Tag Archives: ancient volcanos

Andean High Plains and Salt Flats, Bolivia

High in the Andes is the Altiplano Plateau at an average altitude of 3750m above sea level. There are many attractions on the Altiplano, the most popular of which is the Salar de Uyuni, a massive salt flat where an inland salt lake drained leaving only salt. While some people just come here for the salt flats, many do the longer tour along the length of the plateau with the Salar as the first day.

I decided to do a 3 day tour, not including the overnight bus to and from Uyuni…

Day 1
The bus from La Paz to Uyuni was comfortable, but the road wasn’t. The ride is 10 hours, the last 7 being over a rocky dirt road. This was an overnight bus, so the last 7 hours were when we were trying to sleep. Strangely enough, plentiful sleep was had by all.

Once the bus arrived in the town of Uyuni, there was over an hour before the tour started, so a quick look around town and half an hour later I’d seen most of it.

There were six of us on the tour and we were packed into a Land Cruiser and taken to our first stop, the train graveyard.


Trains were used for many years as a major goods transport means around this area of South America and Bolivia, but most stopped over 40 years ago. There is still a line running from Bolivia to Chile, however. The graveyard is not that large and is definitely a tourist stop around the old rusting trains. In the car park I counted 30 4WD vehicles. If each had 6 tourists then that’s 180 people starting tours today, plus drivers. This was not counting the 4WDs we saw leaving as we arrived or the ones arriving as we left. It’s the middle of the high season, after all…


Next was a quick stop off at Colchani for some markets, selling things made out of hardened salt and Llama wool. Colchani is right on the edge of the salt flats and is a major refining town.

Then we were onto the Salar themselves, stopping just inside where workers from Colchani were scraping patches of unrefined salt into piles. There are plentiful piles there already and they’re not as sandy as they look but very hard. I stood on one and it was solid. We even tasted the salt but it only had a faint salty taste.


Another 30 minutes away, we stopped at a hotel made completely from blocks of salt. We then drove 80km across the flats to Incahuasi Island, a large rocky outcrop in the middle of the flats. From different places on the island you can see where water would lap at the beaches during wet season when it’s surrounded by several centimetres of water.

We stopped for lunch before exploring the rocky structure of the island with its huge old cacti, some of which have been dated as being more than 900 years old.


Leaving the island, we drove for a couple of hours across the flats, stopping briefly for some photos of the open salt flats…


…before leaving the flats and coming to our overnight destination, Hostel Samarikuna in the town of Villa Candelaria, another building made from salt bricks. Llama chops for dinner!


Day 2
We left Salar de Uyuni early in the morning and drove across the vasty smaller Salar de Chinguana which is less white than the Uyuni salt flats. We stopped under a series of volcanos along the Chilean border on a patch of very white and very strong tasting salt.


Next we drove to the lava fields under Volcan Ollague to look at various rock structures made by dried lava.


The road became rockier as we made out way past several lagoons most of them with their own flocks of Flamingos, some pink and others not so pink.


We stopped at a vantage point over one of the lagunas for lunch.


After lunch, we drove for a couple of hours through the Siloli Desert where no vegetation grew.

The barren landscape is nothing but rocks and sand under the ever present volcanoes, of which there are more than 50 along the plateau. We travelled along the Andes Ranges wall for some time, stopping only to climb a rocky embarkment where I spied an Andean rock rabbit, but it was too quick to get on camera.


Next, we stopped at a large stone forest with the famous Stone Tree. It’s very much like the Remarkable Rocks in Australia, formed by a lava bubble that came up through the surface, hardened and eroded over time.


Lastly for the day, our trip took us cross country another hour to Laguna Colorado, a lake where sediment has turned it a milky red, with patches of floating snow.


Flamingos stand in its waters sifting for food. We were dropped off at a mirador on the lake and walked around it to our accommodations for the night.

Day 3
The temperature dropped to -15°C overnight. We were up at 4.45am and getting ready for the day. After breakfast we were off into the icy darkness along a road which looked to have been plowed. The road itself was clear but on either side a wall of snow sometimes up to two metres tall.

We drove through the icy mountains landscape as the sun began to rise, stopping at a man-made geyser…

…then to a field of natural geysers.

It was so icy we only got out long enough to take a photo before getting back into the warmth of the vehicle.

