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ACONCAGUA – Day 10 December 31, 2006

Posted by Cheryl in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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Rest Day at “The Col” (5,400m)

The wind picked up massively during the night and has been buffeting the tent in earnest.  Is this the end of the window of good weather that we´ve had since arriving at base camp?  The tales of the 5 weeks of high wind at the beginning of the season rendering it incapable for anyone to get to the summit are fresh in our minds and it is a very sobering thought.  Aconcagua is famous for its high winds named the “white wind” because of the lenticular cloud that forms over the summit indicating ferocious winds.  We´re well aware that if the wind remains high, we´ll have almost no chance of making it.

Geoff finds an isolated spot to bivouac at 5,400m   Cheryl and Jason still smiling at 5,400m!!   Sun shining over the Guanaco Ridge

During the night almost all the huge rocks we spent an hour anchoring the tent with yesterday have shifted and Jase is out early in the morning piling more rocks on the tent and retensioning the loosened guy lines.  Small wonder that Geoff, who eschews tents, and spent the duration of the expedition sleeping under the stars in just a bivy bag hasn´t been blown away.

We were planning on pushing on up the mountain today, but on account of the weather and the fact that we´re all pretty exhausted, we decide to spend the day resting instead.  It´s turned pretty cold and grey, so the lounging in the sun we´ve enjoyed on previous days isn´t possible and we spend the day holed up in our sleeping bags. 

The moon still shining above our camp

Most of the water has been used up after dinner and due to our limited carrying capacity and the fact that the stream won´t thaw probably till the afternoon tomorrow, Jase and I are forced to make the long, slow walk to the stream just after sunset.  It´s bitterly cold and the stream is a mere trickle having almost frozen solid already.   Filling our water bottles and trying to wash the dinner dishes in water that is turning to sludge in the pot is tormenting and impossible.  The dishes remain dirty with the leftover food encased in a layer of ice.  We make the slow trudge back to camp with freezing hands and an icy wind ripping through our clothes.

Lying in our sleeping bags trying to thaw ourselves out I suddenly remember it´s New Year´s Eve.  It´s hard to believe that everywhere else in the world everyone is celebrating the dawn of another year.  I feel so far from civilisation and reality.  I think about my family and friends and what they´re likely to be doing right now, it´s hard to imagine the real world.  This is definitely the most unusual New Year´s Eve I´ve ever had!  Apart from being vaguely aware of the howling gusts of wind which you can hear coming 5 seconds before they rock the tent, I´m asleep by 9pm!

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ACONCAGUA – Day 9 December 30, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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Move from Camp 1 (4,900m) to the intermediary camp “The Col” (5,400m)

Today was supposed to be a rest day, but we all felt pretty good and Cheryl wanted to make more progress on the route while the weather was good.  So with Geoff´s agreement we decided to move camp to “The Col” today. 

No rush though and we take our time having hot drinks and breakfast and see the other guys off on Geoffs expedition as they head to Camp 2.

We don´t move until after 11am and start the haul of gear up to “The Col”.  Today I am feeling the weight of the pack soon after leaving camp and feel quite tired.  We are all moving a little slower than yesterday but not by too much, we are still climbing at just under 200m an hour which is respectable.

The haul up to the Col, Camp 1.5   Jason on the way up to the Col with cliffs on the eastern slopes of Aconcagua   Resting with a view down the valley, looking back to the Vacas Valley

The scree slope up to “The Col” seems to go on a little longer than yesterday. 

We reach the top of the first Col in reasonable time and we stop for a bite to eat.  We bump into a couple of the Romanian guys we have been shadowing up the mountain, we seem to have a similar schedule.

Then we make the final 120m climb to the second Col and our camp site.

We all find this final section rather tiring and alot tougher than yesterday. We arrive at 3pm.

Camp site at “The Col”, we have this part of the mountain to ourselves!    Cheryl collapses at the Col!!    Cheryl collapses at the Col, finally reaching our campsite!!

We all collapse in a heap pretty knackered! We rest a while before we put up the tent. There is still little wind but we know that this spot on the mountain is quite exposed and we need to anchor the tent firmly. It again takes over an hour to sort the tent and all the bending down and lifting of rocks and stones does nothing for your head at altitude.  By the time we are finished we are truly knackered!

Chezza and Geoff head off to the water source, a good 10 minute walk(at least!) which is an arduous task at this altitude.  Every effort at 5,400m is a major effort. Cooking a meal or even just eating it becomes a major undertaking and takes time and effort.

