Our first Aconcagua expedition is safely down after a 15-day expedition that saw us reach the summit on a beautiful windless day.
After flying to Mendoza, Argentina the team began the 3-day trek into Base Camp carrying light packs and being supported by mules. The team battled through many days of strong winds and some snowy days early on in the trip but were able to keep forward progress inching closer to a high camp that put us in position for our summit bid.
Climbing Aconcagua does not require any “technical skills”. It’s challenges lie in dealing with high altitude, changeable weather, cold temperatures, carrying heavy loads, and taking care of yourself in the mountain environment. As the team moves higher the strategy is to keep acclimatizing and staying healthy in the increasingly rarefied air.
After spending a few nights at Base Camp (4200m/13,747′) the team slept at the following elevations: Camp 1 – 5090m/16,700′, Camp 2 – 5480m/17,979′, Camp 3 – 5970m/19,586′. We kept the schedule steady and methodical trying to not exceed averaging a faster jump in elevation than 1000’/300m in a 24 hour period. We were turned back on our first attempt to sleep at Camp 1 when a storm brought fresh snow and high winds during our climb. We retreated back to Base Camp, took a rest day to regroup and get back our energy then moved up to Camp 1 on the following day after the storm cleared.
Strong winds high on the mountain revealed themselves day after day with big snow plumes blowing off the Polish Glacier that decorated our skyline view. They didn’t prevent us from moving into position for a summit attempt though. As the team’s health remained good we kept to our schedule and hoped when we were ready for a summit attempt the weather would settle down. Our patience paid off and we found ourselves settling into Camp 3 with only a light breeze and clear skies on December 14. The team prepped for the summit day, had an early dinner, and got into their sleeping bags before it got dark.
Waking before sunrise SMI guide April Mayhew started the stoves to make hot drinks and breakfast while Kurt checked on the group and made sure everybody was ready for the big day. The sky displayed a vast array of stars and no clouds while the weather was crisp and calm. As we started out at 5:30am the horizon showed the first hints of light from the sun rising casting an orange glow over the far reaching skyline.
The thin air required deep breathing in the cold air in a steady rhythm of 1-2 breaths per step. By the time we would reach the summit it was 3-4 deep breaths per step. The team took breaks at regular intervals where they ate, drank, and took in the spectacular views Aconcagua offers. Eventually we found ourselves taking a break at “The Cave” at 22,000’/6700m. Above is the Canaleta Chute making up the last 841’/250+m to the summit. The route weaves it’s way through boulders and snowbanks culminating at the summit.
The team did a great job showing tenacity and lots of sticktoitiveness over a very respectable 7 1/2 hour climb to the summit. Calm weather allowed the team to relax on the summit to enjoy the views, take photos, eat, and drink. After a generous 45 minutes or so on the summit the team began packing up and then retracing their steps back to high camp.
The following day they descended to Base Camp and took advantage of the opportunity to hire a helicopter to fly directly back to their hotel in Los Penitentes where much deserved showers awaited. On December 17 the team was back in Mendoza celebrating at 1884 Francis Mallmann, the nicest restaurant in Mendoza and the perfect way to put the icing on the cake of a great expedition.
Congratulations team on a job well done!!
A few pictures are below. The entire photo gallery can be found here: