Valle del Arenas

Valle del Arenas lies at about 2,500 meters above sea level, deep in Cajón de Maipo and very close to the border with Argentina. The ecosystem here is unique, surrounded by mountains and furrowed by rivers. This height offers a home to glaciers, condors, peucos (hawk raptors), lizards and many plants that could not survive anywhere else.

Most of the year both the valley and the surrounding peaks are covered with thick layers of snow. The melt begins in November, and as a result, life flourishes here in December. However, the drought already begins in January, which causes withering of leaves and flowers in the valley. In just two months, the plants grow and bloom, multiply and they form seeds and invisible roots. This way, they will survive under the snow for the next 10 months and will show their full splendor again the following year.

One of the main outdoor activities here is climbing without a harness, in a sector with large flat rocks (“Choriboulder”). Of course you can climb on the surrounding slopes the conventional way. Those who are interested, can satisfy their curiosity and search for paleontological fossils which belong to a geological period, when present day Chile was still below sea level. For those who prefer trekking, in the summer the hanging glacier El Morado is about three hours away, with its enormous and unique ice tongue which originates in the mountains. Underneath there is a dark lake full of small floating glacier pieces.

The most important Mountains

Yamakawua

Information

  • Height: 4,967m
  • First ascent: Mario Puig and Masanori Nakato, 1965
  • Physical difficulty: 4
  • Technical difficulty: 4
  • Exposure: 4
  • Time required: 3 to 4 days
  • Suitable season: September to March
  • Ski mountaineering: possible up to the base
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 ° C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

The hike begins in Valle del Arenas and continues right along the side valley Cortaderas. This valley is dominated by three big mountains: Punta Italia (left), Yamakahua (right) and Cortaderas in the background. To get to camp 1, a moraine field must be crossed, which is marked by a few stone walls that follow the lines of the moraines. Tents can be set up there. Camp 2 can be set up at the end of Valle Cortaderas, in the middle of the snow field, where a plateau 4,000 m above sea level is located.

The ascent begins here. Shortly after leaving the camp, you are faced with an area with crevasses, which you can best go around on the right side (northeast). Caution, on the southeast slope there is a large bergschrund of a rope length and a climbing inclination of 80°. Early in the season it can be crossed over the snow bridges. After mastering this obstacle, there is a traverse in east direction of about 30° inclination. It ends at a further bergschrund, which must be tackled with the utmost caution. Then the trail continues on the southern slope along a gully of approximately 45°, through snow and ice, and with some difficult steps. The inclination is 70° in some areas. The route from camp 2 to the end of the gully, which ends at some rock ledges, takes about 4 hours. Now turn towards northeast in order to climb to the ridge of the southern slope. The rock is poor quality at this place, difficulty III, and is connected to a gully of difficulty IV. Once this is mastered, turn to the north to a snow field with a 60° inclination and which leads to the summit after 50 meters. The descent is via the pass between Yamakahua and Cortaderas, which offers a beautiful rappel, when crossing a bergschrund.

Equipment

  • high mountain outdoor clothing.
  • helmet.
  • harness.
  • crampons.
  • rope 50 m, carabiners, accessory cord, belaying devices, etc.
  • 2 ice axes
  • in winter: ice screws (2 / person), snow pickets (2 / person).
  • in summer: ice screws (4 / person), a set of chocks /nuts.

Notes

In Valle Cortaderas there is no water.
It is advisable to take a lot of fuel to melt snow.
The trail is very long and exposed, so thoroughly prepare for the various contingencies.
Good mastery of crevasse rescue and glacier mountaineering is recommended. Plan at least three days for the tour.

Cortaderas

Information

  • Height: 5,197m
  • First ascent: Albrecht Maass, Erwin Hein, Bruening and Niederer, 1932
  • Physical difficulty: 4
  • Technical difficulty: 4
  • Exposure: 4
  • Time required: 3 to 4 days
  • Suitable season: September to March
  • Ski mountaineering: possible up to the base
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 ° C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

As with the Yamakahua, the approach is along the side valley Cortaderas, located right of Valle Arenas. To get to camp 1, a moraine field must be crossed up to the ridge. There, tents can be set up in an area of stone walls.
On the second day, continue into Valle Cortaderas. For setting up camp 2, there is a large plateau at 4,000 m altitude, which is easy to spot.
The ascent starts at the gully, located right of the glacier. The trail goes further across a slightly inclined snow field up into the glacier. Beware of the large crevasses and the extensive horizontal bergschrund that divides the glacier and the Cortaderas in two parts. This bergschrund can be crossed directly over snow bridges or on the scree connecting the Punta Italia with Cortaderas. Once this obstacle has been mastered, either way, keep right in order to advance further towards the center of the glacier. Always try to go around the crevasses on this route by taking the right side. The trail has a view towards the pass of Cortaderas and Punta Italia. In the upper part of the glacier, another bergschrund must be crossed, in some parts you will need to climb. For this purpose, go left and look for the most suitable snow bridge. Once this has been mastered, turn towards the gully on the left side of the wall. The inclination is 50 to 65°. Be extremely careful! Some places are very icy, you can easily slip. Following the gully, the last section leads over a rock of little less inclination up to the summit. The descent is done by means of a nail, which is located near the summit on the descent route. The other option is to use an ice screw in the area of the snow field and rappel. Be careful with the snow pickets at the top bergschrund.

