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Aconcagua climbers journal

A Climber’s Journal of Aconcagua

Aconcagua journal by Doug Peers

I am off to Argenti­na today to join with 8 oth­er climbers and 3 guides from Moun­tain Mad­ness to attempt a sum­mit of Aconcagua via the Nor­mal Route.

The team is arriv­ing in Men­doza, Argenti­na over the next few days and we will soon begin our expe­di­tion and ascent of the high­est moun­tain in the west­ern and south­ern hemi­spheres. It is great train­ing for the high alti­tude peaks in the Himalayas. Groups rope up in only the worst con­di­tions. Aconcagua, via the Nor­mal Route, is a non-tech­ni­cal climb on estab­lished routes. No glac­i­er trav­el. Ice axe and cram­pons are usu­al­ly only used at high­er ele­va­tions as the trail steep­ens and can be snow cov­ered and icy. 

Aconcagua (the stone sentinel) stands at an impressive 6962m (22,834 ft.) above sea level, one of the 7 Summits”.

We begin our jour­ney in the lush wine region of Men­doza, trav­el by van to the trail head then hike up the arid Hor­cones Riv­er val­ley to our base camp at Plaza de Mulas (19 miles). Mules car­ry our gear and sup­plies to base camp. From here we will estab­lish 3 camps as we slow­ly move up the moun­tain to the high­est point in the Andes. Aconcagua is known at times for high winds (100mph) and sub­ze­ro temps, as well as the extreme high alti­tude envi­ron­ment. This moun­tain is nev­er an easy feat and over half the climbers who attempt are turned back.

The moun­tain tak­en from our flight from San­ti­a­go to Buenos Aries in March, 2013. I believe our route fol­lows the grad­ual ridge on the left side of the moun­tain. Doug Peers photo

Day 1 in Mendoza

Sam­pling some of the local beef in Men­doza. Huge!! And very tasty. Even a veg­e­tar­i­an has to try a bit of this.

Now that’s a Steak!! Doug Peers photo

Day 2: Off to the Andes

We trav­el west towards the Andes Moun­tains sev­er­al hours from Men­doza and stay at the Pen­i­tentes Ski Hill facil­i­ties which are just out­side Aconcagua Nation­al Park Boundaries.

Doug Peers photo

Day 3: First View of Aconcagua

After a short shut­tle to the park gates we get our first glimpse of Aconcagua up the Hor­cones Riv­er Val­ley. We have a rel­a­tive­ly short hike of 3 to 4 hours to a mini- base camp at Con­flu­en­cia. We are just car­ry­ing day packs today as all our climbing/​camping gear are being car­ried by mules.

Day 4: Up the Horcones Valley to Confluencia Camp

Hik­ing to Confluencia.

Mules car­ry­ing gear. Doug Peers photos

Day 5: Acclimatization Hike to Plaza Francia

On Day 5 we stay at Con­flu­en­cia and day hike up a glac­i­er val­ley flow­ing off Aconcagua to an impres­sive view­point of the 10,000 ft south­west face of Aconcagua. We would lat­er look down over the edge at this point from the summit.

On the hike to Plaza Fran­cia. Doug Peers photos

Day 6: Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas Base Camp

This was a long hot day of 7 – 8 hours of hik­ing from Con­flu­en­cia to Plaza de Mulas, our base for mov­ing up and down the mountain

Con­flu­en­cia to Plaza de Mulas. Doug Peers photo

Day 7: Rest Day at Base Camp

Time for a rest to get used to the thin air and get ready to move fur­ther up the moun­tain. Show­ers, Inter­net, tele­phone, food, drink, art, etc. This is the largest base camp in the world with the excep­tion of Mt Ever­est each spring.

Aconcagua base camp overview. Doug Peers photo

Day 8: Acclimatization Hike to Camp 1

Aconcagua is dry, very dry. This year there is no snow at Camp 1 and very lit­tle snow on the upper moun­tain. We use snow on the moun­tain as our source of water. To avoid the logis­tics of car­ry­ing water to Camp 1 we decide to skip the camp and do an acclima­ti­za­tion hike instead, then make our next full move to Camp 2 in a cou­ple days. A cou­ple of young guys in the group forego the porter ser­vice and decide to car­ry every­thing up to at least Camp 2 and drop a par­tial load at Camp 1. They pay the price fur­ther up the moun­tain and switch to porter help fur­ther up. For us mor­tals from sea lev­el not opt­ing for porter help up the moun­tain sub­stan­tial­ly reduces your chance of reach­ing the summit.

Camp one. Doug Peers photo

Day 9: Rest Day at Base Camp

We take anoth­er rest day to accli­ma­tize and pre­pare for the big move to Camp 2 and to wait for porters (we need 8 to car­ry all the sup­plies for 13 of us).

A cou­ple of us do a day hike to an old lodge and to the toe of a glac­i­er nearby.

A group mem­ber has trou­ble accli­ma­tiz­ing and suf­fers severe sleep apnea so he decides to call it quits.

You can see the sum­mit of Aconcagua in this pho­to. No snow on this side!

Hik­ing on the rest day. Doug Peers photos

Day 10: Move to Camp 2 18,200ft

Today we make the big move to Camp 2. This will be the start of our push to the sum­mit. The dif­fer­ence between the air at 14,500, base camp, and Camp 2 is very notice­able and we all are suf­fer­ing as we pull into camp. Camp 2 sits on a large sad­dle between Aconcagua prop­er and an adja­cent minor peak. It offers great views toward the sum­mit and toward the west yield­ing spec­tac­u­lar sunsets.

View from Camp Two.

Strik­ing sun­set on Camp Two. Doug Peers photos

Day 11: Acclimatization Hike to Camp 3

Today we rest in the morn­ing then take the steady uphill hike to Camp 3 at 19,500 ft., hang around for a while then head back to Camp 2 for the night.

