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Acclimatization in the Cordón del Plata

PotrerillosIntroduction

The Cordón del Plata is a mountain range somewhere between Mendoza and the Aconcagua in Argentina. It is very suitable for acclimatization because:

  • It is easy accessible (road)
  • There are good places for camping
  • It has the right altitude (3000-4000 meters)
  • There are possibilities for summiting some of the 4000 and 5000-meter peaks.

In Mendoza we found an adequate new topo guide of the range: Montañas de Luz, Cordón del Plata, by Alejandro Geras, ISBN 987-43-6846-2, November 2003, 193 pages.
We were lucky to have good weather. It was sunny almost every day. We had no rain or snow. It was only freezing in the El Salto camp at 4200 meters and only during nighttime.
Around the Piedra Grande camp you can see many guanacos, a kind of lama.
Try to avoid the weekends. The Mendoza locals go climb the mountains in the weekend and it can be quite crowded up there.

Access

The Cordón del Plata is located in the Cordillera Frontal range. The place to start is the mountain and ski resort (well, this is a big word for it) Vallecitos, 90 kms from Mendoza. Since there was no regular transport from Mendoza to Vallecitos we hired it from Rudy Parra. We got a minibus and driver for $180. He drove us all the way up to Vallecitos and picked us up for the return trip 6 days later.

It is a 3-hour drive via Potrerillos. The last part is a dirt road. Vallecitos is at the end of the road at 2900 m. From there you have to walk.

We arrived around lunchtime, the weather was sunny and our backpacks were heavy (25-30 kgms). We were glad that we knew that our first campsite would be at 3200 meters, 1 hour from Vallecitos.

1st day, campsite Las Veguitas (3200 m)

On the hottest part of the day we started our climb to Las Veguitas. First we used a dirt track, which starts to ascend in a W-direction directly behind Vallecitos. After about 30 minutes we had to cross the river and climb steeply to the meadows of Las Veguitas (aka Vegas Inferiores). Las Veguitas is at about 3200 meters and we got there in about 90 minutes. It is a spacious meadow used by cows, mules, horses and hikers. There is plenty of water and there are plenty places to camp.

Since it was already after midday and we were not really used to weight of the backpacks, we decided to make a late afternoon stroll (without the heavy load) a few hundred meters up. Marja and Antonio felt well, Otto suffered from a minor headache. We all slept well though that night.

Piedra Grande2nd day, San Bernardo

The plan was to climb San Bernardo (4450 m) the next day. We saw only one steep track going up. No zigzags, just straight up. It was quite strenuous and Otto was still not feeling 100%. At 3800 meters he decided to stop and return. Marja joined him, but Antonio was way to far ahead and continued his climb. At about 4000 meters he returned as well.

3rd day, campsite Piedra Grande (3500 m)

The third day we moved to the next campsite. It took us almost 2 hours to get there. Piedra Grande is a big rock, under which there are two holes in which you can sleep, but there are many places to pitch your tent as well. There is no water nearby. You have to descend to the riverbed and look for small currents that have clear water. In order to climb high and sleep low, we decided to climb to the base camp of Cerro Vallecitos en Cerro Plata. This base camp (El Salto) is at 4200 meters.

It was quite foggy and windy that afternoon and Otto, still not feeling well, got behind. However everybody reached El Salto. El Salto is a small camp with a permanent refuge (big tent). In this refuge you can get a meal, drinks, everything. After resting we went down again and Otto went straight to bed, because of a headache.

4th day, Stepanek

Our initial plan was to move up to El Salto this day. However, due to the headaches of Otto we decided to stay on the same altitude and rest a little. We went down to the riverbed to get some fresh water. Instead of going back to the tents we felt it to be a good idea to ascend the Stepanek a little. We crossed the river, passed the Stepanek/Adolfo Calle campsite, and continued the trail up the mountain, which was as steep as the one of San Bernardo. Otto was going well today. We climbed up to 4000 meters. We returned to the Piedra Grande camp in the afternoon. In the afternoon the river was more difficult to cross because of bigger amount of water.

El Salto5th day, El Salto (4200 m)

Because Otto was okay again, we moved to El Salto. We decided to carry only one tent: the Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1. We left the TNF Westwind for storage of unused equipment in Piedra Grande. A few hours later we arrived in El Salto and set up our tent. Since we had a blue sky we made an afternoon walk to La Hoyada (or Ollada) at 4500 m altitude. That night we 3 shared the tent. Otto could not sleep very well and moved out of the tent at 2 a.m. It was freezing a little. Nevertheless, he slept quite well for the rest of the night. So did Marja and Antonio in the tent.

6th day, descent

In about 90 minutes we walked back to Piedra Grande were we had something to eat. From there it would take us 60 to 90 minutes back to Vallecitos where our bus driver would be waiting for us. After we had passed Las Veguitas we had to cross a small river. Unfortunately Marja injured her right foot and could not continue anymore. However, fortunately an ‘arriero’ with his mules was just coming up. He was ‘willing’ to lend one of his mules for 100 pesos (30 euros/dollars).

So with Marja on the mule, Otto as an arriero and Antonio carrying two backpacks of 25 kgms each we continued our way down and arrived in Vallecitos at around 1 p.m. The initial idea was to go directly to Puente del Inca because we wanted to start our trek to the Aconcagua base camp the next day, but now Marja could hardly walk, we went back to Mendoza for 2 days of rest.

Mule

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