Inner Mountain - Tailor Made Travel


Guardian del Valle Chapter 2: The Highest Volcano on Earth by bike - Ojos del Salado

January 2017 // Ojos del Salado by bike // Second chapter of "Guardian del Valle".

Wednesday December 13 at 00:00 hrs

We left with Federico Scheuch and our bikes and Benjamin Camus and Benjamin Azocar in the audiovisual record, heading to conquer the highest volcano in the world and the highest mountain in Chile by bike, the Volcano "Ojos del Salado" of 6,893m. After 14 hours of non-stop driving all night we arrived at the place that would be our first base camp for 2 nights; Laguna Santa Rosa, located at the entrance of the National park "Nevado Tres Cruces" at 3,800 meters above the sea level in the Maricunga salt flat.

Hallucinating with the planetary landscapes of this place and very tired we got to prepare everything for the next day to attack what would be our first acclimatization summit before climbing the "Ojos del Salado" volcano, The summit of the "Siete Hermanas" hill of 4,800 meters above sea level. We had few days to realize the feat since the window of good weather was short so we had to make the most of the time.

Thus, on Friday the 15th we got up early and left for the "Siete Hermanas", a hill very apt to climb it by bike. After about 6 hours hard to carry our bikes, we reached the summit of this beautiful hill, which gave us an impressive view of the salt of Maricunga and the great "Puna de Atacama" and its big mountains. After celebrating and taking the respective photos of the summit, came the best, a descent of pure sand and rocks in the freeride style. After all, this is Bigmountainbike, to climb great mountains and then have a nice freeride downhill.

After a deserved relax in our camp at 3,800 meters above sea level, on Saturday 16 we left for our second expedition camp, "Laguna Verde", located in the Puna de Atacama at 4,350 meters above sea level. In this place there are natural hot springs, which gives a sense of relaxation and wellbeing to any expedition that passes by. After unloading our Zolkan jeep and setting up camp, we went pedalling and looking for some sectors to acclimate well to the height of 4,000 meters above sea level.

We found some real impressive freeride moon lines, yes, we were 1 couple of hours and we were already exhausted. The height was beginning to feel, however we came from the "seven sisters" of 4,800 meters then we were acclimatized. After a good day of acclimatization pedalling over the 4,300m, we returned to the camp to prepare everything for what would be our second acclimatization summit; the "San Francisco" Volcano of 6.080m, our first 6 thousand meters mountain!.

The next day, Sunday 17 at 5 am the alarm sounded to leave for the "San Francisco", a hard 6 thousand meters volcano. At last we began to realize that it feel be at 6 thousand meters of altitude. The uncertainty, the fear and the desire to conquer the "Ojos del Salado" felt more and more strongly. After a long and exhausting day conquering "San Francisco", we arrived to "rest" to our camp in Laguna Verde, here we fed well and began to prepare everything for the next day to leave for what would be our third camp, "Refugio Murray" located at 4,525 meters above sea level.

Monday December 18,

We woke up in Laguna Verde and we took advantage of the morning to do some freeride shots and take some pictures in the cliffs of this paradisiacal place. After a couple of good hours without stopping riding (I do not know where we got strength) we loaded our jeep and left for the "Murray Refuge". Here we arrived relatively early (3:00 pm) so we had plenty of light and time to go and recognize the road that would take us, 2 days later, to our last camp, the Tejos camp at 5,800 meters above sea level. When we arrive at Murray we leave a large part of our equipment there (food, sleeping bags, tents, etc.) and we went to Tejos.

When we arrived at the Atacama camp (5,300m), we realized that the road to the high camp (Tejos) was very difficult to do but we still wanted to recognize it since the summit day we had to do that part at night and it was very easy to get lost. We left from Atacama camp heading to Tejos and we managed to get through the most difficult part, well we thought, since at 5,600m, we came across an area almost impossible to pass, so we decided to get there no more and here to get off our bikes and put on our helmets to enjoy what would be an epic DH of pure freeride in sand at more than 5,600m altitude.

After a long day recognizing the road to Tejos and taking advantage of acclimatizing (since we got a freeride to more than 5,600 meters above sea level) we went down again to Murray, our base camp. Here we spent the night resting and sharing with other expeditions that were there. We were tired so we decided that the next day, Tuesday 19, would be a day of rest and planning for what would be the final hit, the summit attack to the Ojos del Salado.

It was already our sixth day of expedition over 4,000 m altitude and we had not stopped, 2 summits, and several hours of pedalling and driving were felt, so this day was an essential day to achieve the summit of the highest volcano in the world, The day of rest. We also took advantage of eating well and during the hours of leisure we went in search of some "boulders", which we spent most of the afternoon climbing amazing blocks at 4,500 meters above sea level.

Wednesday December 20

After a good day of rest, the day arrived that we would attack the high camp for the next day reach the summit of the Ojos del Salado. Everything had to be perfect to achieve the goal. This is how at 17:00 hrs we left in our Jeep towards Camp Tejos at 5,800 meters above sea level. With all the faith that this time we would get there and not stay stuck on the road. Getting to Tejos meant saving 4 hours by bike on the summit day so it was essential to arrive but not an obligation.

We passed camp Atacama and now came the hardest part of the road, a very difficult loose sand climb. Almost all the people usually leave the car in the Atacama camp (5,300 meters above sea level) and from there it attacks the summit to the Ojos since the road to Tejos is very complicated, that is, without a bicycle on its shoulder.

Generally (if you are lucky and the road is good) from Atacama to Tejos in a 4 × 4 car is around 35 minutes, we took 4 hours. We were stuck at 5,500 mts and had to do everything to move forward, until finally after shovelling several hours and put giant stones on the road and deflate the tires we managed to pass to Tejos camp, the jeep did not stop impressing us. It was 22:30 pm and we arrived at Tejos very tired, the Volcano told us "this will not be easy". We had 4 hours to try to sleep at 5,800 m altitude. Difficult.

Thursday December 21st

Summer solstice. 03:30 AM the alarm sounds, -20 degrees Celsius marks the clock. You had to get up. Nobody talks. Water, a couple of soups and at 4:40 AM we set off for one of the toughest summit conquests that we have lived. Already passing the height of 6,000 m the cold of the night, the weight (the 15 kg bikes plus the backpack of 7 kg approx) and the lack of oxygen are beginning to be noticed. We took 40 steps and stopped 2 minutes per clock to rest. After about 5-6 hours and with the sun warming a little, we spent the long and exhausting carry that takes you straight to 6,500 meters, Very very tired. We took 20 steps and rested now 5 minutes per clock.

It was 11:00 in the morning and we still had about 4 hours to reach the summit, the time we had estimated to reach the summit was 9 hours, so we were very behind. After approximately 11/12 hours we arrived at the Crater of the volcano at 6,700 meters above sea level, where for the first time we can see the summit! From here it is 2 hours more to the summit approx. The energies returned, we felt safe and strong again, a second air came, the volcano welcomes us.

After 2 hours pushing and carrying the bike for a climb full of giant stone blocks with very refined sand and about 6,800 meters above sea level we reached the crux (most difficult part) of the route. 30 meters of vertical climbing over 6,830 meters above sea level awaited us. Here the climb was a bit complicated and it was slower than we thought, but finally, after 14 and a half hours we managed to carry the bikes to the summit of the highest volcano in the world and the highest mountain in Chile, the Nevado Ojos del Salado of 6,893 m altitude (22.630 ft). Here we hugged, we took a couple of photos, and we had to leave as soon as possible down as it was very late and saw an electrical storm come from giant cumulonimbus clouds.

Now it was time to lower all the exhausting hauling of endless sand that is the Ojos del Salado a privilege to get down on a bike!. We were riding for 45 seconds and had to stop to rest because the altitude above 6,500 meters is too exhausting, apart from that we had more than 15 hours without stopping and almost without eating anything (since at that altitude you get little hunger) and the cold in the hands were imminent. But to lower the Ojos del Salado in 43 minutes is priceless, all the suffering was worth it and to lower that endless sand hauling in less than 5 minutes, and that cost us 6 hours to raise it, is why the Love of this new discipline; The Bigmountainbike..

Afterwards in Camp Tejos and very happy to have achieved the goal, we went down to our base camp, the Murray refuge. And to top it off we had a flat wheel. We had to build a bivouac in the middle of the desert at 5,000m with -12 degrees Celsius. The Volcano did not want to let us go. Already the next day, with more than 35 hours without eating almost nothing and very tired, and with the help of a German motorcyclist (who luckily happened by there since nobody passes) we managed to repair the wheel and continue to Murray. Here we arrive, we assemble everything and leave to "Bahia Inglesa" a very beautiful beach. That same day we were bathing in the Pacific. The great privilege of living in Chile, a country privileged by its ideal geography for the practice of Bigmountainbike.

We want to thank for all the logistics and production of the expedition to Inner Mountain Chile (www.innermountain.cl) for believing in this project and supporting us to make it possible. 

By Patricio Goycoolea M.

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