Cheryl going on the long walk to get water, the Col camp is behind   Geoff at the water source, glacial melt water   Storm clouds gathering over the Polish Glacier of Aconcagua

At night the thought of unzipping your sleeping bag and sitting up to take a sip of water becomes a major act.  You lie awake for half an hour or so to decide you have the energy to drink!  Sounds pathetic but it is that tiring to do anything.  So to fetch water 10 to 15 minutes away involves major effort as does almost any action at this altitude.

We get to bed at 9pm tonight.  It gets to -3.5 in the tent, the temperature is gradually getting colder.  It is now getting more difficult to stop the water bottles from freezing in the tent.  We have to sleep with more and more of our gear, batteries, cameras and water bottles to keep them working.  The wind picks up and is far more aggressive, buffeting the tent at times.  We have a lightning storm.

“The Col” Camp 1.5

We have the camp site on the Col to ourselves, which is nice.  

ACONCAGUA – Day 8 December 29, 2006

Posted by Cheryl in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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Carry to Camp 1.5 “The Col” (5,400m)

The sun hits the tent early this morning as we´re so high up in the mountains now.  The temperature rises quickly.  Geoff comes over first thing and says that if our offer is still open for him to join us that he would like to.  This rests on him being able to work out the logistical issues, mainly whether he will be able to take some food off his expedition group and whether this will give him enough supplies to see him through our more extended programme.  Initially his group leader isn´t happy with the idea, but after some extended discussions and Geoff´s signing off of a legal waiver to say that he is no longer under the responsibility of his expedition group, it is all sorted out.

Geoff setting off to “the Col”   Jason and Geoff taking a rest below the Col   View from the col looking north

So the two became three and we set off for our first carry to our next camp.  We´ve decided to break the next leg of the journey down as the change in altitude between Camp 1 and the traditional Camp 2 at 5,900m is a thousand metres and too much we feel to be able to acclimatise to.  We´ve been told that there are 2 cols around half-way where camping is possible, although water isn´t as easily available.  We´re going to have to do a recce to find the water.

We arrive at the first col after a slow plod up a long and steep scree slope.  It´s a beautiful spot nestling at the foot of the 5,800m high peak of Ameghino next to a bright green and yellow pond of water – beautiful, but unfortunately totally undrinkable water.  We drop our packs and set off in exploration of potable water.  Geoff was a hydrologist in a past life, so a useful counterpart to have in tow!

It´s refreshing to be moving without a great big pack on our backs and the views as we work our way around the mountain to the higher col are breathtaking.  We´re beginning to leave the rest of the Andes below us, and the world opens up at our feet with snowy peaks and knife-point ridges dropping down into wide open valleys as far as our eyes can see. 

From the sulphur tarn at the first Col, looking at the adjacent peak   Looking down from the Col to the trail back to Camp 1    The Polish Glacier face of Aconcagua from the Col

The upper col is an exposed sweep of land with the wind ripping through it. It´s also far less beautiful than the lower col, but has the advantage of water “close” by – a mere half an hour round trip to a small stream trickling down from the glacial melt above.  The stream is icy and freezes as soon as the sun goes down and we can´t be sure what time in the morning it will start running, but it´s good enough and we decide to make this our next camp.   The arduous climb that took 3 hours to ascend, takes a mere 40 minutes to decend by surfing down the loose stone and rock!

ACONCAGUA – Day 7 December 28, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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Move from Base Camp (4,200m) to Camp 1 (4,900m)

Our last decent meal before relying on our rations, breakfast with Aymara. We sort out gear we will not need for the climb and arrange a payment for part share in a mule for US$45, for 12Kg of gear to be sent back down to Puente Del Inca.

We pack up and are ready to leave for Camp 1 by 10am. Unfortunately we weigh our packs before setting off and realise that I am carrying 28kg and Cheryl 24kg!

Cheryl on her way over the morraine to Camp 1

We say our goodbyes and start the slow plod up to Camp 1. Up the moraine to the scree slope and then across the Penitentes. Chezza has it tough again up the scree and is struggling with the weight of her pack, but she copes well. We are lucky with the weather again and the wind is light and it is sunny and clear. We continue up the moraine to the foot of the steep snow slope of Penitentes and rest before climbing this final section to Camp 1.

Jason on his way up through the Penitentes    Penitentes with Aconcagua in the distance    Cheryl ploughing through the large slope of Penitentes before Camp 1

The view ahead is fantastic up to the Polish Glacier and the col above. The day is very clear and gives us magnificent views.

We pass 3 people on the way up the Penitentes that had summited the day before, the first people we have met that have actually done so, fantastic! Needless to say they were very pleased, but it gives us all hope that the conditions higher up the mountain are getting better.

We reach the top of the Penitentes at about 2:30pm, only 4 hours and 40 minutes to climb to Camp 1 with a full pack when it took us over 6 hours 2 days ago.

We head over to our stash of food and fuel and notice a familiar figure, Geoff. We camp near our stash near to Geoff´s team.

Our site at Camp 1   Looking down to Camp 1   Sunset at Camp 1

We rest in the sunshine and chat to Geoff. The others in his expedition are on their way to Camp 2 for acclimatisation. Geoff started off this morning with them but turned back at around 5,500m because he was feeling tired. His Guide had told him that if he did not make it to Camp 2 today he could not go to the summit! A ridiculous notion as we are all acclimatising at different rates and has no bearing on a summit attempt. Geoff was a little despondent and had decided to return to base camp and call it a day on his expedition.

We immediately asked Geoff if he would like to join us, as we have a much slower acclimatisation schedule worked out. Geoff said he would think about it.

The view from Camp 1 is pretty spectacular looking back down the valley we had climbed in the previous few days. We are amazed at how clean the camps we have seen so far are. We have heard horror stories of the state of the camps on Aconcagua but so far on this side of the mountain the sites have been well kept, clean and pretty quiet. I hope the rest are like this.

A brief visit by the helicopter at Camp 1

Again we have an early night, settling into the tent as soon as the sun goes down as the temperature drops quickly. Tomorrow is a carry to the “col”. Another hard day.

ACONCAGUA – Day 6 December 27, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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Second Rest Day at Base Camp 

I had trouble sleeping last night, only 4 to 5 hours sleep but feel alot better than yesterday.  Cheryl is tired from yesterdays exhertions.

Base Camp frpm the morraine

Its calm and sunny and we wish Geoffs team well as they prepare to leave for Camp 1 a day earlier than us.

We spend the day chilling out and doing as little as possible.  Our main problem is finding somewhere to shelter from the sun as the tent is too hot.

Chezza does a little washing in the river and later we have mate with Charlie, Sujay and Willie Prittie´s wife.

Cheryl doing the washing   Cheryl doing the washing   Time for Tea!

I finally feel like we are acclimatising to this height.  Unfortunately tommorrow we have to start acclimatising all over again.  This time to 4,900m.

Tonight, Charlie cooked us a steak and lentil stew, which I think is a cruel joke considering the state of my flatulence!  See HAFE!!  

ACONCAGUA – Day 5 December 26, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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First carry to Camp 1 (4,900m)

Up early and the weather looks good.  Sunny and bright with blue sky and not much wind.  This is where our double carrying begins.

We start off at 9.10am with full packs, food, gas and technical equipment.

We start at a slow altitude plod up the moraine behind camp and follow the ridge towards the Penitentes.  The Penitentes are thankfully smaller this year than the last few years but they stretch along way up the mountain and a short battle to cross them is inevitable. 

We head up the scree on this side of the Penitentes, which is steep and unstable.  You can have no slow altitude plod here to keep your breathing under control as you have to roll with the sliding scree slope.

Cheryl leading up the morraine to the penitentes   Cheryl in the Penitentes!   Jason and Cheryl half way to Camp 1 

As soon as we hit the steep scree slope Cheryl is having problems.  The weight of her pack (well over 20kg), added to the terrain and altitude is causing her immense problems.  The air is sent blue by her language!

We continue to struggle up the scree slope to the top of the rise.  Unfortunately, we have missed the normal crossing of the Penitentes and continue following a faint path up the moraine.

When we realise our mistake it is too late to turn back and we end up walking up the river bed and scrambling up the side of the moraine and through the Penitentes.  I go first and by the time Cheryl follows the rocks are sliding away from the moraine leaving bare ice to scramble up!  I have to pull her rucksac off her back to give her more time to scramble up! …….the air turns blue again!

In the Penitentes   Jason getting delirious at altitude!   Jason collapsing with delirium at altitude!

After a short rest we continue over the moraine to the foot of the main Penitentes snow field. It continues up the mountain for 150m to the site of Camp 1.

This is an arduous plod up.  The main problem being if you slip over on this ground with heavy packs it takes 5 minutes to get back on your feet.  It is a very steep slope and it is slow going but eventually at 3:15pm we reach Camp 1.  Cheryl is mightily relieved, but is very tired.

Slope to Camp 1

We dump our gear in a sheltered spot at Camp 1 and head back down at 3:50pm.

