Volcán Acotango is a 6000m peak straddling the border between Bolivia and Chile. It is an ancient, and probably extinct, volcano. I climbed Volcán Acotango in July 2022. It was one of the objectives of my recent trip to Bolivia.
We had based ourselves in the village of Sajama. This village is dominated by Nevado Sajama, a massive dormant volcano, that is also the highest peak in Bolivia.
In the previous weeks we had acclimatised with visits to Lake Titicaca and to the Uyuni Salar. So we felt sufficiently up to attempting this peak.
On the day we left Sajama village at around 5.30am. Supposedly it would take approximately 1.5hrs to drive to the start. We did the journey in the dark and we actually arrived at 6.30am. We decided to wait until shortly before sunrise at 7.08 before setting out.
Access to the mountain was via rough sulphur mine roads suitable only for 4WD vehicles. There were some significant retaining walls that stopped hillsides from spilling on to the roads. We could not see the mine on the way up. But the road took us up helpfully to around 5360m. There were already 4 cars there when we arrived. Another came just before we set off. The road goes higher, up to over 5500m but you need to be “brave” to go much higher than we did.
There was an indistinct path that left the road just where we had parked. As is normal hereabouts the path was dusty with volcanic ash. We could not see much but did not need headtorches as the light was steadily in increasing. There was also a fairly full moon.
We had parked at the edge of the crater, a part where the side had been blown out in a massive explosion. The path continued up a valley towards the centre of the crater. The path became more and more snowy, interspersed with fields of penitentes. Penitentes were to become a significant part of climbing in this area at this time of year. And they slowed progress considerably.
The sun rose behind us.
We overtook a group of 4 Brazilians who were resting and struggling with the altitude. We then came across a lone Argentinian weighed down with a heavy rucksack seated by a path just beyond the last of the penitentes. The penitentes had been tiresome as it was impossible to develop any sort of rhythm amongst them. There was also the ever present risk of turning an ankle.
We also took a brief rest, chatting to our fellow climber in a mix of Spanish and English. After our rest there came a steepish rising traverse up that loose and dusty path which eventually turned into zig-zags. We passed two groups of 3 people descending as we went up – presumably occupants of the other parked cars. This part of the climb took a couple of hours.
Eventually we reached a ridge, the ancient crater rim, where we put on crampons. There was a small bump to go over and then the ridge rose steeply in three steps to the summit. We met a further group of three Argentinians who were on their way down from the summit.
We ourselves reached the summit just before 3pm. So just under 8 hours for just under 700m of ascent (quite slow) – it only took 2 hours to descend. We took a slightly longer route down so as to avoid the penitentes.
We noted far below that the Brazilians had turned.
On reaching the top I promptly embarrassed myself by retching – due to a combination of altitude and effort. But there wasn’t anything in me to expel. Still we were at over 6000m elevation.
On the summit we had one foot in Bolivia and the other in Chile.
There were the expected wide ranging views including to the nearby Volcán Guillatiri which was emitting occasional puffs of smoke. I was quite pleased with myself as Acotango was only the second 6000m peak I had summited. Some claim this to be the easiest 6000m peak in the world.
The descent was uneventful and, as indicated, much quicker. We were fast enough down so as to get back to Sajama pueblo before it became completely dark.
Next on the cards was to be an attempt on Parinacota, another 6000m border volcano.
Update 18 September 2022 – it must be unusual for two brothers to climb Acotango separately and within a month of each other. However, this is the case and he has produced a nice video from his drone showing him on the summit. See this link: