Nevado Ojos del Salado, or Ojos del Salado, is one of the most popular dormant volcanoes in Argentina-Chile. The volcano is located on the border of Argentina and Chile and is a part of the Andes mountain range. On Earth, it is the highest volcano, and in Chile, the highest peak. There are several volcanoes that rise from Ojos Del Salado. The mountain is one with the driest conditions in South America. This prevents the peak from forming glaciers or ice. A permanent crater lake at 100 m (330 ft) diameter at a height of 6,480 meters (21,260 ft)-6,500 meters (21,300 ft) is present inside the crater of the summit and on the east of this summit, which is also the highest lake in the whole world.
There are just so many interesting facts about Nevado Ojos del Salado; make sure to read till the end of this article to know more!
How did Ojos del Salado get its name?
There is a popular belief that the mountain gets its name after the river that was crossed to climb the peak by the 1937 Polish expedition. But there are also theories that the river’s name is not responsible for giving the mountain its name, Ojos del Salado, as many people believe that the name was already in existence before the expedition. The mineral deposits that are found in the mountain, however, may be responsible for the name of the mountain to have been Ojos del Salado. Another excessively discussed theory includes the two summits, the eastern or Argentine and western or Chilean summit, lying in between the international boundary, which suggests that the name of the mountain might have originated from the country from which it could be reached most easily.
What is the history of Ojos del Salado?
Ojos del Salado is a dormant volcano now. But there is a history of eruptions related to this mountain. The volcanic activities here have been assumed to have started during the late Pleistocene, around 3.3-1.5 million years ago. The oldest rocks that have been found on the bottom areas of the volcanic mountain suggest that it is around 3 million years old, which is almost as old as the time that the volcanic activities started in the mountain. A collection of Miocene volcanoes that have emitted andesite and dacite, a few of which were partially in glacial environments, are referred to as the “Ojos del Salado basal complex” on geological maps of Argentina.
Ojos del Salado has developed in two stages; the new volcano apparently grew on top of the older one. The origin of Ojos del Salado has been interpreted by a famous theory that suggests it had developed pyroclastic flows. Nevado Tres Cruces, which is very close to the peak and is also a part of the Andes mountain range, around 67000 years ago produced lots of deposits. This led to the origin of Ojos del Salado. Excessive pyroclastic flow activity and lava domes in the mountain are also a part of the Pleistocene period. At the same time, the earliest estimated time of eruption of Ojos del Salado has been said to be less than a million years ago, whereas the most recent and last activity in the volcano dates back to 30,000 years ago.
Geography of Nevado Ojos del Salado
Nevado Ojos del Salado is a dormant volcano that is a part of the Andes mountain range. It moves from the Puna de Atacama next to the Atacama Desert at an elevation of 4,000 meters (13,000 ft). Moreover, the mountain lies between the border of Argentina and Chile within the Catamarca Province and Copiapo Province of the Atacama region, respectively. The condition of the roads or flow of water in this area is not very good. There is a struggle to find a good water supply in this area due to the dry conditions, and the dirt roads have often been the only accessible source of water.
At an elevation of 6,887 meters (22,595 ft), Ojos del Salado is the highest volcano in the whole world and the highest peak in Chile. Moreover, the mountain is also the second highest among the mountains of the Andes mountain range. Some of the minerals found in this peak are basalt, gravel, pumice, and scoria. There is a deep gap between the summit that makes up for the two summits separating the mountain. Dacitic lava flows form the core of the volcanic mountain, but a majority of the summit area is made of pyroclastic fall material. Furthermore, the volcano also consists of lava domes, lava flows, pyroclastic cones, and volcanic craters. The lava domes on Nevado Ojos del Salado include Cerro Solo and El Fraile.
There are several lakes in the mountain, including the highest lake in the crater of the mountain. Many lakes in the mountains are permanently frozen. Likewise, many lakes might even disappear as a result of climate change. The Ojos del Salado area is highly dominated by volcanoes from two eras: the Pleistocene and Holocene ages. The summit craters have very often been compared to moonscape. Similarly, there is a presence of glaciers and ice in the area as well.
There is almost no substantial ice cover in the peaks of Nevado Ojos del Salado. The climate in the mountains is arid. This keeps the equilibrium line altitude of ice, and only the highest points of the mountains are covered with ice while keeping the rest of the mountain free of ice at all times. The streams are fed by the meltwater from the glaciers.
Ecology of Nevado Ojos del Salado
Nevado Ojos del Salado is possibly the driest place in South America. Hence, there is no vegetation once the height of above 4,600 meters (15,100 ft) elevation is crossed. While there is no life in the higher points of the mountain, a diverse range of flora and fauna can be found in the lowermost range of the mountain. Similarly, lichens and mosses are the only forms of vegetation found in the upper parts of the mountain. Some of the sediments recovered from the lake of Ojos del Salado are salt, acid, and cold-tolerant bacteria. The consistency of the dry organisms in the lake is the result of the dry environment around the volcano. The south-southeast of Ojos del Salado contains ducks, flamingos, geese, guanacos, and vicuñas occur in the Santa Rosa-Maricunga-Negro Francisco region. In the south valley, one can also find chinchillas and vicunas. The Nevado Ojos del Salado area had also been considered by the authorities in Chile as a “zone of touristic interest.”
Humans in Nevado Ojos del Salado
Nevado Ojos del Salado remained unknown and ignored for the longest time. It is not even evident as to whether people even knew about this peak or not. The mountain was hidden behind several other peaks, which may have been the reason why it was neglected for several years. The expedition teams would not even consider climbing the mountain as they had no idea where it was or if it was even there. In the 1861 plans of William Wheelwright for a railway across Paso San Francisco, there is no mention of Ojos del Salado.
As per the myths of the locals in the area, the mountain is said to be a much smaller one, and the actual Ojos del Salado is Peak ‘e.’ Polish climbers Justyn Wojsznis and Jan Szczepański from the Second Polish Andean Expedition lost their maps in World War II, but they have the first evident history of the mountain as they climbed it in the year 1937. Polish expeditors would often climb other mountains, thinking it was Ojos del Salado. Much later, in 1955, climbers thought the mountain from the south was a volcano. They even came up with an assumption that the peak was taller than Mount Aconcagua, and it was broadcasted by the media accordingly. This, however, drew excessive attention to the mountain that was otherwise unseen for so many years. The American Alpine Club expedition in 1956 was disrupted by a strong gush of wind and bad weather conditions overall.
Francesco Santon of the University of Padua in Italy, with the help of Argentine assistants, determined that the height of the mountain was 6,900 ± 5 meters (22,638 ± 16 ft). They did this with the help of GPS-based positioning.
Mountaineering and trekking in Nevado Ojos del Salado
Mountaineering and trekking in Nevado Ojos del Salado are very common among travelers. Around a hundred of person visit the mountain annually. The visitors feel hardships in climbing the mountain due to harsh weather conditions and unfavorable roads up the peak. But, the mountain has also been a great trekking experience for many mountaineers and trekkers for a lot of reasons. Moreover, the mountain can be climbed from both the Argentinian side as well as the Chilean side. But the Chilean side has greater facilities of porters and logistics, making it a better option for the climb.