Aconcagua (6962m) – Summit of the Americas

aconca01

Cerro Aconcagua is the highest mountain of Argentina and the South American continent,
highest peak of the Andes mountain range,
highest summit of all the Americas
& the world´s highest point outside the Himalaya!
Its atmospheric pressure
= 60 mm of mercury which equals 37% oxygen proportion of sea level.
aconca00

2nd February 2010, 14:32 o’clock:
Exactly 5 days, 8 hours and 32 minutes after we left Mendoza I summited Aconcagua together with William Chidzey (my climbing buddy from Australia I met months earlier in La Paz, Bolivia) via the Valle de Vacas and the Falso Polaco Route. We started at Punta de Vacas and hiked/climbed the entire route unsupported, carrying around 35 kg each – including all gear & supplies for 10 days – without the help of mules, without porters and no guide. “All-inclusive” expeditions take on average 16-20 days, with a summit success rate well below 10%…

aconca02

When my altimeter froze just above 6600 meters it showed -26,5 °C at a wind speed of about 70 – 80 km/hour. According to the wind chill table below this is a good -45 °C…

windchill_chart
Wind Chill Chart – click to enlarge –
© Wikipedia

Preparation:

What other people plan months or even years in advance Wil and I organized the day before departure in Mendoza. We payed the ARS 1800 (~ U$ 460) each for the climbing permit, hired the missing gear (4 season tent, crampons, axes, heavy down clothes, etc…) for a hefty fee and bought porridge, spaghetti & instant mashed potatoes for 10 days.

aconca04
Hiring gear
aconca03
Food for 10 days

To avoid the crowds of commercial expeditions and their “mountain tourists” on the Normal Route we decided to ascend via the more scenic and also noticeably longer Falso Polaco Route (Route de Plaza Argentina) via the Valle de Vacas. The descend was planned short and quick down the other side via Valle Horcones and Plaza de Mulas. If snow and ice are in perfect condition and weather permits, we would split up on summit day, Wil going for the False Polish Traverse Route and me trying a solo attempt on the technical Direct Polish Glacier Route hopefully later reuniting on the summit:-)

Interactive map of Aconcagua: (© aconcaguathemap.com)

The different routes of Aconcagua: (© aconcaguathemap.com)

­Click here for: Aconcagua Weather Forecast

Day 1 – 28.01.2010

Punta de Vacas (2350m) to Pampa de Leñas (2950m); 12.5 km;
Net hiking time (NHT): 4 h 50 mins;

Nice… easy… short warm up hike… the packs are heavy!!

aconca05
Wil posing at the park entrance
aconca06
The way to Punta de Vacas

Day 2 – 29.01.2010

Pampa de Leñas (2950m) to Casa de Piedra (3250m); 14 km; NHT: 5 h 30 mins;

aconca07 We’re getting higher, the valley more spectacular
and the track more adventurous.
Just us – nobody else – beautiful!
aconca08

aconca09 aconca10
Overnight camp 2: Casa de Piedra From the camp we could see mighty Aconcagua for the first time! Almost there: only 3712m missing…

Day 3 – 30.01.2010

Casa de Piedra (3250m) to Plaza Argentina (4200m); 11.5 km; NHT: 5 h 40 mins;

The morning sun has not yet reached us when we had to cross a river coming down the glaciers. Chunks of ice were floating around my bare-feet when I stumbled in between the sharp rocks with my loaded pack on:

Just don’t fall!
Just don’t wet the gear!

aconca11

The current was stronger than expected, the stream deeper than it looked, I couldn’t see through the milky water, my feet benumbed in seconds and it was so brutally cold that the pain in my 3 frostbitten toes (from my “Ojos” climb the week before) almost made me faint. What a start into the day!

aconca12 aconca13
aconca15

A thousand meters higher is Plaza Argentina which is used as base camp for all the commercial expeditions.

Over past years it has grown to almost a small village with about 50 permanent staff during high season and fixed tents, including an internet café (U$ 15 for 5 mins), restaurants (U$ 25 for a cup of coffee & bowl of cereals or U$ 35 for a pizza), shower facilities (U$ 30 for 5 mins), etc…

During the entire time on the mountain Wil & I were the ONLY climbers doing EVERYTHING on our own – without help or support of anybody else.
But since this doesn’t involve spending extra money we got a slight feeling of not really be welcomed. We had to pitch our tent on scree slopes around all the reserved expedition spots and there were neither water nor public toilet facilities available for independent climbers. We had to negotiate the right to use a shit-hole (U$ 5 per day) from one of the private companies.
The “shit-bag” we received to “secure” big “business” in higher camps (since nothing decomposes in this altitude) is only to be used above base camp! Further there is a U$ 500 fine if you get caught urinating around camp. Fair enough, but:

