Argentina Vineyard Estates and Crossing the Andes on Horseback Part 5 – Up and Out of The Valley

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on January 23, 2019. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

January 23, 2019. It’s great being back in Argentina again. Re-writing the story of my Andes crossing on horseback a few years ago has the adventure juices flowing again, and Carol, the girls, and I are almost decided on a crossing next year. Let me know if you’d like more information about the trip. 

Argentina Vineyard EstatesMike Cobb and Steve Rosberg Sealing the Deal at ECI’s Newest Property:
Gran Vineyard Estates at La Morada de Los Andes

Having just spent a week wrapping up ECI Development’s joint venture with Steve Rosberg’s vineyard estate property in Mendoza, Argentina, I anticipate an article or two in the near future about Mendoza and the Uco Valley – so be on the lookout! This wine-growing region is home to some of the world’s best grapes and wineries, including Viña Cobos, Zuccardi, and Susana Balbo’s Dominio del Plata. Grapes growing in our vineyards go into some of these world-class wines.  

Argentina Vineyard EstatesExcited New ECI Shareholders Experience a Toast of Malbec on the Terrace of the La Morada Guesthouse

For the first look at some of the magnificent properties and homes in the vineyard, join us for a webinar on Tuesday, January 29th, at 7 p.m. ET.  Register here now.

Now, for the next installment of our Andes crossing on horseback in February of 2015. (Parts 1-4 are on the website.)  

Part 5 – Up and Out of The Valley

The sun is up long before 7:00 a.m., but you can’t see it due to the high walls of the canyon. The light is diffuse, and the air is crisp until the rays of the sun can warm it up a bit. After a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, jam and, yes, yerba mate, we are packing up to get a move on before the river rises.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesHot Water

Argentina Vineyard EstatesYerba Mate

Our team prepares the horses and pack mules. We saddle up rested and ready for a day on the trail. It’s a lot to pack up, but self-sufficiency is key in these parts. Everything from large knives to extra spurs; if you find that you need it, you better have it with you.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesMounting Up at Dawn for the River Crossing

The sun is reaching the peaks and walls of the easterly-facing mountains. More importantly, the snowmelt grows stronger with each passing moment, swelling the river we’ll have to cross on horseback before it gets too high. First, we head upstream to the crossing point and find the water levels low enough to cross.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesRiver Crossing at Dawn

After a fairly easy crossing (for the rider), we pick our way across the boulder-strewn valley and up a western tributary toward the next high pass and the Chilean border along the ridgeline. We can see the peaks off in the distance.  It is hard to imagine that we will be at its base by nightfall to camp.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesThe River’s Boulder Valley at Sunrise

The ride up and out of the valley takes us across the first grassy meadow we’ve seen. It is here we pass a hiker. Yes, you read that right. A hiker, alone walking the trail and heading the way we came.

He’s the fourth person we’ve seen in 3 days, apart from the soldiers at the refugio. I should have snapped a picture of him, but I didn’t think of it at the time. My hat is off to this intrepid hiker. It’s a long, lonely trail, and he’s seeing every bit of it up close and at slow speed.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesMy Faithful Companion All Day, Every Day

The volcanic rock formations coming up from the bottom of the valley are spectacular, with small fault lines holding precious water for plants to grow. Very shortly, however, the new canyon that we are traversing changes over to a spectacular red sandstone cliff formation. There are a few waterfalls coming off the sides and caves cut back into it by wind and water over the eons. The wind carvings are incredible when you think of the time it must take to blow sand long enough to cut away the rock face.

Time is both immediate and endless in this part of the world. There are no real measures of time other than the clip-clop of the horses’ feet, a twang in the stomach for lunch, and the movement of the sun across the blue, blue sky.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesIgneous and Metamorphic Rock Changes to SandstoneConsumer Resource Guide

These seemingly contradictory terms spin in my head. Timeless and timely. Immediate and endless. These terms weave themselves into a reality so deep and profound that no words can describe them. The expansiveness of the space, the silence that grips you, the scale and scope of the mountainous features that dwarf any human presence give pause to anyone with a soul.

