Mendoza is surrounded by mountains, tall and strong and mistakenly I thought that these were the Andes. Technically they are part of the pre cordillera of the Andes and there are two more ranges between Mendoza and the Andes proper. Nonetheless, when we started getting out of the city, it was a perfectly clear morning and we started to see some of the giants that were sitting out there. On average, most of the peaks around Mendoza are above 4000m high, but as you get deeper into the mountains and enter into the Andes then some of the peaks tip 6100m some even 6200m.
Remember – Click on the images below to see them MUCH bigger, they are far more impressive that way….
It is impossible to give you the scale of these monsters, they are so huge and it seems like you can get out of the car and walk a few hundred meters and touch the mountain, until the tour guide tells you that the snow capped peak that we can see (the one you can almost touch) is actually 150km away. That blew me away, 150km away and it looks like it is just over the next hill. As we got deeper and deeper into the mountains, slowly the vegetation starts to disappear and the cruel, hard and yet beautiful high mountain landscape starts to become prevalent. It is dry, rocky and sandy, but has a stark beauty that is captivating, it almost lures you in to see more and we went deeper in.
We stopped off at an old bridge along the way, it was the place where General San Martin fought against the Spanish and crossed over the Andes (no small feat there) and took on the Spanish and won! He is hailed as a national hero across Argentina and there are special memorials to his battles all over.
From there we continued in and then we stopped at a ski resort. There is no snow in the lower levels of the Andes right now because it is summer (even though it’s a little chilly up there) but we took the ski lift up to one of the peaks to have a look around. It was amazing and quite incredible to see the height of some of the mountains around us. You soon realize just how small man is in comparison to these incredible mountains and this vast terrain. The size cannot be comprehended unless you are there. I have seen images of the Andes before, but truly, nothing can prepare you for the size that you are seeing. The ski lift ride was really fun, even though Francis had second thought about being suspended on a thin cable and being tugged up the front side of some steep slope. Once we were up there the view was worth the tension.
Once we came down from the ski slope, we then were off to the big one, Aconcagua or the Stone Sentinel. In Inca language Aconcagua means Stone Sentinel. This is a massive mountain that is 6959m high and stands head and shoulders above the rest of the mountains in the area. It is also the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere (that is in North and South America)
At the place where we are staying, there are two American mountaineers who have just come off an 18 day expedition from climbing Aconcagua. I was chatting to the one guy yesterday and he said that from the summit, on a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean, which is probably 300km away. This is not a small piece of rock, it is utterly majestic and impressive. We saw as we came around a corner and there it stood, massively impressive and fully white and snowy, simply because of its altitude. It is huge and it looks BIG, but not as big as you would think, until we had to be reminded that it is 40km away. If you want to climb Aconcagua you have to go to the Aconcagua National Park (which we stopped in and took the photos from) and from there hike the 40km into the base camp at the base of Aconcagua. There is no road to get you there, so before you even start climbing you have to hike 40km in, with all your kit, food, clothing etc. The area that Aconcagua is in is really pretty. There are some green meadows in the foreground, but apparently as you get closer to the mountain it takes more of a wasteland feel with very little growing there. When we got out of the car to go and get some photos, we were blown around, literally, but the wind. It was really gusting down the valley from Aconcagua and it was pretty cold. At this point, we were at an altitude of 3100m above sea level and we were looking at almost 4km of rock that is the Stone Sentinel, very impressive. To be honest, the photos can never do this kind of landscape justice, the scale is just too big and there is nothing to measure what you are seeing. Even standing 40km away, the sight was breathtaking and rekindled in me a desire to climb these big mountains. This is of course a dream, but one that I hope to fulfill in the next few years, I guess that means that I will one day return to the Stone Sentinel, hopefully to tackle the summit and see the Pacific Ocean in a way I have never seen it before, from 6959m up!