Trekking the forgotten trail of the Arrieros
December 15 through March 30.
A traverse to the the heart of the Andes: from Portillo Argentino to Laguna del Diamante, following secret muleteers' paths along unknown valleys
A nine-day journey across valleys, rivers and mountain passes, where the wildlife of the Andes is the only presence. "El Portillo Argentino" col, a narrow pass at 4380 meters of altitude in the Uco Valley, is the gate to this world of guanacos (a relative of the llama and vicuña), condors and the elusive puma or mountain lyon. A trail only known to the local herders and called "the contrabandists' trail" allows the trekker to discover ashtonishing landscapes and to sleep under the stars. The path goes South, along valleys guarded by the the barriers of the Frontal and Limit mountain ranges, until the perfect landscape of the natural reserve Laguna del Diamante.
- Nine-day trekking, following trails of no technical difficulty, with an average altitude of 3.000 meters (safe from the severity of the High Mountain weather!)
- Support of pack horses, to enjoy the experience without carrying heavy backpacks and for safer river crossings. (And also in case someone gets tired of walking).
- A new concept in travelling, at the pace of our legs, with maximum contact with nature and minimal environmental impact.
- Camps in "reales" used regularly by the local gauchos to sleep in the open, but with dinning tents and a good cook.
- Highly experienced guides and stuff.
- Sat phone service to stay in touch.
- The British naturalist Charles Darwin crossed the Andes in this area in 1835. He wrote: “My trip lasted for 24 days, but I have never enjoyed so deeply such a similar period of time”.
D1: Departure from Mendoza to the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley). After climbing -in vehicles- a dirt road for a few kilometers, we register at the Gendarmería Nacional (border police) post -Portinari refuge-, where we have lunch. Then we take a 2-3 hour walk, good for acclimatization, until we reach Scaravelli Refuge, a campsite at almost 3.000 meters, where we camp and have dinner.
D2: Scaravelli – Real de la Cruz. Vehicle approach to Portillo Argentino, 4380 mts. The trucks help us to get close to the pass, leaving the last turns of the trail to the legs. It is a one hour uphill walk, with the reward of an astonishing view of the Andes and the border with Chile. Then it is a 6-hour walk -mostly in a downhill trail- to the valley of the Tunuyan River. We have lunch in the trail and spend the night in a big refuge, property of the Army, where we enjoy a strong dinner and hot water for a shower.
D3: Real de la Cruz - Real de las Leñas Amarillas campsite. After taking the morning to rest in the refuge and have lunch, we walk 3 hours down the Tunuyan river, to a traditional "real", a place used for the arrieros to camp, where we spend the night around a fire or in tents.
D4: an intense day. We cross the Tunuyan river early in the morning, with the help of the pack horses and the arrieros. An almost invisible path is the key to find a pass toward the "Pampa del Milico", a green plateau where we have lunch. Then a long uphill trek takes us toward the mountains, until we reach the Real de los Ingenieros campsite. It is a 7-8 hour walk from the morning camp, plus the river crossing and one hour for lunch.
D5: From Real de los Ingenieros to Salinillas river. An easy day! Only two and a half hours to walk in the morning, until the beautiful campsite Corrales Negros. After lunch in the “vegas” –green spots- by the Corrales Negros stream, the trail crosses some “paramillos” (high plateaus, usually windy), with a typical dry landscape and a unique view of the Andes. Then it descends toward the Salinillas river, in the heart of the mountains. After crossing the river by foot –for some adrenaline- we set camp early in the afternoon. It is a 7 hour day, and there´s still time to visit an interesting waterfall nearby.
D6: Salinillas River – Real de la Piedra Horcada. A good trek uphill in the morning, walking between the red rock formations of Campanario mountain. A natural cave called “Casa de Piedra” is a good spot for lunch, after 3 hours in the trail. Then comes a long afternoon, 4 or 5 hours, to arrive to the Piedra Horcada campsite. This traditional spot has benn used by arrieros for centuries. It is possible to find traces of illegal “guanaqueros” –guanaco hunters-. The place is really isolated –at least three or four days from any human presence-, perfect for a fireside talk in the evening.
D7: Real de la Piedra Horcada – Real del arroyo Ovejas. Last big river crossing of the traverse! The Colorado River presents no problems, but we keep the horses nearby just in case. After the river we start climbing again, following the Papal stream and gorge (sometimes walking in the water!). Many condors and eagles nest in the rocks over the gorge, so it is common to see them flying very close. An eigth-hour day, lunch included, leaves us in the Real de las Ovejas campsite.
D8: Real del arroyo Ovejas – Real del Papal. We climb to the high pass Portezuelo de la Yesera, a strange landscape of rock formations, to descend towards Papal stream. We follow the stream until the campsite, where we camp after six hours in the trail. It is the last night in the mountain.
D9: Papal – Laguna del Diamante. The last two and a half hours of climbing –to Portezuelo de las Numeradas- are rewarded with the view of a unique place: the deep blue Laguna del Diamante and the perfect shape of Maipo volcano. This natural reserve is the home of hundreds of guanacos, cauquenes (sort of wild goose) and foxes. It takes three more hours to circle the lake and get to the ranger’s post, final point of the program and where the vehicle waits for us. We celebrate with a barbecue and then head for the city of Mendoza, in a three-hour car ride.
Good general physical condition. Previous experience at high altitude is not required but good aerobic performance is suggested. It’s a demanding trek in an isolated area.
Personal Gear (no more than 15 kg per person)
1 or 2 pair of underwear bottoms.
1 or 2 confortable pair of pants.
1 or 2 pair of waterproof-breatheable pants
Shirts, t-shirts or underwear top.
1 polar fleece jacket.
1 down jacket (or equivalent, optional)
1 waterproof-breatheable jacket.
1 pair of liner gloves.
1 pair of fleece or synthetic gloves.
1 balaclava or wool hut (fleece or synthetic)
1 cap for the sun.
1 pair with UVA and UVB protection.
1 extra pair.
Backpack 45 literss.
1 pair trekking boots or running shoes.
Extra pair of shoes or sandals, suitable for river crossings.
3 pairs for daily use.
2 wool or synthetic pairs
Sunscreen. Lip saver.
In- out 4x4 transfers from Mendoza City.
Full board. (breakfast, box lunch and dinner).
Table, chairs and dinnerware service.
Mountain tents. Bags for the gear.
Pack horses support during the expedition, to carry the loads (so you walk very light), river crossings and contingencies.
Satellite Phone (for emergencies, or at an extra cost of 5 dollars per minute).
Specialized guides, cook and arrieros (muleteers).
Detailed information on flora, fauna and historical features of the place
Personal gear and sleeping bags (See list of required gear. consult for renting.)
Accommodation and drinks in Mendoza (consult).