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Andean Mountains

The route has lately revealed some of the highest mountains of the Andean mountain range, among them the highest peak outside the Himalayas – Aconcagua (6,962 m). It has been a nice change from the flat steppe to climb some passes and get more curves.

Aconcagua (6,962 m)

El Elcazar

The climate has become a bit more chilly these days because the winter is approaching. At the same time I’m slowly moving north where the seasons are less obvious. I remember when I started in Ushuaia on a surprisingly warm spring day with dandelions lined up by the road. Now, the fall has arrived and the treetops cover the whole spectrum from yellow to red!

Curious guanaco

One of Sweden’s most famous touring cyclists and mountaineers Janne Corax (blog) is here to continue a trip that he started in 2005. He e-mailed me about a month ago and we finally met in Rodeo with the intention to climb some 6,000 m peaks together.

I bought a pair of cheap boots, 3 pair of llama socks, 2 walking sticks (broom handles) and managed to borrow a backpack. The day before he arrived I met Rolando Coria, a very friendly children’s doctor who happened to be the father of the Argentinian touring cyclist Ivana Coria. He borrowed me some winter clothes, including Ivanas boyfriend Harry Kikstras (www.7summits.com) jacket that he wore when summiting Mount Everest, and then gave us a lift towards Paso de Agua Negra and to our start at 4,100 m.

The military at the pre-border checkpoint were a bit skeptical to why we wanted to go up there when it was off season but we just had to sign a paper saying that they didn’t take any responsibility for us whatsoever and then it was fine. The sudden altitude gain from 1,600 m made us feel dizzy and I just laughed at forgetting small things all the time. The nearby river was frozen but luckily the water was running underneath so we only had to make a hole and then we had fresh mineral water.

Trekking close to Paso de Agua Negra

The first mountain we would try to climb was Cerro Olivares (6,216 m) and then, if we had time, Majadita (6,266 m). Both these mountains are non-technical so this is basically just a matter of high-altitude trekking. I didn’t sleep well the first night and Corax started to feel a cold that he had caught earlier so we started walking slowly the following day. The weather was great with sun and without any wind, and the views breathtaking! We camped at 4,500 m and managed to find some running water again. The second night was cold (-10 degrees) and the water froze in the bottles. I still slept ok and used all my clothes in my -1 degree sleeping bag.

We came up to a pass the third day and got an overview of the mountain, but quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to continue on that side because the whole ridge was covered with glaciers, and at one place 7-8 m tall and impassable penitentes. We turned back and continued along the mountain side to another plateau to camp for the night just below 5,000 m. Later that evening, an ice avalanche rolled just above the place where we had been walking!

Ice avalanche

Camping in the snow at 4,900 m

The third night went down to -15 degrees and this time I was freezing a lot because my sleeping bag wasn’t completely dry due to all the condensation and frost that I get in my tent. We were too lazy to go back to the river to get running water so we had to melt snow instead, a very time and fuel consuming task. We walked up to 5,500 m to acclimatize more and plan the following day’s route, and it looked promising.

Melting snow

Happy face at 5,500 m

During the fourth night, Corax cold and cough unfortunately got worse so we decided to not try to summit after all. The morning weather was perfect and it had been snowing more during the night so we had a beautiful descent down to the road. It didn’t matter much that we didn’t summit because it was a great trek anyhow! And the pizza and ice cream we had when returning to Rodeo was REALLY good :-)

The day after, we cycled to San José de Jáchal through a nicely colored mountain valley. We met a British couple on bikes heading north as well. I ate 8 scoops of ice cream that day, ahh. Then I continued on my own to Villa Unión and today Corax arrived with the bus. He will continue north-west from here to climb several peaks on his list on Punan and I will continue towards Cafayate, so from now on we go separate ways, but might see each other again further north.

Here are some of the other things that happened lately:
– Met two truck drivers who patiently were warming water for their mate using the truck battery. Meanwhile, the next village were waiting for the food delivery that they were carrying. Argentinian prioritization!
– Caught a cold in Calingasta because I showered with an ice-cold garden hose on a football field.
– Had a morning visit by a young and curious guanaco in my tent.
– Discovered mosquito larvae in my water bottle after almost having drunk all of it.
– Realized that yawns are contagious even between humans and dogs.
– For a second I considered to show who’s territory my tent was after a dog peed on it.
– Got mentioned on the local radio in Rodeo as being a “lost Swedish cyclist” when I cycled almost 30 km in one day in the small (but long!) village just looking for things.

Corax and me

Eroded mountains

I think Bolivia is only about 2.5 weeks away from now and I am really looking forward to a different culture and return to places that I visited in 2006! However, I am also thinking about heading to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and enter Bolivia by cycling the “laguna route” to Uyuni. I did this scenic route with a jeep during my last trip and it’s absolutely stunning, but the road conditions were really bad and it’s on an altitude of about 3,500-5,000 m. Last time I didn’t pay much attention to how much sand there was so I need to do some research before I can come to a decision. I need to carry around 12 days of food on this part, and in combination with a lot of water my thin tires will probably force me to push the bike a lot!