Length (km): 10 km (return).
Time (hrs/min): 3 days.
Grade: Moderate.
Maximum Elevation: 4,300 m.
Minimum Elevation: 2,700 m.
Return / Circuit / One-Way / Partial Circuit: Return.
Park: Aconcagua Provincial Park.

The Andes are the world’s longest continental mountain range. At over 7,000 km long, they run across the western side of Latin America to dive deep down in the ocean behind Patagonia most southern land: Ushuaia.

I have always found it fascinating to study ancient cultures and the way they relate to the present world. They certainly lived very differently to the way we live today, interconnected by the digital era.

 
 



Crossing a bridge over Las Cuevas River, the starting-point of the Mount Penitentes trek.

 

 

Some ancient cultures, such as the Incas were true pioneer adventurers. This Andean civilization is made up by a loose patchwork of different groups that developed from Colombia’s highlands to the Atacama dessert. However, due to the fact that they believed high mountain peaks had a closer connection to their Gods, some isolated groups set out in the search of the Andes highest mountains.

 



A fox searching for food close to base camp.

 

 

In 1987 an Argentinean climbing party was attempting Aconcagua’s southeast ridge, known as ‘The Pyramid’. This is a technical route where climbing ropes; ice axes and crampons are needed. At about 5,400 metres high, the team found a perfectly mummified Inca child. It was almost entirely buried in the ice with just a portion of its skull exposed. Carbon-14 studies dated this mummy to the mid fifteenth century. At the time ‘The Pyramid’ was easily accessible; perhaps smoother snow lopes covered the mixed rock and ice terrain present today. It is worth noticing that Aconcagua lays thousands of kilometres to the south of Machu Picchu, the Inca Empire’s capital.

 



A stunning view of Mt Penitentes north ridge.

 

 

On their quest to reach high mountains, they also climbed Mt. Penitentes. This is a very interesting and peculiar mountain. It is 4,300 metres high and much more accessible than Aconcagua, which makes this the ideal mountain for trekking in the Central Andes. It has overwhelming views of Aconcagua south face and other 6,000 metres mountains around, such as Tupungato Volcano (6,800 metres).

 



These are ice-formations called ‘Penitentes’. These appear at altitudes of over 4,000 metres, and are generally oriented with the blades facing the sun.

 

 

Dozens of condors, the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere, have their nest on the north Mt. Penitentes ridge. Chances are that you will see some flying over your head, particularly when the atmospheric pressure decreases.

 



Breathtaking views of Mount Aconcagua’s south face abound on this hike.

 

 

Archaeological findings on this mountain main summit, suggest that the Incas climbed it too. Furthermore, archaeologists believe that Mt. Penitentes served as an observation point for what would later become the place where an Incan child was sacrificed. Once you reach its summit, you realize this theory makes absolute sense. The view of Aconcagua’s southeast ridge is impressive and with its Pyramid form, it truly looks like a massive stairway to heaven.

 



A few meters below the North summit.

 

 

There are several companies that can assist you with the trekking organization and logistics. No particular climbing skills are needed to reach the summit. However, if you don’t have strong navigational skills and do not know how to deal with acclimatization and altitude effects, it is strongly suggested that you hire a local guide. There are plenty of guide’s companies in Mendoza City.

This is one of the most beautiful and culturally-rich treks you could do. Keep in mind you are following the Incas paths, left there more than 500 years ago.

 

This post was contributed by Manu Bustelo. Manu is a professional and socially responsible adventurer, who has worked as a tour guide in the USA and throughout Europe. He has lead adventurers to Aconcagua (6,962m), and climbed dozens of mountains in the Andes and Alps. He has even crossed The Andes by horse, twice. Manu holds the unofficial mountain-bike downhill record from 6,800m, has featured in 42 magazines around the world, and in a documentary shown at 9 Mountain Film Festivals across Europe. As a sponsored mountain-biker he has travelled to 47 countries, and as a PADI dive master he’s dived three continents. He cares about the environment and loves to share and inspire the adventurous tribe.

Manu Bustelo is a shortlisted candidate to become Australia’s Northern Territory Outback Adventurer. Check out his website at ManuelBustelo.com

 
 

Have you visited Mount Penitentes? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.

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