The Ojos del Salado volcano towers above the salt flats in northern Chile, rising above an other-worldly palette of muted desert plains and deep blue skies.
The country’s highest point and the world’s tallest active volcano is located far from Patagonia’s gushing rivers and forested fjords that typify Chilean mountaineering, but the 22,608ft (6,891m) peak is considered one of the finest alpine challenges in the country.
So it is fitting that the official ceremony to open the 2011-12 mountaineering season in the Atacama highlands was celebrated at the foot of the volcano, in the Nevado de Tres Cruces national park.
Three hours east of mining city, Copiapó, in northern Chile, the Laguna Santa Rosa set the stage for the ceremony, with its characteristic flocks of pink flamingos striding the water’s edge – almost like a seaside beach, except these waters are located 12,140 ft (3,700 m) above sea level.
Currently, the park and its high-altitude treasures are most commonly frequented by semi-professional mountaineers, searching for a technical challenge like the Ojos del Salado ascent and the breathtaking beauty of the remote, altiplano landscape.
Natalia Riquelme, a Chilean from the southern city of Temuco, said she “was fascinated by the landscape and the richness of the Atacama.” She added, “Hopefully, many more people will have the chance to discover these places.”
Regional Sernatur Director Constanza Sepúlveda said, “we want to invite Chilean and foreign mountaineers and nature-lovers to come discover the Nevado de Tres Cruces park, and its three alpine lakes (San Francisco, Verde and Santa Rosa).”
The unforgiving conditions of the altiplano are home to some of Chile’s most unique native species – something that the regional Conaf director, Diego Morales, said is a top priority.
“CONAF will try to continue improving the tourist services and installations in the park, in order to offer a better travel experience to local, national and international tourists – and in particular, to strengthen the conservation work for the biodiversity and fragile ecosystems that are found in this national park,” he said.