Tag Archives: Aconcagua

Trip Report

18 Feb

We choose to go in the Vacas Valley Route as this is less populated and would allow us to get a full view of the mountain as we would essential come in from the south, travel up the west side and then down the NE side (which is the normal route).  About 75% of the people go up the normal route, so we expected it to be less crowded.  Another difference between th Vacas Valley and the Horcones Valley (normal route) is that the approach is longer on the Vacas Valley side — it takes 3 days to get to base camp (versus two).

Vacas valley

The walk in was up the valley, through the grasslands along a stream/river.  It was quite hot during the day, but much cooler at night and at times we got a sense of how fierce the winds would be and we learned early to stake down our tents well.

Each day, we would pack up our two duffles (each weighing about 30 kilos) with food and some hard gear (double plastic boots, ice axes, crampons) and leave them for the muleteer, who would then strap them to the mules and take off.  The muleteers camped where we did, so we could count on getting into our food bags each day.

Eventually, we reached base camp.  Now….  imagine the pictures you have seen of mountain base camps – yep, looks the same.  Some structures that are there all season long and then all the hopeful climbers and their tents.  Base camp seems exciting — but really it is boring as hell.  You are sitting around waiting to climb.  We got there fairly early on the 3rd day (keeping true to my desire to hike early in the morning before it gets too hot!), had a rest day the next day, then a carry day and then a rest day.  So – we got there on the 3rd day and we would not be leaving again, really, until 8th day.  Yep, that’s a long time.

our first view of the mountain

There are 4 types of days in mountaineering.  Here are my definitions:

  1.  Carry days — you take as much stuff as you can – that you don’t need – and bring it up to your next camp.  You have to be strategic though in case someone gets hurt or sick or weather comes in.  For instance, you cannot bring up your tent, as you still need it down low.  These days can be tough as you are still acclimating to the new elevation.  But they also involved staying up the new elevation for a few hours (which for me, almost always involved a nap up high in the sun).
  2. Move days — the days you take all the rest of your stuff up to the next camp.  These are usually permanent moves, such as from base camp to camp 1.  Usually pretty exciting and usually faster than the carry day.
  3. Rest days — these are the most boring days in the world.  you do….. literally…. nothing.  I napped a whole lot on this expedition — like almost every day.  But rest days, I pretty much spend the entire day in the tent, trying to nap, trying to stay out of the sun but getting way too hot in the tent.  They would have been great days for a book….  if i had brought one….
  4. Summit days — these are the days you get up at some ungodly hour, like 2 in the morning, freezing, trying to boil water and keep yourself warm and then start walking slowly uphill for something like 7 hours.  All for a summit.  And then come back downhill for a few hours before passing out.

In any case, basecamp for us was a mix of rest days and carrys.  It was good to get our systems figured out and eat, drink and acclimate.  Here was where it was clear the difference between the classes.  There were some people like us – going independently, without a guide.  we were the ones with the big duffles, with bags that always looked full and did not have the most amazing meals on the mountain (tuna in a box, anyone?).

And then there were the guided groups.  They were the ones who had people cook for them, went into the tents for dinner, had hot water delivered to their tents, and did not have to carry quite as much stuff up the mountain.

In any case, eventually it was time to move up to camp one.  We were all mostly feeling well (Mike had some digestive stuff going on — though the tuna in the box seemed to be the culprit — it was pretty gross), so up we went from 4200m up to 5000m.  All along, the weather was gorgeous — blue, clear skies every day.  Not a cloud in sight and barely any wind.

on the way up to camp 1

Camp 1 definitely had a different feel — no services, people in transit or resting, no more real differences between people (unless your guide brought you hot water in the tent in the morning — but we tried to ignore that!  :).  Things just felt a bit more exciting.

