Aconcagua (6962m) – Summit of the Americas
|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 worldÂ´s highest point outside the Himalaya!
Its atmospheric pressure
= 60 mm of mercury which equals 37% oxygen proportion of sea level.
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%…
When my altimeter froze just above 6600 meters it showed -26,5 Â°C at a wind speed of about 70 – 80 km/hour. According to the wind chill table below this is a good -45 Â°C…
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.
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: (Â© aconcaguathemap.com)
The different routes of Aconcagua: (Â© aconcaguathemap.com)
ÂClick here for: Aconcagua Weather Forecast
Day 1 – 28.01.2010
Punta de Vacas (2350m) to Pampa de LeĂ±as (2950m); 12.5 km;
Net hiking time (NHT): 4 h 50 mins;
Nice… easy… short warm up hike… the packs are heavy!!
Wil posing at the park entrance
The way to Punta de Vacas…
Day 2 – 29.01.2010
Pampa de LeĂ±as (2950m) to Casa de Piedra (3250m); 14 km; NHT: 5 h 30 mins;
|We’re getting higher, the valley more spectacular
and the track more adventurous.
Just us – nobody else – beautiful!
|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!
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!
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 cafĂ© (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), etcâ€¦
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 doesnâ€™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 â€śshit-bagâ€ť we received to â€śsecureâ€ť big â€śbusinessâ€ť 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:
â€śDear Aconcagua Park Administration,
please tell us what the f*ck are we paying 1800 bongos for?â€ť
Day 4 – 31.01.2010
Plaza Argentina (4200m) to Campo 1 (4900m); NHT: 3 h 30 mins;
The nights are getting colder (+2 Â°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 higherâ€¦
Today was supposed to be an easy day. We slept in until 8 oâ€™clock and were eavesdropping on the weather reports from one of the expeditions:
â€śWeather 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.â€ť
|Plaza Argentina||I am standing on a several hundred meter thick glacier|
This basically meant, if we have a chance, if at all, we would only have one single heroic attempt to summit:
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 CĂłlera from where we launch our summit attempt.
Left: Wil following through a field of penitentes
|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 CĂłlera (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.
|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?!”
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.
Sunset over Campo CĂłlera
Day 6 – Summit Day – 02.02.2010
Campo CĂłlera (5970m) to Summit Aconcagua (6962m) to Campo CĂłlera (5970m);
NHT: 9 h 42 mins;
Not the comfiest night: -9.5 Â°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.
|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 Â°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.|
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.
|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.
|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…|
February 2nd 2010; 14:32 pm to 14:58 pm; -45 Â°C
|“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.
|When we stumbled back into Campo CĂłlera 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 CĂłlera (5970m) to Nido de CĂłndores (5550m) to Plaza Canada (5050m) to Plaza de Mulas (4300m);
What another horrible night at 6000m!
We didn’t sleep a second.
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:
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.
|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!|
|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…
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:
|28.01.2010||11:05am||2365||Punta de Vacas||Start hiking|
|28.01.2010||18:21pm||2942||Pampa de LeĂ±as
||Overnight Camp 1
|29.01.2010||08:35am||2942||Pampa de LeĂ±as
|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||16:50pm||4910||Campo 1||Overnight Camp 4|
|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 CĂłlera||Overnight Camp 5|
|02.02.2010||06:58am||5982||Campo CĂłlera||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||17:25pm||5982||Campo CĂłlera||Overnight Camp 6|
|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||21:12pm||850||Mendoza||Back @ da hostal|
To see more pictures click: