Hiking Aconcagua Provincial Park
Our last day in Mendoza found us driving about three hours southwest of the city, to a point near the Chilean border but still within Mendoza Province.
The views of the summit from the valley floor were spectacular, and as we climbed in elevation the rocky cliffs closed in on us.
The Andes draw all types of thrill seekers ranging in difficulty including hiking, climbing, skiing, trekking . . . as well as history buffs. The Aconcagua mountain range played an important place in the history of Latin America. In 1818 General Don Jose de San Martin crossed these mountains during war with the Spanish Empire, eventually securing independence for Chile by his daring raid. The narrow gage Transandine Railway opened in 1910, connecting the port of Valparaiso, Chile with Mendoza, Argentina and eventually Buenos Aires. During tensions between Chile and Argentina in 1977–78, all international railway use of the Transandine Railway was suspended. With the relative normalization of relations between the two countries, railway passenger service was resumed for a short period ending in 1979. The last freight train to use the railway was in 1984. Today, we can see that most of the track lies in ruin or has been totally removed to make room for the new highway.
The summit of Mount Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Andes range (and in fact, the highest peak outside of Asia at an elevation of 22, 841 feet) was considered unattainable for many years until January 14, 1897 when Matías Zurbriggen, a member of the Fitzgerald expedition finally reached it. Since then many climbers have made the same ascent to the top.
What to some might seem like a relatively easy trek (compared to a climb up Mount Everest), reaching the summit can be a dangerous endeavor that requires stamina and experience. Pedro, our guide for our previous hike told us that he has guided groups to the summit 18 times; Natalia, who is our sole guide today, has been to the summit twice. The climb to the top of Aconcagua can take from fourteen to sixteen days, depending on the weather and how long is spent in the base camps acclimating to the altitude. From what Pedro told us, it can be a treacherous climb. On one of guided treks, before his group could descend to the highest base camp, a severe snow storm kept visibility to only a few feet; Pedro’s experience saved the day as he lead them down almost blindly, using only his altimeter to indicate at what point he needed to turn, repeating this approach until they reached the upper base camp!