Monument at Paso Christo Redentor

Santiago to Polvaredas (over Paso Cristo Redentor/Los Libertadores)

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After leaving Santiago, my plan was to finally start with the "real" Andean passes. The first one on my list is Paso Cristo Redentor (sometimes called Los Libertadores) which is a main connection between Santiago and Mendoza. This means a lot of traffic. Fortunately, all the traffic disappears to the tunnel at about 3200m and the last 600 elevation meters are thus traffic free on the Chilean side. Argentinian side has a bit of a touristy traffic as the top of the pass -- with the elevation of about 3830 metes -- is featuring a big monument of Christ.


March 22

Before I can climb the pass, I first need to get out of Santiago. This is (unsurprisingly) a complicated thing to do without encountering lots of traffic. Because of my starting location within Santiago -- Los Condes -- I am opting for a road to Colina over a small pass. This turns out to be a decent selection. While the traffic in the town is pretty busy, as soon as I get out of the city the traffic dies.


Getting out of busy Santiago
Last houses behind me
And the downhill to Colina

In Colina I am learning that the road I wanted to take further is another autopista and I cannot really cheat my way around it because there seems to be no parallel roads (not even ripio). As such, I need to take a detour to the west and then again back to the east.


Because I was rather good at buying new stuff in Santiago (both kit and food), the bike feels unusually heavy. I guess I just need to get accustomed to the new load.


In Colina, the scenery changes from the big agglomeration into a heavily populated kind-of-a-farmland. I have a lunch there and I am ready to go to my next destination, a village called Lampa. From there I continue to the north.


The land is mostly dry
Except for the managed farmland

At my evening shopping stop, I am making a grave mistake -- I forget my water bottle before the kiosco and I realize it too late. Fortunately, I am securing a replacement bottle relatively quickly. And as a bonus, I have 100ml of additional capacity as the bottle isn't usual 1.5L but for some reason 1.6L.


But the surprise of the evening is just going to happen. Just as I am finding a camping spot, I notice that there is something funny about my back tire. Sure enough, I have a flat. A quick inspection reveals a thorn sticking out of the tire. After 5000 kilometers of puncture-free ride on Schwalbe the Maxxis tire did not do the best job at self-marketing when it failed on the first day I ride it. (OK, technically this is a third day because I did some riding in Santiago). The rest of the evening is spent by fixing the flat, cooking the dinner and making it inside the tent just in time for the night to creep on me.


March 23


Of course, my wild camping place selection was rather terrible. The road was quite busy overnight with trucks and so it wasn't the best sleep ever. In a rather grumpy mood the clear morning sky invites me to another day of hot cycling. I need to climb from around 700 to 1300 just so that I can descent it later down to Los Andes. But first I am stopping by a guard of some industrial complex and getting water. While there are lots of "streams" around, these are all a part of big watering system for all the orchard and anything green around. As such, the water is rather muddy and I could bet it contains elevated doses of fertilizers.


Then the pass starts. Fortunately it is totally quiet because all the traffic goes through a tunnel on an autopista. The climb is decently steep (around 5-6%) but even this makes me sweat a lot in the hot sun. My climb is interrupted by a dog. It doesn't look exactly great and decides to stalk me with a rather short distance. As I have a fresh memory of a dog trying to bite me I am just standing with a bike and hoping that the dog will lose interest in me. Fortunately, I am saved by a truck driver who figures out that the shabby looking dog is hungry and gives it cheese. I am using this opportunity to quickly put as much distance from the dog as possible and it works, nobody is following me this time.


The climb goes for a while near a nice canyon

The views around can be described only as dry. There is no green grass, only lots of golden colors. Which is why I am surprised to see some green trees and bushes. All in all, in the whole 600 meters of a climb I did not see any source of water. That is, except a human-made waterway which leads water from god-only-knows where to a water dam not-so-nearby.


The road I climbed is far below me

The top of the pass welcomes me with a big cross. I do a quick hike to a viewpoint but the distant views are too hazy. Afterwards I enjoy a rather quick descent. I need to join the autopista for a while as there is no alternative but kilometers are quickly passing by and soon I get down of it.


The top of the pass to Los Andes
And the views from it
On the descent

By now the heat is just like a furnace. I am again resupplying with water, passing through Los Andes and hooray to the pass. The road is quite busy with cars and trucks but fortunately there is wide shoulder. To my surprise, the valley I am going through is basically homogeniously habitated. But then, I am still only at about 1000 meters above the sea.


To my surprise, I am coming across a cyclist going down from the pass. This is a first bike tourer after a rather long period without meeting anybody. So we talk for a while. The cyclist is a guy from Brazil, 4 months on the road but his plan is 3-4 years trip around the world.


