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Mount Pissis (Monte Pissis, 6792m) | Alta Catamarca, Argentina

 

This previously highly unknown range is located in the driest desert in the world, in the Argentinean region of "Alta Catamarca". It is not excessively difficult technically, but is a good challenge due to the total lack of infrastructures in the area, the height, the volcanic terrain and the solitude.

The first climb was made in 1937 by a Polish group (led by the same man as the group which gave its name to the famous Aconcagua glacier). Its name pays tribute to the French geographer Pierre Joseph Aimé Pissis (Brioude 1812, Santiago de Chile 1889), a South American pioneer of cartography in the second half of the 19th century (who established the height of the main peaks of the Andes and carried out the first topography of many areas). He was a teacher of physical sciences and mathematics in Chile university.

The area is completely volcanic, with lavas of different colours, "lagoons" with waterfall of heavy metals, and some patches of snow, in extinction in most cases. The arid nature of the land is extreme, with hardly any vegetation, but with highly diverse fauna; we can see vicugnas, guanacos, asses, flamingos, condors and some other birds.

We have indicated the area as there is very little information on the net, which is why many people do not dare go there without guides.

 

Area: Alta Catamarca, Argentina               Andes

Type of activity: Expeditions

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

 

 

 

 

 

1 Map

 2 Approach by car in Google Earth

 3 Diagram

 4 Connection between the approach valleys

 

SUMMARY

Difficulty:  A climb walking at great altitude, 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: Base Camp-Pissis 2250m

Times: For information only, as the conditions of the terrain and the personal conditions can vary a great deal. We went to the area after acclimatising for two weeks in "Las Grutas".  BC-C1a 3h15m  C1a-C2a 2h15m    First night in C2a    C2a-C3 4h    Second night in C3    C3-Pissis 8-10h  Pissis-C3 2h30m    Third night in C3     C3-BC 3h

Map:  Carta topográfica-Hoja 2769-34 Monte Pissis 1:100.000 IGM Argentino

Recommendations:
- Empty plastic bottles may be useful for storing water in the camps.                                                                                                                                                                  
– Ice axes are not necessary, but they are very useful for breaking the ice in the high camp; we carried a very light one for the whole group. For the summit attempt, we will only use telescopic sticks and crampons as the inclination is no more than 30
°.                                                                                                                 
- There are no cracks on the side of the glacier, no ropes or specific material is needed. In the centre there are small cracks, but very predictable if it has not snowed recently (after January, in the afternoons there is the chance of storms that might leave new snow).                                                       
– It is recommendable to use hand radios for communicating with base camp (the car will have to go back 1 Km where there is a much better place in a straight line with the expedition members for communicating) and/or satellite telephone for calls in the event of need.                                                      
- It is necessary to reach base camp with plenty of water (if not, we will have to collect water from some stream we find on the way or by melting snow from some patch; sometimes the snow contains sand, which has to be filtered). Carry supplies for 2 or 3 days longer than expected.                                                                                
- Before leaving for Pissis, you have to register with the tourist office in Fiambalá (next to the Municipal Hostería), and also with the National Police at the entrance to the town, where we will have to give the expected date of our return and leave our details.                                                                          

Waypoints in UPS UTM/Datum WGS84 position format: The waypoints must be a further aid, but never the main reference to guide us, as a fault in the apparatus, run down batteries, any error in data entry, poor cover etc, may cause serious problems. The best thing is to have good orientation, know how to read the land well, have a good map and also a good compass.  BC  19J 0528490  6934390 Point where there is the detour between valley A and B  19J 0527102  6934200   C1a  19J  0525611  6932818  C2a  19J 0524262  6931447  C2ab  19J 0523443  6931681  C3  19J 0522105  6931147  Mount Pissis 19J 0519818  6929982

 

OFFICIAL HEIGHT

Although it is officially the second highest peak in America at 6882m, off the record it is the third. Its true height is around 6790m-6810m. With this height, the Ojos del Salado would be higher, but in any case, they are still the two highest volcanoes in the world, the Ojos del Salado is the highest active volcano in the world and the Pissis the highest inactive volcano. The charm of this range, at least until the present time, is that it is not at all busy (the Ojos on the Argentinean side is not either, but it is very busy on the Chilean side), and will give us a different mountain experience from the conventional expeditions with base camps full of people, etc.

