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!