Trekking to Aconcagua’s Plaza Francia INDEPENDENTLY – Day 3

trip report by editor Rick McCharles

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | info page | video

Up early again. Coffee as the sun rises.

Rather than doing any more hiking I enjoyed a lazy morning at camp. Toying with my electronics. Listening to my Spanish lessons. The sun was HOT.

There are all sorts of characters coming and going. Some carry huge backpacks.

The craziest of the crazy are trying to summit Aconcagua independently and unsupported. Somehow transporting 70kg of gear or so up the mountain with multiple shuttles.

Around 11am I finally packed up the tent.

I figured it would be an easy walkout. No rush to catch the 5pm bus.

On a rest stop I laid out my basic gear to dry.

I’d expected a quick 2 hour 400m descent, but the walk felt long. Full pack. I was tired.

It was nice to finally reach vegetation.

If there’s something green here, there’s plenty of water.

Laguna de Horcones (2950m)

I checked out at the park entrance. Turned in my permit. Handed over my trash bag.

My Aconcagua trek was a success.

With a couple of hours before the bus arrived, I walked the highway …

… down to Puente del Inca (2740m).

…a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River, a tributary of the Mendoza River. … 

In March 1835, Charles Darwin visited the site, and made some drawings of the bridge …

In the old days people would walk across the bridge to reach the stone church.
It’s a tourist trap with overpriced junk and yappy dogs.

I decided to wait to eat in Mendoza.

There are a couple of hostels and a campground, however. A good emergency stop. Or hikers could sleep here one night before heading up towards Aconcagua.

I slept well on the bus. Then got myself a big chunk of Argentinian beef to celebrate back at the hostel.

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Trekking to Aconcagua’s Plaza Francia INDEPENDENTLY – Day 2

trip report by editor Rick McCharles

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | info page | video

I was up early. Drinking coffee. Watching the sun catch high peaks.

I waited until 8am to start and was still first to depart Confluencia.

In fact I wasn’t sure of the route as it wasn’t signed at the start. A couple of people pointed me in the right direction.

Very soon the signage began. It’s clear. You can’t easily get lost (though people have). No GPS, guidebook or map is needed. Follow the cairns.

With about 1000m to climb I carried a fairly light pack. I was in the shade of the mountains for the first 2 hours.

You see the big mountain appear early on.

WOW. This must be one of the best days of the year. Very little wind.

Was I in Nepal? Or the Andes.

Once you get above vegetation there’s no way to tell.

Many people finish at the second of two viewpoints. The view is as good here at 4126m as anywhere.

But, alone, first hiker of the day, I continued another 45 minutes on to French Camp.

As you can see, it was t-shirt weather.

The only reason to hike the final rugged stretch after the viewpoint is to get an even closer view of the massive south face wall. The hanging glaciers. It’s not easy to believe that’s a 3km drop from the top.

I couldn’t guess what line they’d climb. It looked impossible.

Turns out they’ve climbed many impossible lines.

This same day a guy I met later was on the other side of the mountain slogging through metre deep new snow. His entire group turned back at 6600m aside from one character who did (somehow) summit.

Excited I’d been so lucky with my weather, I turned back quickly. Perhaps I could hike some of the trail towards Mule Camp before dark.

Vistas in the other direction are beautiful. I’d not looked back much on the way up.

I’d expected plenty of water but you should carry up all you need. It’s a desert. And most of what’s running is silted.

On the way down I took time to observe the glacier. Most of the trail is on glacial moraine.

Almost nothing can live up here. This thorny bush is hardiest.

THIS astragalus arnottianus somehow survives too.

By the time I got back down to the main trail I was exhausted. There’d be no more hiking for me this day.

It was 8 hours tent-back-to-tent moving quite quickly.
I again climbed into my bag for a nap, but this time also to get out of the sun. Though careful with face and head, I’d managed to sunburn my hands and forearms. There’s very little shade available.

That evening I went over for my mandatory doctor’s check-up. He listened to heart rate. Blood pressure. Asked a few questions. Then signed my permit.

In the tent that night I listened to Coffee Break Spanish language podcasts and got into a hilarious book about character named Hard Luck Hank.

Two tents of noisy independent Russians had arrived. They argued and shouted late into the night. With headphones on, I didn’t care.

Trekking to Aconcagua’s Plaza Francia INDEPENDENTLY – Day 1

trip report by editor Rick McCharles

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | info page| video

Next morning was sunny. Mendoza enjoys 330 days of sun a year.

