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Peru with Mountain Madness

Trip Report of Aconcagua Team Approach — Part 2

Part 2 of our ear­ly Feb­ru­ary Aconcagua Nor­mal Route expe­di­tion trip report. You read about the team’s chal­lenges in Men­doza and their first acclima­ti­za­tion hike. Now the approach up the giant moun­tain begins!

On the approach to Base Camp. Ian Nichol­son photo

The group made excel­lent progress up Cues­ta Bra­va and in just 7 hours we had arrived in Plaza de Mulas from Con­flu­en­cia. Plaza de Mulas is report­ed­ly the biggest base camp in the world, being just slight­ly big­ger than Ever­est Base Camp. Plaza de Mulas is a large gen­tly slop­ing camp cov­ered in tents tak­ing 15 min­utes to walk across the entire camp. In Mulas there are two show­er places, three Inter­net cafes, a bar, live cam and the world’s high­est art gallery. 

Upon our arrival in Plaza de Mulas, we met Pablo, or Jefe — the boss.” Pablo was one of the nicest and most car­ing indi­vid­u­als we met on our entire trip. He made sure all of his employ­ees were well looked after. He was also one of the most orga­nized peo­ple in all of Argenti­na. He man­aged half a dozen expe­di­tions at any one time includ­ing upwards of 35 peo­ple, their meals, porters, sup­plies and more. He brought brought us piz­zas and intro­duced us to the ammenites of Plaza de Mulas. We ate din­ner and went to bed. The next day we spent rest­ing, read­ing, watch­ing TV shows and movies, and pass­ing time by talk­ing to climbers from all over the world. 

Plaza de Mulas. Ian Nichol­son photo

The fol­low­ing day we packed our bags and made the 2,000-foot climb up to Camp Cana­da or Camp 1: our first of three camps we would hope­ful­ly uni­tize on our way to the sum­mit. Camp Cana­da sits at 16,200 feet and over­looks the whole upper part of the Hor­cones Val­ley. Our first day with­out rain or snow, we enjoyed views of Cer­ro Hor­cones, Cer­ro Bonete, and Cer­ro Cuer­no all dom­i­nat­ing the sky­line above Plaza de Mulas, which we now affec­tion­ate­ly call Mulas.”

The hike fol­lows occa­sion­al­ly snow cov­ered talus and scree slopes with Piedras Con­way, an inter­est­ing series of fin­ger-like rock tow­ers, mark­ing the halfway point. Once caching our gear at Camp Cana­da, we scree surfed our way down. Scree surf­ing, regard­less of your taste for it, is the quick­est way down. You are con­fi­dent­ly plunge step­ping, rid­ing and surf­ing” your way down the moun­tain. Some think it’s fun (myself includ­ed) and some endure it as a nec­es­sary evil. 

Paul and Maria on a break as we approach Camp Cana­da. Ian Nichol­son photo

Anoth­er rest day fol­lowed which was great because no one slept because of the intense winds that bat­tered through camp loud­ly flap­ping any slack in the tents dur­ing the night. Our group awoke to 3″ of snow on the ground and frigid tem­pe­tures. Near­ly every­one wore there puffy pants and big down jack­ets into the weath­er port for break­fast. We passed the day eat­ing, sleep­ing, read­ing and even some climb­ing on near­by boul­ders only 5 min­utes from camp

The fol­low­ing day proved nicer. Mid-morn­ing we began the now famil­iar march to Camp Cana­da mak­ing much bet­ter progress than before hav­ing spent sev­er­al nights now at 14,000 feet. It was a lit­tle windy but a spec­tac­u­lar sun­set with bright col­ors cast onto the swirling lentic­u­lars over the sum­mit. We ate good food and the whole group devoured over a gal­lon’s worth of pesto pas­ta before going to sleep in each climber’s per­son­al down cocoon.

Tino lead­ing the group up to Camp Cana­da. Ian Nichol­son photo

By mid-morn­ing the winds began to pick up and the tem­pa­ture began to drop and, as a result, we had a leisure­ly morn­ing. We ate break­fast in the sun in the slight­ly pro­tect­ed zone of Camp Cana­da. By 11am we packed our loads and left our tents behind, con­tin­u­ing with the tried and true climb-high sleep-low style of acclima­ti­za­tion. The idea behind it is if you tax your body at high alti­tudes it real­izes this and tries to adapt. By sleep­ing low, it gives your body a slight­ly less phys­i­cal­ly harsh envi­ron­ment in which to recov­er and pro­duce blood cells. 

The climb toward Nido de Con­dores, or sim­ply Nido” as it’s known by Aconcagua climbers, begins with a steep uphill sec­tion and then flat­tens out into mel­low amphithe­ater at around 16,800 feet. This is called the Cam­bio de Pen­di­ente or Change of Angle.” Before you get to the mel­low part of the climb the breeze tends to be light and climbers are well pro­tect­ed from winds, how­ev­er once you pass over onto the mel­lowed ter­rain climbers are greet­ed with a onslaught of con­tin­u­ous air, and our expe­ri­ence was no different. 

Maria and Jane on the approach with Cer­ro Cuer­no in the back­ground. Ian Nichol­son photo

We bat­tled our way upwards through force­ful winds and, as a result, our breaks were short-lived. We passed the old Camp Alas­ka, which is no longer com­mon­ly used, to the slight­ly more pro­tect­ed Nido de Con­dores at 5590 meters or 18,339 feet. Nido is a wind-swept camp that is sim­ply a small flat area in the mas­sive North­west Ridge of Aconcagua. Far more exposed that Plaza de Mulas with none of the com­forts, it is where most climbers real­ly feel they are on the upper mountain.

We cached our gear in some duf­fle bags and, for fear of even our duf­fles blow­ing away, we cov­ered them with large rocks. After hang­ing out eat­ing and drink­ing for less than 20 min­utes we hus­tled down to Camp Cana­da enjoying/​enduring more scree surfing. 

Tomor­row, tune in for the report about their sum­mit push!