In Hiking,Mountains,Travel

Cordon Del Plata: Trekking in the Heart of the Argentinian Andes

At the frontier of the Argentinian Andes, around 100km West of Mendoza (the wine capital of Argentina), lies a spectacular boot-shaped valley lined with an array of rocky, ice covered peaks. This place is known as Cordon Del Plata and it’s home to an array of peaks ranging from 3,500m right up to 6,000m. It is one of the more popular trekking destinations in this region of the  Andes and it’s easy access and diversity makes it a prime training/acclimatisation ground for those looking to venture off to the larger and more challenging peaks such as Mt Aconcagua.

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Mendoza, the home-base for many Andes climbing escapades, is well worth a visit in of itself. It is the key wine growing region in Argentina and produces some delicious Malbec. Might be best to pay a visit after your climbing is done.. it’s very easy to go overboard. It’s also one of the greenest cities I’ve seen, every street being enveloped by a canopy of beautiful green trees that line the sidewalks.

 

After catching a bus or organising a transfer from either Mendoza or Portrerillos (more details below) you will find yourself amongst the refuges at the start of Cordon del Plata. You can stay in one of these if you choose, they will cost around 150 pesos for a dormitory style bed and can provide food and any gear you need. I stayed in one on my first trip and although convenient, they are not ideal if you want to climb some of the peaks (but great if you just want to hike up through the valley for a day or 2).

If you have your own camping equipment, you will want to continue up an hour or so to the first main site, Vega. It’s up at 3,200m so it’s not a bad idea to stop here for at least 1 night to acclimatise. There are several creeks running through the camp that provide fresh, glacier run-off agua that is perfectly suitable for drinking. On another note, make sure your tent is sound. The ‘Katabatic’ winds here are FIERCE and I’ve read several accounts of trekkers tents getting torn up in the higher camps. The winds will literally come in from any direction so make sure your tent is secured at all sides. I made the mistake of getting one side down pat only to have the winds switch direction. My tent was completely lifted up and would’ve been carried off down the valley had I not had my bags inside.

 

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I made 2 trips up to Cordon del Plata, the first to scope it out and the second to spend a bit of time there in the hope of getting some residual acclimatisation for an Aconcagua expedition. The second trip I spent 6 days there in total, with the idea of climbing some of the 4-5,000m peaks in the area. Unfortunately, the cheeky bastard ‘El Nino’ was in full affect, dumping a near record amount of snow on the Andes during that period. I didn’t bring crampons or an Ice-axe (my pack was already 30+kg) and therefore had to settle with one of the lesser peaks and simply trekking up to the highest camp. It certainly served its purpose though, I spent the whole period above 3,200m and felt a significant improvement when I trekked up passed camp El Salto, to around 4,350m  on the final day.

I will have to come back at some point and climb El Plata, the 6,000m peak at the end of the valley that supposedly has spectacular views over the whole of the range. Quite a few people I had talked to either were attempting or had attempted the summit, not one of them having reached the mark.

If you are looking to do some climbing up there, I highly recommend you check out the Summit Post guide for Cordon Del Plata. They have detailed reports for each peak and from individuals with a lot more knowledge and experience than myself.

 

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A few tips…

Getting There

From Mendoza, there are a few different options.

  • You can get a direct transfer from wherever you are situated. This service will pick you up from your hotel and drop you at the start Cordon, above the last refuge. It is costly however, at the time of writing this (Dec 2015) a one-way trip cost 1,200 pesos ($120 ‘official’ USD). Obviously the best way to do this is to share with 2 or 3 others.
  • You can get a bus to Portrerillos, the town located at the base of the range, then get a transfer from there. This chops the transfer fee in half and a bus ticket only costs 21 pesos.
  • Finally, you can get a bus up to ‘Las Vegas’ and walk the rest of the way. From the dropoff it’s about 12km and over 1,000 vertical metres to the first camp. I did this once with 30kg worth of crap during a very hot day. It wasn’t overly pleasant. It is by far the cheapest option though and gives you a hell of a workout.

*Bus tickets can be purchased from a particular stand at the main terminal. From memory there is only 1 or 2 places that sell them.

 

Hiring Gear

If, like me, you have come to Argentina inadequately equipped to tackle snow drenched 6,000m peaks, you will need to hire some to get the job done. Fortunately, Mendoza has plenty of options and makes it easy to travel light and only hire the necessary gear when you’re ready to climb.

The following companies are the best I found..

  • Aconcagua Equipment Rental: Espejo 593, Mendoza
  • Chammonix: Barcala 267, Mendoza
  • Limite Vertical: Sarmiento 675, Mendoza

Here’s a guide as to the prices you can expect to pay..

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