Aconcagua is a big mountain. You probably knew that already, but it is really big. There are so many factors that will impact our success out there — weather – wind, snow, temperatures; timing; our fitness levels; but most importantly – how we acclimate to the altitude.
In preparation for that, we headed to Cerro Plata for 5 days — a chance to get out, test our gear and try to acclimate to higher altitudes a little. We did not have grand aspirations for our adventure, which was good because it kept us realistic.
In order to get to the trail head, a bus dropped us off on the side of the road and we read that we had 12K to climb up the road to reach the trail head.
We walked for quite a ways, trying to hitchhike, until we got picked up and carried part of the way up the road as it switchbacked up into the mountains. We then got directions from a man out taking his dog and cat for a walk and eventually made it to a campsite for the night — glad for the rest. It seemed like a long day since we had left Mendoza that morning!
From that camp, we pushed on and hiked up to Salto de Aqua, a campsite at 4200m. It was a big jump in altitute for us, but we wanted to maximize our time up high. In getting there, we hiked along a glacial moraine and left the greenery below. People use this camp to climb to Cerro Plata or Cerro Vallecitos, both over 5500m. But, it turns out that you should not climb to 4200m (close to 14000 ft.) in two days. Mike and I suffered from headaches, we all suffered from insomnia. Fortunately, we all still had an appetitie. But, it pretty much ruled out any desire to summit Cerro Plata (which wasn’t our goal, really).
Instead, we got to test out our gear, test out some food (we discovered some meals we like and want to repeat and many meals that we know we will not bring on Aconcagua) and work together as a team. We also did some day hikes, up to our team high-point of 4750.
We are hoping the 3 nights spent at 4200m will help us on Aconcaagua.
On our way down, we hiked from the high camp down to the road (which took us two days to do on the way up). We were really hoping we could hitch our way down, seeing as road hiking is so much fun. However, the hitch-hiking gods were not on our side as only one car passed us for about an hour and a half as we made our way down the switch-backs. At that point, i had drifted behind the other two, complaining to myself about the sun, my sore knees and ankles, the heat, the weight of my pack. And then, a car! Perhaps he thought it was just me, but regardless, the three of us and our monster packs piled into his small car and we got a quick ride down to the end of the road. What took us 15 minutes in a car would have easily taken us a 2 hours. I was so super thankful to get the ride!
Once we got down, we had about 5 hours until our bus back to Mendoza, so we decided to hitch up to the nearest town, Las Vegas (where we could catch the bus). Fortunately for us, this road had lots of cars on it and we were quickly picked up by a woman. Once again a small car, monster packs. On the way up to Las Vegas, we told her about our trek and about catching the bus. She insisted that we come to her house (right near the bus stand) for lunch before our bus ride. So, of course we accepted and spent the afternoon talking about Argentina, travel, and politics. Plus eating a great meal! Gladys and her husband Alberto were kind and welcoming – even inviting us to stay with them when we get back to Mendoza after our climb! It was great to get a glimpse of ‘real’ Argentina through their eyes. Plus, their generosity was fantastic! What a fun surprise to our day.
Now, we are back in Mendoza — excited to sleep (because we are below a 1000m, meaning we will not have altitude-induced insomnia) and ready to take care of everything before we leave for Aconcagua on Wednesday.