We four members of the expedition were lucky enough to be alone for five days, and this is truly a luxury in these times, as all together we are devaluating the mountains with the crowds, comforts, guides, porters..., not many people want adventure, but rather the certainty of success at any price. Having said this, sooner or later it will probably not be possible to have such experiences in this range, but the area is grandiose and the possibilities and unknown routes almost infinite, so there will always be some space for challenges for those who seek this kind of commitment.

 

ACCESS BY CAR (4x4)

You have to go by 4x4 and must be experienced in driving on these kinds of desert terrain, as it is very easy to get stuck in the sand. You need to have knowledge of mechanics and carry a lot of spares just in case (wheels, battery, fuel in drums, planks for getting the car out, more water and food than necessary...). It is best to go there with at least two cars as a breakdown could leave us some 90 Km from the road, where at some time each day someone might go past... The route is very obvious.

We leave the town of Fiambalá on asphalt for the Paso de San Francisco. After this there are no more inhabited villages, for Chaschuil is not a village (although it is marked on many maps), but rather a valley. At an altitude of around 3200m we come to a detour on either side of the road: to the right there is a track to the adobe refuge of Pastos Largos (indicated), and to the left (west) is a track to Las Coipas and the former "Puna Nueva" vicugnas operation (not indicated). We turn off to the left and rise a good while winding now on a track (nearby river to collect water). We will then start to drop and pass to the right of Laguna de los Aparejos. At the end of the lagoon we have to continue banking to the right (north-west), as to the left there is a path that would take us to the Laguna de las Tunas. After a few other mountain passes, we come to the beautiful Laguna Azul. We go round the lagoon to the left and at the next mountain pass are astounded by the view that meets us. We are at the Pissis balcony, and it is well worth staying there a while to admire the different lagoons and the Pissis range.

From here, we will zig-zag down to Laguna Verde (Laguna Negra on some maps), go round this to the left (south) and come out through a small pass. Here there is a very straight section that ends with a turning to the left, indicated (Pissis, South-west). We go left, crossing some possible river (and a chance to get water) and will pass alongside a large landmark (south). Further on, we will go down a very straight short section (west) and climb the valley at the end to the right (north-west), which first turns to the right and then to the left at the end (west/south-west). The base camp is at an altitude of 4600m and in December 2006 there was a large red tent fixed there. From the road a total 90 km on tracks and some 200 Km from Fiambalá, a leisurely 5-hour drive.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reaching our first camp

 6 View of the valleys on the descent

7 Google Earth diagram

 8 From the C2a (our first camp)

 

POSSIBLE CAMPS

We will show the different options we have for making the camps, but without a specific calendar, as each expedition’s strategy may be very different depending on the group’s acclimatisation, their physical and mental state, the availability of water (C1), the time available and the weather. We recommend at least 8-10 days' acclimatisation before attempting the summit if no previous acclimatisation has been done, and never to go straight to base camp without acclimatisation at lower altitudes (different possibilities are available on the way). If you have done some high 5000 or low 6000 on previous days (thus getting to know the area better), it is possible to go for the summit in 3 or 4 days, and one ideal place for acclimatising is "Las Grutas". In any case, the best calendar will be determined by our bodies, which will give us signs of good or poor acclimatisation for continuing to climb, or tell us to wait a little and allow us to adapt better before attempting the summit. The signs of poor acclimatisation are obvious and we must not hesitate and descend rapidly; rescues are slow and difficult in this area, and help might reach us too late if our health worsens.

