Its inner fire died long ago, but the ice-clad volcanic summit of Tronador still merits its name (the “Thunderer”) when frozen blocks plunge off its face into the valley below. The peak that surveyor Bailey Willis called “majestic in savage ruggedness” has impressed everyone from Jesuit explorer Miguel de Olivares to Perito Moreno, Theodore Roosevelt, and the hordes that view it every summer. Its ascent, though, is for skilled snow-and-ice climbers only.
Source of the Río Manso, Tronador’s icy eastern face gives birth to the Ventisquero Negro (Black Glacier), a jumble of ice, sand, and rocky detritus, and countless waterfalls. Passing Pampa Linda, at the end of the Lago Mascardi road, whistle-blowing rangers prevent hikers from approaching too closely to the Garganta del Diablo, the area’s largest accessible waterfall.
From Pampa Linda, hikers can visit the Club Andino’s basic Refugio Viejo Tronador, a kiln-shaped structure that sleeps a maximum of 10 climbers in bivouac conditions, via a trail on the road’s south side. On the north side, another trail leads to the 60-bed Refugio Meiling, 2,000 meters above sea level.
Well-equipped backpackers can continue north to Laguna Frías via the 1,335-meter Paso de las Nubes and return to Bariloche on the bus-boat shuttle via Puerto Blest and Puerto Pañuelo; it’s also possible to do this route from Bariloche or Puerto Pañuelo.
Getting to Monte Tronador
Reaching the Tronador area requires a roundabout drive via southbound RN 258 to Lago Mascardi’s south end, where westbound RP 81 follows the Río Manso’s south bank; at Km 9, a northbound lateral crosses the river and becomes a single-lane dirt road to Pampa Linda and Tronador’s base.
Because it’s narrow, morning traffic is one-way inbound (until 2 p.m.) and afternoon traffic outbound (after 4 p.m.). At other hours, it’s open to cautious two-way traffic. From mid-November, Active Patagonia (tel. 02944/52-7966, www.activepatagonia.com.ar) provides transportation from the Club Andino’s Bariloche headquarters to Pampa Linda at 9 a.m. daily, returning at 5 p.m. (2 hours, US$20 round-trip).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition