Peak: Cerro Aconcagua (22841')
Route: Normal Route
Gear: no technical gear required
After boarding in Mexico City, my plane flew nonstop to Santiago, Chile were I caught a connecting flight to Mendoza. I would have loved to visit Santiago, but there is a $300 entrance fee for Americans, so I opted out. I landed in Mendoza at 8:30 am and proceeded to the hostel I had booked. The taxi driver that picked me up at the airport had no idea where the hostel was, but luckily I knew it was next to the bus terminal so I had him drop me off there. I strolled into the hostel and got my room key. I was so beat from my trip to Mexico and all of the travel, but I wanted to go get my permit situation taken care of. I set off into town looking for the tourist office. It wasn't difficult to find. However, you must pay for the permit at a separate site. Its a pay office, I can't really think of anything similar here in the US. Anyways, it took me a while to find this pay office, and then I had to wait in line for 45 minutes only to find out that they didn't accept credit cards. So then I set off to find an ATM, that took me another 30 or so minutes and by the time I returned to the pay office, there was another line. I finally got my receipt and took it back to the tourist office to receive my permit. Afterward I went back to the hostel and took a nap until Ruben arrived.
Ruben had said that he would land around 5 so around 5:15 pm I went out to the lobby to wait for him, to my surprise he was already there, trying to find where I was. After introductions we went back into our room and grabbed cameras and money for the rest of the day. I was starving and hadn't eaten since the plane so we went and grabbed a bite to eat. I had pizza, which is actually a normal food item in Mendoza, lots of Italian immigrants and descendants. After dinner, I shopped around at a few of the local climbing shops for some warmer gloves, I eventually decided to rent some instead of buy, since I knew nothing about the gear that they were selling. The gloves I chose to rent would end up being a mistake.
|Checking out the gloves at the gear shop- photo:Ruben Karel|
|In the room organizing and copying the weather report- photo:Ruben Karel|
|Bus station in Uspallata, the midway point.|
|Los Andes from the bus ride|
|Inside Grajales- photo:Ruben Karel|
|Lone ski lift and no snow|
After squaring away everything with Grajales, they shuttled us to the trailhead and help get out permits signed by the rangers. It is common practice on Aconcagua to check in with the rangers at every station, but as we would soon find out, they weren't in full swing yet. We set off from the trailhead in the early afternoon. It was already really windy, but even at that altitude, 9500', it was still warm. The hike to Camp Confluencia was easy, 4 miles and about 1500' of total gain with all the ups and downs.
|Ruben at the trailhead|
|Ruben in front of Aconcagua and the Laguna de Horcones|
|High spirits at the start|
|Laguna de Horcones|
|First stream crossing|
|Jagged hills above Confluencia|
|Almost to Camp Confluencia|
|Aconcagua hiding in the clouds|
|My tent at Confluencia|
|Piedra Blanca- looks red to me|
|South summit of Aconcagua, nearly 10000' above|
|Just below Plaza de Mulas|
When I arrived in Plaza de Mulas there didn't appear to be any rangers present so I just skipped checking in and went to find the Grajalas tent area. Somehow I missed the obvious sign and had to go ask another expedition for help. I found what seemed to be a nicely protected tent platform, it wasn't, but at least it was flat. I set up my tent and then everyone else began showing up. The long day with the heavy pack did a number on my back. It hurt so bad I had a hard time breathing. I thought I might need two rest days at base camp to recover.
|Glacier above Plaza de Mulas|
|"There's no-one here"|
The next morning I awoke to more stove problems. It just wouldn't stay lit. It took a good 30 minutes of lighting and re-lighting to finally boil some water for breakfast. I tried to make pancakes again to no avail. "Honestly who brings a griddle on backpacking trips?" I surprisingly felt really good and decided to port some equipment up to Camp Canada. The hike form base camp to Canada is about 2000' gain over a very short distance, on some really loose, nightmare scree. It felt really tough hiking to Canada, but I was still far under the suggested 4 hour climb time.
|On the way to Camp Canada looking down at Plaza de Mulas|
That day still feeling great, I decided to port more equipment higher, to camp Nido de Condores. The trail from Canada to Nido was even more loose than the trail from base to Canada. And when I say trail, I really just mean a slightly worn path on a loose hillside, with no real directionality or logical purpose. I ended up just walking straight up the mountain in many spots. As I was hiking the weather started moving in. By the time I reached about 2/3 of the way to Nido, I was in and out of complete white outs. I decided that rather than get stranded and lost by going further, I just cached my things at Ex-camp Alaska and headed down. On my way down I ran into John, I told him where I had stashed my things and thought he would do the same. I got back down to Canada and escaped the blizzard in my tent. I read my book. Heather asked about John and I had told her that I thought he was just going to cache his stuff near mine and then come down, but it had been an hour or two and we couldn't see him. I kept an eye out for him and finally he appeared through the white mess. Turns out he made it all the way to Nido. Strong dude. The storm finally cleared around 6 pm. Ruben had come up and set up his things in the middle of it. We were all greeted with a spectacular sunset and amazing views.
