Aconcagua Again Part 1
It was January 3rd 2020 and I stood in Gatwick airport looking at the departure boards.
I was heading to Aconcagua Again – Argentina to be precise, via Madrid and Buenos Aires.
The culmination of months of training and preparation had come to this and I returned to the mountain that beat me last time and saw me on the edge of life.
24 hours later I had arrived in Mendoza airport to be met by Victor, a mountain guide who was assisting on the trip. As we chatted on the transfer I discovered he had a reputation for climbing mountains high in the Death Zone without the use of supplementary Oxygen. In other words, a mountaineering Bad Ass.
It was great to return to Mendoza and the Hotel Diplomatic. A hotel I had stayed in last time 2 years previous. The first night saw a small group of us heading out for a steak and wine dinner; when in Mendoza it would be a crime not to. Of course things escalated and before I knew it my watch said 5am and we were leaving an Argentinian club, somewhat inebriated. It wasn’t how I imagined the expedition to start but before I had left the UK I had decided I would go with the flow, however the flow decided to go.
The next day saw the full team of clients arrive and after introductions, getting to know you’s and equipment checks by the Elite Himalayan Adventures team we headed out for the official welcome meal to continue the bonding process.
There was much to do before our departure for the mountains including last minute equipment purchases and climbing permit organisation. Nim’s team of Sherpas and helpers took care of everything and all we needed to do was wait until the pick up to be taken to Penitentes.
Aconcagua Again Part 1 – Penitentes Ski Resort
Penitentes is a drive of around 3 hours from Mendoza and is a Ski Resort. There was no snow when we arrived (it being their summer) and it more resembled a dusty ghost town. In amongst the buildings was a hive of activity with duffel bags on the back of mules coming down from Aconcagua while other teams of mules are laden and ready to be sent up.
It is organised chaos but somehow it works. We simply sat by and watched while having a beer, chatting and playing card games. Easy Life.
Fairly early to bed as the next day we would be heading to trek to the first camp – Confluenzia.
Confluenzia is a trek of around 3 hours from Penitentes up the Horcones Valley and is mostly uphill over dusty, rocky terrain.
The altitude at the trail head is 2950m rising to 3400m when you arrive in Confluenzia.
On the day we trekked there was some degree of wind and a buff over the mouth and nose with shades to protect the eyes was essential to prevent dust inhalation.
Aconcagua Again Part 1 – Arrival at Confuenzia
We arrived in Confluenzia after around 2hrs 45 and quickly made ourselves at home in our dome tent with bunk beds and then lazed around adapting to the new altitude, drinking lots of fluids (not beers!) and later eating dinner in the cooks tent.
By this time everyone was getting on well and it felt like we had mostly known each other longer than we had.
The next day was the trek to basecamp – Plaza De Mulas.
Nims made us aware of the plan for the next day. Up at 2am for a 3am take off to beat some inclement weather that was due to hit in the afternoon and to avoid as much of the midday heat as possible.
I think all of us were shocked at this idea at first. Last time I was here we had left much later and trekked in the midday sun – it had been uncomfortable and no doubt contributed to the Altitude Sickness I felt 2 years ago.
Sleep was hard come by, especially as the Sherpas were having a party just a few tents away. Sherpas like to party I began to realise and wished I could have joined in. But the mountain was the goal and that was what I was here to do.
Killing in The Name Of – Alarm Call
Before I knew it I was woken to the sound of “Killing in the Name of – by Rage Against the Machine and “Get Uuupppppp” was being shouted by Pat, a tall, young ozzy guy with a vibrant and colourful energy.
Sleeping bag away, clothes on, pack up, bag on, food tent.
We sat eating semi cold scrambled egg with cut up hot dog sausages and round, Eccles cake like mini loaves of white bread. It was dry, relatively tasteless and not quite what I had in mind for breakfast. Little did I know it would set the scene for breakfasts for most of the expedition.
We set off at 3am in a single file line of around 20 of us. It was pitch black so head torches were on.
“Put your shades on” came the instruction from Nims as the wind whipped around us and stirred up the dust. It was a first for me – shades at night time with a head torch on.
We trekked for the most part silently, our chatter taken away by the wind. It was cold and I could feel my hands starting to go numb. Thicker gloves on and I couldnt help but think I would have preferred the heat of the days sun.
Aconcagua Again Part 1 – The Trek to Base Camp
The trek from Confluenzia to Base Camp is around 11 miles and 7 to 8 hours and rises from 3400m to 4300m in base camp. It is crucial not to push the pace on the way up to allow yourself to acclimatise properly.
After 5 hours of trekking we took a break on a wide open expanse of valley floor. The wind still working against us whipping up clouds of dust like a dust bowl. I managed to take some moody photographs before we were off again.
An hour later and Base Camp comes into sight around 400m of vertical height gain above us in the distance.
Near to the end of the trek, most of the height gain is achieved by crawling your way up a steep scree slope with mule beaten tracks and fully laden mules ascending and descending around you.
It is quite a sight to behold but whit’s must be kept about you.
I took my time going up the slope and stayed well within myself. Unlike the last time I was here 2 years ago when I was experiencing splitting, altitude induced headaches, this time I felt nothing.
I thought the altitude training I had done on the build up to the expedition might have paid off, but at this stage, I didn’t want to get too cocky – so just observed how I felt and cracked on.
We arrived in base camp just under 8 hours from when we left, somewhat tired but satisfied that we had all got there with few, if any side effects.
Thanks for reading my firs blog Aconcagua Again Part 1.
Part 2 to follow shortly!