Aconcagua

Elevation: 6962 m (22841 ft)
Location: Mendoza province, 32° 39′ S; 70° 1′ W

Distinction: Aconcagua is the highest point of Argentina and of all the Americas, therefore also the highest of the Panamerican Peaks. In fact, it is the highest mountain on Earth outside of the Himalayas.

Thomas (left) and Antoine on Aconcagua summit 6-Mar-10 15:00

Thomas (left) and Antoine on Aconcagua summit 6-Mar-10 15:00

Picasa Photo Album: Aconcagua

Back to Peaks page.

Summary: I climbed Aconcagua with friend Antoine Labranche in a small mini-expedition, without guides or porters, relying just on mules for the transport of gear and food to and from base camp. It took us 13 days total and we reached the summit on Day 11 (6-Mar-10). Due to the late season we had one storm with snow down below Base Camp and some of the facilities (like the nearby highest hotel in the world, Refugio Plaza de Mulas) were already closed for the coming winter break. Luckily the weather started to cooperate and we had a week of cold, but sunny days ahead, just enough to build the high camps according to the tested Cache & Carry system. We spent the following amount of nights per camp:

Camp 0: Confluencia; 3,400 m; 2 nights
Camp Base: Plaza de Mulas; 4,300 m; 4 nights
Camp 1: Canada; 4,900 m; 2 nights
Camp 2: Nido de Condores; 5,400 m; 1 night
Camp 3: Colera; 6,000 m; 2 nights (summit)
Camp Base: Plaza de Mulas; 1 night

Summit day was cold and tiring, with the final push up the Canaleta very exhausting due to the high altitude. The weather on summit day was near perfect, with low winds and unlimited visibility. We reached the summit after 8h 15m, stayed for 45m and returned in a total time of 11h 45m, comfortably within the lower range of the predicted time range.

The descent went according to plan as well, with a warm reception (and oven-fresh pizza) back at base camp as well as a well organized (and timely delivered) mule transport of our gear and food bags. The same evening we drove by bus back to Mendoza, where we re-entered civilization for a few rest days. We were tired, thirsty, hungry and stinky after 2 weeks without shower – but we were also very happy about the successful and fast conclusion of our mini-expedition to the highest mountain of the Americas…

Check the PeakBagger Site on Aconcagua for photos and fast facts.

SPOT Tracks of Aconcagua Climb:

SPOT track of ascent from base camp via 3 high camps to summit of Aconcagua

SPOT track of ascent from base camp via 3 high camps to summit of Aconcagua

SPOT track of descent from summit of Aconcagua via Camp 3 and base camp to the park entrance and Puente Del Inca

SPOT track of descent from summit of Aconcagua via Camp 3 and base camp to the park entrance and Puente Del Inca

Archived SPOT adventure page for Aconcagua.

Daily Notes:

Tuesday, February 23, Day 0

Mendoza to Punta del Inca (2700m)

We wake up at 7am and have breakfast buffet at the Horcones Hotel.
Then we get some fresh bread, dish washing soap and some cash before calling a cab to the bus terminal. At 10:15 we load our backpacks and duffel bags with food on the bus and for just 20 pesos (US$5) we get a 3.5 h ride up the Paso Bermejo road which connects Mendoza, Argentina with Santiago, Chile. After a short break (where we buy the eggs and cheese we had forgotten in the hotel refrigerator) we continue up a dry valley along a small river and hills of nearly every color between grey, green, yellow, red and black. At 2700m altitude we reach the landmark Punta del Incas. This is a natural bridge over the river caused by deposits of mineral / ore-rich water from thermal springs. Very unique sight.
We contact Osvaldo, who will arrange the mule transport of our duffel
bags. He also shows us the nearby camp ground, where we proceed to set up our tent. Then we take a 2h walk up the road to the beginning of the Horcones valley, from where we have a brilliant view of Aconcagua against a cloudless blue sky – very impressive! The summit is more than 4000m higher than we are at that point (2900m).
After we return to our tent we fix dinner with our stove and to start
reducing the weight of what we have to carry to base camp. The food
from the Canadian Army rations is actually quite good and diverse.
Most of it can be prepared just by adding hot water, still comes out
quite tasty.
Unfortunately there is no WiFi or Internet in Punta del Inca, so I
can’t read emails or send tweets… Beautiful sunset and brilliant
evening light up high on the surrounding mountains.
Into the tent by nightfall at 9pm and writing these lines.

