The hike starts in La Parva, one of the ski resorts, a 45min drive from Santiago. One has to take the road to Farellones which we cycled only a few weeks ago, and from there it's another 10min or so. Yes, driving did feel like cheating a bit... q-:
We left the car at about 2900m asl, from where one could catch a ski lift to about 3500m asl. Since we got there early, and didn't want to cheat again, we skipped the lift. Those first 600m of climb are not super interesting (i.e. essentially a dusty ski slope), but we also thought that ascending a little more slowly would help us to adjust to the altitude a little easier and increase our chances of making it to the top.
The nicest part of the walk starts beyond the upper ski lift station. There is a pass with a little lagoon, the route starts climbing a ridge and the views are great. As one approaches Cerro Pintor, one also has great and relatively close-up views of Cerro El Plomo. Otherwise, the terrain looks a bit like those NASA photos from Mars, lots of rocks and dust in various shades of red (but also other colours). Here are a few more photos (for high res version click here):
As we got higher and higher we started noticing the thin air and ascending required a little more effort than normal. But we're glad to report that we made it to the top without suffering any symptoms of altitude sickness. On the way down we decided to take the ski lift short-cut, and that was interesting because Señor Mario Carrasco had never been on one of those.
The approximate route of this hike can also be found on the map in the "Outdoor activities" page of this blog.