Monday, May 24, 2010

Cordon del Plata - Mendoza Province, Argentina

Cordon del Plata
From Mendoza, we climbed 2,000m on the bikes to the ski resort of Vallecitos. There we left our bikes and set off up the main valley for a week to try and scramble up some of the peaks in the area.

1) Cerro Stepanek (4,114m)

During our first night of camping in the valley, at Las Veguitas (3,220m), our tent was nearly destroyed by katabatic winds which appeared out of nowhere. Luckily they only lasted half an hour, and our tent survived with just one very bent pole.
The next day we spent 6 hours walking from Las Veguitas, up the couloir between Stepanek (the peak above our tent in the centre of the photo) and Adolfo Calle (the peak to the left), then climbing both of these peaks.

The way up to Stepanek was a bit rough, with lots of loose rock, and our progress wasn't helped by 3 dogs that followed us for 2 days from Vallecitos. They were much quicker climbers than us, and we were constantly on the lookout to avoid small rocks that they were sending down on us!
This photo is of Haz on the summit of Stepanek, with Rincon (5,318m) the flat peak above her in the background.

2) Cerro Adolfo Calle (4,269m)

The climb up to Adolfo Calle was much more simple, on an easy angled path, and from the summit we had great views up the Vallecitos valley to Cerro Vallecitos (5,461m - on the right of the photo) and Pico Plata.
After moving our camp up valley to Piedra Grande (at 3,570m) and then to El Salto (4,280m) we planned on climbing Cerro Vallecitos prior to Cerro Plata. However on the day we'd marked for the summit of Vallecitos the weather was cloudy and windy, so we settled instead for an acclimatization walk up to the Pico Plata/Lomas Amarillas col at 4,920m.

3) Cerro Plata (5,962m)

We set off to try and climb Cerro Plata from El Salto at 05:30 - it was -10C in our tent, and whenever one of us touched the roof we were both showered with snow which had condensed during the night. Fortunately there was no wind for the first 2 hours of the climb, but just before dawn we were at 5,000m and the temperature was around -15C.
The day was clear and the sun warmed us for a while, until we climbed to the Pico Plata/Vallecitos ridge at 5,200m where we encountered a strong and cold headwind.
From here there was a good path, that climbed gently to about 5,500m, then rose more steeply to the summit. As we weren't that well acclimatized we found ourselves having to stop regularly on this final part of the climb as we quickly became out of breath. Shortly before the summit we came across a crashed helicopter - one of 2 (or maybe 3 - the locals told us slightly differing stories) which lie near the top of the mountain. From the summit there were great views of the surrounding mountains, and to Aconcagua and Mercedario further in the distance. Though it wasn't cold on the top we didn't stay long as Haz really began to feel the altitude. The descent took half the 6 hours we'd taken to ascend, and by the time we made it back to camp we were knackered, having walked 14kms and climbed/desecended 1,700m that day.

(Cordon del Plata trek: 6 days, 48.9km, 6,095m ascent/descent)

Some GPS points
Vallecitos ski resort32.98043 S69.35452 W2,788m
Las Veguitas camp32.97642 S69.37100 W3,220m
Stepanek Summit32.96914 S69.39412 W4,114m
Adolfo Calle Summit32.97315 S69.40024 W4,269m
Piedra Grande camp32.98131 S69.38917 W3,567m
El Salto camp32.97952 S69.41468 W4,282m
Cerro Plata Summit33.01594 S69.45501 W5,962m

Neuquen Province - Argentina

Area Natural Protegida Tromen
1) Day hike up Cerro Wayle (3,185m)
From Refugio Wayle, we climbed up a path, and looped round the summit crater of the volcano. It was a nice easy walk, with good views of Laguna Tromen and Volcan Tromen to the south, and Volcan Domuyo, the highest peak in Patagonia, to the north. (10km, 5h, 1,000m ascent/descent)

2) Day hike up Volcan Tromen (3,989m)
This was a far more challenging day hike, which we'd been told would take 12 hours. So we left our tent at 2,150m in a sheep corral an hour before dawn for the long climb to the summit. Up to 3,000m the walk was easy, on grassy then sandy slopes, but from this point onwards became far steeper. It took 2 hours to follow a steep gulley up to 3,800m, having the option to climb up on steep sand (2 steps up, 1 step back), or on steep rocks/scree (quicker, but with the danger of slipping, or the front person sending down rocks on the person below). We only found out on the way down that there was a path most of the way (though it was mostly sandy so would've taken a lot longer to climb up). On emerging from the gulley there was a clear, but still steep, path to the summit. There were better views from here than from the summit of Wayle, which we now towered over, though we were glad of the acclimatization the previous day's walk had given us. The climb took 5 hours, and we feared the descent would be as long and slightly dangerous, until we found the path, which made the descent relatively straightforward, and we were down in 3 hours. (13km, 8h, 1,850m ascent/descent)

