Andean Excursions: Cerro Pintor

Looking to step up your hiking game now that you are next door to the Andes? While Manquehue, Pochoco and Provincia offer great views and a solid challenge, some people seek more. One can find that challenge with the skyscraping peak, Cerro Pintor, nestled high above Santiago overlooking the Argentine border.

Cerros Leonera(left, dark peak), Plomo (middle, with glacier), and Pintor (right, green in front of Plomo)
Cerros Leonera(left, dark peak), Plomo (middle, with glacier), and Pintor (right, green in front of Plomo)

Named for its colorful resemblance to a painter, Cerro Pintor serves as a perfect introduction to high-altitude mountaineering. Though the path is easy to follow, climbers will face a difficult uphill battle. A grueling first hour of climbing leaves you on a ridge overlooking ski resorts and Santiago in the distance. Though the weather is always changing, expect to find strong winds and a drastic drop in temperature in comparison to whatever is happening down in smogville.

Our guide, Pablo, warned us with a smile, “This place is terrible in winter!”

Giancarlo can't help but laugh as he runs and slides down the slope
Giancarlo can't help but laugh as he runs and slides down the slope
After the initial climb, a relatively painless though thoroughly enjoyable stroll leads to a refuge which may include many of the mountaineering stray dogs of the Andes. Looking as if she had been relaxing all day, my deceitfully powerful hiking partner, Maida, decided to fill me in. “This just goes to show you that wherever you are in Chile, there will be dogs.”

One of these curly, mangy companions decided to tag along to the summit, which, from the refuge, is a steeper, more difficult hour to the tall crown of Pintor. At this point, the altitude may begin to affect the uninitiated high-altitude adventurist. High-altitude sickness can be dangerous, even fatal. It felt like there was a storm brewing in my head, with my thumping heart reverberating off my skull like distant thunder. Thump-thump, thump-thump. Annoying. Luckily, though, Pablo was monitoring us and the cure for the sickness is simple: go back down the mountain to a lower altitude. Feeling assured of my safety, I powered on.

And thankfully so: The final approach to the summit left us breathless: both physically and figuratively. Pushing up the incline with thinning air, the trail passes what, by definition, would be the mountains southern face. And when the light hits it right, the southern face becomes an actual face. Multi-colored, million-year-old rock layers formed just right to propel a grandpa-like visage. Did I forget to tell you to bring your camera?

If you can't see the face you aren't trying
If you can't see the face you aren't trying

Once at the summit, you’ll need that camera again. Standing in front of you will be two absolute behemoths: Leonera and El Plomo. Think Pintor was easy enough? Be sure to check back soon for your guide to Leonera. Until then, take a hike!

Build-up to El Plomo:
Part 1: Quebrada Macul (~2000m)
Part 2: Punta de Damas (~3100m)
Part 3: Pintor (~4200m)
Part 4: Leonera (~5000m)
Part 5: El Plomo (5434m)

Getting there:
Much easier by car, but here are some services that will get you to La Parva:
Avda. Apoquindo 4900. Las Condes, Santiago - Chile.
+56 2 2246 0156 | +56 2 2246 0404

Avda. Las Condes 9143, Las Condes, Santiago - Chile.
2294532 - 2023832

It is recommended that you take the ski-lift (andarivel) to the top, as this will cut out a rather boring 2 hour hike up what are regularly ski slopes. Cost ~10.000 pesos (~$15.50 USD) for a two-way lift ticket.

Know this:
The weather is constantly changing, so give yourself a heads up by checking this great website for all the details you'll need.

More information is available at the haven for Andean adventures:

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