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Alta Catamarca, Argentina: Index of the area

 

FIAMBALÁ

 

This is the last village we will find before entering the "cordillera". It has 5500 inhabitants and is 18 km long, as most of the houses are alongside a single main road. Although it is small, we can find: 2 cybercafés; 2 efficient and cheap communication centres for talking by telephone; several shops for buying fruit-meat-vegetables-bread; good wine from the area... and a supermarket (alkaline batteries, drinks and many basic products); pharmacy; laundrette; petrol station, although the petrol in Tinogasta is better quality; there is no shop with mountain material, and if we need anything we will have to ask the local guides to see if by chance they have the material we need (it is best to bring everything from home); for eating, the best place is undoubtedly the restaurant Roma, very close to the "Plaza de armas"; in the Municipal Hostel, and we can sleep in a simple but decent place (better on the second floor), and they also make good, cheap meals; it is worth spending a day relaxing in the spas (15 km away), and best in the evening, as the water is very hot and during the day it is very hot, there is also a chance of preparing grilled meat with barbecue coal, and also sleeping or camping; it is also worth visiting the "Museo del hombre", where there are mummies on display over 500 years old, which were found in Loro Huasi, a nearby village, and archaeological items of the aborigines who lived in the area; we are also very close to the Tatón dunes, which are amongst the largest in the world; in the village there is activity in the mornings until 12 o'clock, and after this time it becomes a bit of a ghost town, for until 7 in the evening, when the shops open again, people do not move from their houses, and at night there is a good atmosphere around the village square.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Fiambalá Square, around which the village life revolves

 

 

REFUGES

 

Despite its highly remote location, the area has many places to spend the night alongside the main road from Fiambalá to Paso San Francisco (which is in a very good state). I will explain a few options for sleeping under cover for you to be able to plan your acclimatisation correctly.  Apart from these places, if you simply want to camp the area is very flat, and the only thing you will have to remember is to have the river nearby to be able to get water.  This river, from the area of Chaschuil to the former Cortaderas customs post will lie to the east, and from Cortaderas to Cerro Morocho (where it disappears), it will lie to the west.

LAS GRUTAS REFUGE                                                         FREE REFUGES ALONGSIDE THE ROAD

FORMER CORTADERAS CUSTOMS                                            PASTOS LARGOS ADOBE REFUGE

 

LAS GRUTAS REFUGE OR LA GRUTA CAMP 4030m

 

An excellent base for a acclimatising in the area.  It is a "road" refuge that is used for maintaining the roads, but they give over part of the facilities to expeditions coming to the area at a very small price.  It does not have any services, but 12 people can sleep there comfortably in bunks, and more people can sleep on the floor.  There are toilets, a fire on the ground, the chance to have a shower and a room with tables and satellite television if you are friendly with the keepers (as these facilities are exclusively for them). There is water, electricity during the day (not at night), and the possibility of taking on fuel (naphtha) for approaches by car. If you treat them well, the keepers are very pleasant, although you must remember that their job is on the roads, and they are not high mountain refuge keepers. Very friendly people, doing shifts of 10 days in groups of two people.

We have many ascents close to Las Grutas which we have explained in this web. The Paso de San Francisco is 20 km away by road in a good state. You must remember that although it is 20 km from the border with Chile, 100 metres before you reach Las Grutas there is a "gendarmería nacional" (on the actual frontier, living conditions would be very hard), where we will have to have all of our papers in order and present them to the police; it is open until 7 in the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Las Grutas

3 Lounge Diner with TV (for the ‘road’ staff)

4 Wash basins and showers

5 Bedroom

 

Just 1.8 km away by track in an excellent state (20 minutes on foot), there are a hot water springs (spas), where hot water comes out that is perfect for getting our strength back after the climbs.  There is a small facility for us to shelter from the wind (very habitual in the area).

If we want to cross to Chile, we will necessarily have to go down to the Maricunga customs point, 95 km from the Paso de San Francisco, to complete the form for entering Chile.  Without this, we might have problems.

We advise spending at least two or three nights between 3000-3400m before reaching Las Grutas, as the altitude is very noticeable if we get there without previous acclimatisation.

 

 

 

 

 

6 Distant view of Las Grutas

7 Walking to the spas

8 Laguna San Francisco spas, exterior

9 Hot water springs, interior

 

FREE REFUGES ALONGSIDE THE ROAD

 

There are 5 or 6, all with the same format. These are a series of small refuges which are all being built with the same structure for cases of emergency.  They are alongside the road and should all have emergency radios (although they have been stolen from some of them).

They have a fireplace without wood (this must be taken, there are very low plants which have very thick roots pinned to the volcanic ground around Las Grutas or Laguna San Francisco). There are some 5-6 places on the ground, and they are well insulated.

Paso de San Francisco free refuge 4750m 
Las Lozas free refuge 3900m
There are others further down at lower altitudes (under construction)

 

 

 

 

 

10 Refuge alongside Paso de San Francisco

 

11 Las Lozas refuge

 

 

FORMER CORTADERAS CUSTOMS

 

At 3400m, this is a relatively new customs point no longer used, and now it is like a cemetery of wooden huts.  The construction failed to withstand the hard conditions in the area and the wind finally pulled up virtually everything.  However, there are two or three places which can be used and adapted to our tastes; there is a small reservoir nearby and a little bridge which connects to the main road.  It is very visible from the road, and is to the left as you climb.

 

 

 

 

 

12 Cortaderas area

 

 

 

 

PASTOS LARGOS ADOBE REFUGE

 

At 3250m. This is an earth house with three or four bedrooms, one for sleeping on the ground and the others fairly precarious without windows or doors, and there is a toilet in an underground hole in one room, separated from the others.  A lot of dust in the atmosphere, water very nearby in the passing river.  We can use the surrounding area to make our first high climbs.  This refuge is not very visible from the road, and we must be watchful when we reach 3100-3200m, and turn off when we reach a place where we have a dirt track on either side of the road.  The one on the left is for getting to the Pissis base camp (by entering Coipas), and half a kilometre along the one on the right, we come to the Pastos Largos refuge.

 

 

 

 

 

13 Pastos Largos

 

 

 

 

 

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