Aconcagua

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.

The route from Mendoza to Aconcagua.
Route 7 from Mendoza to Aconcagua climbs to the summit of Los Libertadores pass.

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.

Puente del Inca
The Inca’s bridge is a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River.

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.

Station in Puente del Inca
Transandine railway station at Puente del Inca, it is now used as a hostel.

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.

Entrance to Aconcagua Provincial Park
Turning into Aconcaugua provincial park off of Route 7 at about 10,000 ft elevation.

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.

Mules descending Aconcaugua
I was to see many strings of mules ferrying supplies to the upper base camps on Aconcagua.

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.

Aconcagua Provincial Park Lower Trail
The lower trail at Aconcagua Provincial Park that goes from the parking lot to the viewpoint and Lake Horcones.

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 camped overnight at the admin building parking lot in Aconcagua Provincial Park.
I was permitted to camp overnight in Aconcagua Provincial Park in the administration building parking lot free of charge.

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.

Aconcagua at night
Aconcagua at night, the wind died down and it stopped snowing.

 

My overnight on Aconcagua was rewarded with a beautiful morning and the mountain revealed itself.

Standing at the lower viewpoint near the 10,000 ft level of Aconcagua.
Standing at the lower viewpoint near the 10,000 ft level of Aconcagua.

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.

The south wall of Aconcagua is visible from Aconcagua Provincial Park.
The south wall of Aconcagua revealing its many glaciers including Glacier Superior.

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.

A two mile long tunnel at the summit of Los Libertadores pass linkd Argentina to Chile.
The mouth of the two mile long tunnell that links Argentina and Chile via Los Libertadores pass.  Remnants of the defunct transandine railway are visible.

The drive up from Mendoza and back again is almost continuous spectacular scenery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quebrada del Condorcito National Park

I set out from La Cumbrecita and head for La Quebrada del Condorcito National Park, ( “ravine of the baby condors national park”).  Staying within the Sierras de Cordoba mountains it should be a two hour drive.

I check the GPS for fuel stations on my route and plan a fuel stop.  Upon arrival I learn that the planned station is closed on Sundays.  I play it safe and backtrack to General Belgrano to fuel up and also stock up at a very nice supermarket.

Routes from La Cumbrecita to Condorito Park
I start out on the blue route RP34, after stopping in Belgrano I was re-routed on the gray route RP5.

Leaving Belgrano the GPS takes me now on a different route toward “Condorcito”,  The older RP5 road.  I skirt another very large reservoir, the Los Molinos dam.  Built in the early 1950s the dam regulates river flow on the Los Molinos river and produces hydroelectric power.  The reservoir covers about 10 square miles, and is used for fishing, swimming, water skiing and sailing.

Looking Out at Dique Los Molinos
The RP5 winds around the Dique Los Molinos with 5 MPH hairpin turns and stunning views.

It’s a beautiful drive, I am routed on some smaller back roads to get back to route 34.  A swollen river has covered the road with a  couple of feet of water and I do my first river crossing, albeit with pavement under my tires.

After crossing the river I learn that the road is closed, but only from the other direction – maybe authorities are driving the long way around to put up barricades on this side.

Almost back to the junction with route 34 I notice an observatory up on a hill above the road. The Astronomical Observatory of Córdoba, founded in 1871, by Argentine president Sarmiento and the North American astronomer Benjamin Apthorp Gould, in order to study the stellar south hemisphere.

Astronomical Observatory of Córdoba.
Astronomical Observatory of Córdoba.

I begin to ascend higher into the sierras with their breathtaking scenery.  My GPS is counting down to the park.  In the middle of nowhere it tells me to turn off but I see nothing.   Thinking it is confused, I keep on driving and watching.  I am enjoying the drive, occasional condors gliding and riding the updrafts, great views of the valleys below, huge rock formations and cattle grazing the green patches around an occasional stream.

Cattle Grazing on the mountain top.
Unique scenery, green surrounds the small streams beginning thier journey to the valley blow.

It is Sunday and groups of local rock climbers are tackling some of the steepest rock faces that appear along the roadway.

Rock Wall
This photo was taken on Monday but yesterday many rock climbers were scaling this and other nearby cliffs.

At the next crossroads I arrive at Mina Clavero having bypassed my intended destination.  I stop at the tourist information office and they give me detailed instructions on how to find the Park.  The park entrance is a small dirt road at kilometer marker 59 and is not easily seen from the highway.

There is a poster in the tourist office advertising a vegetarian food fair in a town 12 miles away, happening now the attendant tells me.  I decide to check it out and deviate further from my intended destination.  It turns out the fair was already over and my side trip was a big waste of time and effort.

It is 50 miles back to the park and thunderstorms are forecast.  Based on looking at the sky and the severe storm I witnessed in La Cumbrecita, I decide to stop for the night and go back to the park in the morning.  It is a steep winding road back up the mountain even in good weather.

I camped overnight at the campground “Camping Las Sierras” in the town of Nono on the Rio Chico Nono.  I was told that minimum cost to camp was 320 pesos, I explained that I never pay over 100 pesos and they accepted that.  Very nice campground with clean restrooms, hot showers, access to the river, a pool and other amenities.

Campsite for the night.
Camping Las Sierras on the Rio Chico Nono. Nice dry place under the palapa to sit out the approaching thunderstorms.

Monday morning I follow directions from the tourist office and head back to find the elusive national park.  This time I am successful.  The marking for the dirt track park entrance is set back off the road and not very visible.

Entrance to Quebrada del Condorito NP
This small dirt track and entrance sign is barely visible from the road.

The park is one of 33 national parks in Argentina and was created in 1996 in order to preserve the biodiversity of the region.  Although located in a major tourist area, the territory of the park has remained scenically pristine due to its inaccessibility.

The park is an important site for watching Andean condors which had undergone a marked population decline during the twentieth century.  Recently developed policies for condor protection, active caring and reintroduction into wildlife have led to a steep recovery of populations where they had been almost extinguished a few years ago.

Condors
Condors gliding over the Quebrada the park was named for.

Entrance to the park is free, you drive in 2.5 Kilometers on a rough dirt track to the ranger station to park and register.  Clean restrooms and potable water are available during the day when the ranger station is open.  The park is accessible via a series of hiking trails.  From the ranger station to the Quebrada it is about 4 hours round-trip.

The day I went, I was one of 5 visitors in the park.  I was allowed to camp at the ranger station overnight for free and after 5 p.m. there were no other visitors in the park.  This night was the peak of the perseids meteor shower and there was not an electric light anywhere near.  Unfortunately it turned out to be overcast.

Campsite at La Quebrada del Condorcito National Park.
This is my view for the night! It doesn’t get any better than this.

An incredible experience, so peaceful and quiet!