Chile From Within

Issues in Mountaineering and Guide Norms in Chile

Quebrada La Zorra

The outdoor sports industry in Chile has been experiencing great growth in the past few years.

It is generally acknowledged that the infrastructure and regulation of guide services and park management is significantly deficient in-country. Examples given are the pathetic quality of services at the second highest mountain in Latin America, Ojos de Salado (6879 m – 6893). A private concessionaire has constructed sub-par bathrooms in three years of its concession. There is no clear rescue or first-aid procedure. Entrance fee is a USD$160, and the only improvements to the park are the bathrooms, which according to an experienced guide, are made of deficient materials…wood and a metal roof, and a door which constantly falls off, amongst other issues. Although apparently future investments are to be made, in the form of two “Don Domo” dome huts.

Cerro Aconcagua (6959 m – 6962 m), costs USD $300 to enter, but there is an extensive system of rescue and first aid, as well as an infrastructure and management to receive the enormous quantity of visitors obsessed with reaching high altitudes in the South American Andes.

Imagine if Ojos del Salado is actually a higher mountain, as a French-Chilean team led by Marc Turrel of Andes Magazine and the head of the tourist agency Azimut 360, has set out to discover.

Recently the national tourist agency, Sernatur, has set out to develop norms of quality, and hopefully safety, regulating tourist and guide agencies in Chile, the majority of which offer outdoor trips and guide services.

I quote from their front page at

“El Sistema de Calidad para los Servicios Turísticos es una iniciativa impulsada por el Instituto Nacional de Normalización (INN) en conjunto con el Servicio Nacional de Turismo (SERNATUR), y financiada por la Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO).

La idea en una primera etapa es dotar al sector turismo de un conjunto de 50 normas técnicas de calidad para alojamiento turístico, turismo aventura, guías de turismo, agencias de viaje y operadores turísticos; que respondan a las expectativas de los actores destacados (proveedores, usuarios, autoridades, Universidades, Organismos Técnicos de Capacitación (OTEC) y otros).

Un sistema de normas y certificación de calidad brinda transparencia al mercado de los servicios turísticos, entregando a los usuarios una herramienta eficaz para elegir entre una variada oferta, en función de parámetros homogéneos y objetivos.

El Sistema de Calidad dice relación con el mejoramiento de la oferta, pero adicionalmente es una herramienta de marketing. Los países compiten entre sí por nuevos mercados o por conservar el mercado actual, en la medida que presentan servicios turísticos de calidad, que están certificados y que estos servicios son reconocidos internacionalmente.

El año 2006 se iniciará el proceso de certificación de calidad de 20 empresas y 10 guías de turismo. Al final del proyecto se espera que un 30% de estas entidades se hayan certificado.”

At first glance emblematic cases, like that of Ricardo Anibal Rios, who tried to climb Cerro El Plomo, yet, “practicaba andinismo desde hace un mes y ésta constituía su segunda salida a la alta montaña. El hombre se encontraba en compañía de un instructor y otro andinista, quienes alrededor de las 18:00 horas de ayer avisaron a Carabineros de su fallecimiento.Aunque aún se desconocen las causas exactas de la muerte del excursionista, personal de Carabineros familiarizado con la zona en que ocurrió el accidente, sostuvo que lo más probable es que los tres escaladores no hayan advertido la presencia de grietas. El cuerpo del malogrado excursionista -quien se entrenaba para escalar el monte Aconcagua- fue ubicado esta madrugada por los efectivos del GOPE, pero aún no ha podido ser recuperado debido a que se encuentra en una zona de difícil acceso. ” El Mercurio Online, February 27th., This highlights the precarious nature of the growing group of Chileans who are looking to the mountains, like never before.

Glaciar Juncal reportedly holds the bodies of at least three mountaineers, including that of Américo Tordoya, who fell into a fissure in the ice in 1983, in an expedition to climb el Juncal.

Regardless, this initiative does not deal, at first glance, with safety and rescue in the high mountains. I was made acutely aware of this upon being part of a group caught in an unexpected storm at 4300m in the northern Andes, trying to climb the Volcano Llullaillaco (6739m) at the altura de Antofagasta.

Un Hito

See my photo set documenting the storm and 24 hour trip down from the altiplano, or at least to where we could be reached by the civilian police special operations forces (GOPE) and the trucks from the nearby Minera Escondida. It was a mess and there was no clear emergency or rescue protocol, and uncertainty reigned.

The nascent heli-ski industry is trying to start a similar initiative leading to standards and safety requirements to assure the long-term health of the industry, which in my opinion, is about to take off. Or at least I would like this to be the case.

Comments and contributions welcome, as this is a new issue for me.

5 Responses

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  1. Linda said, on April 24, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Experienced mountaineers should never need to be rescued unless they fall and break a bone. Storms, dehydration and other challenges should be expected as part and parcel of climbing. Some climbers spend weeks checking the forecasts and MET charts waiting for the right time to go. There aren’t many countries willing to spend funds on rescuing ill-prepared or inexperienced mountaineers. The mountain rescue team in Britain consists of a group of highly-trained volunteers and helicopters paid for by donations. Occassionally the military will assist but helicopter fuel is inordinately expensive and any sort of permanent service should be paid for out of the mountaineers’ pockets.

  2. Fabien said, on September 25, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I think the issue is not so much with “knowledgeable” mountaineers but with the masses who are currently starting out in the activity and have no institutions that cater to their training. Becoming knowledgeable in the mountains is a long learning process. I don’t know about Chile but in Argentina, as in Europe, “mountaineering” is increasingly sold as a “adventure tourism” product, not a demanding sport. This twist in the marketing of the mountains in countries with no wide reaching mountaineering culture leads to accidents, such as the ones mentioned above.

  3. tomasdinges said, on September 28, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Point taken Fabien.

    The inexperience I have seen has come from two different groups.

    One, mountaineering clubs making irrational decisions and having faulty equipment.

    Two, eager, often over-confident people new to the mountains with some training but not a lot of experience. There is also a quantity of crappy equipment in Chile…Doite being the main purveyor…that gives people the impression of security in the mountains.

  4. Chipboard Sheets · said, on November 3, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    outdoor sports is way better than indoor sports, i burn several hundreds of calories just playing a few hours of football `

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