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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!

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