Chile: Paso de Jama–Going Up!

Day 6/Part 2–

This was the day that Pierre had been waiting for…driving through the Andes Mountains and crossing from Chile into Argentina using the Paso de Jama crossing point at the border between the two countries. The highest elevation along the route is a whooping 15,780 ft. The elevation at the border is 13,800ft. I was excited too, because of the adventure aspect, but mostly because I saw how happy and excited Pierre was. He was determined to get his passport stamped in Argentina!

A gate is closed and locked every day at the bottom of the mountain, and during the summer months, it opens at 8:00 a.m. and it closes at 6:00 p.m. If you don’t make it to the gate before it closes, you have to park on the side of the road, and either wait or camp there until morning.

Last night, we parked in the desert between San Pedro de Atacama and the closed gate. We could see that trucks were lined up through the night waiting for the gate to open in the morning. We decided at that point to let the truck traffic thin out a bit in the morning before we set out. Our goal was to get up to the pass, enter Argentina, get our passports stamped, and get back down the mountain before the gate closed. We weren’t keen on the idea of heading up a mountain surrounded by a convoy of big rigs.

When we crossed through the gate in the morning, there wasn’t a truck in site, so we liked the way our plan was shaping up. In fact, there was hardly any traffic at all. The road was paved and in excellent condition. Before we knew it, we could sense that we were quickly gaining elevation, and the view surrounding us was breathtaking.

A few days earlier, we had seen a volcano in the distance that we figured out was Lincancabur, a 19,409 ft tall volcano that straddled the border between Bolivia and Chile. Pierre was fascinated by it, so I started describing it as “his mountain,” or calling it, “Pierre’s Mountain.”

As we climbed, we could see Lincancabur rising majestically off to our left. Even though we were climbing fast, we were dwarfed by it. I felt my ears pop and I asked Pierre if his ears had popped as well. He said they had, and then we had a quick talk about altitude sickness. Apparently, it can strike hard and fast, and it’s not really clear why some people are more affected by it than others.

A short time later, Pierre said that he was getting a dull headache. I reminded him that we would have to pull over and turn around if he started to feel lightheaded, or if he developed any other symptoms. Other than my ears popping, I was feeling fine. A few times as we continued to drive, Pierre commented on his headache. I asked if he felt dizzy or sick, and he said that he was feeling okay…just a slight headache.

At think at this point, I think pictures will speak louder than words. This is what the scenery looked like as we climbed higher and higher into the Andes Mountains…

We saw so many alpacas and llamas, and I’ve kept a running tally since seeing the first one!

We’re getting close!
Finally at the Top! The actual border station was about 2 more miles down the road.

We made it to and past the 15,780 ft. mark! WOW! What an amazing adventure this is!

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