Aconcagua is the highest peak in the Americas and second only to Everest. How come nobody ever talks about the second highest range in the world??
We won’t be hanging around until the summer to join the crowds rock climbing to the peak, but we did travel 4 hours to the provincial park to gain a peek at the summit. We were up at 4.30am to catch the 6 o’clock bus towards the Chilean border. We snoozed until sunrise, then woke in a stunning valley – surrounded by glowing red rock and a sheer cliff drop to a river below. As we climbed higher our ears popped and the temperature dropped. We eventually hopped off the bus 2950m above sea level (at a small park hut) and hiked along the riverside path amongst huge moraine boulder mounds. The valley behind us was amazing with swathes of colour through the rocks like I’ve never seen before; red, purple, green, white, orange and grey.
What initially struck me when we were walking was that I felt so unfit – after a few paces of stomping uphill my heart was racing, I was out of breath and I was considering taking a short cut. We have been a bit lazy since we were trekking in Patagonia, but I’m hoping this breathlessness was due to the altitude – I don’t like to think what the summit would be like at 6962m.
The mountain has it’s own glacier (just visible in the right-hand side) and through the valley leading up to it are massive boulders pushed down hill from glacier action in the past. We saw hares, ducks, condors and other birds – so it wasn’t just a geography expedition! Then walked about a mile down a disused railway line (which used to link the capital cities of Argentina and Chile) to Puente del Inca.
Warren thought it would be a great idea to cross the disused railway bridge too – which petrified me! (But I couldn’t not do it, if he was crossing I had to follow) I already had ‘flappy feet’ and started to shake when there was nothing but a narrow, weathered plank between me a the clear, cold river water 100 feet below! Even the handrail was giving up, having rusted through and been tied together with a twist of wire. It took a few minutes before my nervous energy could stop confusing my tummy and knees!! (Warren pleas he was too tired to realise the sense of danger here) Anyway, we made it across safely and he assures me he won’t be making Am & Cam do such things when they arrive.
The colours below may look a little like a 1970s postcard but they are the real colours of the minerals that have created the bridge! It’s believed that the original layer of minerals may have built up over ice in the riverbed, which has since melted away leaving an arch behind. It’s quite a strong structure and a hotel once existed nearby, using the hot springs as a spa. The hotel was destroyed by an earthquake in the 60s and it’s traffic had started to weaken the bridge, so now the hotel and spa are no longer but the bridge is now preserved and quite a tourist spot with lots of art and craft stalls.
We were shivering, shattered wrecks by the time we had looked around, so gratefully cradled a hot chocolate until 5pm when we were whisked back to Mendoza. It’s not easy to visit Argentina’s more remote national / provincial parks – so we’ll need to make friends with someone with a car to visit other nearby beauties!