) and Viejo Volcano (3122m). It is home to several glaciers that give it its name, the most characteristic being those that hang down to the southeast and southwest. Today, the southwest glacier has been reduced to a small mass of ice that descends from the summit to approximately 2500m in the direction of the Shangri La Valley. Below, there is a huge volcanic slag in the middle of a beautiful native forest containing lenga beech, quila bamboo, lapageria, Dombey’s beech and oak. Because it is the most accessible of the region’s glaciers, it is used for practice by climbers from Concepción, Chillán and other towns in the eighth region.
Sierra Velluda (3,585 meters)
The Sierra Velluda is located east of the city of Los Ángeles, 100km from the Pan-American Highway. Its summit is notorious, with an extraordinary height that dominates its surroundings. It can be seen from Victoria in the south to Chillán in the north. The mountain has numerous glaciers of considerable importance. On January 17, 1940, E. Fahrenkrog, K. Kroessig and H. Tilly made the first ascent to the main summit of the Sierra Velluda (north peak, 3585m) by the Canaleta Oeste route. In his account of the ascent, Kroessig complains of not having encountered the difficulties they expected for a mountain with the fame that the Sierra Velluda had at the time.
Lanín Volcano (3,747 meters)
Lanín, which means “dead rock” in Mapudungun, is to the southern cordillera what Aconcagua is to the central cordillera: both surpass their neighbors by more than a thousand meters, and impose themselves on the horizon like no other. Some Argentine poets from Junín say that they glimpsed both oceans from its extinct crater, when the skies were clearer. This fantastic claim has still not been corroborated; however, Lanín certainly dominates the surrounding area for more than 150km.
Mapuche legend had it that evil spirits lived at the summit of the volcano and killed those who dared to climb it. In addition to “dead rock”, Lanín also comes from the first-person plural of the verb “we sink” (in the ashes of volcanoes or in the snow). It is not known when the volcano last erupted, but Lanín certainly scared many generations of Mapuche in past times.
Villarrica Volcano (2,840 meters)
The volcano’s original name is Quitralpillán, which means “dwelling of the ancestors with fire” in Mapudungun. Villarrica is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes on the continent, and its smoke can be seen from miles away during the day. On clear nights, the fascinating reflection of the incandescent lava at its summit can be observed from great distances. There are some who claim that the volcano was climbed by the Mapuche many centuries ago, in the 16th century. However, this hypothesis is unlikely considering the deep religious significance of the volcano as the sacred dwelling of their ancestors. Even today, the Mapuche people respect the volcano and continue to dedicate rituals to it.
A lot of tourists currently visit the volcano’s crater to observe the explosions of incandescent magma that occur at regular intervals. During winter, it is possible to descend from the edge of the crater on skis or snowboards; the descent with the lake as a backdrop is amazing. Incredible too are the ancient Dombey’s beech and araucaria (monkey puzzle) trees in the forests surrounding the volcano. Only 18km separate the city of Pucón, the busiest tourist center in the region, from the base of the volcano.
Cerro Tronador (3,491 meters)
Tronador is a truly impressive mountain. Its tremendous massif, covered by seven glaciers that spread out along its slopes until falling violently off of cliff faces; its height, which makes it by far the highest peak in the surrounding area, surpassed only by Lanín, more than 100km to the north; its three regal-looking peaks; the gigantic cracks that cross its glaciers and are always a threat to mountaineers; and the remarkable environment in which it is located, surrounded by spectacular lakes and symmetrical volcanoes. All of this means that Tronador is a mountain that is difficult to forget for anyone who has gazed upon it.
Tronador is located to the east of Todos los Santos Lake, on the border with Argentina. Of volcanic origin, it has three clearly distinguishable summits: the main summit, 3491m high, lies on the border and is shared by the two countries; the Chilean summit, 3320m high, lies in Chile; and the Argentine summit, 3200m high, is in Argentina.
Monte San Valentín (3,910 meters)
Patagonia is home to some of the most attractive terrain in the world for exploratory mountaineering, as there are still many mountains awaiting their first ascent. An exception is the great Monte San Valentín, considered the highest peak of the Patagonian Andes. San Valentín is located at the northern limit of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. It is surrounded to the north by the Circo Glacier, to the east by the San Valentín glacier and Cerro Cuerno de Plata, to the west by the San Rafael Glacier and Cerro Pirámide; and to the south by Cierro Fiero and the glacial extension of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. Located in the Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region, within the Laguna de San Rafael National Park, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field is an area of continental ice located entirely in Chilean territory. Its surface covers 4200km², and it has a length of approximately 120km and a width of 50km. It is delimited to the north by the Tranquilo, Bayo and Exploradores rivers; to the east and south by General Carrera Lake and the course of the Baker River; and to the west by the Pacific Ocean, between the Elefantes Sound, Laguna San Rafael, the Ofqui Isthmus and the Baker River Delta.
Lautaro Volcano (3,623 meters)
With more than 3500m in altitude, the Lautaro Volcano is not only the highest peak in the Magallanes Region, but in the entire Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It is without doubt a giant in Patagonia. This active volcano is part of the Pío XI cordon, also called the Lautaro cordon. It is located in the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, northwest of the Cuatro Glaciares plateau from which the Viedma, Pío XI and O’Higgins glaciers descend, northeast of the Caupolicán plateau and south of the Todas las Madres plateau. It last erupted in 1979 and there are abundant ash deposits on the surrounding glaciers (O’Higgins and Chico), which is why it is considered an active volcano.
For more information: AndesHandbook