Glacier at 9,300 feet
Yesterday was all about trekking back up into the Andes Mountains of Argentina. We signed up for the all day (12-hour) Alta Montana tour at a cost of 600 Argentinian Pesos ($40 usd). The van picked us up in front of our hostel at 7:30 a.m. and we later returned exhausted at 7:30 p.m. The day was absolutely beautiful with the sun shining brightly and modest temperatures of around 18°C or 64°F. The higher we went the cooler the temperatures, but it stayed pleasant and we were in shirtsleeves most of the time (albeit with a down vest).
Grazing Horses in the Foothills
We began by winding our way up through the foothills at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. The scenes were very pastoral and complete with grazing horses. The morning sun cast its golden light on the panorama before us and the sky displayed a brilliant blue. It’s the tail-end of winter in Mendoza and spring begins September 21st—so I guess this was pre-spring (if there is such a thing). The foothills are a pallet of subtle pastel colors reminiscent of the canyon lands of the United States and complement the higher Andes Mountains beautifully.
Climbing Higher and Higher
The native grasses remained yellow and dormant and many of the trees were still stripped of their foliage, but you can see from these photos how stunning the countryside is around Mendoza. We eventually stopped in a small town that caters to those trekking into the Andes: snow clothes, boots, skis, snowboards and even mountain climbing gear can be rented. Our small group of nine outfitted themselves accordingly for the snow country ahead (except for Joel and me) and then we proceeded further on our excursion.
Abandoned Thermal Baths
Our next stop included a visit to an old and ruined abandoned hotel and the thermal baths that used to be enjoyed there. The hotel itself is nothing but rubble, but you can still see the little stone chapel in the upper right of the photo. The abandoned thermal baths are perched under the land bridge that crosses the river below. The brilliant colors originate as mineral deposits deep underground and are transported to the surface with the bubbling hot water. These colors have not been enhanced using Photoshop, they really are that spectacular (like something you would see in Yellowstone National Park).
Closeup View of the Abandoned Thermal Baths
Finishing up our visit to this interesting place we once again boarded our van to continue our journey upwards. Around every corner the Andes loomed closer and closer with their snow-covered peaks, and we snaked our way around a large number of big rig long-haul trucks winding their way through the mountains. We would often pass through various tunnels cut into the mountainside, and we could also see the abandoned railroad tracks of a long disused train that used to parallel our route. Many trestles, outbuildings and avalanche barricades still survive, but all are in a state of disrepair.
King of the Mountain
Finally our ultimate destination was reached and I got to play King of the Mountain at 9,300 feet. In northern Chile (Atacama) we experienced higher elevations at 13,000 to 14,000 feet where it was both colder and harder to breathe, but even at 9,300 feet you get quickly winded when hiking around, especially where the snow is soft and you sink in up to mid-calf. Those that wanted to played in the snow for a couple of hours, but we spent our time taking in the beautiful vistas and soaking up the sunshine. After a late lunch we climbed aboard our van for the long ride back to our hostel.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller