Ascent of Cerro Champaquí on 2018-11-28

Climber: Connor McEntee

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cerro Champaquí
    Elevation:9088 ft / 2770 m

Ascent Trip Report

The east and west sides of the mountain range are radically different. To the west Cerro Champaquí towers some 7,000’ above the valley floor ending a long expanse of desert that lies in the rain shadow of the central Argentine Andes. On the east, the topography is much more gradual and is dotted with small towns and pastureland. Having done a little research beforehand, I knew that most local tourists ascend the mountain from the west using a route that begins in Villa Alpina. However, I was going to be heading toward Mendoza afterward, so I opted to ascend via the western side of the mountain.

Initially, I had set out to hike Cerro Champaquí using the thorough and excellent route information provided by the Mclellan’s. The driving directions to the gates on the road that leads to La Constancia are still valid. The first gate was open, but I opted to park just outside of it. There was, however, no indication that public foot access is allowed nor were there any markings about Champaquí. In fact, there was a no trespassing sign. Undeterred, I continued on to the second gate, which is built with masonry and was locked. This was also clearly marked with no trespassing signs, there wasn’t any permit office, and I was going to have to hop a fence to continue. Future peak baggers interested in this route might inquire in town, but I surmise that unless you’ve made arrangements with La Constancia beforehand this route is now closed.

It was still early in the day, but getting the west side of the mountain was going to take around 4 hours, and I was unsure of how far I’d be able to drive up the road before it was gated or became too rough. Luckily, I had by chance downloaded an alternate GPS track on the west side from a Spanish trip report that ascended via Los Molles. With no route description and only the track in hand, I started driving through backcountry roads hoping to find the starting point. It turns out that it was quite easy, and google maps had no difficulty taking me there. I drove in from the south and out via the north, and the road is good both ways though slightly better on the north. The turnoff is at a T junction in front of a rural school. Fortunately, this junction was marked with official park signs for “C. Champaquí” and an instruction to not bring dogs. There is plenty of space to park at the junction, but I didn’t like the thought of leaving my car out in the open for so long, so I drove a little way up the rougher road to a large turnout where I parked. It turned out that I could have driven further as there were several other turnouts ahead, but I probably wouldn’t have saved more than 1km of walking.

The “trail” continues along a decently maintained dirt road past small farmhouses and eventually leads to a series of gates, a couple of which are right next to an occupied house. The dogs were friendly enough and the locals seemed to have no problem with me passing through. From the end of the road, the trail becomes much less distinct, and I actually went the wrong way initially forcing me to traverse back into the correct drainage. The route likely sees more animal traffic than human, but it was distinct enough that I didn’t cut myself on the prickly vegetation too badly. However, I was stung a bee, which was annoying.

Maybe two miles from my start point I reached a junction with a much more official looking trail that was unambiguously signed as leading to the summit. Disconcertingly, it indicated that I should expect it to take 6 hours to get there. The trail followed the Rio Los Molles all the way to the upper reaches of the mountain before aggressively going up a slope to the ridge. The weather was fantastic (not too hot) and the scenery was stunning. The trail, however, is not much more than a use trail in quality. It’s obviously maintained, and more importantly, it was well cairned the entire way, but the tread is often loose and rocky. Then a few sections in dense vegetation were rather bushwhacky. I did enjoy having the river for much of the hike, though I would definitely treat any water from it. The entire area is used for grazing.

In short, the going was gentle through obvious pastureland with a variety of pleasant campsites until the first (of five) creek crossings. It had just rained, so I was unable to cross without taking off my shoes. I would imagine most of the year that it could be done without getting wet. From this point on, the canyon becomes much narrower and the trail climbs more steadily. There were frequently areas where there were either multiple cow trails or the trail was indistinct in the vegetation. But, there were always cairns to guide me. The trail then crosses the river four more times in quick succession. At the last crossing, there was decent albeit dank campsite. From there it traversed out of the drainage onto a ridge where the trail disappears. This was because there is a considerable thicket that has to be crossed before it picks up again on the far side. It wasn’t hard to find a faint path through the thicket, but it was a little roundabout. On the descent, I avoided the thicket and stayed on the ridge only bushwhacking through 60 vertical feet or so of dry thorny vegetation separating the traversing trail from an alternate use path.

The final ascent was physically grueling. I was definitely out of shape from indulging in far too much Argentine wine and steak, so it kicked my ass to the point that my legs started to cramp just below the summit. The trail gains several thousand feet in only two miles, and the tread was quite loose. There were baseball sized rocks that would shift if I wasn’t careful about how I stepped on them. Fortunately, the trail is again well cairned, so it wasn’t hard to find a reasonable path up and up. Once on the ridge, the going was easy again. On the east side, it was rolling pastureland complete with cows. The final 100’ is a light scramble. I’m sure there is a nice class 2 route up (perhaps on the south side), but I opted to go up directly. There were several rocks on the summit plateau that could compete for the highest point, so I tagged them all before I plopped down to eat my lunch and fend off overaggressive birds.

The descent was enjoyable even though the clouds moved in. Because the trail is so loose in so many sections, it wasn’t really easy going, but it was at least less physically demanding. Surprisingly, I did pass two Argentine groups on the descent that were out backpacking. Neither of them parked where I did so there may be a better trailhead.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:7227 ft / 2201 m
    Total Elevation Loss:7227 ft / 2201 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.5 mi / 20.1 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2/3
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6473 ft / 1972 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5719 ft / 1744 m; Extra: 754 ft / 229m
    Loss on way in:754 ft / 229 m
    Distance:6.3 mi / 10.1 km
    Route:Los Molles
    Start Trailhead:3369 ft / 1026 m
    Time:3 Hours 54 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6473 ft / 1972 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 5719 ft / 1744 m; Extra: 754 ft / 229m
    Gain on way out:754 ft / 229 m
    Distance:6.2 mi / 10 km
    Route:Los Molles
    End Trailhead:3369 ft / 1026 m
    Time:3 Hours 6 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Connor McEntee
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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