Equipment

  • tent gear for high mountain.
  • rope, ice screws, snow pickets.
  • at the end of the season, take more ice screws, but in spring, more snow pickets.
  • accessory cord and ferrata-sets for rappelling.
  • crampons and ice axes, one of the climbers should definitely take a pair of technical ice axes.
  • helmet

Notes

Extreme caution with crevasses and bergschrunds.
Take a lot of fuel for melting snow.
Approach the summit well-prepared, as the day of the ascent is very long.

Punta Italia

Information

  • Height: 4,863 m
  • First ascent: Giusto Gervasutti and Luigi Binaghi, 1934
  • Physical difficulty: 4
  • Technical difficulty: 4
  • Exposure: 4
  • Time required: 3 to 4 days
  • Suitable season: September to March
  • Ski mountaineering: possible up to the base
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 ° C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

A quiet trek leads to camp 1, where there are some stone walls that protect the tents from the wind. This area is located at the beginning of the side valley Cortaderas within the Valle Arenas (left of the ridge). You will see a moraine ridge that divides two side valleys. The stone walls mentioned are at the bottom (at about 3,000 m altitude).
The next day, head northeast to the base of the Punta Italia up to a small valley. There is a river, which you follow right almost up to the glacier Cortaderas. It is advisable to set up camp 2 here.
For the ascent, head towards the pass of Punta Italia and Cortaderas. Go further over a snow field, which is fairly easy to traverse, as the inclination is 35°.

Continue through gullies with rockfall hazard. They lead to a plateau from which you can reach the summit ridge. Four rope lengths are required to master the wall, which has at times a 60° inclination. Once this ridge has been mastered, it is advisable to install a rope railing for the last 10 m. The descent on the same route is recommended.

Equipment

  • tent gear for high mountain.
  • helmet, ice axe, crampons.
  • harness, rope, carabiners with and without belay devices.
  • 3 Friends, 6 stoppers 4 ice screws per rope team

Notes

Try to descend over the glacier to avoid rappelling over rock of very poor quality.
The route is quite long, about 7 to 9 hours, and requires a good physical condition.

Cerro Arenas

Information

  • Height: 4,366m
  • First ascent: Fernando Montenegro, Carlos La Rivera, Pablo Escudero, Roberto Screpe and Rafael Cucurella, 1954
  • Physical difficulty: 4
  • Technical difficulty: 2
  • Exposure: 2
  • Time required: 2 days
  • Suitable season: all year
  • Ski mountaineering: possible
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 ° C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

valle-del-arenas--cerro-arenasThe hike towards Cerro Arenas is fairly easy, just follow the river on your left and cross it when the typical scree can be seen, which extends to the base of the mountain. The camp can be set up in a small valley between Punta Balcón and Cerro Arenas, about 3,000 meters above sea level. The ascent is relatively simple but physically exhausting. First, continue in east direction up to the end of the valley where the camp was set up, in order to get to a scree mound – in winter a snow mound. Then climb directly to the east. After 3 to 4 hours you will reach the summit. The descent follows the same route through the scree, it is the fastest way down.

Equipment

  • camping gear
  • in winter, ice axes and crampons
  • helmet

Notes

The tour can also be mastered in one day, but that is physically very demanding and requires a good physical condition.
The ascent is over a scree slope below some cliffs. Therefore, it is advisable to take a helmet.
There is no water at the camp. Water supply is possible from the river you walk along.
Currently a hydroelectric power plant is operated in this sector. It is necessary to obtain an access permit to Valle Arenas.

Unión

Information

  • Height: 3,658m
  • First ascent:
  • Physical difficulty: 3
  • Technical difficulty: 2
  • Exposure: 3
  • Time required: 2 days
  • Suitable season: all year
  • Ski mountaineering: possible
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 ° C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

The approach is via an old track on the right side of the river towards the north, up to a lagoon (Laguna de Morado). There is a glacier that extends to the lake shore. The camp can be set up here, as it is well-protected against the wind by stone walls. The ascent is in southeast direction. Here, almost all the northern flank must be crossed. A rocky ridge eventually leads to the summit. The descent follows the same route.

