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Peru with Mountain Madness

Aconcagua Expedition Trip Report — Part 1

Here is the first in a series of blogs from Ian Nichol­son about our Feb­ru­ary 2 Aconcagua Nor­mal Route expe­di­tion. Many of you fol­lowed the progress on our Face­book page and prob­a­bly had many ques­tions. How far did the team make it? What hap­pens if your bags don’t make it to Men­doza? What was the weath­er like? Did our clients have fun? What did they do when they got down from the moun­tain? Fol­low our blog for the next three days and all of your ques­tions will be answered!

Aconcagua in all its glo­ry. Ian Nichol­son photo

The team trick­led into Men­doza, the wine cap­i­tal of South Amer­i­ca, start­ing on Feb 2. Maria and Paul were the first to arrive, then were soon joined by Kevin, Mike, Tony, Nor­man, Jane and Rohit. The group dynam­ic could­n’t have been bet­ter, we were all very excit­ed to start this jour­ney together. 

There was only one prob­lem: Mike’s bag was lost! His sleep­ing bag, most of his warm cloths and much of his climb­ing gear nev­er made it off the plane with him. The group was slat­ed to leave for Los Pen­i­tentes the fol­low­ing morn­ing. After var­i­ous phone calls to the air­lines and return­ing to the air­port to search, we returned to the hotel emp­ty handed. 

By the next morn­ing, Mike’s bag was still nowhere to be found. So Mike, Tony and I stayed behind in Men­doza while the rest of the group went to Los Pen­i­tentes (2651 meters or around 8750 feet) where they were going to spend one night and then dri­ve to the trail­head the fol­low­ing morn­ing. The plan was, if the bag did­n’t show up we would buy or rent every­thing Mike need­ed in Men­doza and try to catch up with the group some­where between Los Pen­i­tentes and Confluencia!

Ian Nichol­son photo

We helped the group load up the van and told them has­ta mañana” or until tomor­row .…..we hoped. 

Mike, Tony and I began the hur­ry up and wait game. He went around to var­i­ous gear shops in Men­doza to reserve rentals and buy odds and ends that Mike would­n’t mind dou­bling up on even if his bags showed up. After sev­er­al stress­ful hours of wor­ry­ing about his bag, the front desk of the Hotel Exec­u­tive called and told us that they had found the bags! Appar­ent­ly, they had gone to Buenos Aires and maybe Lima but were des­tined to arrive back in Men­doza the fol­low­ing morn­ing. We could­n’t believe it! Mike, Tony and I were smil­ing ear to ear. When I ini­tial­ly heard from the front desk I was so excit­ed I ran through the hotel in my socks.

Once back at the hotel a local dri­ver picked us up and we went speed­ing toward the moun­tains with the dri­vers choice of music, Metal­li­ca blar­ing all the way.

The group reunit­ed for the acclima­ti­za­tion hike. Ian Nichol­son photo

We met Tino and his group in Los Pen­i­tentes, we had­n’t missed much oth­er than some good food and an appar­ent­ly heat­ed ping pong tour­na­ment. From the park entrance we hiked 3 hours to Con­flu­en­cia (3440m or 11,286ft) Sab­ri­na the cook great­ed us, she was very nice and excel­lent at her pro­fes­sion. We dinned on Steak that was even bet­ter than we had had in city of Mendoza.

Con­flu­en­cia is a small camp deep in a val­ley sur­round­ed by grassy hill­sides topped with snowy peaks. After spend­ing a night in a rain storm mixed with snow, we spent the next day mak­ing an acclima­ti­za­tion hike to a Mirador (4084 meters or 13,400 feet) over­look­ing then South Face of Aconcagua the largest Wall” in South Amer­i­ca and in the top 20 largest alpine walls in the world. It is an incred­i­ble sight with steep rock and fright­en­ing, gigan­tic ser­acs hang­ing with men­ac­ing despair. The South Face of Aconcagua was eas­i­ly as impres­sive as its near-larg­er-than-life rep­u­ta­tion. The swirling clouds only added to the wal­l’s mystique.

The team hik­ing up to Mirador. Ian Nichol­son photo

We ate while admir­ing it, but just as we were fin­ish­ing lunch it began to snow and hail, so we hur­ried back to camp with the snow turn­ing to rain as we lost ele­va­tion. That whole night it rained huge and heavy drops, more like a trop­i­cal rain for­est than the high arid land­scape where we were report­ed to be. The fol­low­ing day, we made the 8+ hour walk up to Plaza de Mulas (4250 meters or 14,000 feet) and our base camp for the trip. It was a rainy, snowy and windy hike, but we pulled our hoods up and kept our faces down, yet our spir­its remained steadi­ly high as we trekked toward base camp. The final climb up to Plaza de Mulas is called Cues­ta Bra­va or Angry Hill” and is named sim­i­lar­ly to Denal­i’s heart­break hill because at the end of a long day you have the longest steep­est climb to go. What more appro­pri­ate name for a hill could you have? 

Tune in tomor­row for the sto­ries of our approach and bat­tles with weather!

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson