Elevation gain: roughly 900m
1h drive from Mendoza
I wasn’t too sure how much time I would be staying in Mendoza. It is quite an expensive town to be in, and a lot of the activities are done through tours and excursions which are designed for tourists… which means much more expensive. Basically you can do a half-day winery tour of 2 wineries with tasting for the price of 6 full bottle of wines… So considering that, I’ve opted to put my budget on outdoor activities and skip the wine tours (are you even surprised?). I have a somewhat tight budget for the last 4 weeks of my trip, so I have to choose accordingly!
After calling all the outdoor excursions companies we could find from the hostel (special shout to Belen at the reception of the Gorilla Hostel who is doing an amazing job…), I was able to find a spot for a day trek in the Pre-Cordillera with Roca Madre. It is a small adventure company that organizes trip for all levels, from day trekking to mountain climbing and ice climbing. Belen said a lot of people from the hostel went in the past and always had very good comments about the trips. For me personally, all the treks and hikes provided by all the tour companies seemed quite expensive – however, the trails are at least one hour drive away, the trailheads and trails are not well marked (except from the path left by the hikers, which currently in low season can be washed away and confusing at times), and I still can’t convince myself to go hike alone in the middle of nowhere in another country (except for the Cerro Piltriquitron, which was a really busy trail and quite short).
So off I went – pick up at 8am from my hostel (after a short night, as I went for dinner at the house of my extended Argentine family here in Mendoza!) and we headed towards the Pre-Cordillera mountains. The moutain range here is separated in 3 levels – Pre-Cordillera, Cordillera Frontal and Cordillera Principal. They are distinct by their elevation and can be seen quite well from the amount of snow currently visible. The Cordillera Principal has the beautiful Cerro El Plata (5968m – highest snowy peak in my photos) and the highest peak in North/South America, the Aconcagua (6961m). We drove into the valley until the trailhead, where a couple lives in a small house and rescues tons of dogs from the street. No kidding – they have about 30 of them in the backyard! We were the only ones on the trail that day, but in the summer, it is also a very popular spot for rock climbing.
The trail goes up quite constantly all the way to the summit. There is a lot of loose rock but in general I would consider it of moderate difficulty. It took us 2h30 to summit, although the guides said in average they calculate 3-3h30. One thing that surprised me is the amount of horse poop on the trail… Until I learned that the people living in the valley also own horses, which are free to go live in the moutains until called for whatever reason (and they actually show up!). So we had some lovely encouter in the mountains with probably 10 horses in total… a nice reminder of where the animals should be enjoying their free time!
We made it to the top and enjoyed a little snack before we headed back down to the car (took us about 2hrs). I know I’ve been saying a lot that, because of the low season, there are much less activities to do as the trails are closed or there aren’t enough people to start a tour. The guys from Roca Madre always make sure that you can still enjoy the area, so feel free to give them a call and see what they can organize for you. Also, on the plus side, the trekking temperature is perfect for me right now… as I know for a fact I couldn’t do these hikes under full sun and 40 degrees in the summer here. The guides also gave me tons of information for other tours (I am actually going for some kayaking tomorrow) and for other companies to contact for excursions once I get up North.
We also had the chance to see (and listen!) to 3 majestic condors flying just over our heads while we were hanging out at the summit. It was really interesting to watch them glide down (and back up!) the air flow so easily… very similar to how the paragliding flights are designed, too!