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Aconcagua wine tasting

Combine wine tasting and mountaineering in Argentina? YES PLEASE! Read blog from last season and find out more

Com­bine wine tast­ing and moun­taineer­ing in Argenti­na? YES PLEASE! Click­ing sub­mit on our appli­ca­tion for the Pol­ish Tra­verse Route on Aconcagua was so excit­ing, even though we did it 11 months in advance and had to deal with the antic­i­pa­tion of the climb for close to a year. At the same time, one does need to train, A LOT, for this climb so we were glad that we had this much time to pre­pare for this beast of a mountain! 

Again, I can­not empha­size how much train­ing needs to be done for this route and climb in gen­er­al. Tow­er­ing at near 23,000 feet above sea lev­el Aconcagua is not only super tall, but the approach alone takes a few days and that is before you even start sig­nif­i­cant ver­ti­cal gain. While Aconcagua is not con­sid­ered a tech­ni­cal route by any means, it is also not a begin­ner moun­tain. It ben­e­fits climbers not only to have climbed in high alti­tudes, but also to have some ice and snow skills, cram­pon skills, ice ax/­self-res­cue, and prac­tice car­ry­ing a heavy pack up sig­nif­i­cant hills. Obvi­ous­ly, it is not easy to train for the alti­tude alone (unless you are one of the lucky ones that lives in a high-alti­tude city!), but if you make sure that you are in the best pos­si­ble shape (of your life prob­a­bly), that helps you adapt to the alti­tude more easily.

The most anx­i­ety I had about this peak was the alti­tude and how we would deal with it. Oth­er moun­tains had nev­er caused any issues but this one was a bit high­er than our oth­er peaks. We had climbed Kil­i­man­jaro and Elbrus pri­or to this peak, as well as two oth­er peaks high­er than 17,000 feet, not to men­tion the peaks in our back­yard which do not offer any sig­nif­i­cant alti­tude aside from Rainier at 14,410 feet. Would there be a huge dif­fer­ence as we climbed above 20,000 feet? For­tu­nate­ly, I did not have to wor­ry about this until close to the sum­mit push!

When the day final­ly arrived for us to depart from Seat­tle to Men­doza, Argenti­na we were quite thrilled! We got right in the spir­it and cel­e­brat­ed with some Mal­bec at the air­port as we wait­ed to take off; which also helped take the edge off the fact we had about 36 hours of trav­el ahead of us. Fast for­ward a cou­ple of red-eyes, we made it to Men­doza! We arrived in the mid­dle of the night which we were kind of bummed about, because we were hop­ing for some epic views of the Andes as we flew in. We obtained our mil­lion bags of gear (every­thing arrived safe­ly!), and then head­ed to the hotel, where we were greet­ed with anoth­er glass of Mal­bec! It was past 2 in the morn­ing and the city was still bustling and par­ty­ing; it was quite the welcome!

Aconcagua-image

We were lucky enough to have a few days in the city pri­or to the climb itself, and Men­doza is just spec­tac­u­lar! All the food (and wine) were divine, hos­pi­tal­i­ty was excep­tion­al, and the beau­ty of the city itself made us enjoy every sec­ond. The trees are con­sid­ered sacred in the city of Men­doza, they line all the streets to help shade from the hot sun and pro­vide pic­turesque scenes every cor­ner you turn. Since our entire team arrived a few days ear­ly, we were able to meet up with our guides and the oth­er climbers we would be spend­ing the next few weeks with on our first day in Mendoza!

Per usu­al, from day one the orga­ni­za­tion of Moun­tain Mad­ness stood out; we were for­tu­nate enough to have as our lead guide, climb­ing leg­end Oswal­do Freire (Ossy), who makes you feel like fam­i­ly from the sec­ond you meet him. He was very knowl­edge­able of not only the moun­tain itself, but the city of Men­doza and all that it had to offer before we head­ed off. Our ini­tial team meet­ing was great, we shared our past sum­mits, future goals, and went over the skele­ton of what was going to hap­pen over the course of the next few weeks. Then it was out for our first team din­ner and all the Asa­do we could pos­si­bly eat!

Obtain­ing per­mits was a breeze for the climb, Ossy and Pablo assist­ed us step by step and then wait­ed for the phys­i­cal per­mits, which allowed the rest of us to con­tin­ue enjoy­ing the city of Men­doza! Lat­er that after­noon, we did a gear check, one of many packs and orga­ni­za­tion, and then had anoth­er team din­ner at one of the most mem­o­rable restau­rants we have ever dined at. Make sure you come to Men­doza with a love of meat (and maybe wine/​grappa) because you will not be dis­ap­point­ed! Our final meal in Men­doza before the climb was at an open top restau­rant that had grapevines dan­gling above while you ate. There was one chef who was a mas­ter of all things meat, and would pre­pare every­thing for the table while you watched him in action. It was such an enjoy­able evening. 

