South America 3 Peaks Expedition – Phase 2: Monte Pissis, Part 2

Base Camp > Camp 1

Having rested my foot for only two days, we moved as a team up to camp 1. The route to camp 1 was initially a gentle ascent along two boulder-strewn valleys. After two hours carrying our heavy loads, we reached the first penitente fields and had the first clear views of Pissis summit. Our planned route to the summit closely followed the right-hand edge of the glacier. The ground began to steepen as we crossed a small glacial stream, and we were soon exposed to the full force of the wind, which seems ever-present in the Puna. We trudged uphill, with heads bowed, into the wind. By early afternoon, Dave had reached camp at 5,300m, and I joined him shortly after, by traversing left again and re-crossing the stream that runs off the glacier. Our campsite was compact, but big enough for two tents, and we reinforced the small rock wall to shelter ourselves from the wind.



That evening, we were blessed to witness a phenomenal sunset over the Andes.

Sunset from camp 1 on Monte Pissis

You can read the story of the whole expedition in the official Expedition Report below, which is also available for download:

South America 3 Peaks Expedition – Phase 2: Monte Pissis, Part 1

The South America 3 Peaks Expedition took place in Dec 2013/Jan 2014. Carolina Morales, David Kenealy and I spent 35 days in the Puna de Atacama and High Andes of northern Argentina and attempted to climb Monte Pissis (6,795m), Ojos del Salado (6,893m) & Aconcagua (6,959m). The expedition was also the third leg of my long-term project to climb the Triple 7 Summits; the 3 highest peaks on each continent.

The second phase of the expedition was a 5-day attempt to climb Monte Pissis (6,795m), the third highest mountain in South America.

Fiambala > Base Camp > Load carry Camp 1

Monte Pissis panorama

On the rest day in Fiambala – the day after I climbed San Francisco – I stepped awkwardly off the kerb and severely damaged ligaments in my left foot. In the local emergency room I had an X-ray to rule out fracture and was given strong painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and advised to take ten days rest. This would have drastically affected the expedition, so I decided to continue, and joined the team the following day for a five-hour 4×4 drive to Pissis base camp at 4,500m – during which time I had my leg elevated.

It was a spectacular journey, with sensational views towards Monte Pissis across a number of salt lakes, where flamingos waded and vicunas grazed. When we arrived at base camp at 4,500m, there was one other team who had already set up camp. After dropping us off, our local agent Jonson left us for the return journey to Fiambala, leaving us alone and somewhat isolated for the first time on this expedition. The nearest help was now a satphone call and a 5-hour drive away…




While the team completed a load carry to Camp 1 at 5,300m the following day, I rested at base camp. I hoped that my La Sportiva Spantik boots would provide enough support to stabilise my injured foot, which was very swollen and acutely painful. During my rest day, I received further bad news on my satphone that my cousin had been knocked down while walking his dog during a hit-and-run incident, and was badly injured. A black cloud hung over me as I lay in my tent alone at base camp, waiting for the team to return from the load carry.

You can read the story of the whole expedition in the official Expedition Report below, which is also available for download:

South America 3 Peaks Expedition – Phase 1: Acclimatisation, Cerro San Francisco

The South America 3 Peaks Expedition took place in Dec 2013/Jan 2014. Carolina Morales, David Kenealy and I spent 35 days in the Puna de Atacama and High Andes of northern Argentina and attempted to climb Monte Pissis (6,795m), Ojos del Salado (6,893m) & Aconcagua (6,959m). The expedition was also the third leg of my long-term project to climb the Triple 7 Summits; the 3 highest peaks on each continent.

The first phase of the expedition was a 9-day acclimatization phase, where we would attempt to climb 4 peaks over 4,000m.

Cerro San Francisco – 6,016m

We left Las Grutas at 3am for the hour-long drive to the foot of San Francisco, just across the international border with Chile. Our pickup dropped us off the main road at an altitude of 4,800m, and we started the slow and cold ascent in darkness. The first part was quite flat, and we followed some vague 4×4 tyre tracks by the light of our headtorches. Soon, we reached a transversal depression, and then ascended a short distance before reaching a steepening diagonal path. As we made slow progress up this path, dawn broke and we enjoyed the slow creeping of warmth in our extremities as the sun’s light finally reached us. Caro was suffering badly today, and despite wearing her down jacket for the ascent she was very cold. Partly, her very slow pace did not allow her body to generate warmth. For her own safety, and the safety of the group, we decided that she should turn back at 5,600m – about the same altitude that she reached on Elbrus a few months before.

After leaving Caro at 5,600m, we increased our pace considerably, as we were concerned about reaching the summit and having time to safely descend by early afternoon. The diagonal traverse finally ended at a lava flow pass, which climbed from right to left to a large plateau 200m below the summit. Here, two peaks were visible to the south, with the highest on the right. At the plateau, we met another climber suffering severe altitude sickness – he had vomited and his group had continued without him. At this point, Dave also made the difficult decision not to continue. He was very tired, and was moving very slowly. He had been above 4,000m for only three days, so it would have taken a monumental effort for him to continue – and he wanted to conserve energy for Phase 2.