With only a 3-4 hour walk in gaining about 400m, I packed heavy.

There are 3 buses a day from Mendoza to the Aconcagua Provincial Park. Go early to the Mendoza bus station and buy a ticket in advance on the Buttini Bus. Seats are assigned. Ask for a window on the right side of the bus. Cost one way in 2018 was AR$130.

Roberto sat down beside me on the bus. He’s a rafting guide from Guatemala who’s worked all over the world. 15 years on the Arkansas river in Colorado, for example.

In 2018 he’s finally guiding the Grand Canyon. Those trips are decided on by a lottery system. He jumped off at Potrerillos where he was visiting a friend, another guide.

I was headed back towards Santiago, Chile on the same scenic highway I’d traveled on an express bus. My local bus stopped everywhere taking 4 hours to get back to close to the border with Chile.

The Parque Provincial Aconcagua office on the highway is quite well organized. We had our permits checked and strictly informed that all trash must be returned in a numbered bag back to this office.

Day hikers can walk a short way up the valley towards the big mountain for $10. (foreigners $25.50)

It’s a popular stop for tourists.

In fact you get quite a good view of Aconcagua from the highway. For free.

You need to walk up a paved road to the parking lot before getting started.
I was to be surprised how many helicopters race up to Aconcagua every day. Two are parked here at the entrance. Ready to go.
Only those with trekking permits can cross the river. I felt I was finally on the Francia trek.
Excited, I rushed up to Confluencia camp (3350m) as quickly as I could.

It looks much more impressive from a distance than up close.
In fact, it’s rather crowded and dirty.

Guided clients sleep in one of the company fixed tents.

When not in use they are protected.
I do like their big bright shared areas.

It was late afternoon, the sun already passed behind the mountains.
On arrival you check in with the camp guards. They directed me to the tiny area where independent campers are allowed to pitch. We are definitely second class clients here.
Toilets are BAD for guided clients as well as independents.

Chilled and surprisingly tired, I crawled into my sleeping bag and had a nap. I had a slight altitude headache but no other symptoms.

Eventually getting up, II wandered around early evening, enjoying nightfall.

There’s a convenient picnic table with good water supply for independent hikers. I had my standard Knorr soup with instant mashed potatoes. Barbecue chicken mixed in.
Cheeky Andean fox tend to show up at campsites about dusk. I saw this one hanging around at dinner hoping for leftovers. And another two in the early morning.
BIG day tomorrow. I tried to get as much sleep as I could at 3350m.

Half the crowded camp wanted to rest. The other half to party. Bring headphones or earplugs.

Trekking to Aconcagua’s Plaza Francia INDEPENDENTLY – Day 0

trip report by site editor Rick McCharles

day 0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | info page | video

The best hike (not climb) in Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina is to the Plaza Francia, I reckon.

Aconcagua is the tallest mountain outside Asia. Most impressive is the south face – a wall of rock and ice nearly 3000m high.

It’s steep.

Here’s my promised vista from Francia.

The French team of 1954 who made the first ascent, returned with severe frostbite, Imagine the terrible gear they were using.

Almost everyone treks to Aconcagua’s south face base camp — Plaza Francia — with a guide.

Inka Expeditions is one of the best.

But it’s relatively easy to do Francia on your own.

Cost for my independent trekking permit January 2018 was $160 plus bus ($19) plus food.

Aconcagua fees January 2018

Cost for the same trip with Inka Expeditions was — at the same time — to Plaza Francia $715 / person discounted to $470 / person + tip if you book in advance.
http://inka.com.ar/aconcagua-trekkings/aconcagua-trekking-plaza-francia/

(Note – Inka Expeditions trekking to Plaza de Mulas was $1360 / person and trekking to Mt. Bonete $1690 / person.)

The other independent permit option is 7 days for $310. You’d easily visit both Francia and Plaza de Mulas (Mule Camp) with more time to acclimatize. But we’d recommend doing Francia in 3 days, instead.

There are a number of outdoors shops in Mendoza that sell camp stove fuel. Chamonix is the best I found.

First day in Argentina I had trouble finding a bank that would accept my Debit Card. They all take Credit Cards, but you get instantly charged a high rate of interest for cash advance on credit.

Finally I found a bigger branch of the Galicia bank where my bank card worked. Maximum seems to be 3000 ARG, just under $180. I put that cash in my pocket.

Tourist Information offices in Mendoza are excellent. They gave me a map and showed where the Park Office that issues trekking permits is located.