As the evening closes on me the views are getting better. I am going in a narrow valley with steep sides and in the distance I can already see some nice mountains. Of course, this implies a rather problematic campsite finding -- I am not really inclined to camp anywhere near the road because the pass is open 24 hours and the trucks make loud noises (especially the ones going down and making a machine-gun firing sound when using their engines to break).


Getting out of Los Andes and finally starting to work on the real climb
The views are getting better
Try finding a good camping place here

But I am quite fortunate in finding a decently quiet place. In one sharp turn I can see a track going uphill. A quick inspection reveals a nice and quiet (decently shielded from the road noises) flat camping place around a water viaduct. The only problem is getting there. I spend next 30 minutes moving all my bags and bike to the place because I am going three times there -- the road is super-steep and it is impossible to push even a half-loaded bike up.


The last surprise of the day concerns my dinner. With a dismay I am finding out that I have no soup. I am wondering what happened and the best explanation is that I mistakenly thrown them away with my trash.


March 24


The night was surprisingly warm. As I am cooking breakfast I can see the first rays of the Sun on the hills at the opposite side of the valley. The plan for today is hard. I need to get to 2800-3000 meters of elevation so that tomorrow I will be able to finish the pass and get down from it.


First rays of the Sun

As a part of my unusual morning routine I am letting gas out of my gas cylinder. It was almost empty and I need to trash it (and obviously trashing a canister containing even a bit of propane-butane isn't exactly a great idea).


Then I am ready to go. I am restocking with water in the next "village" on my way. The whole valley I am passing by is criss-crossed by hydroelectric power plants, large tubes and other waterways. This adds it a bit of an industrial feel and mostly it basically removes any possibility of getting water from the river passing through the valley.


I am stopping in Rio Blanco to get rid of waste and for a final resupply of food before the pass. Around here the river also changes from muddy to crystal clear. 


An old church in Rio Blanco
And up I go
A rather interesting mountain

After few more kilometers I am passing by a toll. Every transiting vehicle needs to pay a fee here but fortunately they don't have bicycle on a list. So I am happily cycling through the place, smiling at the guy in a booth and ... causing an alarm. Apparently the damn thing has some sensor.


The road is getting progressively steeper and I am having a lunch at 1800m around a road gallery. Apart from the road, there is also a railway here. It would make some scenic ride, that is, if you like Indiana Jones style of riding because the railway is disused and quickly deteriorating.


There is a railway around
But unless you are Indy Jones I wouldn't recommend riding it
And the road just goes on and on

Around military refugio Juncal the steep part of the climb starts. It consists of an almost infinite number of switchbacks which are all numbered. Fortunately, the road is really wide here and the trucks aren't exactly fast climbing 8% grade so I feel quite safe.


The first view of switchbacks. They look scary
Looking back
Looking down at the switchbacks

At around 2800m I am checking out a hotel. A room for 80 dollars per night isn't exactly coinciding with my ideas of spending money. Unfortunately, in a few kilometers there will be aduana and I don't want to camp too close to it. As a result, I am pushing a bit more and camping early on a not so good place and not too far from the road.

Hmm, let's hope there is less snow in the pass

March 25


To my surprise it wasn't freezing in the night. But that does not mean I am not freezing when I get out of the tent. Before I manage to pack the camp I am meeting another cyclist. This time it is a rather old Australian uncle who is on the road already for 15 months. He is generally going in the same direction as me (i.e., to the north) but his plan is much less ambitious in terms of Andes crossings. Still, I am surprised he managed to climb even this. 


I am freezing. When is the Sun going to get here?
An almost empty military complex below me

With the morning discussion taking a lot of time I am rather late to start today. I am quickly passing by the Chilean immigration. There they are sending me to the Argentinian side. Apparently everything should happen there. Then I manage to bypass a long gallery and I am ready to turn from the main road (leading to the tunnel) to ripio towards the pass.


Sharp-contrasting rocks in the morning light
After this gallery the final climb starts

The road is steep and the switchbacks continue for another 600 elevation meters. While I can ride almost all of the road it is quite strenuous. 

I am enjoying a quiet ripio while all the traffic goes to the tunnel
The lunch break on a slightly less-windy bend of the road
Mountains, beware! Peter is going!
Looking back

Thus I am more than happy when I finally reach the top. There I am visiting the Cristo Redentor monument and getting a cup of hot chocolate before I am ready to go down. Apparently the Argentinian side of the pass is much more busy -- there are several buses full of tourists visiting the monument.