Aconcagua-image

The next morn­ing it was time to head clos­er to the moun­tain! Our group packed up the van and trail­er and then head­ed out for a 3‑hour dri­ve to Pen­i­tentes, a ski town in the win­ter, and our last hotel stay before not show­er­ing for a few weeks! The dri­ve out was extreme­ly scenic, pass­ing vine­yards and leav­ing the flat lands of the city behind as we entered the moun­tain­ous region of the Andes. 

Once we arrived at Pen­i­tentes it was time to get to work. We orga­nized the gear that would be trans­port­ed via mule to our base camp, packed our day packs for the next 3 days, and sep­a­rat­ed gear that we would not need until high­er alti­tudes. Nerves were start­ing to set in, this was real­ly hap­pen­ing! After all the food and gear were orga­nized and packed we enjoyed a final night in the hotel and chat­ted about the days to come. The ten­sion in the room pri­or to the climb was pal­pa­ble. Nerves are always present before a climb starts. Will we make it to the top? Will we have to deal with ter­ri­ble weath­er? How will the alti­tude affect us? It is best to not wor­ry, but it’s hard not to!

As head­ed out to the park entrance the next morn­ing, it was a beau­ti­ful blue bird day, and a lit­tle bit warmer than antic­i­pat­ed. Lit­tle did we know how much we would miss that warmth as we got clos­er to the top! The ini­tial but­ter­flies and nerves van­ished once we all final­ly start­ed walk­ing through the val­ley between the gor­geous moun­tains. The team eas­i­ly entered the groove of climb­ing, eat­ing all the snacks, and enjoy­ing the fan­tas­tic scenery. 

Aconcagua-image

This pat­tern con­tin­ued for 3 days pri­or to arriv­ing at base camp, Plaza de Argenti­na at around 14,000 feet. Each night on the trek in, we were reward­ed by the Argen­tin­ian Gau­chos (who were in charge of the mules that car­ried a lot of our gear to base camp) who pro­vid­ed us with tra­di­tion­al Gau­cho bar­be­cues that had excep­tion­al, you guessed it, MEAT! I had no idea we would be treat­ed to such delights in the mid­dle of nowhere and far away from any type of epi­cure­an luxury. 

Aconcagua-image

On the third day we reached our ini­tial base camp and got our first views of Aconcagua. The moun­tain tru­ly looks mas­sive from any per­spec­tive. Were we real­ly going to climb that peak? It also seemed excru­ci­at­ing­ly far away so it cer­tain­ly ben­e­fit­ed me to keep look­ing at my feet and take it one step at a time. 

That one step at a time final­ly brought us to base camp, which was glo­ri­ous! We had our own group tent which housed a din­ing table and chairs, all the water, cof­fee, and tea we could con­sume, as well as three meals a day plus after­noon snacks while we were there. Oth­er tents avail­able to us were the elec­tron­ics tent where we could charge our devices, a relax­ation tent with yoga mats and exer­cise balls, and a show­er tent! Wifi was also avail­able which allowed us to check in with the real world before the hard­er por­tion of the climb. 

On a side note, rest days are the best days! Rest days are built into the expe­di­tion and were such a tremen­dous help to the team’s men­tal and phys­i­cal health. Play­ing card games, get­ting to know the crew a bit more, and drink­ing all the cof­fee we want­ed, were ameni­ties we enjoyed at base camp dur­ing those rest days! But of course, after the rest, comes the work. It was time to move loads up to the high­er camps. We were blessed with amaz­ing weath­er for the next few days as we moved up from 14,000 feet to 16,000 feet with all of our per­son­al gear and group gear. There is the option to obtain a porter for any por­tion of the climb, every­one in the group made dif­fer­ent deci­sions regard­ing porter usage but ulti­mate­ly every­one used one at some point dur­ing the climb whether it was to car­ry gear up, car­ry waste down, or assis­tance through­out the entire climb. The options are end­less for porter support. 

Aconcagua-image

The acclima­ti­za­tion sched­ule that Moun­tain Mad­ness uses is spot on, we will climb high, drop gear, sleep low, then repeat and move up to stay. We moved from 1416,000 feet. Then 16,00018,000 feet, then final­ly up to 20,000 feet at the final camp pri­or to our sum­mit bid. Our guides were con­stant­ly aware of the weath­er cir­cling the sum­mit and changed our agen­da to give us the best pos­si­ble chance to sum­mit. We end­ed up mov­ing our sum­mit bid up a few days to beat weath­er that was head­ing toward us.