Wednesday, February 24, Day 1

Punta del Inca to Confluencia (3400m)

We sleep until 8am when the sun wakes us up by warming the tent. Then we cook breakfast and start organizing our packs. Thankfully we still have about 8kg of allowed weight so we fill up a plastic bag with
things we won’t need during the next three days. That reduces our
backpack weight, but I guess I still have about 18-20kg to carry today.
At 11:30 Osvaldo gives us a ride to the park entrance near where we
walked to yesterday. We check in, get some garbage bags and finally
get going around 12:30. Let the march begin!
It’s very dry here, with dust everywhere and the dry air being felt in
our throats and on our skin. We follow the Horcones valley upwards and
cross the river once on a hanging bridge. Further up we rest and have
a snack. It’s warm with some wind and great views, so a great first
day of hiking. We don’t feel the altitude much yet, but our bodies are
starting to acclimatize here above 3000m.
We reach the Confluencia camp (3400m) and set up our tent. We also
check in with the ranger and receive more plastic bags (for human
waste). We cook up a late lunch and then retreat to our tent for 3h of snoozing. Later we emerge again at 7:30pm to take some pictures of the yellow evening clouds and cook some dinner. Now it is getting quite chilly – probably around zero degrees Celsius – and we soon do the dishes, brush our teeth and retreat into the tent again.

Thursday, February 25, Day 2

Confluencia Plaza Francia (4070m) & back

Today we slept long despite a lot of commotion in the tents around us.
It just felt good to stay in the warmth of our sleeping bags, waiting
until the sun climbed high enough over the nearby mountain walls to
reach our tent. Instantly it got very bright and comfortably warm,
where it had been near freezing just before in the shade. We made some breakfast, cereal, bread, the last of my cheese, and a very lousy
tasting, bland coffee. Since we didn’t plan to move our camp today we
were not in a rush. At 10:30am we started organizing our tent and
preparing our backpacks for a half-day hike up towards Plaza Francia,
up a side-valley of the Horcones valley along a glacier coming down
undress Aconcagua’s huge South Face. The hike started at 11:30am; the path followed the little river and then up along glacial moraines
through an otherworldly display of rock formations of all colors. At
one point it felt as if we were exploring the surface of Mars, the Red
Planet. We reached a Mirador (lookout point) at 4070m after some 2.5h of easy hiking with light backpacks. The view of the glacier and
Aconcagua right behind was quite spectacular, but slightly tainted by
the increasing clouds shrouding the summit and other high peaks. We
were almost afraid that we would get rained on, but luckily we stayed
dry. We met a few other climbers and one large trekking group, but
overall it didn’t feel crowded, probably due to the beginning of late
season.
After 4.5h we returned to our camp at Confluencia. The sun came out
and everything was very bright and colorful in the late afternoon. A
large Russian expedition had come up and started setting up lots of
tents next to us; some team members even played volleyball to the
sound of some old speakers blasting music across the camp. An
international, somewhat eclectic mix of people up here. We cooked a
generous dinner, with soup, fresh avocados, red pepper and chili con
carne (the freeze-dried, just-add-boiling-water kind). Later we had
peach tea, decidedly better than yesterdays so-called coffee. We even had our vital signs checked at the nearby ranger station in their
medical tent, a service which is optional here but mandatory higher up
at Plaza de Mulas. Not long after the sun disappeared behind the
mountains and sent our camp into a cool shadow we brushed our teeth
and crawled into our sleeping bags. I listened to my new audiobook
(Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen) and typed these notes. Good time to reflect on the day, this expedition and the entire project in
general.