“Dear Aconcagua Park Administration,
please tell us what the f*ck are we paying 1800 bongos for?”

aconca14

Day 4 – 31.01.2010

Plaza Argentina (4200m) to Campo 1 (4900m); NHT: 3 h 30 mins;

The nights are getting colder (+2 °C inside the tent) and FloMasterGenius has pierced his air-mattress. If you have ever done winter camping you can imagine into how much cold trouble I was going to get up higher…

Today was supposed to be an easy day. We slept in until 8 o’clock and were eavesdropping on the weather reports from one of the expeditions:

Weather significantly worse in the next days. No wind tomorrow. But 50-70 km/h the 2nd of February & around 100 km per hour on summit on the 3rd and 4th with unknown development for the days after, hence making a summit attempt on these days impossible.

aconca27 aconca17
Plaza Argentina I am standing on a several hundred meter thick glacier

aconca18

This basically meant, if we have a chance, if at all, we would only have one single heroic attempt to summit:
Having made a 1000m yesterday we would have to power up another 1000 meters in one day tomorrow and try for the last 1000m to the summit the same night!
We would also have to change the route due to expected rough winds and hence unpredictable conditions on the Polish Direct and Traverse Route.

Furthermore the guides advise against Camp 2 due to its exposure to the elements. The only chance would be to dodge for Campo 3 de Guanaco and continue to Campo Cólera from where we launch our summit attempt.

Left: Wil following through a field of penitentes

aconca19 aconca20
The view back down today’s leg Campo 1

Day 5 – 01.02.2010

Campo 1 (4900m) to Campo 3 de Guanaco (5500m) to Campo Cólera (5970m);
NHT: 5 h 17 mins;

We got up at 5 am and left camp after packing at around 6:30 am for a massive 1100m-day.

aconca21 aconca22
2 hours later we reached the col On the other side of the col

@ Campo 3 de Guanaco we rested for an hour and discovered sacks full of left-over food from other expeditions… It was the most luscious we have eaten during our time on the mountain:-)

Not much later, the ever-lasting question was again pounding in my head:

“Why da *%*#! am I doing all this to me?!”

aconca24

Zigeiner working hard @ around 5700m – in his long johns – on one of the coldest mountains in the world…

When we got to high camp mid afternoon, we pitched our tent and spent the rest of the day melting snow until midnight. When the sun went down, the temperature dropped by 25 degrees in a couple of minutes.

aconca26

Sunset over Campo Cólera

Day 6 – Summit Day – 02.02.2010

Campo Cólera (5970m) to Summit Aconcagua (6962m) to Campo Cólera (5970m);
NHT: 9 h 42 mins;

Not the comfiest night: -9.5 °C inside the tent with a flat air mattress, and a pair of boots, 4 bottles of water, gloves, socks, digital camera, another pair of mitts, a spare set of batteries, my head torch and a third pair of gloves in my sleeping bag.

aconca28 aconca29
Sunrise @ High Camp Other climbers struggling

Due to extreme cold and soaring wind we had to postpone our early morning summit attempt and wait for the sun to come up. Another problem was, that our stove didn’t properly burn the gas in this altitude, hence leaving a lot of waste in the air. After almost getting sick inside the tent we tried to melt snow in the awning instead. But wind, snow drift and -20 °C made this a barbarous effort. We launched our summit attempt at 7 am being the last team leaving high camp.

By the time we got to Independencia Shelter (6380m), the point where all different major non-technical routes finally join together, the great majority of the about 50 other climbers attempting the summit this morning had been turned around by their guides already. aconca31
aconca30

They believed the wind has reached a good 70-80 km/hour and to continue would be futile…

By now Wil and I have well noticed that we are on one of the coldest mountains in the world and that we have to be very careful. Exposed skin would freeze in seconds and there would be no chance for help or rescue for days in a storm evolving like this.

aconca32 aconca33
Wil is following my steps; Further down are two devitalised climbers resting on a small ledge in the snow. They were still there hours later when we returned from the summit From this point only we both and another climber with his guide were left towards the roof of the Americas

@ La Cueva (6650m) we stopped for almost an hour. In the sun and largely protected from the wind we tanked as much sugar as we could preparing for the final assault. In this moment Wil & I have realized that nothing could stop us now… We are close. Two, maybe three hours more.

aconca34 aconca35
La Canaleta: One step, 4 full breaths in & 4 full breaths out – another step, 3 breaths in & 3 breaths out – next step, 10 breaths – 3 weren’t enough…

The SUMMIT

February 2nd 2010; 14:32 pm to 14:58 pm; -45 °C

aconca36 aconca37
“Ziglioner” tough only in his leather pants Another climber throwing up on the summit

Only 4 people made it to the top this day, at least 50 have turned around. And definitely none of them will be summiting in the next 3 or 5 days. This time I was well prepared for the cold and only the tip of my nose caught some minor frostbite. Wil heavily wind-burned his lips.

aconca38 When we stumbled back into Campo Cólera we were too cold and way too exhausted to pack up. With only 2 hours of sunshine left, we would have never made it down to a lower camp and to pitch tent in time.

