Thursday, July 2, 2009

Scaling Cerro Arenales with el perro de la montaña

My second day in Mendoza, perhaps fuelled on by the wine consumption on the previous day, I signed up for a hike in the Andes, specifically, the 3,500m summit of Cerro Arenales, only being about as high as I´ve ever been in my life, should be a piece of cake!

Some of the mountains in this area are over 6,000m - it´s the highest part of the Andes, and contains Aconcagua, which at about 6,900m is the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas. We couldn´t see it from here, but we did see some of the other mountains in the area which are almost as high. It was pretty amazing to think that I was more than a kilometre higher than Kosciuszko. Mendoza itself is only around 700m above sea level, so the mountains in this part of the world look pretty impressive.

Our hike started at a refugio sitting well above the snow line. Already I could see that this was going to be a challenging and cold day. We were led by Luciano, and the dog, Fideo, who we referred to as el perro de la montaña (the dog of the mountain). Fideo found the whole exercise so easy, racing up ahead, and scaling vertical cliffs (even more confidently than Charlie the Wonderdog) while Luciano guided us tentatively crossing frozen creeks and snowy paths. It was cold and windy, and for the first part of the morning we were climbing through thick cloud.

We came out above the cloud, and as we edged closer to the summit, we could see the spectacular view over the Cordon del Plata. The final ascent took a while, though the last 100m went in a moment, we were largely being blown up the mountain, and spent only moments at the summit to take photos, before we were almost blown off the top. It was cold and windy, and I didn´t fancy the express trip back to Mendoza. The view however was spectacular, and it´s a great sense of achievement arriving at the summit of a mountain.

Just below the summit we stopped for lunch - hot tea, sandwiches and alfajores, one of the great inventions known to Argentina. Similar to a wagon wheel, but much better. It was then time for the descent past a frozen waterfall through the fresh snow. The clouds had cleared and the view going down was great as well. All in all a great, but tiring day. I was ready for a Malbec or two back at Mendoza. I could really get used to this!

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