Friday, February 26, Day 3

Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas (4300m)

We get up at 7am; today is going to be a long day hiking up to base
camp at Plaza de Mulas, covering some 18km and more than 1000m
vertical (due to frequent up &down along The Horcones river). After a
good breakfast we pack our tent and hit the trail by 9am. It’s a
beautiful day with no clouds in the sky. The Upper Horcones Valley
offers up some spectacular scenery of eroding mountains with rocks of
all colors. It’s a wide valley with an easy trail, just once do we
need to scramble a bit to avoid a double river crossing. At 12:30 we
reach a large rock sheltering us from the wind where we cook up some
lunch. I use my ceramic filter to get water from the Horcones river
which has a red color due to all the sediment it carries. I need to
clean the filter after every liter as this water is so dirty. But we
need every ounce of water we can get in this dry air!
After about an hour of food and rest we continue refreshed. I listen
to Greg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea” audiobook which is quite
inspirational and so funny at times that I just laugh out loud.
Antoine mentions that he feels some pressure in his head but we don’t
pay much attention to this just yet. We pause every hour for 5-10 min; I’m feeling the weight of my pack with the tent, but in terms of
altitude I’m still doing fine. Around 6pm we get to camp after having
drank every ounce of fluid and snacked on almost all our food. We
check in with the rangers and proceed to retrieve our bags the mules
had carried up here. Then we select a site to pitch our tent. As
expected there are many sites available at this large camp now that we are in low season with a bit less people on the mountain.
As we start setting up our tent Antoine suddenly has a strong
headache, sits down and eventually crawls into his sleeping bag,
pretty much unable to do much of anything. I cook up some soup and
later dinner and tea, but Antoine has no appetite and can only bring
himself to drink a bit of the soup and half a cup of tea. At 8pm he
suggests to have the medics check on him. It turns out he has a case
of severe dehydration which exacerbates the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. The doctors give him a pill against his headache and nausea and tell him to drink as much as he can. Back to the tent his condition improves slightly, but it’s still hard for him to drink much. Good thing tomorrow is going to be a rest day and we can spend time drinking and eating and just recovering from this long, 8.5hr day.

Saturday, February 27, Day 4

Plaza de Mulas (4300m) – Rest Day

I didn’t sleep well at first and rolled around for a few hours. Some
gusts were flapping the tent, but for Aconcagua this is probably a
calm night. At 3:40am the whole tent is shaking; not only the tent,
but unmistakably the ground is shaking quite strongly as well:
Earthquake! I poke my head outside the tent to see any signs of
rock fall or avalanches, and there are many dust clouds from triggered rock fall.
Otherwise everything is quiet again, nothing but brilliant stars and near full moon, as well as a cloud layer in the valley below. Better sleep in the morning hours.
Wake up to -5C and frost inside the tent at 8:45am. Good thing I have
a pee bottle so I don’t need to leave the comfort of the sleeping bag
and tent just to pee. Typing these notes until the sun comes up and
breathes warmth and life into the entire camp.
After (positive) medical checkup for Antoine and then breakfast we
explore camp a little bit. We walk over to the Refugio de Plaza de
Mulas, at 4350m the highest hotel in the world. It’s a large and well-
built facility; unfortunately we learn that it closes down today for
the coming winter season, so we won’t be able to use any of its
facilities (like Internet or hot showers or a dorm bed in case of bad
weather). Still, it was worth the 20 min hike to see the building and
it’s illustrious history from many previous expeditions.
After a little siesta we take advantage of a local Internet provider –
at the very expensive rate of $10 for 15 min! We learn a bit more
about the strong earthquake which centered in South Chile. I also
reach out to my wife via email to give her an update of our situation.
Luckily we can use a large tent of our service provider Mallku (which
we paid for the mule transport) so we can sort through our equipment
inside sheltered from the cold wind. There we also cook a generous
dinner with our two stoves and our very large amount of food we
brought up here. Into the sleeping bag early for a 12h rest, only half
of it sleep though, due to party music until 1am from a Russian
expedition.

Sunday, February 28, Day 5

Plaza de Mulas (4300m), Rest Day

Another day of acclimatizing and mostly rest. Antoine is eager to get
out in the morning and plan for a hike during the day to explore the
trail ahead. We wait until 9:30am for the sun to come out, but
unfortunately there are some clouds so it’s a bit colder than
yesterday. With all our morning activities, incl. breakfast, sorting
through gear – which we deposited in our second tent set up here for
that purpose – going to the toilets etc. it takes us until 2pm before
we start a hike up the trail toward the next camp (Camp Canada). The hike in our plastic boots and without heavy loads is great. We get to
see base camp from 300m up and get to know the trail with its lose
scree and rocks. I feel strong and very confident about the days
ahead; Antoine less so, he is a bit more concerned about the potential rigors and dangers ahead.
Again some more email session followed by a very generous dinner
until 8:45pm when it gets dark and we retreat into the tent again. Two more chapters of the audiobook (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen), followed by rest with some stretches of sleep.

