San Bernardo is one of the more climbed peaks in the Cordon del Plata range. There are many reasons for this. The peak is easy to reach from the good camp-spots nearby. It’s not a hard climb and the altitude of the peak makes it a perfect target as a first acclimatization summit. The views from the summit are excellent. Apart from the normal route, the peak has some hard rock climbing routes. The mountain is the one of the few in the area which has claimed lives of climbers and unfortunately it has happened at several occasions. As most of the other summits in Cordon del Plata the true summit is marked with a large cross. Lately some commercial expedition companies have started to use Cordon del Plata as an acclimatization area for Aconcagua and San Bernardo is many times used as target number one. There are peaks from 4000 – 6000m in the range and access is very easy, therefore it is ideal as a warm-up for the highest point in South America.
Getting ThereMendoza is the main city in the area and there are plenty of companies which offer you a tour or expedition to Cordon del Plata. Some only to the vantage points around the ski station, some all the way to the summits of the highest peaks in the area. The tour companies, the climbing shops or even most youth hostels can help you arrange a journey to Cordon del Plata. If you want to arrange it all by yourself, the easiest and cheapest way is to take a normal bus to the little settlement Potrerillos which is an hour away from Mendoza. This is a town where the last minute provisions can be bought. It’s fairly easy to hitchhike to Vallecitos Ski Centre, which is at 2980m and 28 steep km from Potrerillos. There are several settlements before the ski centre, most of them only a few houses. There is an excellent restaurant and hostel 6km before hitting the ski station and it’s a very popular stop for starved climbers on the way down from the mountain adventures. You can leave excess gear in the ski station for a small fee. There is a shop where you can buy some gear and clothing and a little restaurant is the last house you pass when you start your walk towards the mountains. Cross the river on your left and follow the foot-paths until you arrive at some wide, green fields, crossed by small rivers. This is Las Vegas camp. Pitch your tent anywhere you find suitable. To your right you’ll see a rocky peak, with clearly visible tracks on the lower reaches – San Bernardo.
The map shows you the relevant parts of Mendoza Province. Blue boxes for the most important places. San Bernardo is located very close to Vallecitos. As you can see the higher peak Plata is not far away. Cordon del Plata is on the way to the Aconcagua Massif and therefore perfect for acclimatization. In the lower left hand corner, the cover of the map is shown. The best road map for the area.
Red TapeNo peak fee. You have to register in the ski station. Go to the little shop where you buy gear. It’s easy recognized by a sign saying “Makalu” (a local gear brand) and is located a hundred meters from the parking lot. The second option to register is in the little restaurant, which is on top of the main yellow buildings. Walk around the latter, double back and walk up the stairs to the next level of houses. The restaurant is recognized by the big dog house, complete with a Saint Bernard dog outside. The authorities want you to inform them about your intended length of stay and the objectives you have in mind.
When To Climb
The peaks in Cordon del Plata are climbed in all seasons. In the warmer months/the summer months of the southern hemisphere you climb on rocks in warm surroundings. The camps are on green meadows and higher up, at Camp Salto (not applicable if only going to San Bernardo) you even have a little restaurant tent at 4200m. In the winter, the area is full of nice snow and ice climbs, but the conditions are of course much rougher. In the snowy season it can sometimes be difficult to reach the peaks, but the road is usually cleared in a day or two.
Camping is allowed everywhere in the area. In Camp Salto (not applicable if only going to San Bernardo), you sometimes have to ask where to pitch the tent when the camp-area is crowded. No huts.
You can reach San Bernardo in a day from the ski station and if you for some reason don't want to camp, the little guest house is an alternative.
The weather sites for Mendoza is an ok source of information to get the general idea about what you can expect the next couple of days, but Cordon del Plata is plagued with local and fast changing weather patterns. The people living in the ski station are by far the best source for fresh broadcasts and their knowledge about the weather patterns is extensive. When walking to Camp Salto (not applicable if only going to San Bernardo), the guides and the caretaker who lives there are the persons to ask.
Fierce katabatic winds sometimes create havoc in the area. Make sure you pin down the tents very well even if the weather looks perfect. The winds can strike without any prior notice.
Check out this trip report: Storm!
Some more in this thread.
BooksThe only book about the area is; “Mountains of light/Cord of the Silver” written by Alejandro Geras. It gives you all the information about the area and there are also sections about Aconcagua, high altitude medicine, nutrition and other alpinism-related topics. The maps and route-descriptions are good and there are plenty of photos of peaks which help you out a lot locating specific mountains without any prior local knowledge. There is one problem though; the translation. If you know Spanish, this version is for sure a better choice. The English version is sometimes ok and easy enough to understand, but some sections I didn’t understand at all. The below section is not to make fun of the author’s translation, just to let you know what I mean with bad translation. Then you can judge if the book is worth buying or not. This is one of the worst parts.
From the gear list:
Stock market of Vivac: A covers stock market it improves the heat insulation of stock-market to sleep and improves the conditions of a vivac.
The ISBN# is: 9874380454 (It does not work as a link in the book section. Probably only available in Argentina).
The altitudes given in the book, as well as on many maps of the area is highly exaggerated. On some of the higher peaks you have to substract over 300m. On San Bernardo the altitude given in the book is within 50m.
A shop that sells the book is El Refugio. See below.
Budget accomodation in Mendoza
If 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 rides to Cordon del Plata, clean white gas and other useful things and services for a mountaineer.
In early 2006 the price for a dorm was 20 Argentinian Pesos and a double went for 50.
1USD = 2,94ARP
Shops and Outfitters in MendozaThere'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.
There are a few more shops on Sarmiento, Las Heras and Suipacha in central Mendoza.