  • Centro de Informes, Parque General San Martin, Mendoza (Google map).

Not central, it’s in the gigantic Parque General San Martin.

On arrival employee #1 explained I’d need to pay in cash, Argentinian pesos only. Cost for the 3 day permit was 3080 ARG, exactly 80 pesos more than I had in my pocket. 🤨

I’d need to go back to the bank.

In addition, I needed the number of my insurance policy that covers hiking (not climbing).

I didn’t have the number with me nor was I sure my current policy covered hiking. I walked back to the hostel to get the number.

Second trip to the Centro de Informes employee #1 was gone. Employee #2 informed me no insurance was needed for the 3 day trek, only the longer permits.

He helped me make application online on computers in the office. The web page is not well designed. I was happy to do it there and in person.

The options and costs for different adventures on Aconcagua are confusing.

Application printed and in hand, he told me to walk to the nearest “Easy Pay” kiosk. Parks employees are not allowed to handle money.

Closest was about 1km away in the park. I walked there only to find out it was closed Mondays. 🤨 Retuning to #YouHadOneJob employee #2 quite irked, he blurted his lack of critical information was a 3rd world problem.

Ya. … Right.

I walked to the next closest Easy Pay.

That worked well. They do take only cash.

BACK for the 3rd time same day to the Centro de Informes.

My permit was processed and I — finally — had it in hand. It was good for any time over the next 3 weeks.

I picked up my camping food at the massive Carrefour grocery store. No peanut butter, however. I took inexpensive, calorie rich Christmas cake instead. Love candied fruit and raisins.

That night at Alamo hostel it was the old guys at the table late night. All the youngsters were out in Mendoza Bars. Two of the Argentinian gentlemen cooked up empanadas and pizza. Me and the social worker from Texas enjoyed their cooking while sharing Malbec.

I tried to go to bed early.

Buckskin Gulch / Paria Canyon, Utah and Arizona

Clever Hiker posted the best information on this classic hike we’ve yet seen.

Located in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness of Utah and Arizona, this spectacular and unique hike winds through one of the deepest and longest slot canyons in the world.

Wavy sandstone walls twist their way to the sky for nearly thirteen miles, creating surreal patterns of light and sound. The canyon walls often soar hundreds of feet above the wash, and are sometimes only a few feet apart. Buckskin Gulch is truly an amazing place …

Quick Facts

  • Distance: varies, 21-51 miles depending on trip
  • Days Needed: 2-5 days
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: varies, 500-1500 ft, depending on trip
  • Best Travel Time: April-June or September-November
  • Permits: Yes, very competitive
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Shuttle: Yes, unless doing an out-and-back hike

Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon Backpacking Guide

Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop TX

If I return to Big Bend National Park it will be to hike the Outer Mountain Loop.

Backcountry permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips in the park and can be obtained at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center (or another park visitor center).

outer-mountain-loop-map

Day 1 – Chisos Basin – Boot Canyon – Juniper Canyon (approximately 11 miles)

Begin by caching water near the Homer Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch. This scenic overlook is located at mile 8.1 along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Hike down the trail and cache your water in the convenient storage box. Ensure your name and date are written on your bottles. Caching water will make the difference between a dangerous experience and a fun backcountry excursion.

After caching water, head to the Chisos Basin Trailhead to begin the hike. …

Day 2 – Juniper Canyon – Dodson Trail – Blue Creek Canyon (approximately 10-11 miles)

The Dodson Trail is the hottest and most exposed section of the entire trek. Don’t let the relatively short distance fool you. …

Day 3 – Blue Creek Canyon – Laguna Meadows – Chisos Basin (approximately 9 Miles)

National Park Service

Click PLAY or watch a 3 day hike on YouTube. (6 min)

related – trip report – Traveling Ted – Completing the Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop

La Luz Trail, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The La Luz Trail is a well-known hike in the Cibola National Forest just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The trail climbs ~8 miles up the West face of the Sandia Mountains and ends at the Sandia Peak Tramway observation deck. …

… up 3,800 feet with a starting elevation of 7,000 feet and a peak elevation of 10,350 feet. Highlights include views of the Sandia Mountains and expansive views of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley. We completed this hike in the second week of October 2017 during the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. …

LA LUZ TRAIL – CIBOLA NATIONAL FOREST (8 MILES)

related – I failed to find the trail up on one of the snowiest days of the year. It’s possible to get lost even this close to Albuquerque.