El Portillo is the first higher peak you’ll encounter arriving in the Tupungato area on the Argentinian side of Los Andes. It’s easily accessible from the lowlands of the Mendoza province. El Portillo is actually a ridge with many summits and the point called El Portillo is not the highest point at 4833m. The true summit is located to the NNW from the "official" summit and measures 4887m. This page will solely take the highest peak in the ridge into account.
Seen from the east, El Portillo’s highest point can’t be seen, but the ridge is an impressive sight. Jagged rock peaks are reaching towards the sky and the colors of the mountain side are sharp and beautiful. From the west, El Portillo’s highest summit is dominating the landscape. Both because of the pyramidical shape and the color. It’s almost unbelievably yellow on the lower reaches, which clearly hints to its volcanic origin.
Unfortunately the rock is generally rotten and even if there are some very nice lines on the peak, I think it’s better to scramble the peak along one of the large couloirs. Penitentes is a pest in the area and they usually reach gigantic proportions. You better attempt the peak when covered with "normal" snow or when there’s none.
The views from the summit are stunning. Looking down you’ll see the deep green valleys and further to the west some of Los Andes highest peaks are visible. Volcan San José and the world’s most southerly 6000m peak Marmolejo are some of the highest. Los Piuquenes is another 6000m peak in the area. I believe (not sure about this) you can also get a glimpse of the still unclimbed Chimbote; supposedly the hardest peak in Central Andes.
The only reasonable way to reach the peak is from Argentina.
Travel by public bus to Tunyuan. It’s about an hour from Mendoza. There are buses further up the road, but they are not running frequently, so taking a taxi may be a good option. It’ll cost you about 30-40 Arg. Pesos (about 3 Pesos/1 USD) for the 35km ride to El Manzano. There are some very small shops here and a couple of restaurants. Two cheap camp sites and a small hostel give you good alternatives for staying the night in the small village of El Manzano.
Ask for a person called Jaguar. Everyone knows who he is and where he’s to be found. He has and old 4x4 which will take you into the mountains. The price should be about $50 for the rough drive. The time of travel depends very much on the road condition. There are many small river crossings which may take a lot of time and if snowy further up the track he may not be able to bring you all the way to Portozuelo Argentino, the pass which cuts El Portillo’s ridge in two. Bring your passport, as there’s a military checkpoint on the way. No passport – no way to get to the peak! More about this in the red tape section.
If you feel it’s a bit dodgy to take off for an unknown place without having transport arrange beforehand, ask Eduardo in Hostel Independencia in Mendoza for help. He can set up all the arrangements for you.
Leaving the area back to civilization you can easily get a hitch. I would say every car will stop and pick you up.
There’s no climbing permit and no fees.
En route to the peak there’s a military checkpoint. You have to show your passport here and the army guys will not let you pass unless you brought it. They will ask you some questions about what kind of gear you have with you and how much provisions you have. If they suspect you’re not experienced enough, or have substandard gear, not enough food etc, they may refuse you to go further. Also, you have to tell them how long you intend to stay in the area. If you stay longer than you have told the soldiers, they’ll come looking for you.
The camping possibilities are unlimited. You can pitch a tent anywhere and there are lots of excellent spots. Fresh water is easy to find. The Argentinian side of the Tupungato area is not at all as heavily visited as the Chilean side. You may meet a trekker or climber now and then, but don’t count on much company. Because of this fact, theft from the camps is not heard of here. Unfortunately, this is not the case on the Chilean side, where stories about loosing gear to thieves is common. See for example the warning on the San José page.
Make sure you pin down the tent properly. Fierce katabatic winds are common and they can strike without any warning whatsoever.
When to climb & weather conditions
Most climbing is done in the summer of the southern hemisphere. I.e. December to February. The access to the peak can be tricky and climbing close to impossible if there are too much penitentes. Ask locally about the "penitentes situation". Also have in mind that even if you manage to reach Portozuelo Argentino, there may be penitentes higher on the peak. Climbing a rock route may be possible, but then again, the rock on the peak is not to be trusted. The weather in the area is quite unpredictable and sudden rain and thunder storms are common.
Winter climbing can be an alternative if you’re interested in skiing into the area. El Portillo must be an easy and nice climb if covered by snow.
I think few will head off for the area with only the intention to climb El Portillo. The travel description above also applies for climbers heading for Tupungato’s Argentinian routes, as well as the Pabellon and the other peaks in the area. The wild rivers in the area are a problem not to be taken lightly. The current is usually very strong even if the rivers are small and narrow. There are always ways to navigate around the rivers, but it can be very strenuous and time consuming. Ask Jaguar for recommendations where to go and where to cross.
Mule services & a warningIf you intend to climb only El Portillo you don’t need to arrange help from mulas but if you intend to go further it may be a good idea. Not only for the help of carrying heavy gear, but for the river crossings. There are plenty of horsemen in El Manzano which can arrange this service for you. It’ll way more expensive if you let an expedition company take care of it.
Make sure you get a mulatero which treats the animals well. We met a "guide" with a group of mulateros which tried to go through meter high penitentes. The animals really suffered and one of them broke a leg. They beat the hell out of both the one with the broken leg and the other mulas in a desperate attempt to make them go further. When I told them to stop the mistreatment, the "guide" told me; "Watch your f**king mouth. You are two and we’re five persons and you are far away from civilization".
The altitudeEl Portillo can be reached very quickly from the lowlands. If the road is clear you can go all the way up to Portozuelo Argentino at 4380m. Make sure you’re well acclimatized before going here.
MapsDetailed maps can be bought online from Geoargentina
Outfitters & provisions in Mendoza
There's one really good mountaineering shop in Mendoza.
Orviz is located on Juan B Justo, a little bit away from the main center.
The shop has all you can possibly need for any type of mountaineering.
Lots of gear for rent and sale.
The most commonly well known shop is El Refugio. You'll find it in the center of Mendoza on Peatonal 231.
There are a few more shops on Sarmiento, Las Heras and Suipacha in central Mendoza.
There are plenty of excellent supermarkets in the city where you can find all necessary food for any kind of expedition.
Budget accomodation in MendozaIf you're on a tight budget or want basic accomodation in Mendoza, Hostel Independencia is a good alternative. It's conveniently located at the main park in the center of the city. The permit office for Aconcagua is a five minute walk away and so are the gear shops, restaurants etc.
The hostel is also a good source of info and there's a mountaineering agency operating in the hostel's premises.
This company can also provide or arrange rides to the El Portillo/Tupungato, clean white gas and other useful things and services for a mountaineer.
The price for a dorm is about 23 Argentinian Pesos and a double 55.
1USD = 2,94ARP