I depart early from the parking lot in the city center of Mendoza where I “camped” for the night. It is about 120 miles west from downtown Mendoza to the Aconcagua provincial park via Route 7, the main east west highway that links Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile.
I stumble upon and make a supply stop at Walmart, and yes they are everywhere. I stop for gas near the large dam and reservoir at Portrerillos, and then proceed to Uspallata and then on up to Puente del Inca or in English, the Inca’s bridge.
In March 1835, Charles Darwin also visited the site, and made drawings of the bridge. In the early 20th century there was a large thermal resort and spa that used the nearby hot springs to cure certain illnesses. The spa is gone now, but another spa still survives down river at Cacheuta. There is a railway station, still standing, which used to bring tourists to the resort. This station was one of the last Argentine stations of the Transandine Railway before the train continued into Chile, traveling through a long tunnel under the Andes.
Many of the horses and mules used to pack supplies to the upper base camps on Aconcagua are stabled in Puente del Inca and they are very active today. I continue my drive up the pass less than one mile to the Aconcagua Provincial Park entrance.
Clouds hide the mountain and a stiff wind is blowing, I proceed to the administration building and buy my entrance ticket for about a dollar and 35 cents. This ticket, a day ticket, is good until 6 p.m. Climbers and trekkers that remain over night on the mountain require a different permit.
Aconcagua is not a volcano, it is one of the seven summits, the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. It is the highest mountain outside of Asia, at 22,837 ft, and by extension the highest point in both the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. For climbers Aconcagua is considered the highest non-technical mountain in the world, if approached from the north. Although technically easy many climbers underestimate the risks of the elevation and cold weather and many casualties occur. Good info is found here.
I continue up to the ranger station and parking area for the lower trails. I pass several strings of mules returning from carrying supplies to the upper base camps, I suspect they are headed down to Puente del Inca for the night.
I hike a circuit of informative exhibits and signs providing information about the mountain and its history. I visit Lake Horcones, a ravine of “wandering blocks” and the Aconcagua view point, but the mountain is nowhere to be seen.
Late in the afternoon as the sun fades it gets cold and it begins to snow lightly, and the wind picks up. Pretty soon I have my long underwear, down vest, jacket and stocking cap on.
I am allowed to camp overnight at the administration building parking lot at no cost. The ranger verifies that I have an on-board lav which is required. I am concerned about the wind. The truck is listing and sheet metal is groaning. I may need to turn it head into the wind. Just after dark the wind dies completely and though still partially overcast it is a beautiful night.
My overnight on Aconcagua was rewarded with a beautiful morning and the mountain revealed itself.
I again hike the lower circuit in the park and from my vantage point I am looking at the south wall of Aconcagua. I have a clear view of many glaciers including Glacier Superior, which is nearly 1,000 feet thick.
I watched several supply missions and I witnessed a helicopter rescue mission return with a couple of climbers. While waiting for the chopper, I have a nice conversation with a couple mountain rescue patrolmen . They explained that they are a specially trained part of the Mendoza provincial police.
I depart and continue the 10 miles up to the 10,500 foot summit of Los Libertadores pass. The road then enters the mouth of a two mile long tunnel which was opened in 1980 lowering the elevation of the pass by 2000 ft. The international border is located midway through the tunnel. In 1996 while skiing in Portillo, Chile I visited the Chilean end of the tunnel but was turned back because I was driving a rental car.
The drive up from Mendoza and back again is almost continuous spectacular scenery.