We miss out the largest Penitentes by going down the scree immediately below Camp 1 and then follow the undulating Moraine back to Base Camp.

When we return at 6pm, I am very tired but Cheryl is truly exhausted.  The weight of the pack has caused her problems and she has had one of those days being fatigued by the altitude.  We are both glad that we have another rest day tomorrow.

One bit of good news today is that we met Willi Prittie who guides on Aconcagua with his company Alpine Ascent International. He has been guiding here for 16 years and knows the mountain pretty well. We were initially advised that there was no water at “the col”, which we were going to use as an intermediary camp between Camp 1 and 2.  But Willi Prittie advised us of water sources at both cols above Camp 1, so our original plan can proceed.

Another bit of good news is that a 4 day good weather window has opened up and people from Camp 2 are starting to summit.  Perhaps our luck is on the up??!

ACONCAGUA – Day 4 December 25, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua.
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Rest day at Base Camp (4,200m)

Thank God!! A Rest day! We are both knackered and are glad to hear the wind has finally died down.

The sun hits our tent at 7:30am and it gets hot very quickly.

Christmas Day

Today is Christmas day, and my Santa hat comes out for an airing! But Christmas spirit here is thin on the ground!

We sign in at the Rangers station to collect our “shit bags”! we have to use on the mountain and hand in for inspection on the way down! I hope the inspection is not too thorough!

We get a check up at the base camp Doctor and our Christmas Dinner is Pizza! And it was the best Pizza I have had in Argentina!

The guys at Aymara, Sujay, Charlie and Pinky make us very welcome and cook some exellent meals.

We spend the day in the sun, doing as little as possible recovering from yesterday´s exhertions. We have to sort rations though which takes several hours.

Plaza Argentina Plaza Argentina Plaza Argentina

But by the afternoon I have an altitude headache and feel pretty rotten. The pizza is good though and Chezza manages a final beer before our carry to Camp 1 tomorrow.

ACONCAGUA – Day 3 December 24, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua.
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Casa De Piedras to Plaza Argentina (base camp, 4,200m)

We had some snow over night but none of it had settled as we packed up camp. This was Christmas Eve, but you would never have guessed it here at 3,200m.

Geoff crossing river on mule

This morning was the big morning for river crossings. Geoffs expedition had arranged for a lift across the river by Mules. They had been asked if the arrieros (muleteers) could leave early so that they could get home for Christmas. They were asked to leave early….by 7.30am. Unfortunately, they were still hanging around after 9am for a lift across the river! This request was of course made in arreiros time….which is even more relaxed than Argentinian time!

Cheryl and I ended up wading through the glacial river, chezza first (ladies first!). Geoffs team getting a mule across shortly afterwards.

Unfortunately for Geoffs team, after everyone had been taken across the first section of the river, the arreiros galloped off into the sunset, not telling them that there was actually another channel to cross! So they had to get their feet wet anyway!

Jason crossing icy cold glacial river

Although the river was up to the knee high and extremely cold, it was just the refreshing start to the day we needed(I´m such a liar!).

After some drying off we headed straight up the narrow valley heading directly west towards Aconcagua. At last we would be on the slopes of Aconcagua soon.

The valley is steep sided scree, but the views are excellent to both east and west. The views towards Aconcagua are at first obscurred by cloud but the higher we go the clearer the views get.

After a third of the way up the valley we do another river crossing. This time the water is much colder. We stop on the other side for a bite to eat.

As we climb higher the valley begins to open up and the vista becomes more incredible. The view ahead to Aconcagua is fantastic with cliffs of rock and snow. We can see for the first time the route to the col and the ice slopes of the Polish Glacier enticing us.

Landscape - Day 3

As we climb higher to around 3,900m the wind is beginning to become quite fierce and I am feeling the altitude badly. I am becoming tired and breathless and the wind is lashing at our faces. It is most uncomfortable.

We pass our first penitentes , spiking ice reaching into the sky, a peculiar nature on this mountain. The base camp seems to be forever distant as we round the head of a moraine wall and finally see a sign silhoueted against the sky. We climb to the skyline and there the base camp Plaza Argentina is finally revealed.

A few large base camp services tents and a few bright yellow tents dotted across the moraine becomes our home for the next 3 days. I feel exhausted. Cheryl however still feels in good form and has coped with the altitude far better than myself.

We find Aymara base camp services and find a sheltered spot. Many walls have been built at base camp to protect the tents from the savage high winds. When we arrive the wind is very strong buffeting the tents. It takes over an hour to pitch the tent to anchor it properly with rocks. The wind is relentless and the process of pitching the tent and lifting rocks at this altitude exhausts me.

Thankfully we do not have to cook tonight, as we have purchased base camp services and Aymara cook us a fabulous meal, steak and mash, certainly beats our meager rations!!

The grape vine works quickly at base camp and we quickly learn that the climbing season this year has been a bad one. Out of 200 people attempting the summit and the traverse of the mountain, only 2 people have succeeded! This sobers us all for the task ahead. The weather has been appalling for a month with gale force winds being almost continuous. At the moment there are teams at camp 1 waiting for a break in the weather. At the moment they are experiencing 80kmh winds.

We slump into bed early, quite exhausted, I feel terrible, the altitude has knocked me for six. Thank God it is a rest day tomorrow!

ACONCAGUA – Day 2 December 23, 2006

Posted by Cheryl in Aconcagua, Argentina.
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Pampas De Lenas (2,800m) to Casa De Piedra (3,200m)

Jase and I are last to get up and leave camp (the pattern is emerging already!). All the other climbers we met on this route yesterday are already out of view by the time we´ve packed our tent and set off (so keen!). The day starts off calm and windless but as we walk further up the valley it flattens into an expansive river bed and the wind picks up more and more. Eventually it has picked up to such an extent that it must be gale force and we are walking headlong into it. It´s difficult to walk and the wind has been clawing at my hair for so long that it starts to hurt. We shelter behind some rocks long enough to cover our heads with something.

Eventually see the next camp in the distance and trudge across the river bed to get to it. The stones have been washed down from all the surrounding mountains and they are all different colours – beautiful reds and greens and yellows and blues.

Casa De Piedra

The second camp is called Casa De Piedra which means “House of Stones” and is so named for a rough looking refuge built of stones stacked against a huge rock. Even more rough is the long drop half-way up the hill which has a strip of canvas down it´s front for privacy, but which doesn´t actually offer any privacy or shelter from the wind at all. The wind whips around your ankles and could result in a nasty accident!

Casa De Piedra The Long Drop at Camp 2 Walking along narrow ledge next to river

It´s our first real test of putting the tent up in a strong wind, but although tricky, we manage to not lose any 0f the pivotal parts of the tent to the element. If you did lose anything, you would literally have to go and retrieve it at the previous camp, 7 hours walk down the valley, the wind is that strong. We cook in the porch of the tent sheltering from the wind. At 9pm we´re informed that the muleteers want to leave at 7am the next morning. We´re somewhat miffed as this would mean we´d have to be up at 5.30am to break camp in time and they could have told us a bit earlier. Anyway we decide to not get up any earlier and to rather just carry our tent and sleeping bags ourselves, but it does entail a spate of repacking in the cold and dark in order to rejig our bags so that the mules are carrying as much else as possible.

ACONCAGUA – Day 1 December 22, 2006

Posted by Jason in Aconcagua.
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Vacas Valley trek to Pampas De Lenas

The nervous energy from the day before had evaporated as we just wanted to finally start the trek into base camp. A 3 day trek through the Vacas Valley to the east of Aconcagua.

Start of the Vacas Valley Still squeaky clean! Wet feet! Camp 1 - Pampas Lenas

We were dropped off by Aymara , the company we were using to arrange Mule transportation to base camp and base camp services. The Mules were ready with our bags and at 11.15am we finally began the long walk in.

The sun was shining and there was plenty of blue sky above, however the everpresent high winds were with us as usual. We headed up the narrow Vacas Valley following the high´s and low´s of the river most of the way. The valley is quite beautiful and much different from the wide Horcones valley we travelled up a few days before.

The path is rocky and dusty as it winds its way up the valley until finally we reached the first days camp at Pampas De Lenas (2,800m) at 5pm.

We check in with the GuardaParque and receive our trash bags for the journey ahead which must be checked out when we leave. After a month of the climbing season gone, we are still only numbers 207 and 208 on this route. We have seen no one on our trail today except the Mules being driven up the valley.

We put up the tent and weigh it down with as many rocks as we can find and cook our evening meal, soya, rice and a chili sauce.

An hour or so later, we see more figures enter the camp site, one of which looks familiar. Amazingly, one of the members of this expedition was Geoff Bonney, whom we had participated in voluntary work with earlier this year with a company called Global Vision International! It was great to see him, its such a small world!

We drank coffee into the early evening watching the sun go down, and as the temperature quickly dropped we retired to the haven of our tents to rest before the next days trek.