Trekking up to Mt. Lomas Blancas was the single most terrifying, exhilarating, leg-burning, heart pounding and will-breaking experience I have ever had in my life! This post will give you the details of (a) how not to trek up a mountain you have only read about sparingly in a few blogs, and (b) how to make a complete fool of yourself trekking up said mountain with a very handsome, athletic and dreamy looking red blooded Argentinian mountain guide (aka man of your dreams).
The reason I really wanted to do this hike was because I wanted to experience wilderness at its best, and be involved in an activity other than “wine drinking” (more on that in another post soon). I mean how many people do actually get to hike up these mountains to get a closer look at the majestic Andes (one of the longest and highest mountain ranges in the world), and enjoy Argentina’s rich ecological heritage including foxes, hares, llamas (too cute) and the majestic Andean condor in this region? I would think not very many! So I looked around on the internets and landed on the webpage of ‘Andes Vertical‘. Their website states that they specialize in outdoor activities such as trekking, mountaineering and rock climbing trips for “all levels”. So I thought to myself – this doesn’t sound so bad! I had been using the treadmill for about an hour everyday at the gym, so maybe I would be able to do this! Luckily for me, Parque Provincial Aconcagua (the national park I originally intended to visit was closed for the season, so I chose to do the hike up to Mt. Lomas Blancas. (P.S. This girl did not know what she had coming).
I emailed the company, and they were quick to respond and help with all the arrangements. I was a little wary of doing the hike alone with a male guide only because I had never done anything like this before but they were very quick to reassure me that everything would be fine. I was the only person scheduled to do the hike, but they were still kind enough to provide me a discount which was really nice.
Guillermo (my mountain guide) arrived on time, took one look at my hiking boots and suggested I go change into something more comfortable (read: mountaineering boots to help grip rocks as we made our way up and down the mountain). Luckily, I had another nice pair of hiking shoes in my room with me! We got into his car and drove off into the wilderness! On the way from Mendoza, we were greeted by views like this:
…and signs like this!
You would think that I would have delved deeper into the meaning of that sign? Nope. We continued on!
Much to my delight, while signing in our names at the Park Ranger’s office, I found that we were the first two hikers of the season to trek up the mountain 🙂 Guillermo handed me my lunch to stuff into my backpack, and we began our ascent to the top around 11 am. At the base of the mountain, we said hello to these lovely horses and started climbing up a pretty steep section of the mountain.
5 minutes in and I realized I was making the biggest mistake of my life! My backpack was too heavy, my breathing became really shallow and all the enthusiasm I had about this hike evaporated. Guillermo instructed me to follow this routine: take three small steps, inhale and repeat! It helped a little, but I was already beginning to show signs of extreme exhaustion just half an hour into our hike. What really kept me going was the colors of the landscape around me; the fresh, crisp, clean air in my lungs and the quiet voice in my head that whispered to me ever so softly to keep going even though all billion cells in my body were screaming and pleading for me to quit. This quote from Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild (which is one of my favorite books ever) pretty much sums up what I felt:
“I considered my options…..
I could go back in the direction I had come from
Or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.”
If there was a time in my life when I had to rely completely on my brain and mental capacity to do something, this was it.
Guillermo stood by my side when I wanted to rest, pepped me up when I showed signs of mental fatigue and reminded me to keep hydrating myself. He gently let me know that we would probably not make it to the top because we had to turn around by 3 pm to make it back to the base of the mountain before it turned dark. I was really disappointed to hear that but put my brave face on, and continued treading upwards. I was jolted out of my disheartenment when he yelled out my name and asked me to look around myself. We were standing above the clouds, and had somehow made it to the top of the summit 🙂
Once there, you can leave a little note inside the summit’s cross. Guillermo handed me a piece of paper and with cold, shivering hands I wrote both our names, the time we arrived and inserted an artistically designed smiley face. We sat on some rocks and enjoyed our lunch while watching some falcons in flight with the the swooshing sounds of the wind blowing in our ears.
We were completely drenched from being enveloped by the mist in the clouds, but everything felt magically beautiful!
Getting back down was sort of a pain because it was really hard to find stable footing. I slipped several times landing on my behind, but I was glad to report no injuries. I attribute the strenuous hike and physically challenging experience to my moderate fitness level, fairly heavy backpack and the fact that I had little time to acclimatize myself to the altitude. However, the breathtaking views and the feeling of solitude in the rugged natural landscape made the whole adventure worthwhile, and those precious moments in the wilderness will always stay with me.
I’m not going to lie and say that I look forward to hiking this mountain again anytime soon. This time, even though I made it up to the summit, the mountain wins 🙂 In the meantime, I hope to become fitter and train better to go on adventures like these, especially when it involves trekking up mountains that are > 10,000 feet high.