 

ROUTE FOR REACHING THE HIGH CAMPS

We walk out of Base Camp (4600m) in the same direction as where we came in by car (south/south-west), but we soon have to turn into a valley to the right (west). We will climb up this valley until we come to a fork (photo 3) to the left, we are left the valley we have called A and the B to the right. The two small valleys are used to reach the base of the Pissis glacier. Both allow us to establish a camp at around 5100m, and the one in valley B is generally better for getting water easily, as here the river passes that comes down from the glacier, although in valley A we will always find some small patch of snow to get water.

Valley A

We go up the valley to 5100m, and here there are places for setting up C1a. We could continue along the small valley to the end where we would turn right (dotted line on the diagram), but the route I will explain is shorter and more often used. From 5100m we divert to the right and start to climb; we have to reach a small pass to the right of a small peak and flank this to the right (path remains), immediately coming to a plain and we will have to cross a penitent river coming down from the mountain. Just before this river, there is a perfect plain for setting up C2a at 5300m, and during the day water also runs down at the end of the penitent river. From this possible C2a, we continue crossing the river of penitents on a plain that we will find at the end of the glacier and maybe some river with water flowing down; we cross this and can set up a camp that we now share with route B, C2ab at 5340m.

Valley B

We climb up to 5100m where there is a possible esplanade for setting up camp, C1b. Further on, depending on the state of the end of the glacier, we will have to climb to the right, always to the right of the edge of the snow, until we reach C2ab, for in the centre of the valley we might not be able to climb the blocks of ice falling at the end of the glacier.

Access to high camp C3

There is no problem here, we climb up the side of the glacier and if the snow is all right it is worth going over it, as the "acarreo" (lava flow) may be awkward. We reach 5740m where there is a good, large esplanade for setting up C3. In this camp we will not find liquid water, and it is best not to move too far away from the ice as a number of trips will be needed to get water. Further up there are no other more or less flat places to set up camps until 6200m (both on the ascent and the descent), but we do not believe that it is worth setting up a camp at this altitude. The climb at this height with such a weight on our backs is very hard and we would uselessly waste strength and have a much worse night than at C3 due to the altitude. A climb of 1000-1100m per day when attempting the summit is a good balance.

 

 

 

 

 

 9 Summit-attempt day, entering the glacier

10 Final part, now at 6500m

 11 Writing the summit book

12 Descent, crossing the river coming off the glacier

 

SUMMIT ATTEMPT

There are several options, which are all valid, but we will explain the most logical and least tiring one both for climbing and descending. It is best to leave one or two hours before sunrise to avoid the worsening weather in the afternoon or anything unexpected. We leave C3 and go on to the glacier; we must go round the lower peak to the left to come to a small valley to the right, which we take us to a pass. Wherever possible, it is best to pass on the snow as volcanic terrain is very tiring for climbing (one step forward and half a step back...). When we reach the pass behind the lower peak, we continue off towards the left and will see what is left. The fastest way is to get through the pass between the lower and the main peak to the left and follow the ridge to Mt. Pissis, but there is also the option of going straight on to go to the pass between the Pissis and the National Police and then going on to the left, but this is a longer option and it is not as easy to find the peak this way.

 

DESCENT

On the descent, we follow the same path as we came up, but will pass the lower peak to the left, and will thus go down tracks on fast, scree terrain. The path goes round slightly to the north, and when we reach a plain, it is best to continue eastwards to the edge of the glacier, from where we will see the tents, and the fastest way is to go down by the “acarreo”. If you wish, you can also go down the snow route we climbed, but this is not as fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 13 Crossing a small field of penitents to reach C2a

 14 Laguna Verde and Pissis from around the Pissis balcony

15 Laguna Verde and Pissis

 

 

Different names we can find along the route

Mount Pissis, Nevado Pissis, Pissis Volcano, Monte Pissis, Cerro Pissis, Pillanhuasi

 

Date of information: 2007

Date of the route: Christmas 2006

 

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