Flight Bolivia - Chile from the Licancabur


grafik_inca grafik_inca At the very south of Bolivia the Inca road connected the altiplano with the coast.
To be able to fly along the road I ascended to the Licancabur (5920 m) from the bolivian side and managed a flight from the summit to the west over the Atacama desert half the way to San Pedro, Chile.



Satellite photograph of the Licancabur.

LV Laguna Verde, Start of the route, to the right of it, still connected by a small channel a part of the Laguna Blanca. Further below, J the neighbouring volcano Juriques (5860 m), SC designates the crater lake at the volcanic summit of the Licancabur. Launch direction was to the east, since the eastern slopes warm up early in the morning sun. Flight half around the volcano to the west. The flight distance was only modest 16 km, since in the early morning there are almost no thermals away from the volcano to the west. Thermals arise approximately at the same time as the strong west wind = head wind does. Below at the right side a scale, thus the landing spot lies thus far outside of the picture to the left.

L designates petrified lava streams of the last outbreak in the holocene, 10,000 years ago, some references still consider the volcano as active. During the flight the lava traces are distinguishable from above not only by their form but also by their darker stingy vegetation.

The eastern plateau (4400 m) into which the Laguna Verde is embedded, runs south coming from Lake Titicaca through all of Bolivia. It is about 2000 m higher than the western plain of the Salar of Atacama. Thus with the ascent from the east side of the Licancabur you have about 3000 meters of altitude between take off and landing.

The old Inka road which once connected the high plain with the coast, is no longer visible today. It lies south, a little outside of the picture. The main traffic road of Chile in this deserted area runs along here today.


Camp at the Laguna Blanca, white because of the salt crystals. The foto is a little bit deceiving though, since only 100 m in my back a tiny settlement serves the jeeps that traverse the desert, food and lodging for passengers so it's not completely romantic here ... nevertheless it's a beautiful place.

During the day the lagoon lay quiet. At night starting from eleven o'clock, when the sharp west wind abated, a tremendous cackling, chattering and croaking arose: Sillions of birds that kept hidden during the day on search for the love of their life.

At the time of my journey, beginning november 2003, there were also scientists of a NASA research project at the lagoon, to investigate the life under extreme conditions. In the crater lake of the Licancabur at 5800 m tiny crawfishes survive the increased UV load and nocturnal temperatures below the freezing point. These are living conditions that perhaps on other planets, e.g. Mars prevail. (link: Group of NASA, Licancabur)


Moon rise at the Laguna Blanca, 8.11.2003. Three hours later at 21 o'clock a total lunar eclipse.

"Eclipse de luna en el cielo, ausencia del luz en el mar,
muy sólo con mi desconsuelo mirando la noche, me puso a llorar...
Pensaba que ya no me amabas con honda desesperación
y en algo que siempre eclipsaba la luz de tu amor...

Eclipse de luna en el cielo, ausencia del luz en el mar,
muy sólo con mi desconsuelo mirando la noche, me puso a llorar...
Eclipse de amor en tus labios, que ya no me quieren besar,
quisiera olvidar sus agravios y luego soñar..."


The Licancabur and its reflection in the Laguna Verde.

The green color of the lagoon is due to the upstirring of cupreous sedimentary rocks in the morning wind.

The ascent begins underneath the saddle between Licancabur and Juriques, left, where hidden ruins of an Inka village lie. Up to there one can be brought from the Laguna Blanca by one of the jeeps of Colque tours for a fistful of dollars. The ascent follows roughly the white line, which lies parallel to the left mountain flank. This is a rubble couloir clearly visible from below. The old route, still marked by small wooden flags runs 100-200 m to the right of it, on the ridge. It is not in use anymore these days, because of a rubble slide at half height. Being ignorant this was unfortunately the way I took, but there is only one passage that is a little bit more difficult and one can see there, how the slide could happen. (conditions November. 2003)


Night camp at 5350 m with view down to the Laguna Verde.

The Licancabur can be climbed easily on one day. But since I carry approx. 20 kg with me and since I want to be early at the summit for the launch without too much exhaustion, I take the comfortable way with rest.

The next day, when Leo, a bolivian porter, catches up with me just below the summit, he makes lots of jokes about my load: He carries a 30 kg box on his back, fastened only with bare thin cords.

The clouds in the sky are at this time of the year an absolute exception, passing of a bad weather front coming from Argentina. Usually the sky is cloudless blue. Due to the lack of precipitation here all mountains above 6000 m are to a large extent free of snow despite temperatures below freezing point.


Summit, view into the green crater lake.

According to the Guinness book the highest lake of the world, size 90 m by 70 m. Because of the volcanic warmth the lake never freezes completely despite nightly temperatures up to minus 30 degrees. Precondition for the life in here, small crustaceans.


Morning view at the launch. Lenticularis clouds. A quite unsusual sight in this region here. But since the wind at the summit is not completely reassuring, I cancel the flight for today and build a small wind protection for my tent.


Night camp at 5900 m, view out of the tent to the neighbour volcano Juriques.

Temperature -16 degrees C. During the whole night blows an unpleasant wind but finally at six o'clock in the morning it becomes calm.
Walking to the launch I meet the mountain guide Macario one is rarely completely alone here. Decision in which direction to take off: both east or west is possible. To the east towards the early thermals, to the west against the main wind direction with 5 km/h. I launch to the east and fly once around the volcano then always straight to the west.


View direction San Pedro de Atacama, still approx. 2000 meters to go.

Later I learn that the whole area under me is hostilely paved with war mines: the Chilean government buried some tenthousands of them here during the seventies, since Bolivia always threatened to reinvade the areas lost during the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), in particular the beautiful long beach.


For the first time during the flight my shade is visible, right besides the accelerator line. Further to the right, an enormous branch of old lava flow. Under me already the driveway.


Lonely landing and view back. I am in Chile.


Paraglider packed and view forward. Still at least 10 km to go. In front the remainder of my Coca leaves, a sacrifice to the chilenian desert.



----------------------------------------------- With a paraglider above the Inca roads -----------------------------------------------