A push into the New Year (or how not to cross a river)

As the new year began, it was only fitting that we tried something a little bit different. Having spent the past month dealing with setbacks, we decided to try and get back on track with a little adventure route.
Originally planning on crossing over Paso Vergara, we were disappointed to discover that it was still closed due to heavy snowfall this year. Instead we decided to tackle a small circuit near the pass that involved a large river crossing and a small hike-a-bike. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan.

From Malague we began backtracking to the north and turning off towards Las Leñas, a beautiful skifield perched high in the Argentinian Andes.
But beauty is only skin deep, and we quickly realised that finding a camp spot would be challenging. Camping within the next 20 kilometers was prohibited. Tired and frustrated we spoke with the mountain chief who was intrigued by our journey, and he found us a place to pitch. We had a word with him about the route, he mirrored what everyone else had been saying. This year they had gotten a heavy loading of snow and the rivers were very high. Horses weren’t passing them. Still, we were keen to try.

The following morning we rode over to Valle Hermoso and carried on downstream in search of a cable car which we’d been informed did exist. Unfortunately, upon our arrival we found it 30 meters across on the far side of the river, Río Tordillo. I tried initially to rig up a harness out of some rope, but it quickly became apparent that it would be far more awkward than we’d imagined. We decided to sleep on it, and in the mean time we hoped maybe someone would show up on the other side. No one did. We woke up and sat around, knowing that if we were going to cross, we were going to be doing it alone.
Gina, being a good swimmer had been contemplating jumping in the river and trying to make it to the other side to retrieve the cart, I was not on board with this idea. Instead we decided she would try and wade across with a rope attached to the cable overhead. And herein lies the catch 22: Cross early and the river levels are low but the glacial water is freezing, cross late and the level is much higher but warmer. Due to the swollen rivers the morning was our only option.

I can only express in retrospect how stupid this idea was. Gina got about half way out with relative ease, but then the incredibly strong current wouldn’t let her out of its hold. There was genuine worry she wouldn’t be able to get back to the shore, and I was helpless to do anything. In a final attempt she managed to get a footing and hobble back out of the water. The temperature was so absolutely freezing that her body couldn’t even function properly. Gina was pretty shaken up, we had both underestimated this river.

We backtracked to a refugio in Valle Hermoso and had a word with a group on horseback. They told us that further upstream we could cross two strands separately by foot. We were also told the crossings would be 30-40cm high. Off we went once again on a last futile attempt to make this route our bitch. We followed the horses to the low point of the first strand. The water was chest deep… even the horses could barely make it across. Originally promising to help us cross if needed, the horse riders kept going without looking back. We decided to throw in the towel.

We’re disappointed by the outcome, but we did get what we wanted which was an adventure. At the end of January and through February the rivers would be a relative walk in the park. The locals all told us the rivers were very high this year, I guess we should’ve listened.

Route info
Disclaimer; we were not able to ride the whole thing, so take that for what it’s worth.
From Malargue roughly 30k north to intersection to Las Leñas
50k to Las Leñas (ski resort with supermarket, camping prohibited)
From Las Leñas road turns to ok quality dirt road. About 30k to Valle Hermoso (restaurant and little shop at lake, camping nearby allowed)

2 options from here on
1) keep going on the dirt road for roughly 15k till you reach a cable car on your right hand side. When we went the river was extremely turbid and high and the cable car was on the other side, so we couldn’t cross despite repeated efforts. A climbing harness would allow you to get across no problem, or if the water levels are lower you should be able to cross. In January and February there might also be more horse traffic that might help you get across.
2) alternative option, probably more secure. From Valle Hermoso backtrack a few km to the first distinct left turn, near some antennas. We can’t explain the route precisely as again we weren’t able to cross the river due to too high water levels, but we went a few km to the fort river strand which was still too high. If the locals tell you the water levels are low this should be a reasonable option. You’ll cross two main rivers separately that make up Rio grand further down. Ask at valle Hermoso for more details. You’ll end up on the far side of the river taking a track down to the other side of the cable car.
Whichever option you take you’ll end up at the bottom of the Valley and head up to Laguna La Carga. Apparently there’s a horse trail up to the Laguna, probably expect some pushing. Roughly 2km before the lake on the left hand side is a pass (2560m high) and we’ve been told that it’s possible to get up there by bike (probably pushing and carrying). After the pass a 4 by 4 track should be visible, follow left. A few smaller river crossings to follow. You should be able to merge back on to the main road, either right to Paso Vergara or left to Bardas Blanca’s.
This route is there in theory, everyone we talked to attested to it, but don’t go into it just using our rough notes as guide, do some of you own research and carry plenty of reserve food and be prepared for some unexpected turns.
If you do decide to do this route please let us know how it went we were very disappointed we couldn’t get past the river ourselves.

GINA MONTAGE IMMINENT!!!

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Climbing away from the 40 which has been pretty dull to this point. It’s exciting to see something green again!

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Spirit Pools, old folklore speaks of a native being chased into the pool and dissappearing. Later his spirit apparently ascended from it.

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Although the Andes do taper down in elevation, they are more snow covered than ever. This year specifically this region has had a lot of work to do clearing snow and landslides.

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Mo

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Nt

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Aaaa

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Ge

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The descent into Valle Hermoso, one of the nicest descents in quite some time.

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A squiggly downhill, we could overtake cars on occasion.

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Heaps of small and fun rivers to cross.

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Puna-esque colours as a backdrop

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This didn’t look so fun.

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In my head, making a rope harness made complete sense. In practice however it wasn’t so easy. The rope wouldn’t slide along the cable and dug deep into me. After 30 minutes of trying different configuration I decided it wasn’t going to happen.

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Deciding to regroup, we got cozy for the night. We hoped a night of rest would bring on a new bit of genius.

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Our marvelous contraption. We cut away the rubber coating from our cable lock which would allow it to slide smoothly over the cable. It was Gina’s turn!

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Not our best work… despite its comical appearance it was actually a very serious situation which shook us both up quite a bit. The freezing glacial water meant that Gina lost her strength in the water very quickly and getting back out was very tough. Lesson learned, don’t underestimate the rivers,

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At least our rode back was enjoyable.

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Returning from our second effort to cross the two separate strands. With chest high ice cold waters, we decided it best not to gamble with our lives anymore.

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3 thoughts on “A push into the New Year (or how not to cross a river)

  1. …very nice pictures as usually! Nice to read about your adventures, even if we understand that it´s not so easy! Keep going!

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