Equipment

  • camping gear
  • in winter, crampons and ice axes

Notes

Currently a hydroelectric power plant is operated in this sector. It is necessary to obtain an access permit to Valle Arenas.
Caution required during ascent and descent, in some places the soil is very hard and stony, which means slip hazard.
There is water on the entire route up to base camp.

Morado

Information

  • Height: 3,658m
  • First ascent:
  • Physical difficulty: 3
  • Technical difficulty: 2
  • Exposure: 3
  • Time required: 2 days
  • Suitable season: October to March
  • Ski mountaineering: possible up to the base
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 ° C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

valle-del-arenas--cerro-moradoThe Morado is an icon of Chilean mountaineering and each of its routes represents a great challenge. The hike goes through the Valle Arenas, along an old road in northern direction on the right side of the river. In some places the trail is interrupted by boulders. The first camp can be set up on the banks of the lagoon (Laguna de Morado). There are some stone walls that protect against wind.

To reach camp 2, turn west. First cross some brown rocks, followed by a snow field that ends at a rock wall. A small stream flows down the wall. Caution on the descent, because depending on the temperature, the amount of water may increase considerably, turning into a major obstacle. Climbing the wall presents no major problem, apart from some more difficult steps. The target is the snow fields, on which camp 2 can be set up. This ascent takes 6 to 8 hours.
From this upper camp, go further over the glacier towards the north, up to below the north summit of the Morado and then straight up over rocks and ice, both of very poor quality. Especially the last part of ice is difficult, it is a rope length at an inclination of 50 to 60°. Once this is mastered, it is only about 150 meters up to the summit. The descent follows the same route with numerous rappelling descents and ascents. Extreme caution up to the camp at the lake.

Equipment

  • gear and outdoor clothing for high mountains
  • crampons
  • ice axe
  • rope
  • some snow pickets, at the end of the season also take ice screws, especially in case of crevasse rescue
  • harness, accessory rope, carabiners
  • helmet

Notes

Take accessory cord for rappelling
Water is available up to the lagoon and also in some watercourses on the way to the upper camp. Take fuel to melt snow in the upper camp.
Best climb the route at the beginning of the season, from October to December. Afterwards, there may be a lot of ice and with increasing temperature the amount of water in the streams increases, making the descent difficult.

Mesón Alto

Information

  • Height: 5,257 m
  • First ascent:
  • Physical difficulty: 3
  • Technical difficulty: 2
  • Exposure: 3
  • Time required: 5 to 6 days
  • Suitable season: October to March
  • Ski mountaineering: possible up to the base
  • Summer temperatures: Feels like -10 ° C to 15 °C
  • Winter temperatures: Feels like -25 ° C to 10 ° C

The approach to base camp follows an easy old road on the left side of the river. The summits Arenas, Union and Morado are left behind and you will see a wall as well as an ice-climbing route. At the base, a camp can be set up, or rather a bivouac. Follow the waterfall and climb the seracs – 5 to 8 m high blocks of ice. Caution with the crevasses separating the seracs. In this section, they are about three ropes lengths. Then you get to the area of the trap. Here, the seracs form a large canyon up to the upper slopes. Before reaching this point, set up the next bivouac. The trap can be mastered on the right side over other more stable seracs. They lead to a snow field which features penitents depending on the season of the year. Caution with the crevasses! After about 40 minutes, you will get to an ice wall, which you go along on the right hand side. From there, go up a hill, which is increasingly steep. The road ends at a canyon, which can be mastered without major problems with a rope length. Up ahead, you will see an ice slope which leads to the Pilar de los Vientos. This slope has an inclination of 60° to 80° at the end, and is 150 m long. Continue over the ridge with an inclination of 70° up to two ice gullies. Take the left gully, the difficulty is 5.9, and it takes two rope lengths to climb. Once you reach the ridge line of 60° inclination, it takes about an hour to get to the summit. To descend, walk back on the ridge for about 60 m towards the west, as far as the gullies on the north wall. Then rappel four times up to a large boulder field that connects the glaciers of the Mesón Alto.

Equipment

  • bivouac sacks
  • helmet
  • rope
  • crampons
  • harness
  • 2 ice axes
  • belay device depending on the skills of the rope team. Recommendation:
    • 6 to 10 ice screws.
    • ferrata-sets and corresponding carabiners
    • 8 accessory cords 6 m for rappelling
    • 4 snow pickets
    • 3 tubular cords 5m

Notes

There are many crevasses and seracs, prepare accordingly.
Good command of rock and ice gear necessary.
Take plenty of fuel for melting snow.
Depending on the season and especially during the winter, directions can vary. Therefore, do not rely solely on this description.