It is cold at Camp 3 today. Last night the winds picked up for the first time and cooled things off. It our weath­er win­dow is look­ing per­fect for a Fri­day Night/​Saturday morn­ing sum­mit attempt.

Return­ing from the vis­it to Camp Three. Doug Peers photo

Day 12: Move to Camp 3

Today we packed up our Camp 2 and moved to Camp 3. The porters would move ahead with the gear and set up the tents ahead of us at each camp. We would arrive lat­er in the day.

Camp 3 is the junc­tion of the Nor­mal Route we were on and the Pol­ish Glac­i­er Route or route from the oppo­site side. This route has a one day longer approach and skirts the rem­nants of the dis­ap­pear­ing Pol­ish Glac­i­er. Both routes start from Camp 3 for the sum­mit. Camp 3 tends to be more con­gest­ed then Camp 2 with teams stay­ing just 2 nights. The nights before and after the sum­mit attempt.

The slight­ly more pop­u­lat­ed Camp Three. Doug Peers photo

Day 13: Summit Day

After a very rest­less sleep we were wok­en up around 4 am to pre­pare for a 5 am start. At 19,500 ft. every­thing seems to be a chore, not to men­tion it’s cold and dark. The worst part is get­ting your boots on and tied up. It leaves you total­ly out of breath.

My stom­ach had been both­er­ing me in the night and I had a bad spell of nau­sea short­ly after we start­ed. I dropped my pack out of frus­tra­tion and almost packed it in. After encour­age­ment to give it anoth­er go from my friend and Mex­i­can guide Ricar­do, I start­ed to feel bet­ter. In a cou­ple hours I was back on track and by mid- day I was feel­ing great and mov­ing with the lead group.

On the sum­mit approach. Doug Peers photo

It took an incred­i­bly long time to get up the moun­tain. The crux of this climb is a sec­tion called the Canale­ta Couloir. It is a steep rock/​scree gul­ly that you have to zigzag your way up. This year it was very dry and there was a con­stant dan­ger of rock fall from above. We spent prob­a­bly 4 hours mov­ing up this face final­ly tra­vers­ing across at the top and ris­ing up on the sum­mit plat­form some 12 hours after start­ing out. From the sum­mit you can look back at the knife edge ridge of the low­er sum­mit, look down the oth­er side at the 9−10,000 ft drop to the val­ley glac­i­er below and see into Chile towards the South Pacif­ic Ocean. After the brief sum­mit cel­e­bra­tion, pic­tures and a bit of a walk around it was time to start mak­ing our way down. With the help of grav­i­ty and some new found ener­gy we walked into camp 3 just 3 hours lat­er at 8pm. 15 hours after we left camp in the morning.

Sum­mit cel­e­bra­tion! Doug Peers photos

Day 14: Descending from Camp 3 to Base Camp

It was a leisure­ly morn­ing. We wait­ed until the sun warmed up the tents before mov­ing about, we slow­ly packed up our gear and broke down the camp. The porters would be up lat­er in the day to car­ry down our group and heavy per­son­al gear.

The descent to Base camp take about 2 hours and we take a more direct route than we did on the way up. The trick is to find the trail with the soft­est scree so you can hop/​slide down with the least effort. No pic­tures going down as you need to con­cen­trate on your foot­work or you will end up on your ass.

In Base Camp the staff from Fer­nan­do Gra­jales greet­ed us with con­grat­u­la­tions and served up the tra­di­tion­al piz­za lunch for return­ing climbers.

The rest of the group decid­ed to heli­copter out from Base Camp to the trail head. Then on to Men­doza that night. By 8pm they were all on their way leav­ing the 3 guides and me to pre­pare for the long hike out the next day.

Hik­ing from Base Camp to the Trail­head. Doug Peers photo

Day 15: Base Camp to Trailhead

The 4 of us remain­ing at base camp are treat­ed to a soft bunk in the bunkhouse for the night. The hike out is most­ly down­hill but it will be a long poten­tial­ly hot day. After a leisure­ly morn­ing and late break­fast we orga­nize the gear and tag it for trans­porta­tion by the mule trains.

We leave around 11am. It takes me 7 hours total to hike out to the trail­head includ­ing, sev­er­al rest stops and a 40 – 45 break for a beer at Con­flu­en­cia while we wait­ed for Joshua who was nurs­ing a sore knee. As it turned out, he passed us while at Con­flu­en­cia and we just caught up with him near the end.

We were checked in at Pen­i­tentes by 6, show­ered and shaved and hav­ing anoth­er good din­ner by 8:30pm.

Din­ner in Men­doza with the group. Doug Peers photo 

Day 16: Back to Mendoza and final dinner

It was a very scenic and sat­is­fy­ing dri­ve back to Men­doza know­ing that the hik­ing was done, we had made the sum­mit, enjoyed the moun­tain scenery and would be head­ing home to our fam­i­lies soon. We had our final din­ner at the same restau­rant we start­ed at sev­er­al weeks ago. We were back to sam­ple the 3″ thick juicy steaks but unfor­tu­nate­ly it is sel­dom as good the sec­ond time and it wasn’t. A dif­fer­ent cut of steak wasn’t near­ly as good as the sto­ries of the climb, the best, the worst, the fun­ni­est, and the hardest.

It was a great trip, Joshua, Jaime and Ricar­do worked hard and were great guides. It was a great group of guys to climb with and I enjoyed get­ting to know every­one very much. Thank you to everyone!

Final Fly­by — Aconcagua in the cen­ter, the Hor­cones val­ley to base camp on the left and the val­ley to Plaza Fran­cia on the right. John­ny Eason photo

~MM Client Doug Peers.