Image of Ojos del Salado courtesy of Hartmut Bielefeldt (click to enlarge).
What if Aconcagua isn't the highest Peak in South America?

Posted: Nov 29, 2006 09:21 pm EST
( Aconcagua, considered highest peak of the American continent, should be relegated to a second best status according to some Chilean sources who have created a heated controversy in the country. Local Andes magazine has published testimonies from climbing pioneers stating that nevado Ojos del Salado is not only taller than Aconcagua, but also a 7000er the only one in America.

7-Summiters grabbing for the back-pack again?

The claims have yet to be proved - offering a (brief?) relief for Seven-summiteers around the world, who would have to launch a new expedition in order to keep their records.

Ojos del Salado is a massive volcano located in a barren region, on the Chilean-Argentinean border. At the beginning of the 20th century a joint Chilean-Argentinean commission stated its altitude at 6.853 meters above sea level.

However, in the first summit of the peak made by Chile in 1956, the climbers (led by Colonel René Gajardo) measured the peak and stated its central summit was 7.084 m.

200 meters higher for Chileans

That same year, a US team led by Adams Carter and sponsored by the American Alpine Club also measured Ojos del Salado, stating it was 6.885 tall. The prestigious AACs claims were generally accepted, despite Carters team never reaching the summit.

Andes Magazine has contacted Gajardo, currently 84 years old, and he claims there is a reasonable doubt on the subject. In addition, Gajardo believes Carter mistook the main summit of Ojos del Salado, and measured another peak instead.

In addition, French climber Philippe Reuter made US Air force aeronautical charts note the peak as 23,240 feet high that is, 7083 meters.

Call for a measuring expedition

Now Andes Magazine has called for climbers and researchers to organize an expedition in order to properly measure the peak and clear up the question once and for all.

Except there has been a number of measuring expeditions to Ojos del Salado already. In 1989 a team from the University of Padua in Italy, aided by Argentinean climbers and geologists, surveyed both Aconcagua and Ojos del Salado, measuring them with GPS.

Ojos del Salado was determined to be 6 900m. (22,637 ft), and Aconcagua 6 962m. (22,841 ft) - with a possible error of plus/minus five metres (16 ft). None of the measurements were high precision however, so the debate continues.

The world's highest Holocene volcano, Nevados Ojos del Salado, rises to aprox. 6887m (depending on the source) along the border between Chile and Argentina. The massive volcanic complex contains numerous craters, cones, and lava domes. No historical eruptions have been recorded, but the volcano is fumarolically active.

Due to its location near the Atacama desert, the mountain has very dry conditions with snow only remaining on the peak during winter. The ascent is mostly a hike except for the final section to the summit which is a difficult scramble that may require ropes. The first ascent was made in 1937 by Polish Jan Alfred Szczepañski and Justyn Wojsznis.