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Cerro Incahuasi (6621m) | Alta Catamarca, Argentina


The great attraction of this summit is that it has the second highest pre-Columbian houses in the world, the first being on the volcano Llullaillaco, at 6739m. The first ascents were made by the Incas in the late 15th century and during the 16th, to consolidate their control over the local people of the area, and the climbs were used to perform rituals.

The name of Incahuasi comes from the quechua language (the language of the Incas). Inca-huasi = Inca home. The first certified modern ascent was made by Walter Penck in 1913, and he was unable to find any explanation of why there was a "pirca" (wall) around the summit.

The Incahuasi is an appealing summit from wherever you look at it, and a perfect end to an expedition if we have been acclimatising for several days in "Las Grutas".


Area: Alta Catamarca, Argentina               Andes

Type of activity: Expeditions

I also recommend reading:  Index of the area     Villages and refuges     Recommendations     Transports






1 Map Argentine IGM

 2 Approach, image by Google Earth

3 Diagram

 4 From the Quitapenas



Difficulty:  High altitude climbing trek, extremely dry climate and often windy.  Distances longer than they seem. 

Recommended material: High mountain-expedition equipment. Crampons.

Best time: November-March

Difference in level: Depending on where we get to by 4x4, 2250m on the NE face, 2100m on the NW.

Times: For information only, as the conditions of the terrain and the personal conditions can vary a great deal. North-east face  4x4-C1 2-3h    C1-C2 4h    C2-Incahuasi 8-10h

Map: Carta topográfica-Hoja 2769-23 Cerro de Incahuasi 1:100.000 IGM, and by approach by 4x4 Carta topográfica-Hoja 2769-17 Paso de San Francisco 1:100.000 IGM Argentino. It is also possible to use Alpenvereinskarte 0/13 Nevado Ojos del Salado 1:100.000 (German).

Recommendations: It is usually very difficult to find snow to make water in the low camps.  The route is largely visible from Las Grutas, check it out and if there is no snow for the first camp, take water yourselves (or take it on previous days).  From January, with the probable storm snows in the afternoon, it might be easier to find some.

Waypoints in UPS UTM/Datum WGS84 position format: Cerro Incahuasi 19J 0569852  7009556



I will explain the "normal" routes, as it is also possible to climb the south face, where there is a better chance of finding water, but the approach is very difficult by car, and the route very adventurous, and days of trekking, have to be added to reach the base.  It is also possible to climb on the Chilean side, using the same access as to the Cerro el Fraile, and then walking to the Port d'Incahuasi and connecting with the route of the NW face.

The first route regularly used to climb the Cerro de Incahuasi, was the north west crest. However, today, most people climb the North East, as it is easier to get to by car, and also because the part at the top, the "acarreo" (lava flow) is not so difficult, as we can climb by snow or over the rocks, if we want.  The pass is the only place where we will easily find snow to melt, and a very flat area for camping.  On the other hand, on the north west crest we might have trouble finding places to sleep and where there is snow nearby.  Before making the climb, we recommend previous acclimatisation for 8-10 days. If we want to make camps before those at altitude, we must provide for water availability, and if there is not much snow on the mountain, we will have to take water for two days.



From "Las Grutas" we will go off towards the hot water springs and then go around the Laguna San Francisco to the north, always along the ground road. When we come to the end of the lagoon, we have to go west towards the pass, between the Cerro San Francisco and the Nevado del Incahuasi, following 4x4 tracks.

NE face

We will continue climbing until the small black volcanoes are left to the south, and we will try to approach a little.  Depending on the state of the terrain, we will leave from between 4300 and 4500m to walk.

NW face

We will continue towards the pass over difficult land, following small 4x4 tracks until the base of the crest. Depending on the state of the terrain, we will leave from between 4500 and 4700m to walk.






 5 North face of Incahuasi

6 South face of Incahuasi

 7 There are 3 possible options for attempting the summit

 8 Incahuasi from the west (Chile) after a storm



We will leave towards the pass there is between the small volcanoes (“volcancitos”) and the Incahuasi, and cross it if we want, and here we can set up the first camp at an altitude of approximately 5000m. In this camp, if it has not snowed recently it is very difficult to find water, and we will have to provide for this by bringing water ourselves (from ‘Las Grutas’ part of the route is visible). If we feel strong and are well acclimatised, we can continue without setting up camp 1.

From this camp to camp 2 we obviously have to climb to the pass to our south west.  In the pass itself, we will set up the camp at an altitude of approximately 5650m. Here we are almost sure to find patches to be able to melt snow, especially in the southern part of the pass.

Summit attempt

From the pass itself, we have three options for reaching the large summit plain, depending on conditions and the material we are carrying:

- 1 "Acarreo" (lava flow), exhausting terrain of loose stone (a better option for coming down)
- 2 along a line of snow with crampons (a good option for the climb)
- 3 over a rock spur with some simple climbing

By any of these three options, we will reach the large summit esplanade, which becomes very flat towards the end, where it turns up once more to reach the crater that lies to our right. We will normally cross some patch of snow before reaching the peak. Shortly before the summit, we find the ruins, a pre-Columbian circular "pirca". During the excavations of 1991 a dressed metal statuette of some 15 cm was found there.



There is no secret to this, we leave from the point where we reached by car and take the north-west crest. The terrain is exhausting as it is always lava flow, and there are traces of a trail.  A camp has to be set up at around 5400-5800m depending on the water availability and the flat land. The following day, to get to the summit, we have to continue along the crest, and at the end go slightly to the right and when we reach the plain under the peak, we make the final ascent, vertically or winding to the left.






 9 Sunset from “Las Termas”

 10 Very windy evening. Incahuasi.

 11 Incahuasi in the background from Punta Catalunya

 12 After going round the Laguna de San Francisco to the base


Different names we can find along the route

Cerro de Incahuasi, Nevado Incahuasi, Incahuasi Volcano.


Date of information: 2007

Date of the route: We did not attempt it




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