Before we set out on this adventure, Carol had wondered about being bored. Riding a horse through seemingly empty high desert for 5 days could appear, on the surface, to be boring. But as a person who’s spent countless hours in the woods playing, hunting, and fishing, I knew from experience that boredom would not be an issue. I assured her that she would be anything but. Serious drop-offs into canyons also help keep the boredom at bay.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesIt’s a Long Way Down

Nor would loneliness be a concern. The Fisherman’s Creed speaks to a great truth about being out in nature. I don’t remember the whole thing; in fact, I only remember 3 words of the poem:

“Solitude without loneliness.”

It’s a wonderful promise and truer words could not be spoken about being in the wild. Especially in the high desert with 100-mile vistas only interrupted by snowcapped mountains. Plenty of solitude. Zero loneliness.  

Argentina Vineyard Estates100-Mile Vistas and Solitude Without Loneliness

As we neared our next campsite, the mule train caught up with us – with Jani at the lead. She is a real cowgirl and made a show of it by rounding up the break-away mule.  

Argentina Vineyard EstatesJanni – Our Chef and Chief of the Mule Train

While we waited for them to pass on the narrow trail, we took a break to water our horses. I found some flowers to admire along a small creek coming down the mountain. Even here, where most of the space is desolate rock, sand, and clay, patches of color come to life and jump out brightly in contrast to the whites, browns, and grays of everything else.   

Argentina Vineyard EstatesPutting the Horses Out for the Night

With some weather rolling in, we decide to jump in and help pitch the tents alongside Rolo and his team. I’m not sure that we were that much help, but sometimes it’s the effort that counts.

As it was, the skies were looking like a storm, so we also built wind and rain blocks along the north sides of the fire pit for cooking. Tents went up, secured by large rocks, and we adjourned inside for tea while the hailstones beat a rhythm on our shelter.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesCarol Supervising the Tent Setup

Argentina Vineyard EstatesHigh Tea at 10,886 Feet with the Hail Storm Beating on the Tent

Later that evening, after the storm had passed, the team took the horses up the hill to pasture in a green meadow for the night.

For dinner, Jani made us a stew in a pumpkin. Fresh vegetables, meat, and sauces were placed in a few pumpkins and set in the coals of the fire for a couple hours. This is a special way to cook in bad weather, because the heat bakes the food inside the “pot” and you can keep the fire going – moving coals to areas that needed heat. But you’ve got to remember the pumpkin, of course.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesDinner in a Pumpkin – A Rich Stew for Hungry Riders

After dinner, we sat and enjoyed our final evening in the mountains. Tomorrow, we would make the steep climb to the Chilean border and down the other side to the pick-up near some hot springs and a glacial lake. Lingering longer after dinner than usual, we enjoyed some political discussions in the tent, philosophized deeply, and really drank in the event in which we were fully engaged.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesLate Night Political Discussions

On an annual basis, the people making this trek number under 100. In the past centuries, gauchos drove tens of thousands of cows over the passes to market, but the number of gauchos, while not known, was likely in the tens or teens each year.

To pass through this space, a place so infrequently traveled by other people, is special and unique. It’s an experience remote, vast, and intimate all at the same time. Life changing in subtle ways that truly escape words. Pausing on our last night to reflect on this experience and recognize the deep gratitude for the opportunity rounds out the days on the trail. For tomorrow, we head out and back to the “real world” – whatever that means. 


It’s official! The ECI Gran Vineyard Estates Harvest Festival is booked. April 29th to May 1st, join us for 4 fun-filled days of fine wines, phenomenal food, and excellent company and conversations. Here are a few photos to whet your appetite.

Argentina Vineyard EstatesGreat Food

Argentina Vineyard EstatesGreat Wines – Susana Balbo and Paul Hobbs Winery Tours

Argentina Vineyard Estates

Argentina Vineyard EstatesDawn (3-Hour) Horseback Ride for the Sunrise Over the Uco Valley

Argentina Vineyard Estates

Argentina Vineyard EstatesRefresh and Relax at the Guesthouse

Email me to receive the details of the Argentina Winery Discover Tour, April 28th to May 1st. Hope you’ll join me. Until next week, all the best.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on January 23, 2019. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

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