OverviewCerro Ramada, 6,384 metres is a very picturesque mountain in the province of San Juan, Argentina. According to John Biggar's peak list, it's the 25'th highest in South America. It's closest neighbours are Cerro Mercedario, Cerro La Mesa, Pico Polaco, Alma Negra and Cerro Negro. Located 120 km north of Aconcagua this peak is in a very pristine wilderness. This area has only recently started seeing more climbers and trekkers.
The official name of the mountain massif is Cordillera de la Ramada.
The mountain has three smaller summits, whereof the first you encounter on the summit ridge (normal route) is the highest. The little rock pinnacle 50 meters away is a couple of meters lower and the rock formation 200 m further down the ridge is 20 m lower, so no need to worry when reaching the summit cairn - you're then at the highest point.
Ramada is a huge peak and from a distance it may look like a difficult climb, but if you choose the normal route it's an easy scramble/walk-up. What may cause trouble is the altitude and good acclimatization is the key to success. The views from the summit overlooking the rest of the peak in the massif is stunning.
Getting ThereGetting to the area
There is an issue if you go through customs at Santiago airport: there is a good chance that you will have all meat and dairy products from your expedition food confiscated upon entering Chile. Stay in transit and take a short (45 min) flight on Lan Chile or Aerolinas Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina. This will allow you to keep your food, get your permits, possibly see Aconcagua from the air as they fly close to it at times, and save the 100$ U.S. tax Chile imposes on all Americans, Canadians, (and others). Chile has made things difficult for climbers (particularly those on a budget) with this tax and with the food issue.
It is recomended to fly to Mendoza as direct as possible.
For flights try.
Aerolineas Argentinas - USA - Home Page
Take a local bus from Mendoza to Barreal. You may have to change bus in San Juan and in total it takes 4-6 hours, depending on which connection you choose.
Some helpful people can be found at the Andesmar bus company in Mendoza. Claudia Yanzon is who to ask for. She speaks English and has connections in Barreal with those who deal with climbers.
Getting to the mountain
Arrange mules either with the help of the hotel staff of the military whose base is located just up the street. To get in the area it is about 4 hours by truck on an extremely dangerous road. Hire a good driver who has done this route before. Make sure that the truck or four wheel drive can handle the rough terrain to the drop off point which is an abandoned mining camp by the side of the Rio Blanco. Some drivers may take you all the way up to the gendarmeria check point at Santa Ana. Arrange for a pick up and make sure you are there on time. Otherwise they will not wait for you on your return.
There are two options on how to walk to base camp.
1. With mules and/or with low water levels in Rio Colorado, you can cross the river at three places and walk on a good path all the way.
The trail crosses the river 7 times. The trail starts on the right side of the river (looking upstream) at Santa Ana and crosses almost immeadiately. The hike in goes through an open area for a few miles before the canyon closes in. Eventually the trail crosses again, followed by 4 more crosses in a relatively short span of 2 or 3 hours of hiking. After the sixth cross, you will pass by a brilliant section of red rock the appears to be straight out of southern Utah. This marks the beginning of a difficult section where the canyon becomes much steeper and the "trail" becomes filled with loose rocks, slowing progress considerably. Eventually, the canyon opens up again and the trail crosses the river for a seventh and final time to the left side of the river. This begins the long final stretch where the views of the main peaks of the range begin to come into view. The straight-line distance according to GPS from Santa Ana to Pirca Polacos base camp is 15.25 miles, or about 25 km.
2. If there's a lot of water in the river and especially if you go without mules, you may have to walk all the way on the left hand side of the river. This is rough and hard and expect some hairy parts with steep scree and even some short passages with easy rock climbing.
If you go with mules or is a strong walker and choose alternative one, you can reach base camp "Campo de los Polacos" in a long day. 10-12 hours.
If you have to go for alternative two, expect two days to reach base camp. The first stretch is easy, followed by rough terrain and finally some easy walking again, when the valley opens up.
Accommodation in BarrealThere are a couple of hotel in the small town of Barreal. The most well know is Hotel Barreal.
Posada San Migual is another choice. A very old house with courtyard but very cosy pleasent but sometimes nonexistent owners.
Hotel Jorge is a shoe string priced funky old place, where you can stay for as little as $3.
There are also three camp sites, where you can stay for $1/person in a tent.
There are at least two places where you can stay in cabañas, Dona Pipa Cabañas is one I got recommended.
Mules, base camp services etc.There's one very good organizer in the area. Contact Anibal Maturano or Celste Arias at San Juan Aventura. They know the area like the back of their hands.
