Mountaineering & Expeditions

Highest Mountain In South America | Top 10

South America has the largest mountains in the Western Hemisphere. Can you name them?

Think of South America and you tend to think of Che Guevara murals, Clarkson, Hammond and May’s epic trip across the Andes in a collection of bangers and fancy footballers who rob us of World Cups. Anyway, I digress. South America actually plays host to some pretty giant mountains. In fact, none of South America’s top 10 highest mountains drop below the 6,500 metres mark. This means that some of these are pretty hard to ascend, and require a certain level of technical mountaineering knowledge. So take that as a word of warning if you’re going to plan a few trips after reading this article.

Worth mentioning, before we crack on, that South America’s highest mountains list covers the following countries – Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Unfortunately, iconic Patagonian mountains such as Fitz Roy (3,405m) and Cerro Torre (3,128m), which are sat at at the southern end of the Andes, don’t make the cut purely on the back of their raw beauty and historical ascents. This is solely about height. 

1) Aconcagua

Pictured: Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America

Height: 6962m

Location: Argentina

Aconcagua (we’ll let you create your own pronunciation) not only takes the number one spot on the coveted list of South America’s highest mountains, but it’s also the highest mountain situated outside of Asia. This makes it the highest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres to boot.

The mountain sits within the Aconcagua National Park and hosts a few glaciers on its south face, the largest of which descends a whopping 15 kilometres.

The first ascent of Aconcagua was made by none other than Matthias Zurbriggen, who has a plethora of first ascents and routes in his name after a colourful life as a mountain guide and explorer.

2) Ojos del Salado

Pictured: Ojos del Salado is the highest volcano in the world

Height: 6891m

Location: Argentina

Sitting on the Chile / Argentina border, on the edge of the Atacama Desert. Ojos del Salado (translated to ‘Eyes of the Salty One’) takes second place on the rankings for South America’s highest mountains and is the world’s highest active volcano (which gives it a stench of Sulphur at the summit) at 6,891 metres – just 80 metres lower than Aconcagua.

First ascended by a Polish expedition back in 1937, Ojos del Salado is now a commercialised peak with expeditions driving a large way up and ferrying their clients up the tricky top section; one that requires a short scramble. Being on the Atacama Desert (the driest place on earth), Ojos del Salado only sees snow briefly during the winter season.

3) Monte Pissis

Pictured: Black lagoon in the shadow of Monte Pissis, third highest mountain in South America

Height: 6795m

Location: Argentina

‘Pissis’ takes home the bronze medal in this list and is the world’s second highest volcano. Climbed by the same Pole who first climbed Ojos de Salado, Pissis is a trickier undertaking to climb, compared to Ojos de Salado. This is due to the fact that Pissis still has a large and crevassed glacier on its southern side which requires the use of crampons and careful route-finding to ascend.

It had long been debated that Monte Pissis was South America’s second highest mountain, before the days where GPS measurements were a thing. This meant the top three highest peaks in South America had been switching places on the top spot for 30 or so years.

4) Huascaran

Pictured: The summit of Huascaran, South America’s fourth highest mountain, in the Huascarán National Park

Height: 6768m

Location: Peru

The highest peak in Peru, and therefore the Earth’s Tropics, is the bad boy of the list. Located in the Huascaran National Park, Huascaran towers almost 400 metres above its neighbours. Even though Huascaran sits in fourth position, it’s technically the hardest peak to climb on this list, with heavily glaciated and steep terrain, all sitting above the lofty heights of 6,000 metres – the summit usually takes around four days to climb from basecamp.

5) Cerro Bonete

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Height: 6759m

Location: Argentina

Cerro Bonete is a 6759 metre extinct volcano that has grown from millions of years of volcanic activity spewing out lava, creating these huge rhyodacite towers close to the summit. Sat alone in the La Rioja province of Argentina, Cerro Bonete hosts a 6km diameter crater not far from the summit, with a 2km long lake sat within this crater.

6) Tres Cruces

Pictured: Salar de Maricunga in Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces, Chile

Height: 6749m

Location: Chile / Argentina

The Tres Cruces is a small cluster of volcanoes sat on the border between Chile and Argentina, with the peak of Tres Cruces Sur topping this massif. The Tres Cruces is made up of two main summits, that are of similar height (119 metre difference). The last volcanic activity within the mountains was over 28,000 years ago when a subsidiary volcano erupted –the Tres Cruces could provide an eruption in the future.

7) Llullaillaco

Pictured: Llullaillaco Volcano in the Province of Salta, Argentina

Height: 6739m

Location: Chile

Picture a volcano and I guarantee you’ll picture something that looks pretty similar to Llullaillaco, with its distinct cone shape summit seemingly growing out of the flat and arid Atacama Desert ground. Llullaillaco is a dormant volcano with the last reported volcanic activity dating back to the 19th century.

Llullaillaco hosts the world’s highest archeological site, which was also discovered the remains of the ‘Children of Llullaillaco’ – the mummified remains of three children found close to the summit – believed to be human sacrifices.

8) Mercedario

Height: 6700m

Location: Argentina

Coming in at number eight on the list is 6,700 metre Mercedario which was climbed relatively early on in 1934 by a Polish expedition, led by Adam Karpinski. However, the south side of this peak was found to be a particularly challenging climb after failed attempts made by some strong climbing teams. The south side was finally climbed by a Japanese expedition in 1968 following many attempts made by local Argentine climbers.

9) Incahuasi

Height: 6658m

Location: Argentina

Another peak on this list that is made famous by the archeological sites found on its slopes. With a consistently steep angle on all of its faces, many find the north ridge of Incahuasi the most amiable way to reach the summit.

Most commercial groups take 12 days to reach the summit of Incahuasi, starting with a 300 kilometre drive before taking in surrounding peaks to acclimatise. The ascent from Incahuasi Base Camp takes 3 days, before you have to make the long trip back to Fiambalá down at 1600m.

10) Nevado Sajama

Pictured: Nevado Sajama volcano, highest peak in Bolivia

Height: 6542m

Location: Bolivia

World renowned steep skier Andreas Fransson first put Nevado Sajama on our radar after his epic mission to ski this peak – the highest in Bolivia and number ten in this list. What Andreas soon learnt is that this peak has an extremely poor skiing:walking ratio with only around 450 metres of skiing to show for. This was after 2,000 metres of ascent that included hitchhiking, fighting through sandstorms and the brutal climb to reach the ice cap.

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