Sunday 9th January
1) Haipin bends in the High Andes west of Portillo
2) Martin on Sunday 9 January climbing into the high Andes
Today was a day-ride from our base at Los Andes in the foothills of the Andes to Portillo a ski resort among the high peaks. The road we took was the main International Highway from Chile to Argentina. Traffic was probably lighter than normal being a Sunday and amounted to about half of the traffic on a south of England B road, but with more lorries.
The ride started with a faily gentle route up through the valley. We all three stayed together at this stage but as Peter had decided not to go all the way up we split up after about ten miles, and Martin and I continued towards the top. We left at about 8 am to get some of the ride in before the heat built up. We enjoyed a beautiful cloudless day with temperatures of 32C in the valley but cooling a little as we climbed.
Early in the ride rhe road ran alongside the raging torrent of the Rio Aconcagua bringing melt water down from the glaciers of the high peaks. Strung over the river at intervals were rope bridges used by the locals to get to their houses on the other side of the river.
The total length of the climb was 40 miles and after the half way stage at Rio Blanco the gradient increased from an average of about 4% to nearer 7% increasing to 12% in places. We were both using the Cyclo bike computer which gives altitude and gradient in addition to the usual read-outs.
As we climbed the peaks rising above us became higher with jagged edges to the granite rock outlined against the crystal clear blue sky.
We had carried lunch with us and stopped at the road side under a by now infrequent patch of shade. We continued to climb leaving behind us the last town. As the heat rose in the afternoon a welcome sight was a small cafe at the roadside selling cold drinks. Shortly after this there came into our sight a shear rock wall with a multitude of hairpin bends carrying the road up to the top. We climbed the hairpins alongside buses and lorries which were straining their engines with the gradient. As we climbed higher we could look down on the hairpin bends closely packed below us. For this rock wall there were 19 numbered hairpin bends. After a short plateau another rock wall rose above us with more hairpin bends.
Eventually we reached the town of Portillo which is a ski resort and has a beautiful view of an azure blue lake surrounded by snow capped granite peaks. The border control between Chile and Argentina was located soon after the town and we ended our climb there. We started from a height of 2700 feet and reached a height of 9380 feet at the Border Control.
We rode back down enjoying the hairpin bends and overtaking some lorries as we did so. The temperature at the top at 5.30 pm was still as high as 20C. As we rode down the heat built up more and more as we came into the valley. We got back to base at 8.30pm to complete an 80 mile ride with 7090 feet of climbing.
Peter had completed about half the distance turning back soon after the town of Rio Blanco. Peter managed to find the hotel and was back at 7.30 and asleep when the leaders arrived.
Monday 10th January
Today was a wind-down day with a 17 mile ride on local roads in the valley. We visited a nearby Sanctuary and had our elevenses stop there with deliciously cold ice creams.
After lunch in Los Andes we and the bikes were collected by the pre-arranged mini bus to take us back to Santiago.
Because my mobile device will not work on the frequences in Chile, pictures will be added when we reach New Zealand.