Aconcagua-image

The most wel­come part of the entire climb was the large dome tent that was avail­able at each camp. It offered sanc­tu­ary from the weath­er as well as warmth and a place for the team to sit togeth­er com­fort­ably and eat pro­tect­ed from the ele­ments. The hard part was leav­ing said refuge on sum­mit morn­ing for a frigid alpine start!

Aconcagua-image

On day twelve of our expe­di­tion we did just that. Per usu­al, the night before a sum­mit attempt is spent not sleep­ing, lis­ten­ing to the wind, and check­ing your clock to see how many more hours you have until you actu­al­ly have to peel your­self out of your sleep­ing bag and start putting on all your gear. At 3 am we could hear the alarms going off around camp and see the head lamps flick­er on. It was go-time. After putting on all our lay­ers and lac­ing up our dou­ble boots we had a quick break­fast and then to head­ed upward. Sum­mit days are nev­er easy, they are chal­leng­ing both men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly; even if the best weath­er win­dow is present. I will spare you the details of the crazy swings in weath­er we had dur­ing our 8‑hour climb up to the sum­mit. There were good times, and there were very bad times…then the sun showed its beau­ti­ful face and warmed us a bit for the final approach to the summit. 

Aconcagua-image

Aconcagua-image

After a bit of a rock scram­ble at well over 22,000 feet we could see the actu­al sum­mit, only steps away. I am usu­al­ly quite the cry baby when I reach the sum­mit of these peaks but this one took the cake. It was one of those hys­ter­i­cal ugly cries, which is quite hard to do that high! Once I regained my com­po­sure we all cel­e­brat­ed as a team at the top of Aconcagua. We were very for­tu­nate because we were the only team on the entire moun­tain mak­ing a sum­mit attempt that day; it is hard to describe how spe­cial it is to be the only 7 peo­ple stand­ing on the roof of the entire con­ti­nent of South America. 

After the short cel­e­bra­tion and con­grat­u­la­to­ry hugs, we soon real­ized we were only halfway done and now it was time to head back down to sea lev­el. The weath­er gods were def­i­nite­ly on our side on the way down and the team cruised back to our high camp in under four hours. We all crashed in our tents and were lucky enough to have din­ner served to us in bed, quite the lux­u­ri­ous treat when you are that exhaust­ed. That night we slept like logs and then woke up the next morn­ing to pack up camp and descend to base camp on the oth­er side of the moun­tain at 14,000 feet. 

Aconcagua-image

We spent the rest of the day and night at Plaza de las Mulas savor­ing our sum­mit the day before. Such an accom­plish­ment! After spend­ing the night at base camp, it was time for our final day on the moun­tain, a 17-mile trek back to civ­i­liza­tion. We were so close to a hot show­er and a bed! The views on the way out were breath­tak­ing, and we had stun­ning views of the sum­mit almost the entire way. Very dif­fer­ent from the way in when you only caught a glimpse of the peak on day three! We descend­ed 6,000 more feet and start­ed to see the col­or green again. It was a weird sen­sa­tion to smell grass and flow­ers after 2 weeks of inhal­ing dust and rocks. 

We arrived at the trail head in the ear­ly after­noon hav­ing com­plet­ed the cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the moun­tain along with tag­ging the sum­mit! We hopped into the wait­ing trucks and head­ed back to Pen­i­tentes to cel­e­brate our achieve­ment, the strength of our team and our 100% sum­mit suc­cess! After a leisure­ly morn­ing the next day we all head­ed back to Men­doza. Our trip was com­ing to an end (but the cel­e­brat­ing was not!) We spent the next cou­ple of days savor­ing all the Mal­becs and carne we could! The tem­per­a­ture in Men­doza was 80 degrees before and after the climb and we did not real­ize how wel­come it would be after spend­ing that amount of time in the cold­er moun­tain temps the pri­or few weeks. It is a mag­i­cal thing being able to stand on top of a frigid moun­tain 22,800 feet in the sky one day and then a cou­ple of days lat­er be swim­ming in a pool in the hot sunshine.

After what seemed like a short 21 days, it was time for us to head home. Always bit­ter­sweet after a suc­cess­ful expe­di­tion. As much as you love the lux­u­ries of home, you miss the cama­raderie of your small team on the moun­tain; enjoy­ing group meals, after­noon card games, telling old climb­ing sto­ries and cre­at­ing new ones, and of course mak­ing future plans to climb with mem­bers of your team. Expe­di­tions are a spe­cial thing and we will be talk­ing about this one for a long time to come! 

Next up…Denali! Make it Happen!