We then drove to an aguas caliente – a hot pool fed by a natural spring at nearly 5000m above sea level. Three of us stripped down in the icy weather and threw ourselves in. Most people refrained from getting in, but the heat of the water in the cool air was amazing! We finally got out after about 30 minutes when some of the other vehicles had arrived and other travellers had braved the water. Getting out was not as cold as expected, the hot water having lifted our core temperatures enough that the skin chill was not enough to cool us.


Once dressed, we were off again and an hour later was at Laguna Verde – Green Lake. We didn’t stay long in the freezing winds before heading to the tri-border of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. It was here I said goodbye to my five travelling companions who were heading into Chile, me alone with our driver who didn’t speak any english, for an 8 hour trip back to Uyuni.


We took an alternative route back to the Laguna Colorado through a frozen wilderness and a rugged but more direct route towards Uyuni. About ten minutes before we were due to stop for lunch the passenger steering stabilising hinge snapped leaving the wheel hanging at an odd angle. The driver began taking it apart and after an hour had it in pieces. It was going to take him a lot longer to fix so I was squeezed into another 4WD that had stopped and was off again.

The next stop with my new crew was a place called Valle de Rocas with some impressive rocky outcrops and spires.


On our way again, we were 20 minutes from Uyuni when the 4WD got a flat tire on the same wheel as the previous vehicle!! Argh! They didn’t have a spare either, having already had a flat tire on their adventure. We flagged down another vehicle and borrowed one.

We eventually made it back to the Uyuni ready for the overnight bus back to La Paz.

Overall, it was another great experience along an amazing mountainous landscape. Next, after a brief stop off in La Paz, I’m off to Lake Titicaca.

The Trail Wanderer

Glass House Mountains – Mt Tibrogargan and beyond

I’m back this week to climb more of the Glass House Mountains.  Last week I managed both Mt Ngungun and Mt Berrburrum and this week I try for two more, Mt Tribrogargan and Wildhorse Mountain, as well as wandering around the base of Mt Beerwah and the Glass House Mountains Lookout. I would have liked to have climbed Mt Beerwah as it’s the tallest of the Glass House Mountains, but due to a landslip it’s closed.

Mt Tibrogargan


I had some trepidations about climbing Tibrogargan as it’s listed as a Class 5 with some scrambling and steep rocky faces, but it’s on the list so I wanted to do it.  I set out with a colleague and we drove to the Glass House Mountains.  Mt Tibrogargan is one of the more prominent of the mountains and is said to look like an ape.


The walk to the base is along a fairly standard gravel path that turns rocky and begins to climb slowly towards the base.

It’s not long before Tibrogargan appears out of the trees and you are confronted by the first rock face.  It’s literally climbing rock face after rock face all the way to the top.  There are no nice steps formed in mud and tree roots, it’s all rocky.  It’s not so steep that rock climbing gear is required, but definitely not for the faint hearted.

My companion felt discouraged early and chose to return to the bottom, which is understandable, as it’s a daunting prospect.  I, however, pushed on.


There were some points on the way up where I felt nervous, but I didn’t let them hold me back and kept climbing.  The views were good on the way up, but you don’t spend much time looking around while climbing.


At the top, there’s plenty of scrub and the views aren’t so apparent.  I did get the odd photo, but compared to Mt Ngungun the view is mainly hidden behind trees.  At the top I ran into a woman fossicking in the bushes.  Apparently she was looking for a geo-cache – a box someone has set here at a certain GPS location.  I fossicked in the bushes with her for a while looking for it but after a while we gave up and climbed back down.

Glass House Mountains walking track information and maps

Map is owned by and used with courtesy of Queensland Government.  Please visit that site for more detailed information on hiking in this region.

It was good to have her along as she’d done this climb on many occasions and gave me guidance on the best way down.  She also told me about the aboriginal history of the Glass House Mountains.  Then at the bottom, I bid her farewell, collected my companion and we headed off to the next mountain.

Wild Horse Mountain

Compared to Mt Tibrogargan, Wild Horse Mountain is a molehill.  A 700 meter path up to a look-out.  A woman on the way down commented how much easier it was coming down.  If only she knew that we’d just come from Mt Tibrogargan.  And honestly, getting out of bed that morning was more difficult than climbing Wild Horse Mountain only because it was a little chilly getting out of bed.  As for Wild Horse Mountain, I wasn’t expecting much of a climb.


