Aconcagua is a mountain that has had an important place in my imagination since I was a teen, perhaps as a result of reading Alive, the story of survival in the Andes, in a high school English class. When I first started dreaming this trip three years ago, I contemplated riding to Aconcagua up as high as the mules go and then climbing to the top. As I checked further, the prices would put that plan out of reach. The climbing permit itself is about $1,000, even more if you don’t hire a guide. Estimates put the total cost of the climb at $5,000. And although it is not a very technical climb, the conditions on the mountain would be difficult for someone with little climbing experience and even less high altitude experience. After ruling out a climb of Aconcagua, I looked at other mountains in the Andes. However, I did still want to cycle as close to Aconcagua as I could.
My first view of Aconcagua, 200-250 km away. I would not see it again until I was much closer.
I was eager to finally leave Mendoza. I had intended to leave a couple of days earlier, but stomach issues had kept me there. The day started out nice. The city seemed to go on forever along the road. Once outside of the city it was vineyards everywhere.
I was headed up to the reservoir that made all the vineyards possible. By about 2:00 the grades were more serious and by 3:00 my stomach was doing somersaults. I was not over whatever I had. I was drinking water by the liter but was unable to quench my thirst. At one point someone pulled over to offer me a drink. I drank a liter of juice but to no affect. I was so happy to arrive at the reservoir and Potrerillos and find the campground. An hour later I was feeling much better.
The reservoir was quite low, drained to water all those grapes below. I was told that it would be full again by the end of February when the grapes would be harvested.
The next day contrasted greatly. I was definitely in the mountains now. As I climbed higher I had to stop around every corner and take pictures. It was to me an otherworldly landscape. I had never seen mountains like this before.
An abandoned railway line ran alongside the road and at times on the other side of the Mendoza river.
All along the line were abandoned railway buildings.
After a terrible day of riding I had one of the best days of the trip so far. I was feeling great and treated to spectacular views. I was reaching elevations where the heat of the day did not kick you in the gut and the nights were cool. I rolled into Uspallata, found the tourist info booth, and discovered they had free wifi so I hunkered down there for a while. Later I found a hotel.
The next day I rolled out Uspallata wondering when and if I would see Aconcagua again. Just as I left town a goat herder was moving his flock alongside the road. In this dry landscape the only herd animals I had seen were goats. I was still hoping to see llamas.
The three goat herding dogs forgot about their duties for a couple of minutes and came to pay me a visit.
The further along I cycled, the more the Mendoza River valley narrowed, the water ran faster, and the grades steepened. The day before had been marked by a constant low grade climb. This day had a lot of ups and downs, mostly ups. Soon the road was hanging precariously on the side of the mountain.
There was a waterfall there as well.
I started the day with a nice tail breeze. But by 35 km in the wind turned around and increased in strength. The next 20 km took 4 hours. I was exhausted in Punta de Vacas looking for a place to stay. The was a strange but interesting park for contemplation and meditation. They rented out cabins for a very reasonable price, but only to people who were there to meditate and contemplate, not to “tourists”. So I was out of luck. I met some really great people there who tried to get me in, but the admin would not have it. There was really no place to set up my tent nearby, especially with the winds gusting at 80 or 90 km/h. They told me there was a hostel up the road only five km. I usually take those estimates with a grain of salt. I hung out with them for a couple hours hoping that some other solution would materialize. It didn’t. By then it was getting dark and one guy offered to drive my gear up while I rode. So I did that. The wind was still extremely strong but I did not have all the weight to drag up the hill, and it was indeed only 5 km. I said goodbye to my new friends and that night I stayed at the Mundo Perdido Hostel. It was housed in abandoned railway buildings. And the people who ran it were great.
I still had not seen Aconcagua again and I was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t. I did not have far to go to get to the park and was assured I could see it from there. On the way up I passed some of the mules used to ferry supplies up Aconcagua.
I made my way up to Puente del Inca, one of the most southerly outposts in the Inca empire. They took advantage of the sulfer hotsprings there.
It was only another 3 km to the entrance to Aconcagua Provincial park, but a steep climb into headwinds. There were a couple of people hiking up the road and it took me almost all the way to the park to catch them. When I got to the park I was told no bikes were allowed and that I would have to leave it with them and continue on foot. I protested but to no avail. My original plan had been to ride up as far as I could go. Instead I hiked up for an hour. I got lucky in terms of the weather as it was a completely clear day. Often Aconcagua is covered in clouds.
I was told that that glacier hanging on the ledge there is 300 meters thick.
Much like the mules, the rescue helicopter has to wear a head cover when not in service.
My bike is equipped to ride high into the mountains. When the grades get too steep, I can ditch the bike and hike with the backpack, but that would have to wait till I am on a mountain with few people.
I rode back down to a ski resort and had lunch.
I checked out a hotel there, but the guy in charged seemed like an ass, so I continued on down the road back to the Mundo Perdido Hostel.
The next day I got up expecting an easy ride back into Uspallata (62 km downhill). I discovered that headwinds can overpower gravity. I was happy to get into Uspallata again.