Here is my account of the trip.
Day 1: Pentitentes to Pampa de Lenas
Tony and I arrived at Pentitentes at 10am and weighed our duffle bags and cooler. They were exactly 90kg (including four bottles of wine and lots of fruit courtesy of the Sheraton buffet). We just made the weight cut off and the total cost for two mules was $425. It takes three days typically to get to the base of the mountain and most people choose to pack the majority of their weight on mules during this process. It saves energy and allows you to bring luxuries you usually wouldn't think of in the backcountry. We paid our money and were dropped off at the trailhead. We checked in with our permits, snapped some photos then left stating at 11:30am.
|Leaving for the trailhead|
|Loading the mule|
|At the park entrance|
|Mules on the trail|
|Tony on the trail|
|Arrival at Pampa De Lenas|
Ayamara Group(Left to Right): Naiko, Pablo, Arden, Lei, Franchesco, Scott
Australian Group(Left to Right): Carlos, Mariana, Alex, Nathan, Tom, Ben, Mat, Dan
Apu and Isabelle:
Day 2: Pampa de Lenas to Casa De Piedra
We woke up around 8am and were off hiking at 9:20am to Casa De Piedra. A few minutes from camp, there is a bridge crossing, then a bit of uphill, followed by rolling flatlands following the Vacas River covering 11 miles and upto 10,600 feet. It was here, 500 meters before camp, that we had our first glimpse of Aconcagua and the route that we were set to climb. We snapped some photos and made it to Casa De Piedra in 3hrs and 40 minutes - we were cruising.
|Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|Casa De Piedra|
|First view of the mountain|
|A look at our route|
|Casa De Peidra Camp|
|Some vino please|
We left Casa De Piedra around 8:45am and arrived a few minutes later at the notorious Vacas River Crossing. There were two options to cross the river. You could tip out the mule driver and cross on horse back, or you could brave out the bone chilling cold and cross barefoot. Tony and I chose to walk. The water was deathly freezing but I chose to make my "I'm a tough guy face" and braved trough it.
|River Crossing the cool way|
|River crossing the lame way|
|Winding our way up|
|Some more crossings|
|We are there|
Ben and Felix(missing a photo of ben):
Curtis and Maribel:
I activated my Spot transceiver to let my loved ones know how I was doing, staked down my tent with heavy rocks, had some lunch, took a look around the base camp, watched someone get med evacuated for altitude sickness by helicopter and had some dinner with wine. The camp itself was super plush. There were pit toilets, a camp ranger hut, a medical staff hut,running water from a hose, food tents at a fee per service and well protected campsites.
|Our tents at basecamp|
|Securing my tent|
|Where the waiste goes...then taken by chopper|
|Plush Basecamp Food Tents for Expeditions|
|The ausies inside a tent|
|Some getting evacuated for altitude|
|See ya helicopter|
I woke up this morning at 7am with the loud buzz of the chopper. I wondered if it was another helicopter evacuation, but it turned out that it was routine waste removal from the toilets.
|Morning waste pickup|
|Hike to Camp 1|
We hiked some heavier loads to camp 1 today. I was a little tired from five straight days of hiking, but managed to get to camp 1 in 2hrs and 40 minutes. I later borrowed the 02 saturation machine from Arden and my reading were 75 02 sat and 110 hr. My oxygen was a little low and my hr was a little high. Although I was tired, I instantly felt better when I saw the condition of the other groups. When Franchesco arrived to camp from the Ayamara group, he collapsed to the ground and had trouble breathing or eating. Turned out he had to get helicopter evacuated the next day; bummer.
|Ready to Roll|
|Pentitentes - Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|On the trail|
|A New flag planted after the other one was shredded by wind|
|Hanging out eating lunch|
Day 6: plaza Argentina to Camp 1(load carry number 3)
We shuttled our final load to camp 1 and setup our tent. The weather forecast was not looking good. It was predicted to be winds of over 140km on the summit,-40 degrees and chances of snow. This is frostbite weather if you are attempting to summit. I was not super optimistic but Tony and I decided that we would just stick with our plan and see how it goes. It was at camp 1 that we met up with April again and she kindly allowed us to borrow her radio to get weather reports for the remainder of the climb. She also told us that the next day we could steal her campsite when she left, which had the best wind protection on the mountain.
April and Tony figuring out some logistics on radio
|Our Yummy unfiltered water source|
|Our site for the night|
|Cozy in a fat jacket - Thanks Anne Marie|
Instead of taking our scheduled rest day, Tony and I decided to hike up to our next camp to take a look at the condition of the route. We took our crampons and axes. Apu and Isabelle accompanied us. We hiked up and reached the base of the glacier in 65 km per hour winds. It was enough to knock you off balance. We took shelter in an alcove and examined the route. It looked terrible. Bullet ice and mixed climbing. It would be very committing to attempt. Tony and I both asked Apu what he thought. In my mind he is the expert on climbing Aconcagua. He holds the speed record to the summit from the parking lot and has been guiding the mountain for the past 12 years. He told us that he wouldn't want to climb it. He also told us that his margin of safety for summit day is usually 30 km per hour winds maximum. This information was humbling.
|Coming over the col|
|Looking down at groups traversing to camp 3 guanacos|
|Apu and Isabelle|
|Looking super cool|
|Nap Time - Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|At camp 2 - Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|At the route base|
Day 8: Rest Day in Camp 1:
This was our first rest day of the entire trip. Winds were too high at camp 2 polocos to advance (it is not a very protected camp) and we felt that wee needed our bodies to rest. If we had a weather window any day in the next week, we would move camp up to polacos and have a summit attempted the next morning. But the weather forecast wasn't looking too great. We were able to move into April's former campsite. It was the best site at camp 1 for wind protection and we were going to need it for the upcoming storm. The australians were carrying loads to camp guanacos and were prepared to move there the next day. We thought was a terrible idea. It offered less wind coverage and was further from base camp if things went wrong. I'm still not sure why this decision was made but it lead to a pretty epic day for them in the future storm. I spent sometime chatting with pablo the doctor and curt and Maribel and just relaxed-if you can call it relaxing; hanging out at 16,500 feet with 45 mile per hour winds.
|With Pablo the Doc|
Today was the first of the massive storm. Apu and Isabelle had moved to camp polacos the day before for a summit bid, which we also thought was not a good idea. I believe Apu was pressured into this decision by his client really wanting a summit-but that night they barely slept in the wind and a tent pole broke. We decided we would head up to the camp to check on them and see if they needed help with anything.
We hiked up to the col in 65 mph winds. Each step was a concentrated effort to not get blown by the wind. When we made it to the col. We met Apu and he said they had hired some porters to help them with their gear. So we headed back down to camp one.
|Meeting Apu and Isabelle|
|Hiking in High Winds|
|Looking down at our camp|
|Austalians Heading up|
|Hiking in heavy wind|
|Cool Camera Tricks|
|Arden and Lei before they headed down|
|Chatting wth Apu before he headed down|
|Getting Water after chipping the ice|
|Reinforcing the walls|
We had decided the night before that waiting out the storm would be difficult and it would be prudent to descend but still weren't 100 percent sure. We had 6 days before we needed to be back in Mendoza and the seven day forecast had no less than 100km winds at our second camp polacos and upto 140km winds on the summit. Combine this with below zero temperatures and snow forecasts and you have a good reason to descend.
|Getting the Weather|
|Outside Early on in the storm|
I woke up at 8 am to pee and the second I opened the tent door, I was greeted with a massive flurry of wind and snow. I looked around and everything was becoming white. Tony and I checked the weather report again and saw that there were seven more days of storms. We had no other options but to bail. I put on my cold boot liners with my numb hands and we boiled the frozen pot of water we had filled the day prior.
|Outside the tent door|
|My Packpack in the whiteout|
|Can Hardly See Tony|
|Hiking out in the storm -Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|Windy -Photo Courtesy of Tony|
About 100 meters from our camp, we saw an incredible site. There was a tent that had exploded from the force of the wind. Tony walked over to snap a few photos when an enormous gust of wind knocked us both off our feet. It had me clinging to a rock to maintain stability.
|Exploded tent panorama - photo courtesy of Tony|
|Exploded tent - photo courtesy of Tony|
|Hiking out in the storm -Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|Hiking out in the storm -Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|Dragging the duffle bag -Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|Finally some visability - Photo Courtesy of Tony|
|Base Camp-Photo courtesy of Tony|
|Yum yum Chicken|
Day 10: Hike to Pampa Las Lenas
Tony and I awoke to more snow and more wind. We gave Griselda the money for dinner, a tip for being awesome and a bottle of wine to share with everyone. We left our duffles for the mules and headed off into heavy wind and snow to Pampa de Lenas. After about an hour, the snow disappeared and we traded our double boots for our hiking shoes to complete the 20 miles in 6hrs and 10minutes. We each only drank 1/4 liter of water and had a granola bar or two. We were so hungry that night that we each had two dinners.