It was as easy as expected and didn’t take us long to reach the lookout at the top.  The views are nothing short of spectacular.  You can see all the Glass House Mountains, the scenic rim and out to the sea on the other side.


Glass House Mountains Lookout

The Glass house Mountains Lookout is at the western end of the Glass House Mountains and while not actually climbable, it does have an 800m bush walk through the forest.  In general the views were not a good as those from Wild Horse Mountain and there wasn’t much to see along the walking trail.


Mt Beerwah

To cap off the day we drove to the base of Mt Beerwah, passing the unclimbable Mt Coonowrin.


Mt Beerwah is more daunting than Mt Tibrogargan, but due to a rockslide that has blocked the path it was deemed too dangerous and closed.  As the tallest mountain in the National Park it would have been nice to have climbed it.  I’m told it is a similar experience to climbing Mt Tibrogargan.


There were several more walks in the Glass House Mountains I wanted to do and came back twice more to complete them.  Details can be found here: Mooloolah River, Dularcha NP, Tibrogargan and Trachyte Circuits and Mount Tunbubudla East.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Glass House Mountains – Mt Ngungun and Mt Beerburrum

While not all of Glass House Mountains are climbable for various reasons – dangerous landslips, suitable only for rock climbing, too steep, sacred to aboriginals etc – I decided to climb all I could and walk the tracks near the ones I couldn’t.   I split my walks over several weekends.  Here are my first couple…

Mt Ngungun


I decided to climb Mt Ngungun because I liked the name, although at 253m it’s only considered a hill.  On this day, I took along 3 companions, proving that the lone wanderer does not always wander alone.  The climb is rated a class 4 – distinct track usually with steep exposed slopes or many steps.  Caution needed on loose gravel surfaces and exposed outlooks.  Moderate level of fitness.

Glass House Mountains walking track information and maps

Map is owned by and used with courtesy of Queensland Government.  Please visit that site for more detailed information on hiking in this region.

The walk through the forest to the base of the mountain was short and easy.  But when we arrived at the base we certainly knew it.  The fairly flat path turned into a steep, perhaps 60º climb up a rocky, tree root laden dirt trail.


It’s recommending not to climb Mt Ngungun after it has been raining and it’s easy to see why, the rocky-dirt steps would be very slippery.

The initial section of the climb is a wide channel between a rocky outcrop and the mountain.  It didn’t take me long to reach the top of the first climb, the hardest section.  As I waited for my companions I peeked through the trees and got only a hint of the views we’d eventually see at the top.

After a short break, and leaving one of our companions behind, we continued up the next portion of track, another rocky, root laden climb, at perhaps 45-degrees.


Finally there was a gentle climb along a short ridge to the very top and some fantastic panoramic views.  To the east out past the city of Caloundra and the Pacific Ocean.  To the west the edge of the scenic rim and to the north and south the other jutting Glass House Mountains.


The climb down was fairly straightforward.  Overall a fun climb that took a total of just over an hour including the break at the top.


Back at the car, we headed to the location of our second climb of the day…

Mt Beerburrum

Anything with beer in its name has to be good, right?

Glass House Mountains walking track information and maps

Map is owned by and used with courtesy of Queensland Government.  Please visit that site for more detailed information on hiking in this region.

Mt Beerburrum is a totally different climbing experience to that of Mt Ngungun.  It’s advertised as a Class 4 also, but with a 700m steep walk.  After a gentle climb up to the car park at the base of the mountain, the concreted path took a sharp change, a 45-degree upwards change.  Climbing a 45-degree grade is no problems when there are steps, even rough dirt steps such as was the case on Mt Ngungun.  But Mt Beerburrum has no steps, not a single one, just a concrete path.  And other than several switchbacks in the path it’s hard going with little respite.  For my companions and I this meant stopping every 20-30 meters to break up the relentless climbing of the path.


It does eventually flatten out and leads to a fire tower.


Then a simple climb to the first level of the fire tower gives the same amazing panoramic views as Mt Ngungun just several kilometres to the south.  While difficult, for the view the pain of the climb is well worth it.


The walk down was slow going and the steep path was hard on the knees.  Weaving along the path made it a little easier.  At the bottom, the reason the word Beer in the name becomes apparent and has nothing to do with the nearby township of Beerburrum, honestly.  It’s that we really needed one.

Overall, it was a good day’s climbing.  I could have done more, but I didn’t want to push the limits of my companions, so left it at that.

The Trail Wanderer