I don't even bother counting switchbacks. They are just infinite.
Oh, I still have more to go? Damn.
Really, this isn't funny anymore

The hot cup of chocolate did not last very long. The pass is quite windy and the temperature isn't exactly high. The descent isn't better -- without any manual work my body is not generating enough heat and I am bitterly cold even through the layers I have on me. Perhaps I should have prepared a bit more layers but now I don't want to stop and fish them out of my gear. The views are stunning though -- the main vista is snow-covered Aconcagua but of course there is much more to look at than just a single mountain.

Finally at the top
Impressive Aconcagua
And mind-boggling red colored mountain

When I finally arrive at Argentinian immigration I am facing a new problem. Apparently they forget to give me some checkpoint paper and now there is a huge chaos around me. At one point some guy even takes my passport and goes somewhere with it without returning. In the end they resolve it though and I am free to go. Unfortunately, I lost quite a lot of time at the immigration and today I want to get to Uspallata which is quite far. Fortunately, from here it is just a downhill ride.

The road is curvy even on the Argentinian side
The descent goes through this valley
Which is amazing with colors

As I am passing kilometer after kilometer, it becomes clear that Uspallata is a far-fetched goal. Instead, I am now concentrating on a camping which I have on my GPS. In the meantime, I am riding through Rio Mendoza canyon which provides lots of stop-and-take-a-photo distractions.

The descent is gentle and long
And provides an ever-changing scenery
Until it is an evening and only tops of the mountains are still in the light

The camping I was going to isn't actually camping. Either the GPS coordinates are wrong or they figured out that camping isn't making much money and it is better to replace it with a radio communication tower. Fortunately, from this place there is a ripio road down towards the river. I am quickly learning that the road is disused by anything motorized as there is a big rockfall through it. But then, this means I found my place for the night.


Route

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Download simplified GPX of a route here

Stats by activity:

Activity Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Pedal rotations
(thousands)
bike 269 4.6 70
Stats by day:
Date Distance
(km)
Ascent
(km)
Avg. temp
(moving, C)
March 22, 2017 90.3 0.60 29.8
March 23, 2017 70.1 1.32 29.0
March 24, 2017 37.1 1.64 20.5
March 25, 2017 71.9 1.06 13.1

Elevation data

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(drag over a region to zoom in, right-click reset)

The next table is only for cycling activity.

Grade(%)Ascent (km)Descent(km)
< 2 119.2
< 4 17.4 20.7
< 6 10.6 9.0
< 8 12.4 6.9
< 10 6.4 3.8
≥ 10 5.3 7.0

Notes for cyclists

  • The last place to get food on Chilean side is Rio Blanco. The first place on the Argentinian side to get some decent provisions is probably Uspallata but you might be able to get some very basic food in the smaller villages on the way.
  • The pass is better to be climbed from the Chilean side even though it is much steeper than the gentle Argentinian slope. There are several reasons for this: First, the ripio part of the climb is comparably steep on both sides. Climbing the Chilean part of the paved road prepares you for the steepness. Second, the Chilean side contains wide shoulder almost all the way from Los Andes. While there is a shoulder on the Argentinian side, it disappears around immigration complex and the road from there to Uspallata is quite narrow (not to mention that the gentle slope means fast-going trucks). Finally, the Argentinian side could potentially get quite head-windy.
  • There is no need to lug too much water on the Chilean side. Argentinian side has a bit less opportunities to get water but there are a few streams and villages around.


Distance Elevation Place Notes
0km 810 Los Andes Large city. A semi-continuous habitation from here
27km 1300 Sharp turn right Trun left into a steep tracks for a good camping spot around a viaduct
36km 1420 Rio Blanco The last village on the Chilean side
52.5km 2220 Military refugio Juncal Switchbacks start
62km 2800 Military complex You might be able to convince the two soldiers guarding here that you can sleep there
63km 2870 Hotel Portillo Hotel with outrageous prices
65km 2950 Chilean Immigration If going to Argentina you can go straight through as everything is done on the Argentinian side
68km 2060 Start of a long gallery Go around it
69.5km 3180 Tunnel entrance down the road Turn right to the ripio road
78.5km 3830 Top of the pass Enjoy the Cristo Redentor monument and a cup of hot chocolate
87km 3180 Campanento There might be an open restaurant here
95.5km 2830 Don't forget to turn left for the immigration complex
102km 2750 Puente del Inca Seems like a touristy village with hospedajes and food
109km 2610 Villa los Penitentes Ski center. You might be able to get water here
118.5km 2430 Punta de Vacas You should be able to get water here
131km 2250 Polverades Looks like a small village. You should be able to get water here.
173km 1890 Uspallata A small city. Has stores and restaurants and possibly accomodation.
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