Beginner Mountain Climbing in Chile – Cerro Purgatorio

Beginner Mountain Climbing in Chile – Cerro Purgatorio

Cerro Purgatorio is located outside Santiago and accessed from Pirque. The climb is perfect for a one day trip, taking 6-9 hours round trip. It has an elevation of 2,458 meters (8,064 feet) and is not a technical climb, but has a rocky summit and requires free climbing during the last stint. 

Another beautiful Saturday in the books. I’m so grateful for my close proximity to the Andes mountains! Cerro Purgatorio is a fantastic mountain to get out for a day trip and put your body to the test.

Cerro Purgatorio in stats

  • Altitude: 2,458 meters; 8,064 feet
  • Elevation Climb: 1,671 meters; 5,482 feet
  • Distance: 14.8 km; 9.2 miles
  • Time: 6-9 hours round trip
  • Difficulties: steep, last stint is very rocky and requires good foot work and confidence climbing over rocks
Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
The foggy summit of Cerro Purgatorio

The route

From where we left our cars (see below on driving directions) , we started heading up and were on the lookout for a larger flat space to stretch. That first 20 minutes warm you up quick and give you an idea of what’s to come. If you head during summer or spring, you’ll shed layers quickly. Our stretch spot was incredible, the rain that week had left the vegetation as green as ever and the clear day revealed the picturesque Andes mountains.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
After you get your legs warmed up, it’s important to take a moment and stretch and drink water.

A beginning with lush vegetation

The first part of the trek has a lot of brush, loose rocks, and rough groud with a pretty constant incline. Trekking poles help a lot here in terms of balance and extra support when having to take larger steps through thick bushes. As you move up it gets less green but there remains a lot of shrubbery that accents the skyline nicely. It is a windy, narrow path that at times is hard to see due to the greenery.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
The first part up is very green and with lots of shrubbery

I prefer to maintain a steady rhythm instead of taking mini-breaks. It helps my muscles keep going without getting tired and gives me the alertness to always be looking around and appreciating my scenery.

However, about an hour and a half in, you come to a nice, open “rest point”.  From here, you can the Sierra de Ramon to the North and also Cerro Minillas. I had climbed Minillas a couple weeks before, and it’s always a pretty cool feeling to look at a peak and know you’ve been up there, standing on top of it. Cerro Minilla is the second peak from the left, right above my head. Awesome!

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
It’s always so exciting to see what the sight over the next ledge holds <3

In these mountains near Santiago, it’s quite common to find dogs that accompany you up to the top. We had the cutest one following us this day, and I always gave him some water when I took some sips for myself.

Sharp inclines with ups and downs

From here you continue on a clear path of sharp to mild sharp slopes with climbs up and down various hills on the mountain. At one point, looking at the mountain behind me, we had to go down a bit and then around to its other side, before continuing our ascent. The bulk of the terrain up until the next checkpoint is loose, small rocks followed by larger rocks, but at least on a nice, clean path.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
See the snow up towards the top? Mountains are so deceiving, from down below, everything looks short and easy, which is never the case when you arrive!

The loose rocks are very tiring as you have to be careful where you step and, too frequently, one step forward makes you lose some ground with the sliding stones. The mountains on this side of the mountain are smaller, standing silently powerful below their taller, snowcapped sisters on the other side.

A rocky final push to the summit

From here you still can’t see the next section, as you have to cross a small jagged section first before accessing the other side. When we got there, I just looked up and thought, “hmmm, this will be difficult.” It was all snow and quite steep. It had recently snowed just a few days prior, which meant we had a lot of fresh, soft snow to plow through. Some sections were more icy, so we had to dig the soles of our boots in with each step for extra traction.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
Good boots are necessary, because the snow is slippery!

I slipped a few times into the snow, but, my heart was pounding and I was damn hot, so freezing snow didn’t feel too bad 🙂

Until I got to the last step, about an hour later, I wasn’t able to see the sight that was to come. It was breath-taking and I didn’t expect it. This is precisely why people climb, what a reward!

The top section takes about 40 minutes and, like the rest of the mountain, is fatiguingly steep. But, the rock climbing makes it a bit more fun!! There are slicker parts where you climb from one large rock to another, and others where the ground is covered in smaller sedimentary rocks and require a bit more leg work.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
A pretty picture, but unfortunately that’s fog with a bit of Santiago smog.

As always, reaching the summit quickly fades away the memory of all the work it took to get there. Lunch with this view is always renewing, humbling, and utterly peaceful. The ascent took 4.5 hours and the decent 3. The first part with the snow was super fun, as I simply “skiied” down, with my cute little follower by my side.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
Obligatory summit pic in my MKE HOME shirt

If you’re lucky, you’ll back down to the open stretching spot just in time to appreciate a perfect sunset.

How to get to Cerro Purgatorio

Located in Cajon del Maipo and accessed from Pirque, this mountain is very accessible from Santiago even via public transportation. You head towards Cajon del Maipo and veer to the right after the Los Vertientes sector, which will cross the Maipo river. At a later intersection, you turn right and head a few more kilometers before arriving to a small school in Pirque.

If you go on public transportation, take the Santiago metro until Bellavista de la Florida and from there take the 73 bus to Pirque. In total, it is about 2 hours from Santiago, a bit longer if not in your own vehicle.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
Finish your hike with a nice stretch under a gorgeous sunset

When can you climb?

You can climb Cerro Purgatorio all year round. However, it is highly exposed to the sun and has no water, so climbs during December – March can be very hot. The climb is quite steep, so crampons and piolet would be advised during winter months with snow and ice. We went out during the month of August, towards the end of winter, and were blessed with an absolutely beautiful day.

Cerro Purgatorio - Beginner Mountain Climbing
Gotta love the contrast between the bright green, sky blue and snow capped mountains.

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