Against every rule of high altitude mountaineering we had no other choice but to sleep again at the same altitude.

Sunset over High Camp

Day 7 – 03.02.2010

Campo Cólera (5970m) to Nido de Cóndores (5550m) to Plaza Canada (5050m) to Plaza de Mulas (4300m);

What another horrible night at 6000m!
My altimeter indicated icy -12 °C inside the tent and it must have had close to 100 km per hour wind outside. When two of the guy lines snapped during the night we pressed our feet against the tent poles.

We didn’t sleep a second.

aconca39

aconca40

In the morning a thick layer of solid frozen snow drift enclosed lines, pegs and poles and it took us 3 hours to dig out and pack up the tent. Never have I experienced wind gusts like this. They came from nowhere & everywhere and were like punches in the face, so painful, and would blow everything straight off the mountain if not bolted to the ground.

Coming down the Northwest face (Normal Route) of the mountain:

aconca41

What a shock: Why in da world would you wanna spend 2 weeks climbing/acclimatising on such a horrible 2000 meter dirt slog like this?!
We definitely made the right choice ascending the other side via the Valle de Vacas.

aconca42 aconca43
A group of climbers carrying loads up to a higher camp. Welcome to the world’s second largest base camp after Everest Base Camp: hot showers, internet, pizza and believe it – a hotel!
aconca45 aconca44
Plaza de Mulas Time to go home…


Day 8 – 04.02.2010

Plaza de Mulas (4300m) to Confluencia (3390m) to Los Horcones (2950m) to Puente del Inca (2750m); 26km; NHT: 7 h 05 mins;

A looong way out…

aconca46

At 4:30 pm we were on the bus back to Mendoza and to some serious amount of cold beers!

Climbing Aconcagua was one of the most formidable things I have done in my life.
I am proud, tired and happy that this was the last big mountain for a while…

Thank you so much Wil for sharing all this with me. Keep me updated mate!

My altimeter stats:

Date Time Altitude (Meters) Place Notes
28.01.2010 06:00am 850 Mendoza Departure bus
28.01.2010 11:05am 2365 Punta de Vacas Start hiking
28.01.2010 18:21pm 2942 Pampa de Leñas
Overnight Camp 1
29.01.2010 08:35am 2942 Pampa de Leñas
Departure
29.01.2010 17:55pm 3245 Casa de Piedra
Overnight Camp 2
30.01.2010 08:12am 3245 Casa de Piedra Departure
30.01.2010 17:19pm 4191 Plaza Argentina Overnight Camp 3
31.01.2010 12:17pm 4191 Plaza Argentina Departure
31.01.2010 16:50pm 4910 Campo 1 Overnight Camp 4
01.02.2010 06:35am 4910 Campo1 Departure
01.02.2010 08:14am 5301 Col de Ameguino 35 mins rest
01.02.2010 09:51am 5505 Campo 3 de Guanaco 1h 10 mins lunch break
01.02.2010 14:21pm 5982 Campo Cólera Overnight Camp 5
02.02.2010 06:58am 5982 Campo Cólera Start summit attempt
02.02.2010 09:10am 6380 Independencia Shelter 20 mins break
02.02.2010 11:25am 6650 La Cueva 45 mins warming-up break
02.02.2010 14:32pm 6962 Summit Aconcagua Arrival
02.02.2010 14:58pm 6962 Summit Aconcagua
Departure
02.02.2010 17:25pm 5982 Campo Cólera Overnight Camp 6
03.02.2010 10:21am 5982 Campo Cólera Departure
03.02.2010 14:45pm 4322 Plaza de Mulas Overnight Camp 7
04.02.2010 06:55am 4322 Plaza de Mulas Departure
04.02.2010 15:46pm 2934 Los Horcones Finish!
04.02.2010 21:12pm 850 Mendoza Back @ da hostal


To see more pictures click:

February 5, 2010  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: Argentina, Argentina 2010 Views: 10801

Leave a Comment

 


One Response

  1. Expeditions Portraits - June 15, 2010

    What is the best/cheapest way to climb Aconcagua?

    [...] http://www.zigeiner.de » Aconcagua (6962m) – Summit of the Americas [...]