We live in the Rockies, at the base of the Grand Tetons. We always thought of our mountains as enormous and grand--until we saw the Andes. We still think of our mountains as grand, just no longer enormous.
The view of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at 22,841 feet from our hotel.
With our intrepid guide, Nicholas, we set out from a “base camp” to climb Mt. Arenales, about an hour and a half drive from Mendoza, Argentina. We had a perfect, coolish, blue-sky day, and took off up a little stream bed.
Looking up the path to the summit
The views quickly became amazing. We were in the pre-Andes, which are huge, and could look out and see the real Andes, which redefine huge. It was spectacular.
The hike itself was very rocky--first fording the stream many times, then climbing up and over some large granite boulders, and finally heading up a mountain of scree. There was very little growing at this altitude, and it took a fair amount of concentration to not fall off the mountain on our way up. Our guide, being wise, had set a slow pace. We were impatient as first, but soon figured out he knew what he was doing.
Looking down away from the Andes
The summit was reward enough for our climb, but there were wonderful surprises. First a guanaco was feeding right on top on what little bit of scrub grows there. It was not happy having its lunch interrupted, and shooting us a very dirty look, tore off down the mountain. Next a couple of eagles circled overhead. After unpacking our Argentinian style cheeseburgers, we had our photo session. We were awed by two condors who had decided to provide us with lunchtime entertainment by flying right overhead, and in seconds disappearing far down into the valley, and then reappearing again. We learned it is very hard to photograph a condor, big as they are, as their 9-10 foot wingspan allows them to fly really really fast. They were beautiful, and rare. Well, beautiful is actually stretching it. They are scavengers, and look like vultures, but at a distance all that can be seen are those enormous wings, and that was a beautiful sight.
Enjoying our Argentinian Cheeseburgers at the Summit... I wonder if the secret ingredient was Llama?
A condor enjoying the view... or waiting for our demise...
We did wonder, though, if word had gotten out in the condor community that some gringos that were not exactly spring chickens were out hiking, and the big birds were just waiting for us to stumble.
This was our first hike in the Andes, and our first Cheeseburger Summit.
We hope to experience more of both.
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