I continued slowly up the steepening snow slopes towards the summit, and after a challenging and breathless final few steps, I reached the 6,016m summit. I had incredible views of Incahuasi- Pissis-Nacimiento-Fraile-Walter Penck-Ojos del Salado-El Muerto-Tres Cruces-Cerro Cóndor-Dos Conos-Peinado-Cerro Bertrand-Pabellón Chucula-Morocho and Falso Morocho. It was my 37th birthday, and I was elated to have climbed my first 6,000m peak, and my fourth successful summit of the expedition. Phase 1 was a success.

Ricky on Summit of Cerro San Francisco

On the rest day in Fiambala – the day after I climbed San Francisco – I stepped awkwardly off the kerb and severely damaged ligaments in my left foot. In the local emergency room I had an X-ray to rule out fracture and was given strong painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and advised to take ten days rest

You can read the story of the whole expedition in the official Expedition Report below, which is also available for download:

South America 3 Peaks Expedition – Phase 1: Acclimatisation, Cerro Bertrand

The South America 3 Peaks Expedition took place in Dec 2013/Jan 2014. Carolina Morales, David Kenealy and I spent 35 days in the Puna de Atacama and High Andes of northern Argentina and attempted to climb Monte Pissis (6,795m), Ojos del Salado (6,893m) & Aconcagua (6,959m). The expedition was also the third leg of my long-term project to climb the Triple 7 Summits; the 3 highest peaks on each continent.

The first phase of the expedition was a 9-day acclimatization phase, where we would attempt to climb 4 peaks over 4,000m.

Cerro Bertrand – 5,300m

The day after climbing Falso Morocho, I attempted to reach the third objective of the acclimatisation program: 5,300m volcano Cerro Bertrand. Meanwhile, Caro rested at Las Grutas and Dave finally arrived today after receiving his luggage. Although Bertrand looks close from the refuge, it’s actually a 25km return trek to the summit and back. With the local guide, I climbed 1,300m and covered the 25km to the summit and back in only 8.5 hours, indicating that I was acclimatising well to the thin air, and that my fitness level was good. At the summit there is a spectacular 4.5km diameter crater, which is 300m deep, and provides stunning summit views. Like other peaks in the area, the first ascents of Cerro Bertrand were made by the Incas at the end of the 15th century, which we know thanks to the remains found close to the top; just a few metres from the peak, a simple circular structure of rocks against a rock was found, for protection against the wind. The following day, both Dave and Caro attempted to reach the Balcon del Bertrand (the shoulder of Bertrand), rather than exert themselves by going for the summit. This shortens both the altitude (5,000m) and the distance (18km) considerably. I joined them both up to 4,700m to help my acclimatisation.

You can listen to Dave’s post-ascent message and satphone update below:




At the end of this day, we visited the nearby natural thermals for a relaxing soak, and then enjoyed a typical Argentinean ‘asado’, or barbecue, in the refuge at Las Grutas. The next day was a rest day for our tired bodies, to prepare us for our first 6,000m peak, and the final acclimatisation peak in Phase 1 – San Francisco (6,016m).

You can read the story of the whole expedition in the official Expedition Report below, which is also available for download:

South America 3 Peaks Expedition – Phase 1: Acclimatisation, Falso Morocho

The South America 3 Peaks Expedition took place in Dec 2013/Jan 2014. Carolina Morales, David Kenealy and I spent 35 days in the Puna de Atacama and High Andes of northern Argentina and attempted to climb Monte Pissis (6,795m), Ojos del Salado (6,893m) & Aconcagua (6,959m). The expedition was also the third leg of my long-term project to climb the Triple 7 Summits; the 3 highest peaks on each continent.

The first phase of the expedition was a 9-day acclimatization phase, where we would attempt to climb 4 peaks over 4,000m.

Falso Morocho – 4,500m

After a second night in Pastos Largos, we drove to Las Grutas refuge at 4,000m to continue our acclimatisation program. We stamped out of Argentina at the nearby border crossing, but did not officially enter Chile – since the Chilean border post is another 100km down the Paso de San Francisco.

You can watch my ipadio video blog below:

You can listen to my pre-ascent New Year message and satphone update below:

Falso Morocho was another easy high-altitude trek that took us just a few hours and helped our bodies adjust to the thin air in the high plateau of the Puna de Atacama – at 4,500m, the atmospheric pressure is only 58%, compared to 100% at sea level. It was another hot and clear day, and the views across the Laguna San Francisco were spectacular. We rested on the summit for more than an hour to gain maximum benefit from being at 4,500m, before descending down towards the laguna. On one of the small soda lakes, there was a large flock of flamingoes, and we tried to approach carefully in order to photograph them without disturbing them – but they scrambled out of the water and circled over our heads.

Meanwhile, Dave had received his bags from KLM and had transferred from La Rioja to Fiambala, and would now join us the following day.



The refuge was empty when we arrived, but soon filled up with a large group from the Catamarca Mountaineering Association and several itinerant long-distance cyclists. The mountain scenery around the refuge was extraordinary, with several 6,000m+ peaks visible, including Incahuasi, El Muerto, Chucula and San Francisco, which would be the final objective of our acclimatisation phase. Vicunas and guanacos roamed across the Puna, and we spotted several Andean condors soaring high overhead.

You can listen to Caro’s satphone update after our ascent – in Spanish – below.

You can read the story of the whole expedition in the official Expedition Report below, which is also available for download: