Just north of Mendoza City, some 12 km in Las Heras, and tucked into the folds of thepre-cordillera,tiny lights blink atop a very tall hill, Cerro Arcos. This tall hill is a mini Mecca for Mendoza’s adventuresome types, looking to stretch their muscles outside the crowded streets of downtown. Thanks to its height and location, Cerro Arco is covered in radio antennae, blinking lights that sing like sirens to ascending hikers: keep breathing, you’re nearly there.
After parking the car in the lot at the foot of the hill and reapplying a quick layer of sunscreen, we began the pilgrimage up the small mountain. The dirt/ gravel path that takes us upwards is in good condition, and occasionally populated with a few runners and mountain bikers, but mostly other hikers and families that trod slowly along. Not 10 minutes into the hike, I was grateful we’d gotten an early start, already at 10 AM the sun was making her presence known, warming my face and neck as the slope tipped steadily upward. [caption id="attachment_9238" align="aligncenter" width="378"] Fellow hikers starting out at the base of the foothills.[/caption] Switchbacks, orCaracoles, are the only feasible way to traverse the Andes – whether in car or on foot – even though the back and forth swing of the path as it zigs left and zags right feels like slow going. After a few long, thigh-burning steep inclines, Cerro Arco is only a few minutes away. An hour and a half later, we’d arrived at the summit.
Views from the top ofEl Arco,as it’s sometimes called, are quite spectacular, and give an idea as to just how far Mendoza stretches across the flat dessert. Downtown Mendoza has only a handful of almost-skyscrapers, and wide sidewalks with streets canopied by large trees, it never exactly feels like a big city – certainly not with Buenos Aires setting the standard for what that actually means. Mendoza’s population and new construction expand horizontally, rather than vertically, maintaining the small-town feel that people find so endearing. But a quick jaunt up Cerro Arco, and all is revealed. Buildings and lights stretch for what appear to be miles and miles on end, entirely filling in the desert basin that nudges up to thecordillera(mountain range). On most days, paragliders can be seen preparing their gear and using the top of Cerro Arco as a runway for their bird-like flight down the hill. The neon colors of their parachutes and the blinking lights of the radio tower, kept me looking upwards as I scaled the rocky path that cut through the side of the tall hill.
By the time we had emptied our water bottles, snapped a few pictures and readjusted our hiking boots, it was time for us to head back down. Like most climbers know, the descent takes a fraction of the time – but can feel awkward on the buddy as your knees jam with every step and toes scrunch close to the tip of your boot. That’s why we found it’s best to take it at a run. A frantic little jog that must look rather ridiculous to the panting hikers we passed along the way. A little less than an hour of this hopping, jogging, skipping routine down the zigs and zags of the mountain path, and we were back at the car – leg muscles burning with exertion, droplets of sweat drying on the backs of our necks, thirsty and smiling as we watched the last of Cerro Arco’s blinking lights disappear into the distance. ____________________________________________________________________________________ Madeline Blasberg is a travel journalist who scales mountains in purple(ish) hiking boots and believes that a hike up a moutain of any size should be rewarded with chilled glass of white wine.