Crossing from north to south through the Chilean Andes, this trekking expedition will combine wrangler’s trails, mountain paths and parts of the renowned existing Condor Circuit to connect four volcanoes straddling the Argentina border.
March 2019 will mark our first attempted connection through the wild borderlands of Chile and the heart of its volcano territory on this route. The team will take the opportunity to attempt multiple peaks including Descobezado Grande, Cerro Azul, Plancho Peteroa and Volcan Peteroa during this 140km trek.
- Wilderness journey through the Andes.
- Explore a beautiful yet little-visited area of Chile.
- Summit attempts on active volcanoes.
- Wild camp and swim in mountain lakes.
- Look out for condors soaring overhead.
- Explore Santiago and sample Chilean wine.
Challenging trekking routes
Chile has been a haven for outdoor enthusiasts for years, but with the majority of trips heading to Patagonia, there are vast tracts of beautiful, dramatic scenery which remain rarely, if ever, visited. Secret Compass are taking this a step (or few thousand) further by taking the highlights of several Andean trails and linking them together through the best of local scenery with challenging ascents thrown in for good measure.
Land of the condors
With wingspans of over three metres which puts them among the largest birds in the world, Andean condors use the strong wind currents from the Andes for their soaring flights. Listed as ‘near-threatened’ with populations steadily declining, the black birds and their distinctive white collar can be found coasting above the high mountains or stooping down to feast on deer or cattle carcasses up and down the Chile-Argentina border.
The Andes, otherwise known as the spine of South America, dominate this dramatic landscape. This expedition explores the Planchon-Peteroa group of volcanoes before heading south to Descabezado Grande, the iconic flat-topped, headless volcano. With eruptions in the region as recently as 2011 and plenty of evidence of volcanic activity from smoking vents to hot springs, the result is the ultimate backdrop to a day’s trekking.
Explore historic Santiago
This expedition starts and ends in Santiago, the capital and cultural centre of Chile. Not only will the city host the pre-expedition briefing but also the final celebratory meal. To extend your South American experience, extra days could be spent discovering the nearby coastal towns, its even closer wine region, or closer still the city’s few surviving colonial buildings, relaxing with a pisco sour as the sunset illuminates the distant snow-capped peaks.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this classic Chile expedition – the ‘substance’ rather than the specifics. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Chile Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
The expedition starts in Chile’s capital, Santiago, which is well-served by international flights. The team will meet at the group hotel for an expedition briefing at 1700 before heading into town for a meal. The next morning, after shopping for final supplies, the team will drive out of Santiago and south on the famous Pan-American Highway before diverting towards the Argentina border. Where the road ends, the trekking begins.
Shouldering full packs, the team will start acclimatising en route to the foot of the Planchon Peteroa volcano system. This is a complex system with barren pumice fields – a reminder of previous eruptions – smoking vents and high glaciers. With shorter trekking days to optimise acclimatisation, the progress on this pioneering route will be steady with difficult terrain as the altitude increases. Continuing the trek through the volcano complex and past mountain lagoons, the team will meet our muleteers to replenish food and fuel stores for the second half of the expedition. The team will then be rewarded with a widened valley offering up the first views of Descabezado Grande, the headless volcano with its curiously flat top. Ascending Descabezado and Cerro Azul sees the team on the home-stretch as they descend to the south.
Covering the final steps with around 140km of wilderness behind them, the team will be met at the boundary of the Altos del Lircay national park to be picked up and driven back to Santiago for showers, celebrations and plenty of post-expedition reflection. A final team dinner will round off your expedition before the trip officially ends after breakfast the next day. Team members are free to depart anytime that day or extend your stay.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to work as part of a team to achieve the expedition goals. The biggest challenges on this expedition will be its uneven volcanic terrain mixed with high altitude.
Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go. Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Trek: up to 20km for 13 days with a total ascent of 7777m+.
- Carry: up to 25kg per person (personal kit plus food and a share of camping/emergency equipment).
- Terrain: Challenging, steep climbs; uneven, rocky paths or no paths at all; scree slopes and morraine fields; some scrambling. Altitudes up to 4107m. There may be snowfields/glaciers at higher altitudes.
- Climate: from 25°C down to -0°C at night/ altitude.
- Swim: potential river crossings so swimming ability preferred.
- Age: 21+
- Experienced Secret Compass expedition leader with full medical and communication kits.
- Local guide/translator and mule support team.
- All accommodation throughout including technical mountain tents.
- All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
- All transport as outlined in itinerary.
- Special permits and permissions if required.
- 24 hour Operations Room.
- International flights/ travel to and from the team hotel.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas if required.
- Tips (discretionary).
- Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook).
- Any accommodation or activities outside of the Secret Compass itinerary.
On application to join this classic expedition to Chile, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
What if a volcano erupts?
Secret Compass have robust contingency plans and alternative routes for each aspect of the expedition should they prove necessary. The most recent eruption along this route was in 2011 and the volcanoes are monitored by several agencies of volcanologists as well as by our local partners.
Can someone else carry my kit?
For this expedition we expect team members to carry their personal equipment along with a share of the group kit (tents, cooking equipment, comprehensive med kit, communications pack) and food. Depending on the weight of your personal kit this should not exceed 20kg and will get lighter as you eat food and burn fuel until your resupply. If you have concerns about this aspect of the expedition, please contact Secret Compass for a copy of our expedition training guide and to discuss equipment options.
Do we need Argentinian visas?
Although the expedition follows part of the Chile-Argentinian border, the route remains within Chile so Argentinian visas are not needed although there will be document checks on the road to the trailhead.
Do I have to swim?
Although after several days of trekking, the opportunity for a good wash in a mountain lake will seem like the height of indulgence, swimming ability is not required for this trip. The trekking route will include several river crossings so you will need to be comfortable around water and we highly recommend bringing trekking poles to assist.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to and back from the start of the trek and so start and end dates are not flexible.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying and Secret Compass will be in touch to discuss.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button below to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team. The Handbook contains a kit list for this expedition.