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Exploring South American Rock Trails - Journey Through The Andes

Posted in Events on March 23, 2015
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Photographers: Luz Fluxa

Sebastian Varas is a South American 4-wheeler from Chile, where he has a really cool Willys Jeep. You may recall this Jeep from the recent story "The Past Spawns Modern Jeeps" (Sept. '14). He was also on Ultimate Adventure 2012 (Nov. and Dec. '12). In 2013, former editor Rick Pewe traveled to Chili and went with Varas on a "Twisted Andes Adventure" (Mar. '14). Varas recently went on another wheeling trip in Argentina, and we figured his recap would be a perfect addition to our Off-road Trips issue. —Ed.

Back in 2013 we made a 1,500-miles trip with then editor Rick Pewe through the best trails of Chile. This time the adventure took us to Argentina, where a 4x4 club from Villa Carlos Paz invited us to wheel for two days.

To get from Chile to Argentina, you need cross the Andes Mountains. The drive takes about four hours, and you climb to more than 11,500 feet of elevation. The highway is single-lane, with amazing views of multiple canyons and snow-covered peaks. Once we got to Carlos Paz, a heavy rain and thunderstorm gave us the welcome. From the town to the starting point of the trail, we had to drive another 60 miles of dirt roads. The rain turned the road into a mess, leaving our Jeep covered with mud and wet thanks to a leaky soft top.

But this was just the beginning of our trip. Finally we were there, ready to explore the best rock trails you can find in South America.

Chile and Argentina are separated by the Andes. When crossing the border through the Los Libertadores pass, you can see the highest mountain in the Americas (North, Central, and South), Mount Aconcagua, which reaches 22,897 feet.

The scenery of the area is beautiful. There are a lot of waterfalls and creeks. In summertime, locals go there for camping and swimming on the multiple ponds you can find.

Our trail leader was Martin Airola. His fiber-body CJ-5 is not what you would call common. Under the hood sits a 2.1 turbodiesel Renault engine that delivered the perfect torque for the little Jeep. Open Dana 44 front and rear and only 30-inch tires are no problem to lead the pack when you know the terrain and how to drive!

Jose Roganti's '94 Isuzu pickup was a mix of parts from different brands. The stock 2.8 turbodiesel engine was mated to an AX15 tranny. Power then goes thru a Toyota reduction box and ends in the Isuzu transfer case. Locked 8-inch Toyota axles and 35-inch tires made short work on all climbs.

Cherokees were made in Argentina for a long time (until they closed the factory in 2001). Tony Esteban's rig was pretty much stock on the drivetrain, but he swapped in a locked Pajero rearend instead of the Dana 35. Up front, a locked D30 made the job with no problem under a cautious right foot. Six inches of lift and 35-inch rubber complete the package.

Except for a trick rear suspension and lockers, Carlos Veiga's Mitsubishi Montero (Pajero) was pretty much stock. Some fender trimming allowed him to fit 35-inch MT tires.

The big rain from the night before turned grass spots into traps. Driving over, you could actually see the surface moving. A little wheelspin and you would be buried to the frame. Martin's skinny tires did not help with flotation. After a few strap pulls he was back in the game.

Another oil burner. This XJ was originally manufactured for the French Police. For some reason, the 50 units made ended up in Argentina. No news on the drivetrain, except for a factory 2.1 Renault turbodiesel engine.

Finally the MB was put on duty in a real rock trail. It was nice to have the reduction of the Atlas four-peed transfer case. It made crawling a walk in the park.

Sierras de Cordoba is a mountain range in central Argentina. It reaches elevations of 9,500 feet and is older than the Andes. Every year WRC (World Rally Car) comes here to hold one of the main races on its calendar.

The area where we wheeled is called Los Gigantes, at Sierras de Cordoba. There are no limits to exploring this rock heaven. You can pick any line you want depending on how capable your rig is. At this spot, called the "V," if you go too far right or left, body carnage is guaranteed.

Pablo Di Marco was driving his '98 TJ. The cool factor was that the 4.0L was converted to work on CNG (compressed natural gas). Good articulation and electric lockers helped him travel thru the rocks like a champ.

The whole group after two days of excellent wheeling and Argentinean asados (barbecues). Even though the rigs were different in terms of equipment, we had no problem maintaining a good pace. We look forward to going back next year.

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