OverviewWhen you arrive in the main valley of Cordon del Plata there are some peaks that dominate the view. The far away face of Vallecitos, the nearby San Bernardo and the rugged twin peaks Adolfo Calle and Stepanek. The latter is about 200 meters lower than the former, but they look equally high and both gives you the idea they're hard climbing targets. They're not. There are easy routes in between the rocks and normal hiking equipment is the only thing you'll need to reach the summit.
Stepanek offers a very good alternative for acclimatization for the higher peaks in the area. It's possibly the easiest climb in Cordon del Plata as the altitude gain is quite small, 530 meters from Piedras Grandes. The route is straight forward and has no cruxes. Another reason to choose this peak is the great views of the peaks in the Lomas Coloradas valley.
Mendoza 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 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 in the main building of the ski station. Walk up among the houses and find a well travelled path. Continue along it until you see a river below. Cross the river at a place where you can see some hoses. From here on the path is very easy to follow, just head upwards along the river until you arrive at some wide, green fields, crossed by small rivers. This is Las Vegas camp, which is a good place for the first nights camp, especially if you aren't well acclimatized.
Take aim at the distant face of Vallecitos which is located in the end of the valley. There's a good trail on the right hand side of the main river. Follow it until there's an obvious fording/jumping spot. When you have some huge rocks in sight, you know you are the normal BC for Stepanek. It's called Peidras Grandes and is at about 3550m.
Stepanek and Adolfo Calle is on the other side of the valley and the foot of the peaks as well as the normal routes start is about 15 minutes away. Longer if the melt-off river in the middle of the valley is full of water. Then you may have some jumping and taking-off-boots procedures to deal with. Fresh water from a little spring is to be found at the foot of the couloir which will take you to the summit of Stepanek.
No peak fee. You have to register in the ski station. You either register in the gear shop, which is easy to find, just look for a sign saying “Makalu” (a local gear brand). The second option to register is in the little restaurant, which is on the back side of the main yellow building. The authorities want you to inform them about your intended length of stay and the objectives you have in mind.
The form you have to fill in asks for your passport number, but no one really checks this.
When To ClimbThe 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 aim for Stepanek) 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.
Stepanek's normal route is a boring slug on scree when the snow has melted off, but a pretty straight forward snow climb in a couloir in the colder seasons. My guess is the couloir is snow free for about 3-4 months in the summer.
Camping is allowed everywhere in the area. The only alternative to camping is to sleep in the basic hostel in the ski station. Be very careful with how you pitch your tent. A calm day can transform to a raging storm in minutes in Cordon del Plata and the really hard winds are usually katabatic. I.e. they come sweeping straight down the mountain sides, so pick your shelter well.
More about the winds in this trip report.
Weather and mountain conditionsThe 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 you only aim for Stepanek), the guides and the caretaker who lives there are the persons to ask.
Unfortunately Cordon del Plata is plagued by two annoying features - the katabatic winds and clouds. The latter is more a nuisance which can make your experience a not-see-a-thing-experience, but the winds of the area are dangerous and infamous for its ferocity.
The highest risk of encounter them is in Camp Salto (4200m) and Camp Hollada (4700m). These to camps are well situated, but as the winds are katabatic there's no real way to avoid them, when they come crushing straight down the mountain sides. The word katabatic comes from the Greek language and means something like "riding downhill".
Apart from the katabatics, the higher peaks and especially the saddle in between Vallecitos and Platita can be extremely windy. That said, most days are nothing but nice, calm and sunny and when the weather is nice in CdP, it's usually really nice!
For rock climbers CdP doesn't count for much as the rock is often rotten and not to be trusted. Stonefalls occurs with high frequency on the steeper faces. All of the normal routes on the main peaks are very safe though.
Books & Maps
The 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.
ISBN #: 9874380454
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.
The book can be found in the ski station and in many book and gear shops in Mendoza.
A great map, with correct elevations can be bought in some gear shops in Mendoza or ordered from Meridies.
Scale: 1:50 000. Very good for an overall view.
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.
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.
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
A warningI met quite a lot of climbers, hikers and even families with kids from Mendoza who intended to climb Stepanek in one day, coming straight from the lowlands. Remember, Mendoza is at 900m, the ski station at 2950m and Stepanek at 4080m. Even if the peak has a reputation to be a very easy mountain, this full-on approach is not recommended. Some of the people I spoke to reasoned; if we do it really quick we wont get sick from the altitude.
I met many climbers with intense headache stumbling around like drunks higher on the peak and even at the beginning of the route.