Salar de Pocitos – Salar del Hombre Muerto – Abra Falda Cienaga – Antofagasta de la Sierra – El Peñon – El Eje
This cycle takes you through Argentina’s loneliest town, Antofagasta de la Sierra, which lies on the Puna with no villages for 230kms to the north and only little El Peñon for company in the 150kms to the south. The main difficulties cycling this route are the frequently bad state of the road on the 95km stretch between the Salar del Hombre Muerto and Antofagasta, and the lack of water north of Antofagasta.
We carried 15 litres of water per person from Pocitos and this was easily enough for the 3 days it took to get to Antofagasta. There is a mine on the south side of Salar del Hombre Muerto which is only a couple of kilometres off the road and if you wanted to carry less water you could detour here (which is half way time-wise from Pocitos to Antofagasta) to get some from the miners. South of Antofagasta water is less of a problem as you can find it at El Peñon and from there it is under 100kms to the first settlement in the valley that leads to El Eje.
Near El Peñon it is possible to turn east off the road to climb Cerro Laguna Blanca – at 6,012m the second lowest 6,000er in the Andes.
|Total dist.||Stage dist.||Description|
|0km||Salar de Pocitos (3,700m). Small settlement with basic shops, restaurant but no accommodation.|
|91.0km||Head east from town and in 2.9kms go R at a junction (signposted Catamarca). The road is initially by the Salar de Pocitos, with only gentle climbs. Saw nothing at Agua Amarga (marked on ACA map). 48.3kms from the junction the road is by a stream (not sure if it’s drinkable) in a green valley. 5.8kms later you pass Los Colorados (road workers’ houses about 0.5kms off road to west – in an emergency it may be possible to get water but don’t rely on it). 19kms from Los Colorados arrive at the turn-off to Tolar Chico (off the road to the R – didn’t look inhabited). 15kms later is the junction to Mina Tincalayu. As far as here the surface was mostly good.|
|91.0km||Turn-off to Mina Tincalayu (3,970m). The mine is off left. Stay straight on the main road.|
|44.1km||Climb 14.8km to a high point (4,200m) then descend 8.7kms to a police post (may occasionally be occupied) on the north shore of Salar del Hombre Muerto. . Enter the Salar, then in 2.2kms get to a junction. The main road (with a gate) goes L/straight to the FMC Minera Altiplano, while a small track goes off to the R. (We went towards the mine, but if you go R this is the shortest route to Antofagasta, avoiding a 15km detour. The surface may well be terrible, however). Continuing on the main road it is 18.4kms across the Salar to a junction (straight to the mine – about 1-2kms away, and R to Antofagasta (signposted)). The surface on this 44km section was good.|
|135.1km||Junction on the south shore of the Salar del Hombre Muerto (4,000m). Go R to Antofagasta.|
|35.8km||Road immediately deteriorates. Skirt the Salar for 9.4kms to La Aguadita school (uninhabited). Climb from here for 0.7kms to a junction (go L, R goes to Mina Incahuasi). Then 0.4kms to another junction (GPS01 – go L) where the short cut from the junction on the Salar del Hombre Muerto rejoins. (Coming from the south there is a signpost here that says R to La Aguadita and San Antonio de los Cobres). 12.3kms from this junction the road splits – go L unless you want to tackle the steep shortcuts. The next 13kms to the pass the surface is just about all bad, and sometimes steep.|
|170.9km||Abra Falda Cienaga (4,442m – GPS02). The highest point on a flat section of road.|
|58.4km||Road undulates for about 15kms. There is a Difunta Correa shrine 12.6kms after the pass, so if you’re desperate for water… 24.1kms from the pass you reach a river (4,150m, not sure if it’s drinkable). 13.7kms from the river you reach a junction (R goes to Nacimientos and Antofalla, stay straight for Antofagasta). 3kms later you get to a few houses at Paycuqui (looked inhabited), and there are houses in the valley from here to Antofagasta. 12kms after Paycuqui, and only 5 kms from Antofagasta, the road becomes a sandy, corrugated mess for a few kilometres.|
|229.3km||Antofagasta de la Sierra (3,400m). A nice little town with accommodation, restaurants, internet, ATM and shops.|
|61.0km||Gentle descent from town. Low point (3,060m) is 46kms from Antofagasta. Gentle 15km climb to El Peñon – tarmac starts 9kms before the village.|
|290.3km||El Peñon (3,400m). Small village with basic shops and accommodation.|
|23.6km||Climb gently from the village. After 8.7kms it is possible to headed east to climb Cerro Laguna Blanca. It is 14.9kms from here to the pass.|
|313.9km||Portezuelo de Pasto Ventura (3,996m – GPS03).|
|81.2km||Descend 8.8kms to a low point (3,770m), then climb again for 9kms to 3,970m. Descend 12.4kms to a place it’s possible to camp (one of the few sheltered spots on this section of road). Descend for 12.4kms to the turn-off to Laguna Blanca village. The road is then flat for 20kms before beginning to descend down a valley. First houses (2,950m) are 27.5kms from Laguna Blanca village turn-off. 2kms later the tarmac ends. 9.1kms of ripio to Barranca Larga.|
|395.1km||Barranca Larga. Small village with accommodation, shops.|
|45.3km||Continue descent. 18.6kms to Villa Vil (larger village with accommodation, internet, shops), then 5.7kms to the start of the tarmac again. From here it’s 13kms to Puerta de Corral Quemado, turn L and it’s a further 8kms to El Eje and Ruta 40.|
|440.4km||El Eje (1,780m). Petrol station and a few houses on Ruta 40.|
|Time taken – 5 days and amount climbed – 3,600m||12 hours: Salar de Pocitos – South side of Salar del Hombre Muerto (1,060m climb).
5 hours: Salar del Hombre Muerto – Abra Falda Cienaga (730m climb, tailwind).
6 hours: Abra Falda Cienaga – Antofagasta (310m climb).
4 hours: Antofagasta – El Peñon (430m climb).
6 hours: El Peñon – Laguna Blanca village turn-off (870m climb, headwind).
5 hours: Laguna Blanca village turn-off – El Eje (200m climb, headwind).
|Traffic||A few trucks an hour from Pocitos to the south side of Salar del Hombre Muerto. Very little from there to Antofagasta. About 10 vehicles a day from there to Villa Vil, then more.|
|When we cycled||Mid December 2010.|
|How much we had to push on this route||2kms (bad surface)|
|GPS01||Junction||25.4512 S, 67.1919 W, 4,080m.|
|GPS02||Abra Falda Cienaga||25.6355 S, 67.2318 W, 4,442m.|
|GPS03||Port. de Pasto Ventura||26.6695 S, 67.2238 W, 3,996m.|
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