Monday, March 1, Day 6

Plaza de Mulas to Camp Canada (4900m) and back

We wake up around 8:30am after less than perfect sleep. We carry our food bag up to the Mallku tent again for breakfast and spend about 1.5h over breakfast. Then we pack enough food for 5 days up high as well as our high mountain cold weather gear in our rucksacks. Around noon we are ready to leave for our carry to Camp Canada at 4900m. Just as we leave base camp there are some snow flurries, and for the next 2.5h the weather stays cloudy and windy with occasional snow showers. After 1h 10min we reach the Conway Rocks (4620m), our turn around point from yesterday. We rest for 10min next to one of the two large Russian groups also coming up here today. Then we continue and after total 2h 35min we top out at the small plateau of Camp Canada (4940m).
Here we select a flat and sheltered camp spot and pack everything we plan to leave here into the large red duffel bag. Unfortunately a lot
of people have left behind trash up here and it smells a bit like
urine in places, so it’s not an untouched idyllic place. But our spot
provides good shelter from wind from N and W.
Now the horizon is getting dark and we hear thunder. A thunderstorm at 5000m is not a good thing, so I rush Antoine to get down. Luckily the visibility is still fairly good with a few hundred m so orientation is
not a problem. Then I hear an irritating ticking noise almost as if I
had a Geiger counter in my backpack. I can’t explain where this noise
is coming from; then I feel prickling sensation on my forehead and
scalp. Now I realize that there is electrostatic in the air and I am
very afraid that we could be exposed to lightning on this featureless
slope. Antoine also feels the tingling on his scalp. We lay down our
metal trekking poles a few m away and sit down low to the ground about 10m away from each other. This scenario repeats itself two more times; once I sit down, then when I stand up the static immediately hits me like needles poking into my scalp and I quickly sit down again – a very strange situation which I have never experienced before.
After 4h roundtrip we’re back in base camp, taking shelter from the
ongoing thunderstorm and snowfall in our tent. After a relaxing 1h nap
the weather clears a bit and we can go out again. No Internet today –
perhaps due to the weather. Later we get access again to the larger
Mallku tent and prepare dinner like the last two evenings. Into the
sleeping bag by 10:30pm.

Tuesday, March 2, Day 7

Plaza de Mulas to Camp Canada (4950m)

We get up around 8:30 and have breakfast until the sun hits the tents
and warms up base camp. Then we break down our high altitude tent and let everything dry in the sun. We sort our remaining gear and leave
everything we don’t need on the upper mountain in the tent at base camp.
After we get the latest weather report and unsuccessfully ask for
Internet we finally leave around 1:30pm. We already know the trail and it takes us again 2.5h up to Camp Canada, despite the heavy load and the fresh snow on the trail.
Once we reach Camp Canada at 4pm we find our red duffle bag with food and gear. Next we set up our tent and luckily the sun is shining
without too much wind. We start melting snow in order to get enough
fluid to drink and also to cook. We have good dinner and prepare our
tent for the night. I still walk around to take advantage of the great
views and the gorgeous yellow evening light. As we are almost 5000m
high we can already see down several valleys and out to the Chilean
flatland with clouds way down below us. With this view and sunset this has got to be one of the coolest places I ever camped on a mountain
(similar to Logan and Denali). Antoine is setting a new record for
highest night slept. Into the tent by 8:30 and typing these notes
before falling asleep to the chatter of the many nearby tents from a
large Russian expedition.

Wednesday, March 3, Day 8

Camp Canada to Nido de Condores (5400m) and back

We wait until the sun hits the tent – like everybody else – to avoid
getting out in chilly air (-15C). Then we melt water and make
breakfast. Our tentative plan is to double-carry to the next camp
today as it’s only about 450m vertical. We set out with all gear and
food for higher camps in our backpacks but leave the tent standing
with sleeping bags inside.
We start around 11:00am and enjoy good visibility on a perfectly clear
day with moderate temperatures. The path leads up a long scree slope, in fact the same slope which comes all the way down from the summit to base camp. It’s a bit tricky to find a good path as there are many
tracks from people going down. We pause once in the middle near a rock band enjoying the ever widening view above 5000m peaks to the West into Chile. On the upper half one can clearly feel the effects of
altitude already, slowing down the pace. At the camp Nido de Condores (“condor’s nest”) one can now also for the first time see to the East
above the Andes to Argentina, quite spectacular! We chose a good spot for our supplies and once again drop the red duffel bag with our gear, thus marking the tent spot for us.
However we’re not doing the double-carry today. Instead we just bring a little bit of food down again for dinner and plan to sleep down at
Camp Canada one more time. This will give us better acclimatization
and more rest for the next hard days.
Upon return to camp after about 5h round trip we start melting snow
(2h for 4l) and have dinner, followed by another beautiful sunset.
Into the tent by 8:30pm.

Thursday, March 4, Day 9

Camp Canada to Nido de Condores (5400m)

Again we wait until the sun hits the tent – today at 9:40am – before
we do anything. Unfortunately there was a mishap overnight with my pee bottle: It leaked all its contents near my feet! My soft shell jacket
and the bottom of my sleeping bag got soaked in urine :-( So I let
everything dry in the sun and wind in order to be able to continue to
use it.
Then we melt snow and have some breakfast. Everything now takes a bit longer at this altitude. We pack the tent as today we are moving up to the next camp. When we finally shoulder our heavy packs and get going it’s about 1:30pm.
The trail is not very steep but with the loads on our back we’re still
feeling it quite a bit. It takes us 2.5h to the camp, again with one
nice rest stop in the middle.
Once at camp at 4pm it is quite pleasant on this beautiful day with
only moderate winds. We set up the tent, prepare both stoves and start melting snow. In fact, both stoves will go continuously for the next 3 hours. Then we have enough water to hydrate and also for our soups and beef stew for dinner.
After all cooking is done we marvel at the fantastic evening light and
the views up here. The wind dies down almost completely and we take
plenty of pictures of the evening sun. We also walk over to the ranger
station and chat with two rangers and one visiting photographer.
They share cookies and tea with us, although we decline their offer to
share ‘Mate’, the Argentinean national drink.
Lastly some more sunset photos and one more time firing up the stove
to heat water for a bottle to take into the sleeping bag – a trick I
learned on Mt. Logan. Into the tent by 9pm after some final gazing at
the super-clear milky way and night sky, with the lights of a Chilean
city some 40km to the West and probably some 5000m lower… Neither
Antoine nor myself have ever slept this high before; temp outside is
probably -15C, maybe lower, but luckily no wind.

Friday, March 5, Day 10

Nido de Condores to Camp Colera (6000m)

Today we are sorting through our gear again to leave things behind we don’t need on summit day (to save weight). After breakfast at Nido we
break down our tent and start moving up around noon. We both feel
pretty good given that neither one of us had slept this high before;
except the heavy backpacks feel weighty on our shoulders and slow our ascent.
After following the tracks in the snow and a guided group ahead of us
we arrive at Camp Berlin (5900m). This is a spot with two small and
one large Refugio shelters. Unfortunately those shelters are somewhat
filthy inside and so they don’t invite for a stay except for an
emergency. Also we have been told that this camp spot is not very
clean, with the surrounding snow (needed for drinking water) being
fairly polluted. Therefore the recommendation is to proceed to Camp
Colera (6000m) another 1/2h up. Most climbers follow this
recommendation and so do we. Camp Colera is a good-sized plateau with plenty of near-level space for dozens of tents. We pitch our tent and wonder how well our bodies will react to sleeping at 6000m. Now it
becomes evident that our little tent has one major disadvantage: One
cannot cook inside it or a vestibule. Instead all cooking / melting of
snow has to take place outside, which is obviously cold and exposed to the wind (or even snow in bad weather). Unfortunately Antoine has a bad case of headache again and needs to spend most of his time inside the tent and sleeping bag. This also means that I am doing all the
work to melt snow and prepare food. I realize that today I spent more
time working the two stoves (~4h+) than actual climbing (~3h).
We take some more pictures of the stunning scenery in the evening
light and then crawl into the tent by 8:30pm trying to get some sleep
before the big summit push tomorrow.

Saturday, March 6, Day 11

Summit Day: Camp Colera to summit (6962m) and back

Neither one of us sleeps well; I lay awake and think about the coming ascent. Unfortunately my throat hurts a bit and my sinuses seem stuffed up; it feels as if I am catching a cold – probably from sitting in the cold wind to melt snow all the time. What a shame, of all days I should not get sick on summit day!
We get up at 5:00am to melt snow and be in a position to leave for
the summit by around 6:30am. Mechanical motion to dress and get everything ready, not much talking, anxious expectation about what’s to come today…
Finally we leave and soon we warm up a bit. It feels good to get going.
On the Eastern horizon one can already see the sliver of daylight.
We follow the head lamp lights of a Russian group ahead of us. Some of them actually turn around after just an hour or so – too cold and exhausting for them!
Antoine also has trouble keeping his toes warm, so I offer him my over-boots with crampons – we simply switch and I later take his crampons. Just fixing the over-boots and crampons on his boots makes me breathe hard and I need to force myself to relax…
Soon the sun comes up and paints everything in spectacular orange colors. Aconcagua casts a triangular shadow to the West which is very scenic. We take some pictures and proceed to the Refugio Independencia, at 6,400m the highest shelter of its kind in the world. Up here it’s relatively warm, maybe -10C with sun and very little wind, quite nice actually. This changes dramatically as we step out to the long traverse, where a very strong W wind blows across the huge, featureless scree slope. All of a sudden the wind chill plummets and creates extreme, potentially life-threatening conditions!
We advance a few hundred meters to a truck-sized boulder which gives a bit of shelter, where we put on our down jacket as an extra layer against the cold. Our next goal is to complete the traverse so as to get out of this wind. At about 6,600m we reach the bottom of the infamous “Canaleta”, a steep slope of rocks and scree leading up to the summit. I am very exhausted after the traverse and seriously consider turning around. But everyone is tired and slow, and we have plenty of daylight left on a beautiful day, so we might as well push on.
We leave the backpack here at the bottom of the Canaleta and I only bring 1l of water, the cameras and the SPOT tracker for the OK message from the summit. Going is very tough and slow, after every 10 steps or so I need to rest and take several deep breaths. But I have no headache and everyone else is also equally slow, so I accept the slow progress as inevitable. Another remarkable aspect of these last two hours is the fact that everything seems blurred; I can hardly remember details of the route. I suspect that the lack of oxygen (hypoxia) causes reduced memory and cognitive abilities. But I check myself to ensure I’m still with it and keep going… We also have good conditions, as we can step up on a small band of compact snow on the side of the Canaleta so we can avoid the unstable scree and rocks.
After about two hours we reach the ridge between the two summits and can for the first time look out over the South Face way down over the Andes.
The view is absolutely breath-taking and there is no cloud in the sky.
Now it’s only another 50m or so to the top, and for the first time I know for sure that I will make it. After what seems another very long time both Antoine and I reach the last rock ledge and finally step out onto the flat plateau of the summit! All of a sudden you can see in all directions far down, over all of the Andes, some 6000m down to the low lands of Argentina (East) and Chile (West) – it’s amazing! There is the little iron cross marking the summit, which I recognize from photographs.
I am overwhelmed by emotions and cry tears of joy – hugging Antoine
and congratulating him on having made it. The views are unsurpassed,
with no cloud in the sky. I reflect briefly on the fact that this will most
likely be the highest point I’ll ever reach on foot in my life, certainly
the highest of the Panamerican Peaks.
I send an OK message from my SPOT satellite tracker to inform
friends and family that we have made it. I also take some panorama shots with my little Olympus camera, hoping to stitch it together later on the computer. Luckily I have no headache, so I’m not worried about AMS.
However, I am very exhausted and know that getting to the top is only
half the way; now we need to focus on the descent. Not that we are in a hurry, the weather is stable and we still have at least 5h of sunshine to go down. But we need to start and after 45 min we begin our descent.
We walk carefully, resting every now and then. A stumble or fall up here near 7,000 m could put you in very serious trouble, as no helicopter can fly this high and everyone is quite busy getting themselves down.
Soon we’re back at the bottom of the Canaleta where we deposited our backpacks. We drink some more water and then continue on down. The rest of the descent is fairly straightforward, and after only 3h we are back down at high camp. After almost 12h we’re thirsty, tired, and hungry.
Melting more snow for water seems particularly tedious now, but it’s
absolutely essential to stay hydrated. Then we drift asleep in our tent,
happy to have made it to the top, but also eager to make it further down the next morning.