Some GPS points
Refugio Wayle37.07871 S70.11876 W2,243m
Cerro Wayle summit37.05350 S70.11904 W3,185m
Volcan Tromen Basecamp37.10531 S70.09207 W2,148m
Volcan Tromen summit37.14059 S70.04919 W3,989m

The Far South - Patagonia

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares - El Chalten and the Fitzroy Range, Argentina
We had great luck here. After 2 months of terrible weather in the area, the clouds cleared, the winds dropped a bit and the sun came out the day we arrived in El Chalten, which allowed us to enjoy 3 of the best day hikes we've ever done.
1) Day hike to Laguna Torre and Mirador Maestri - A stunningly beautiful walk up valley to Laguna Torre, for great views of Cerros Torre, Egger etc. At the lake it was incredibly windy, but we walked up the moraine above it to Mirador Maestri where there was no wind and we could soak up the scenery. Amazing views - we haven't been so awed by the mountains since Pakistan. (28km, 7h, 720m ascent/descent)
2) Day hike to Laguna de los Tres - Another great walk up to a lake, this time to enjoy great views of Fitzroy, Poincenot and friends. Simply amazing. (27km, 8h, 950m ascent/descent)
3) Day hike up Loma del Pliegue Tumbado (1,517m) - Walking up this hill we were further away from the mountains, but this gave us some great panoramic views, enabling us to see Cerro Torre and Fitzroy at the same time. (24km, 6h, 1,200m ascent/descent)
Plans are already being made to return and trek a circuit around Cerro Torre, which means crossing onto, and walking a few days on, the Southern Patagonian Icefield.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine - Chile
"The Circuit" - 8 days
Having first trekked the "W" here in 2002, we came back for the longer circuit. Unlike our last visit, we were lucky with the weather, and this, along with the company of Mateo and Tariq, made for a great trek. The first 4 days, round the back of the circuit were quiet and we only had to share the trails with a few other trekkers. The real highlights of the trek though are on the busier "W" part of the circuit, but luckily with some planning we were able to avoid the crowds, and enjoy Glaciar Grey, the top of Valle del Frances, and the Torres at dawn away from the crowds. Getting between these places meant being on pretty busy paths, but that's the price you pay for coming to enjoy South America's most famous national park. (139km, 61h, 7,000m ascent/descent)

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego - Argentina
We came to this national park mainly to reach the end of the road on our bikes, but still made time for a really good day hike.
Day hike to Cerro Guanaco (974m) and the Senda Costera - The walk up this "Munro" took just over 2 hours on a good path, and from the top afforded great views of the Beagle Channel.
When we arrived on the summit we only had to share it with a Fuegian fox, but when a few noisy Americans and a couple of groups arrived we decided to head down. As the climb hadn't taken as long as expected, we tacked on a coastal walk in the afternoon. This didn't really live up to our expectations, and made for a very long day - we arrived back in camp well after dark and with very sore knees. (34km, 11h, 1,220m ascent/descent)

The Argentine Lake District

Parque Nacional Lanin
1) Day hike to South Face of Volcan Lanin - Starting at Puerto Canoa on Lago Huechulafquen we hiked up through forest and by a gurgling stream before climbing steeply to 1700m on the south side of Volcan Lanin. From this height and angle the volcano looked pretty imposing, and there were nice views back to the lake. (18km, 6h, 800m ascent/descent)

2) Day hike on Cerro Chivo - The park rangers told us this climb was steep, but this very short walk still surprised us. After 1 hr, we were 900m horizontally from our starting point, but had climbed 515m, on a very steep path through forest. At this point we weren't anywhere near the top of the hill, but had reached a "prohibido pasar" sign. There looked like there were plenty of loose rocks on the route further on and I guess they'd had a few accidents resulting in the closure of the path. (2.8km, 2h, 515m ascent/descent)

3) 2 day hike up Volcan Lanin (3,759m) - We´d been able to see this beautiful volcano for over a week from the bikes, and had set our hearts on climbing it. So we hired crampons, ice axes, radio and helmets (all obligatory equipment, and the park rangers won´t let you on the mountain without it) in Junin, and cycled the 66kms into a headwind to camp at the base of the mountain at 1,150m. In the morning we took 6 hours climbing up to Refugio Caja (a very basic structure that looked like a metal ridge tent, where the floor was covered in 30cm of ice which melted with our body heat in the night) at 2600m on a good path. The second day we left at 04:15, climbing up a snowy couloir which reached 45 degs at its steepest, getting to the summit at 07:45. From here there were stunning views for miles and miles - to Monte Tronador near Bariloche to the south, Volcan Llaima to the north, and we towered above Volcan Villarica, not far away to the west. It took 5 1/2 hours to descend the 2,600m to the road, where we jumped back on our bikes and cycled the 66km back to Junin. We arrived very very tired. (20km, 15h, 2700m ascent/descent)

