Crossing the Andes on Horseback (Part 3): A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And Wet

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on December 19, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Searching for a vineyard home?

Before I start with the story today, just a quick aside about vineyards in Argentina and how many more folks are looking for vineyard homes and property.

The other day I saw a TV commercial where this relaxed looking gentleman was strolling between grape vines sampling the grapes of his beautiful vineyard. Some part of me wanted to have that life. 

Let’s face it, most of us at some point have thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to live the life of a hobby vintner, growing my own grapes and making my own wine?” But most of us dismiss the dream because we assume the cost to own a vineyard is probably out of our reach. 

Well, in Napa Valley, it very well could be out of reach. But I’m sure you’re all familiar with wines from other countries like Australia or Chile that have become more popular over the past decades. And one area in particular has a high standard of wine while also being still relatively inexpensive to buy land. That country is Argentina!  

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetIf you have ever considered a vineyard home, then Mendoza, Argentina, would be the place to explore. ECI is partnering with Steve Rosberg and La Morada to build wonderful homes in and around his 700-acre mature vineyard and guesthouse.  

Ownership options include everything from small vacation/rental properties to incredible vineyard estate opportunities. Homes in an Argentina vineyard can be owned for a fraction of the price as a similar home in North America. Click here for more information about a visit to Mendoza and ideas and options for a spectacular vineyard property.

Heads Up: The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week about this topic. It appears that big endowments and institutions are now investing in vineyards. With supply largely fixed, the price of already expensive North American vineyard real estate will surely shoot up even higher.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetNow back to the story of the ride across the Andes on Horseback…

Read Part 1 and Part 2 here!

Back On the Trail: Thank goodness our trail mate, Eric, did not tell us about his crossing the previous year. I’m pretty sure that Carol would have been much less enthusiastic if she’d known the truth about that trip.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetThe Quiet and Solitude of the Trail

Wisely, we had been kept in the dark about the year before. That party was snowed-in right after starting and spent the first two days in a tiny refugio (a stone hut with a fireplace) while the storm dumped five feet of snow on the mountains.

Once the blizzard ceased, they were forced to push through the rest of the journey in two fast and furious days, in what took us four to cross. Eric and Steve relayed the stories after we got started… and after it was too late to turn back.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetDay 2:  Over the First Pass and Into the Valley for the Night

Weather in the mountains is unpredictable, even in the summer. We were about to find this out firsthand. After getting up at first light, which was just before 7:00 a.m., I rolled out of bed, visited my favorite boulder, and then found Edgardo and Cristian enjoying a yerba mate by the campfire.

Yerba mate is as much a social experience as it is a caffeine jolt. A gourd is filled with a ground-up relative of the holly tree, hot water is poured over it, and then it is drunk through a filtered straw made of metal. They refilled the gourd and passed it over to me.

`A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetYerba Mate by the Fire at First Light

There is a serious protocol when you drink yerba mate. You don’t stir. You don’t move the straw. You don’t speak. You drink until you get that slurping sound when you reach the bottom. Then you hand it back to the person filling the gourd and wait your turn to drink again.

The straw is shared by all and is not wiped or cleaned between uses. I was told repeatedly by Steve and Cora that the silver metal kills the germs and bacteria of previous users.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetI seriously doubt that and wondered if they were trying to convince themselves. I wasn’t convinced, but I truly didn’t care.

The yerba mate was great, the company was fantastic, and the germs were welcome to give me more disease-fighting ability in the future. Remember, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.

Departure was planned for around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. So, after other folks were up and about, breakfast was served. The tents and gear were then packed, and we hit the trail.

By leaving after 9:00 a.m., our guide gave the sun a chance to rise above the valley walls and warm the chill that lingers on the valley floor overnight. But we had a schedule to keep. We had to make it through the notch, over the pass, and down into the valley to the refugio by dark.