San Juan Aventura
Ruta 12 s-n Pasando Control Fitosanitario Zonda.
5401. SAN JUAN, ARGENTINA.
Ph: (+54) - 264 - 4945231
Mobile: (+54) 9 - 264 - 6711515
Fax: (+54) - 264 - 4945231
NOTE: This web site sometimes doesn't perform well with Mozilla Firefox!
Expediciones Ossa (Barreal) can also arrange all details for Ramada.
Ramon Luis Ossa
Casa Orviz can arrange everything for you from Mendoza. Transport, equipment, mules etc. This is by far the best gear shop in Mendoza.
Juan B Justo 532, 5500 Mendoza
Tel. 0054 261 4251281;
Red TapeThere is no peak fee or other permits, but you have to register at the gendarmeria in Barreal, located in the huge army compound in the center of the town. When crossing Rio de los Patos at Las Juntas, you also have to register or at least tell the guys at the river that you enter the area. 7 km up along Rio Colorado there's an gendarmeria check point in Santa Ana, there you also have to register.
When To ClimbDecember to the Beginning of March. Out of season aside from the military there is not much activity. There can be lots of snow and the rivers can be impossible outside this time.
If you, in addition to Ramada, aim for Mercedario's south face and La Mesa, you better go early in the season as the snow conditions deterioate later and crevasses and seracs on La Mesa becomes more dangerous.
CampingThere should be no problems camping anywhere. But bring out all you bring in all the way to the abandoned mining camp (if that is your departure point.)
Mountain ConditionsRamada is a straight forward climb, but the high altitude and sometimes rough weather can be a problem. Make sure to check out water levels in the rivers and if there are a lot of snow on the peak.
The area is full of deep gorges and there has been at least one really large flash flood. Conditions can change dramatically and in the end of 2005 the trails, the road and even the entire mining camp at Las Molles was swept away. If the locals warn you about cut roads or an imminent danger of floodings, take it very seriously.
Here's an article about the Las Molles flash flood.
Here are some photos of the devastation it caused. Click on "previous" to see more photos in the right chronological order.
Paso Ancho - further to Mercedario's normal routeThe flash flood in the Rio Blanco valley cut off the road and if you want to reach the normal route of Mercedario, this is the easiest alternative.
From base camp/Campo de Los Polacos walk straight over the river valley towards and obvious opening in the Negro ridge. Head up the steep scree slopes until they get less steep. There's a small spring here where you can fill up your water bottles.
The main horizon ridge is black/grey in color, the next below is red and the lowest one is yellow.
You have two alternatives.
1. Walk up to the gap in between the red and the yellow ridge and turn right. This route is less steep and is the most commonly used. There's a very clear and present danger of rock avalanches here so don't attempt this route if it has been raining!
In the end it joins alternative 2 (described below) and the final part is the same to the pass.
2. Look for guanacos trails before the yellow ridge. They are sometimes very steep and exposed. be very careful in some places. The route is obvious at most times and the trails are easy to find. Also, there's only one way up the connecting valleys.
After an exposed and very steep section, with possible penitentes fileds at about 4500m, you can see the pass and the ridge. Unfortunately you can also see traces of mud/sand/scree slides and rock avalanches. Pass this section as fast as you can and don't even consider going on if raining!
When you have passed the dangerous section under the rock towers and big boulders aim up towards the lowest point of the ridge.
A little cairn at the foot of some rock formations marks the Paso Ancho.
Walk towards the foot of Negro. Cross some penitentes fields and pass in between Negro and Wanda.
There are excellent cammp spots here.
Head for the left hand side of the valley and walk on a wide ridge until you see the valley on the other side. There are many slopes leading down to the mining road far below. Go for one which you find suitable. Guanacos trails will guide you. When on the road, you can see rivers with fresh water in the valley below. Either head down to the grassy fields further down or traverse straight over the ridges which finally takes you to the normal route of Mercedario.
If you go down all the way to the grassy fields, you'll loose about 300m of altitude (3700m). The road is at about 4000m, depending on where you hit it. The ridges you have to traverse is at about 4200m.
Expect a 10 hour day from base camp to the grassy fields on the other side. Don't take this traverse lightly. I would say it's harder, more exposed, filled with more objective danger and is more of a challenge than climbing Ramada and Mercedario.
Gear listPartial Equipment list info:
Here is a brief list for you.
3-1-litre waterbottles with insulators (drink at least 5 litres a day to help acclimatize)
Avoiding altitude sicknessYou should be prepared for the possible onset of altitude sickness. High altitudes are stressful on the body, and lack of oxygen up high can produce slightly debilitating effects, such as fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, and a drunken gait. Altitude sickness generally doesn’t occur below 10,000 feet, but people have suffered its symptoms lower than 8,000 feet.
There’s not much you can do to prevent this problem, but there are ways of alleviating its effects. The key to doing this is simple: take it easy. Take a day or two before beginning the walk in to acclimatize yourself to the elevation. Go at your own pace, and don’t take chances. Even if you’re in excellent shape, don’t be fooled. The lack of oxygen at such high altitudes can definitely throw your lungs for a loop. Walk at a comfortable, slow pace and don’t carry too much weight. Make sure to hydrate yourself regularly, drinking 4 to 5 liters (nalgene bottles) of water per day; On some climbs camelbacks can be mountain companions because of their convenient water portability. The only problem being keeping the nozzle clean, I find they can get gross and need constant cleaning. Myself, I attach a 1 litre Nalgene bottle to each side of my backpack so that I can reach them easily without removing my pack. These solutions would have to be modified to suit the weather and conditions of climbing Cerro Ramada. Bottles would have to be insulated and the tube from the camelback could tend to freeze up. Taking antioxidant vitamins (A, C, and E) also helps reduce the effects of high altitudes. Of course working out before you go is another great preventative measure. While this doesn’t guarantee an easier time when up high, it can enhance your lungs’ ability to cope with the challenges of high elevations.
Try to spread out your ascent over a period of two or three days to give your body more time to adapt. Play by the “climb-high, sleep-low” theory of ascent: go on a short hike to a higher elevation, then return to the (lower) elevation at which you’ll sleep.
Physical fitness, as mentioned above, is no guarantee against developing altitude sickness. Past excursions to high elevations without developing symptoms is similarly no guarantee against getting sick. There’s no way to predict who is more susceptible to altitude sickness, although climbers who overexert themselves, those who are panting or breathless, and those who stagger far behind the rest of the group are likely candidates.
Surefire signs of impending illness include extreme fatigue, headache,
loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is take a break from climbing for a couple days to acclimatize. Once the symptoms disappear, it’s safe for you to continue. If the symptoms persist or get worse, you should descend to a lower elevation.
More serious levels of the illness include increasing tiredness, severe headaches, vomiting, and loss of coordination, and are indicative of acute mountain sickness (AMS). If such symptoms appear, don’t hesitate to get immediate medical attention. If serious symptoms go ignored for more than 12 hours, they could have dire--even fatal--effects, such as accumulation of fluid in the lungs or brain. The most important symptom of AMS is loss of coordination. If someone staggers or walks in a drunken gait, check them out for further signs of AMS. A good test is, essentially, the police’s test for drunkenness--ask the person to walk in a straight line, placing one foot directly in front of the other without staggering or losing balance. If the person cannot perform, he or she should descend immediately--and never alone. Go slowly and without exertion, and ideally while it’s light outside. Descent should continue until symptoms begin to decrease; relief usually occurs within 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
There are prescription drugs out there that you can take for severe symptoms. One of the most common is called Diamox; it works by stimulating your breathing. Diamox is a strong medication and has some slight side effects, such as an annoying tingling in the fingers and toes. You will urinate more frequently so getting out of the tent at night in a storm could be a problem (if you don’t use a pee bottle). This will also necessitate you drinking more fluids to compensate. If you take too much I have seen people get very ill. I avoid taking it if I can.
Food suggestionsWhat food to bring? Basically it boils down to what you can carry and prepare easily. Also what you feel your body will crave and digest when (as in most cases) your appetite diminishes as you gain altitude.
Here are breakfast, lunch and dinner suggestions
Bag of cereal
Box of raisins
Small tinned fruit
Piece of cheese
or Coffee or tea
Breakfast bar granola
Bag of mixed nuts
Piece of cheese
Tin of salmon or tuna or ham or sardines
Cup of soup(s)
Freeze dried dinner
or tin or foil pouch of beans
Small tinned fruit
Tea or Hot chocolate
Peanut Butter tubes
Bag of mixed nuts
Piece of cheese
Dried apricots or similar
Squeeze gels (Energy)
Local food for the walk to base camp
Bread or rolls
Hard boiled eggs
Oranges and Apples
The next chore then is organizing your food into logical packs for transporting to base camp and each of the higher camps. This will depend on how many days you have set aside to do the mountain. I tend to break things down to 3-day packs (3-breakfast, 3-lunches/snacks, three dinners). But single day packs combined into stuff sacks works well too.