After arriving at camp 1 – we had a carry day and then a move day.  Camp 2 wasn’t too far — just another 450m (though of course 5450m is about 18,000 feet).  Both our carry and moves went well – and we had amazing views of the mountain along the way.  We also started our traverse from the west side of the mountain across to the north side where we would join up with the normal route.  We also had some amazing views of the Polish Glacier which is suppose to be a pretty gnarly route up the mountain.

camp 1

So – there we were at camp 2.  We meet a guy, Grey, who was the only American in a group of Swiss.  We spoke a bunch (we think he was lonely for english speakers!) and he let us borrow his sat phone (which I used to call Cody).  We also asked him for weather information – as we figured the beautiful weather was not there to stay for long.

We carried up to camp 3, our high camp at 6000m (~20,000 feet) which went well for the most part.  I was climbing really strong — made it from 5450 to 6000 in under 2.5 hours.  Beth and Michael who had never been to such high elevations were struggling a bit more – plus Beth was coming down with a cold.

And then….  decision time.  Basically, several groups decided to head up a day early (on the 12th) to try and summit on the 13th (even though the original plan was for the 14th like us).  It was rumored that the weather on the 13th was going to be the best for awhile — clear skies and low winds.  Our team discussed this and at first decided to go for it (which would mean missing a rest day at camp 2 and moving straight up to camp 3 the day after our carry day), but eventually it was decided that a rest day would be important to help Beth and Michael acclimate a bit better – so we stayed (along with just one other group).

winds starting to come in

The day everyone (else) moved up was cold, windy, and snowy.  A few groups carried up to camp 2 and one solo person moved up to our camp – so now there were 3 parties in camp 2.  That night, while we were cooking dinner — the 3rd solo party came over to ask for help with his stove which he could not get going.  We let him use our stove that night and then next morning and we got to hear his story.

Turns out that Alberto (aka ‘the machine’) had come up to camp 2 from base camp.  He is an Italian mountain guide — works in the Dolomites and Chamonix primarily.  But, we called him the machine because four days after arriving in Argentina he was in camp 2 and on the 5th day he moved up to camp 3.  Yep — that is pretty much no time for acclimating.  In any case, Alberto pretty much adopted us and was with us for the rest of his time in Argentina.

But — back to the weather and camp 2.  As I mentioned, we decided not to head up on the 12th to take advantage of the weather on the 13th.  We had heard one report that said that the 14th would be clear (though all the other reports we heard said it would be windy).  Unfortunately, the morning of the 13th, when we woke, it was clear with very low winds — which would have made for a great summit day.

Andes

In fact, when we arrived at the high camp later that day – we saw two Germans who had started the same day we had (but moved up their summit day to take advantage of the weather).  They had just returned from the summit and gave us glowing reports of low winds and amazing views.  We hoped our chance was next…..

On the evening of the 13th, we heard weather reports of clear mornings but high winds.  But — it seemed to be our only chance.  We could tell that our bodies were not doing well the longer we stayed at the high elevations (it is reported that the human body starts to deteriorate above 5000m).  For instance, the 2 hours and 20 minutes it took me to climb the 450m up to high camp?  The second time we did it for the move — it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes.  The goal was to get faster, not slower…..

But — it was go time.

Beth and I woke up at 3 (Mike had opted not to join us as he was still struggling with the elevation) and we got dressed.  Mike, amazingly, woke and helped us get hot water so we could hydrate and have something warm to drink.  The icy winds were rattling the tent every couple of minutes and I was already shivering.  We spent quite a bit of time looking for others who were awake (where the winds too high?  we weren’t sure — but eventually we saw other headlamps).

Finally, just before 5, Beth and I started up the mountain.  Alberto joined us for a bit – but not surprising, the elevation  was affecting him and he had to head down.  We were climbing strong and quickly caught up with a group in front of us.  Within two hours we had climbed about 300m (your goal is to be traveling at least 80-100m per hour — so we were doing really well).  But the winds….  the winds were fierce and biting and sometimes almost knocked us off our feet.  Our faces were at risk of freezing.  My toes and fingers were cold (and I was wearing 6 layers on top – but had my big puffy in my bag as a backup).  At times, we could see the wind heading our way (as it picked up snow) and we would lower our heads, prepared for the onslaught, but still almost got knocked over.  It was rough.

Beth and I just below 6400m when we turned around (notice frost on jackets)

Though we were the first to turn around, many others came down later that morning. though the sun was coming up, we knew that the winds were suppose to get even worse later in the day.  It took us about an hour or so in our bags to warm up.  The rest of the day was spent in tents, staying warm and eating food.  Alberto decided to try for the next day (he was ultimately successful) but at that point we had been above 5000 for about 5 or 6 days — our bodies were tired.

And so, on day 14 of being on the mountain (on Feb. 15th) we headed down the mountain.  It was a long scree field — but with plastic boots on I could make it down in about 3 hours.  We went from 6000m down to base camp at 4300m.  It was strange to head down to so many people (on the normal route — which I would never recommend) but our trip was over.  The following day, we hiked the 7 hours (16 miles) out to the road and then caught a bus back to Mendoza.

our team with the machine

update

17 Feb

we are back.

all are safe and well.

no summit.

trip report soon.

Mule? Check. Permit? Check. Food? Check.

1 Feb

The last two days have been full of running around the city, gathering supplies, buying a shitload of food and spending an even bigger shitload of money.

lots and lots of food

Permit?  $550/person

Food?  ~$500 (maybe?  haven’t totalled yet)/group

Mule?  $360/for one

Bus ?  $53/person

And of course there is fuel and backpack repairs and water bottles and whatever else we have gathered the last few days.  Yesterday we traveled to a huge grocery store and got the bulk of our supplies.  Today was spent getting odds and ends and packing up all said food.  At this point, we are just about done…. which I have to say, I am SO thankful for.  If you have ever done food packout for more than a few days, you know how annoying it can be!

prepping

So…. we off tomorrow….  we will catch a bus to a camp that is run by the company we purchased our mule support from.  There we will get bags ready for the mule and spend one last night organizing.  And then on the 2nd, we will depart for base camp — eat and sleep and acclimate.

snacks piles for us each

Here is our itin for you nerds out there who are interested in this stuff (starting on Feb. 1)

  1. Bus ride at 3:30; Camp at Los Puquios
  2. Start up Vacas Valley, camp at Pampade Lenas (2800m)
  3. Camp at Casa de Piedra (3200m)
  4. Plaza Argentina (4200m)
  5. Rest day
  6. Carry up to Camp 1 (5000m); stay at Plaza Argentina
  7. Rest at Plaza Argentina
  8. Travel up to Camp 1 to stay (5000m)
  9. Rest day
  10. Carry to Camp 2 (5850m); stay at Camp 1
  11. Go to Camp 2 (5850m) to stay
  12. Carry to White Rocks (Traverse — 6000m); stay at Camp 2
  13. Go to White Rocks to stay (6000m)
  14. Summit (with love and to celebrate Valentino)!; sleep at White Rocks
  15. Descend to Plaza de Mulas (4300m)
  16. Descend to Los Puquios
  17. Bus back to Mendoza, celebrate with much wine and steak

We also can build in two days into this schedule (for alternative summit days, for bad weather, for altitude acclimitization, etc.), but we must be back in Mendoza on the 19th.  So, there you go….

So… why do it?  Why climb uphill for 14 days in a row?  Why put our bodies through the damage of high altitude climbing?

Mountaineering is just really walking uphill day after day — trying to stay warm and eat enough calories.  But, if you have ever stood on the summit of a mountain, no matter how high, but if you have worked hard to get there….  you know the amazing feeling of the wind and sun on your face and the feeling of accomplishment.

That is what we are hoping for.

So — keep us in your minds and hearts.  send us as much go-juice-energy as you can muster!

We will be thinking of you all and doing our best staying safe out there on the mountain!  We will be in touch as soon as can.

Much love — aurora

summit day treats

Project Acclimitization

29 Jan

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.

12K to the trailhead

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!

on our way to the bus station in mendoza, soliciting stares with our large packs

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).

high camp

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.

how we acclimate — laying in the sun

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.

staying warm in the mountains!

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.

up at 4750m