|Ruben and some Czech climbers|
|Aconcagua making an appearance|
|Don't know the name of this peak, but I found myself taking a lot of pictures of it.|
|John at Canada- sorry for the blurryness|
|The maze of paths to Nido|
The next morning however I learned that John had gone down. He woke in a similar panic to me and he was very sick. He did the right thing not continuing on. Heather decided to stick with me and Ruben. Heather, Ruben, and I discussed plans and logistics for the last camp and summit day. We had heard that there was a usable hut at Camp Berlin and we didn't want to deal with tents if we didn't have to, especially now that there were three of us. Heather and I decided to scout Camp Berlin for the hut, and take a small amount of food and gear up. Ruben stayed behind. He had cleared out the unoccupied rangers hut in Nido and slept in it the night before. I had him use my stove to make everyones water for the day since everyone had been making me water. It worked well in the little hut. Heather and I made it to Camp Berlin at 19500' in a short time. We caught up to two Czech climbers, they too were planning on staying in the hut, but the night before us. The hut was full of snow. Luckily there was a shovel. The Czechs and I took turns shoveling out the hut, no easy task at 6000 meters. It was dirty, but livable and would be much better than a tent. Heather and I left the Czechs and went back down to Nido. We spent the rest of the day hydrating and hanging out in the rangers hut.
|Heather on the way to Camp Berlin|
|Cerro Mercedario from Camp Berlin|
|We went the wrong way|
|The Summit from Berlin|
|Windy summit from Nido|
|Hanging out at the ranger hut-photo: Ruben Karel|
|Lunch time-photo: Ruben Karel|
|One of my favorites-photo: Ruben Karel|
|Camp Berlin 19500'|
|Camp Nido from Berlin|
It was unbelievably cold in the hut that night. I didn't check the thermometer, but I'm going to guess it was near -10. We woke around 6 am. Usually people start at 4, but we were fast and strong, and we wanted to wait for the sun to rise a bit more to warm everything up. We set off at 7. It was frigid. I wasn't wearing anything very warm. A few layers, but my plan was to go as light and as fast as possible. And I was fast. I had to leave Ruben and Heather, to maintain my pace and my warmth, but it wasn't long until my toes were totally frozen. I made the mistake of not starting with warm feet. Boots are insulators, they insulate cold feet and hot feet all the same. around 20000' I finally crested a ridge into the sun and I decided I wouldn't go any higher until my toes warmed up. I paced back and forth in the sun, scrunching my toes to try and boost circulation. Finally after about half and hour they were warm again, and Ruben had caught up. He told me that Heather had to turn around early cause she wasn't feeling right. We continued up together to Independencia hut at 21000'. I made the mistake of waiting there for Ruben, it chilled my body again and even though I warmed back up a bit, it was pretty much all over once we crested back over the ridge. The dark side of the mountain was much colder and directly in the wind. Ruben later checked the weather for that day and it said there was a wind chill of -40. We continued up the long slog called the Traverse toward a gully called the Canaleta.
|View from the Canaleta courtesy of Ruben|
|Ruben on the summit. Congrats man.|
|Busier base camp|
|Ruben snacking on an unfortunate mule|
|Last look toward base camp|
|I think this river comes from Willy Wonka's Factory|
|Cool sedimentary layers|
|This valley was filled with Amazing colors|
|Ruben last shot with the mountain. He was up there the day before.|
|Best shot I could get of Ruben with his Polish flag|
Ruben and I went back to Los Penitentes and met up with Heather. We had to spend the night there because the mules wouldn't be bringing our things down till tomorrow. That was fine with me. the last thing I wanted to do was travel. The hostel was nice. The food was better. And we ate a lot of it. And best of all there was BEER.
|In the market-photo:Ruben Karel|
After the cemetery I had my first hitchhiking experience. We all hopped into this old 1960's Ford pickup. The driver was very nice, and we conversed with him as best we could in our broken spanish. He dropped us off at the hostel and we ate lunch. Ruben and I decided that we would grab our gear and head out that night on the 8 oclock bus. Heather was going to stay a few more days and wait for her boyfriend who had been climbing on the other side of the mountain. We said our goodbyes and waited for the bus.
Once back in Mendoza, Ruben and I got our fill of Argentinian steak, wine and beer, and the trip was over. I caught one last glimpse of Aconcagua from the plane. Not sure if ill be going back, but if I do, it will definitely be to climb a more substantial route, with warmer gloves obviously.
Total Elevation Gain over entire trip to Mexico and Argentina: 25300'