4×4 day-trip through the Andes

May 1st is a day off here in Argentina since it is Labour Day. We are now well into the autumn season but the weather is still very nice and dry. We took advantage of that to leave the city around 9:00 am to drive the Ruta Provincial 13. It was the first route through the mountains. It was later replaced by Ruta Provincial 52 that runs parallel further north. Both remain unpaved and pretty rough, RP13 more so since it is a 4×4-only track. Later Ruta 7 was constructed to meet modern requirements, and it is the main highway to the Chilean border.

RP13 starts just outside the Mendoza city limits, in the town of Las Herras. It runs through the desert for a while, slowly heading uphill towards the mountains. Right there it is pretty rough due to some rainwater run-off, loose rocks, and ruts. Once it starts climbing up the mountain slope it gets somewhat worse because of some very tight turns and more ruts and loose rocks. Four-wheel drive and high-clearance are definitely required there. Once up in the mountains the track gets a little better but now the high altitude and steep climbs become the challenge. Finally we reached the top at about 3100 m of elevation (10,170′). The views are spectacular all along but from the top it is breath-taking. Heading down should bring a relief but … not so fast. The track is narrow with tight turns that sometimes require maneuvering to negotiate. Rock slides intermittently reduce the width or took part of the already narrow track downhill. A bit nerve-racking. Once down the hairpin turns things get noticeably better for even small cars to drive on. After 85 km of twisting and bending, and after passing in front of the Cerro De Los Siete Colores, the road enters directly into Uspallata. By then we were dusty and tired, looking forward to a caffein fix, but unfortunately the Swiss bakery and coffee shop was closed. Uspallata is small and the options are limited, so we crossed the road to the YPF gas station where we know we can always get a cup of strong coffee! Then we took the highway to get home.