The Notch by Noon. The Refugio by Dark.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And Wet

The Steep Ride to the Notch

The ride to the pass was steep and lasted about 3 hours, clearing over 3,000 vertical feet in under 3 miles. As we neared the top, the switchbacks and loose stones made it a hard going for the horses. The solitude and vast emptiness are staggering.  

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetNearing the small gap and looking back east, the skies were clear and blue. 

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetAt the Notch – A Last Look Back into the Cloud-Covered Uco Valley   

However, the clouds from the other side of the pass continued to build and blow over the tops of the snow-capped ridge. Not a great sign.

The pass, the highest point on the trip, is a height of 4,362 meters (14,311 feet). Our ride would then take us down 5,000 feet to the valley floor at 2,877 meters (9,438 feet) for the night.

Once at the gap, we felt the first slaps of snow in our faces. They were hard snow pellets, like being hit in the face with tic-tac candy. Once through the gap, the wind was fierce and exposed skin was tingly in the wind-induced cold. I’m guessing that the actual temps were in the single digits, but wind at 30+ mph made it feel bitterly cold.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetThrough the Notch and into the Storm Ahead

We were freezing at the top of the pass. But the good news came once we dropped down about 1,500 feet to the first plateau.   

There we warmed up to various vices. Carol and I enjoyed a yerba mate; Cora, some Nicaraguan Momotombo chocolates; and Steve, some Nicaraguan Rum, Flor de Caña. The wind was calmer and the temps, by comparison, warmer. But only by comparison.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetCora Enjoying Some Fine Nicaraguan Chocolates

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetSteve Enjoying Some Flor de Caña Nicaraguan Rum

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetCarol Hitting the Mate

This pass, in fact the entire route that we rode, was historically used as a crossing to move beef cattle raised in Argentina to market in Chile. In the 1940s, the trucker’s union in Argentina made it illegal to move cattle to the market in Chile by any other means than truck. (A classic example of domestic protectionism that stifles free trade, entrepreneurism, and personal freedom.)     

The route was used for hundreds of years. And each year, as cattle passed through the high pass, many would slip off the narrow trail and plummet to their death in the valley below. There is indeed a pile of bones at the bottom of the first pass, preserved for 75+ years in the dry, cold climate.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetThe Notch and Steep Path Down

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetThe Cattle Bone Yard

As we rode down into the valley, we left the barren rock falls and passed into some grass-covered slopes at the lower altitude. Along the way, Rolo pointed out Guanacos, cousins of the Llama that live in these empty mountains and valleys.

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And Wet Rolo Pointing to Guanacas in the Distance

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetPhoto Courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s hard to imagine what they find to eat, especially in winter. The pickings around us looked pretty sparse, and Consumer Resource Guidethat’s in the height of summer. Nonetheless, somehow they thrive here.  

It was fun to watch the herds as they scramble up the mountains to clear a way for our passage. Chirping. Yes, chirping. Strange sound for a deer-like animal to make.  

Shelter is a wonderful thing and has now been added to my litany of things I thank God for each day in my prayers. It is something I know I took for granted. After a long day in the clouds and snow, we were all cold, tired, and ready to be inside. Grateful for shelter of any kind at that point.  

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetThe Flag That Signals the Refugio is Near – A Welcome Sight

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetThe Refugio – An Army Outpost in the Middle of Nowhere

A refugio is a stone building that will break the fierce wind and is a welcome comfort indeed. This one, the Real de la Cruz, is an army outpost that can be reached in only three ways: by foot, by helicopter, and by horse.

Our horses sensed they were near, too, and mine began to trot. Everyone is excited to be finished with a long day crossing the high pass. Our home for the next two nights. The refugio at last!

A Warm Day Turns Cold, Snowy, And WetDismount and Head Indoors – Ready for a Warm Meal

Next week, a day in the valley to rest up and explore the cliffs, crags, and a brilliant pond. For now, thanks for reading along and be in touch if you’d like to learn a bit more about Argentina and/or more about owning a vineyard home in Mendoza.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on December 19, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

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