Some GPS Co-ordinates for Volcan Lanin
Trailhead39.58925 S71.42983 W1,133m
Refugio CAJA39.62130 S71.48828 W2,593m
Lanin Summit39.63748 S71.50277 W3,758m

Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
1) Day hike up Cerro Falkner (2,023m) - On Christmas day we walked up this hill from Lago Villarino. The first part was through forest, and when we emerged from this we lost the path and ended up doing a fun circuit along the summit ridge. Views from the summit were spectacular - Lagos Villarino and Falkner, Volcan Lanin to the north, and hundreds of snowy peaks to the south and west. (13km, 6h, 1,100m ascent/descent)

GPS Co-ordinates for Cerro Falkner Summit: 40.46766 S, 71.54984 W, 2,023m.

2) 3 day hike to Refugio Frey and back - We'd hoped to do a 5 day traverse of the mountains south of Nahuel Huapi lake, but ended up frustrated. The first day we walked up to Refugio Frey from Villa Catedral. Though we arrived early it was a beautiful spot so we decided to stay the night. The next day the weather was bad and the hutkeepers advised us not to try and continue the walk. So we spent a few hours walking round Lago Toncek, and up to Laguna Schmoll. Then we spent about 6 hours building a wall big enough to prevent our tent being blown away by a gale. Luckily our tent survived, but plenty of others at the campsite didn't. That night was hogmanay so we had a fun night in the crowded hut, saw a beautiful full moon at midnight, then couldn't be bothered to continue the walk the next day, opting to walk back to the road at Lago Guttierez. All in all not one of the better walks we've done, and on busy trails. (27km, 10h, 1,400m ascent, 1,600m descent)
3) Day hike from Pampa Linda to Refugio Otto Meiling - A walk that followed a jeep track up through woods for a few hours, before becoming more fun up on a ridge, walking through the snow. This was on the flanks of Monte Tronador, the "Thunderer" and there were frequent roars as blocks of ice fell off the hanging glacier that gives the mountain its name. At the hut (1,880m) we had great weather, and views. We could even see Lanin to the north, 173km away. (20km, 6h, 1,100m ascent/descent)

Near El Bolson
1) Hike up Cerro Piltriquitron (2,279m) - 3 days - We could have walked this in a day by getting a cab up from town to the end of the road at 1,100m and walking from there. Instead we decided to walk from town (300m) to Refugio Piltriquitron (1,500m) in the rain. We didn't see much on the way. The second day we left early even though the weather was still bad, climbed up on easy paths, then up a steeper scree slope to reach the summit in just over 2 hours. It was a bit chilly on the top, and visibility was about 10m. We descended to the refugio and the weather improved, so we had great views and a lovely sunset looking west over town, the Rio Azul valley and the mountains beyond. The third day was a miserable walk back to town, again in the rain. (38km, 12h, 2,000m ascent/descent)

GPS Co-ordinates for Cerro Piltriquitron Summit: 41.98539 S, 71.45960 W, 2,278m.

2) Hike from Wharton to Los Laguitos and back - 5 days - This was by far our most disappointing trek of the trip so far. While the lake at Los Laguitos was a nice spot, it took 2 days to walk to, almost completely in forest with no views at all, which we found pretty dull. The highlights of the walk were seeing a couple of huge alerces - massive sequoia-type trees, which were a few thousand years old and about 3m in diameter at the base; and crossing into the Encanto Blanco valley on the fourth day of the trek which meant climbing up 400m on a crazily steep path, hanging onto tree roots and bits of bamboo to help haul ourselves up. (66km, 22h, 2,500m ascent/descent)

The Argentine Pampas

Parque Nacional Laguna Blanca
Here we did 2 day walks.
1) Cerro Mellizo Sur
Climbing this volcano we arrived at what we thought was the top, only to realise that we'd ascended the lower side of the crater. As we were thinking about going up to the proper summit a thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere and we had to leg it down as quickly as possible, being bombarded by big hailstones! (8km, 3h, 420m ascent/descent)
2) Loop of Laguna Blanca
A pleasant 7 hour walk round the lake, with good views of the distant mountains, plenty of bird life on the lake, and where the weather changed seemingly every 15mins. Sun, rain, wind, sun, storm, cloud.... (22km, 7h, 450m ascent/descent)

Parque Nacional Lihue Calel
We spent a short day walking up the highest hill in the region - Cerro de la Sociedad Cientifica Argentina (587m), (from the top of which it felt like we were on top of a small island in the middle of a huge sea of Pampa - flat in all directions as far as the eye could see), and then wandering up a small valley to see some rock art. (15km, 4h, 250m ascent/descent)