|Basecamp in the morning - photo courtesy of Tony|
|The hike out - photo courtesy of Tony|
|Almost another whiteout - photo courtesy of Tony|
|A very different looking sign than when we first saw - photo courtesy of Tony|
|The Mules powering through during a storm|
Day 11: Final Day Hike out
We woke up early, packed up our stuff and finished the hike out. We were picked up by grajales, paid them the remainder of the balance, sold them back the unused gas cans, weighed myself (lost 9 pounds), had some lunch at a restaurant/hostel where I snuck in a shower, played futeball with some local kids and caught the bus back to Mendoza.
|Pampa De Lena - photo courtesy of Tony|
|Looking Badass after the climb- photo courtesy of Tony|
|Chillin- photo courtesy of Tony|
|Chillin - photo courtesy of Tony|
Stretching while Tony has some Coke- photo courtesy of Tony
Soccer with the kids- photo courtesy of Tony
|Dinner at Caro Pepe- photo courtesy of Tony|
|More food- photo courtesy of Tony|
|Estas Lleno photo courtesy of Tony|
Climbing expeditions are a lot of work and are just as much physical as they are mental. This was my first all out expedition of more than a week. I was pretty sure that I wouldn't enjoy the expedition style of multiple days and slowly making my way up a mountain. I am more used to climbing routes in a day. Whether the day is 8 hours or 18 hours, I tend to spend more time climbing and less time relaxing when I am in the mountains. But I wanted to give an expedition a shot and see what I thought.
There are so many logistics that go into these climbs. Flying to the country, buying mountain permits, buying food, packing and ordering donkeys - while communicating in a foreign language. This is all before you even start the climb.
However, I was pleasantly surprised that there really wasn't as much down time as I thought. And once we started on the trail, I felt completely in my element and at ease. Granted there was time sitting around the tent waiting out storms but this was minimal in the entire scheme of things. What made the trip so fun wasn't necessarily the mountain, but the people. Everyone that I met was so warm and friendly and shared similar values and goals. The people I met made the trip. I realized that if I am going to continue climbing big mountains that I should do everything possible to reach the top but to know that the mountain decides whether you climb it. The summit shouldn't matter. It is the experiences I have, the people I meet and the stories I share that make the climb.
Cost off the trip:
I had some assistance from sponsors that helped cut the cost; but even with that, the trip cost was about 1300 dollars each without plane ticket.
Mid Season Permit: $750 per person
Mules 90kg entrance: $425 split
Mules 60kg exit: $325 split
Private Transportation to entrance trailhead from Mendoza: $207 split
Private transport from exit trailhead to Pentitentes: $25 split
Bus from Pentitentes to Mendoza: $7 per person
One Basecamp dinner meal: $40 per person
Fuel, Wine and Food at grocery store: $250 split
Only bring one roll of toilet paper, there are plenty of rolls in the pit toilets
The mountain dries out your throat and skin: bring lotion and cough drops
Two tents are nice for preliminary camps, then stash one at basecamp
Used only 1.5 fuel canisters and didn't filter the water, seem to be okay
Nylon neckbands are clutch most days to block the wind
Sandals are amazing at basecamp and preliminary camps
Lots of people get helicopter evacuations: hypothermia, Uti's and acute AMS.
Chopper evacs are free if ordered by the doc but 1800 dollars if it is not
Having a pulse oximiter and taking it each morning with hr is a good way to monitor your status Don't always rely on pulse ox and hr readings- clinical presentation is also important
Brought vegetables for the first 5 days, the got lazy and had only freeze dried food
Make sure you have clean clothes for when you return
When climbing unsupported, it is such a treat when the guided groups invite you into their food tents
You are given bags for high camps to pack out poo
Take the bus to and from the trailhead...3hrs and 30minutes but $200 dollars cheaper
Don't try to do anything in Mendoza on a Sunday...everything is closed
Bring extra American dollars with you to base camp...the peso exchange rate sucks
Use BIG rocks to stake down your tent. Stakes don't work and will cut your cord in wind.
Get the best possible campsite even if it means leaving early. You won't regret.
Hike to plaza in three days to acclimatize but out in one or two.
Have fun and enjoy every minute..it is likely you will only experience it once
Only three people have summited from the Polacos side this season