Trekking in Chile’s Atacama region was my first encounter with exertion at high altitude, and experiencing the body expressing its great hunger for oxygen. Surrounding Atacama, are a number of volcanoes that can be pretty easily climbed, provided you have sufficient time to acclimate to the altitude. After a few days of altitude acclimation, a friend and I climbed Cerro Toco, 5,604 m (18,386 ft).
Along the slow and methodical trek we passed through a series of dorsal fin-like snow/ice protrusions called nieves penitentes (spanish-refers to the processions of gaunt hooded “penitents” in primitive Medieval Spanish Catholicism-thanks to Bob Michael for the clarification) that have a shape defined largely by sublimation. They flank the mountain slope and due to their stratification pattern are more wisely navigated on a lateral plane.
The blue, cloudless skies, sun and wind are common companions in this region. The climb, although done in the morning, was not quite early enough to optimize that golden moment of light, but the views from the top, overlooking Bolivia were grand indeed.