Sunday, March 7, Day 12

Camp Colera to Base Camp (4300m)

We didn’t sleep very well due to the lack of oxygen, dry and itchy throat as well as continuing headache on Antoine’s part. We get up early, dress warmly, pack up our tent and load everything in our growing backpacks for the way down. Once we get going it gets easier and warmer the further we get down. We pick up various deposits of gear, food and trash bags on the next two camps (Camp 2 = Nido at 5,400 m; Camp 1 = Berlin at 4,900 m). We meet with photographer Pablo Betancourt – who works on an Aconcagua photo book and was with us on the summit – at Nido for a quick snack and some water. Further down we soon are back on the slopes between Camp Canada and Base Camp. After some 4h of descending we are 1,700 m lower and reach base camp.
Our service provider Mallku cooks up two oven-fresh pizzas for us; the first such food in 2 weeks tastes almost too good to be true! Then we send out some update email to the outside world and finally organize our gear for the mule transport. We also cook some of our own food as we’re still hungry. Just as we walk to do the dishes a strong wind gust blows away some mattresses from nearby provider “Inka expeditions”. We secure a stack of the mattresses with rocks and inform their staff; they thank us for the help and invite us in for tea and desert, a very nice gesture! Soon thereafter we fall asleep in what now feels warm and more oxygen-rich air.

Monday, March 8, Day 13

Base Camp to Puente del Inca (2700m)

We get up early (6:30am) to pack our duffel bags and white rice bags for the mules with our tent and sleeping bags. The idea is that up to 60 kg will be transported by a mule so we don’t have to carry too heavy packs on the long way out. We start hiking down at 7:30am through the Horcones Valley. It’s initially cool in the shadow and windy for the first 2h. Then the sun comes out and we need to shed layer after layer. We have interesting conversations about history of war and conflict, one of Antoine’s special interests. We stop twice for little snacks and water. After 5h we reach Confluencia and have some more peanuts as lunch with fresh water. There is another 2h hike to the park entrance ahead of us and we want to ensure that we’re there by about 3pm so we won’t miss our bus at 4:45pm from Puente de Inca. The trail leads further away from the mountain, offering interesting views all the way up the South Face again. Somehow it looks different now that we stood at the top and have seen the views from up there… After 7h we reach the park entrance and check out – our Aconcagua expedition is now officially over!
We have to walk the remaining 4 km to Puente de Inca since no vehicles seem to be willing to pick us up and our service provider doesn’t answer the radio calls. So we continue for another 45 min and eventually get to the little village Puente de Inca where we started 2 weeks ago. We order a big sandwich and coke at the little convenience store and hope to find Osvaldo from Mallku, who should have our bags brought down by the mules by now. I find Osvaldo, but the bags are not here yet! It’s only 15 min until the bus will stop here and leave to Mendoza! Literally in the last 5 min Osvaldo pulls in with the bags in his pickup truck; they had been delivered just-in-time by the mule driver rushing the mules down in time. We are very happy about this, as otherwise we would have been stuck here for another 3h! So we pay Osvaldo, load our stuff into the big bus and then enjoy the 4h drive back to Mendoza.
Once there we use a cab to get to the Hotel Argentino in the center of Mendoza, where we book a nice room for the next 2-3 days. I reflect that we are now 6,000 m lower than just 48 hr ago! We are basking in oxygen-rich air, appreciating hot showers, sleeping in clean beds and feasting on juicy Argentinean steaks. In short: We are low again, but definitely high on life!

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