Aconcagua Memoirs Penitentes.
We had flown from Gatwick to Paris and Paris to Beunos Aires where a slow transfer and not much time saw us miss our connecting flight to Mendoza by minutes.
After a few moments of annoyance and frustration we saw the opportunity for what it was, a chance to stop off somewhere unplanned and see a bit of Buenos Aires!
Flight re arranged for the next day, a nice afternoon out exploring and accommodation and meal in a rather lovely hotel had us feeling refreshed for travel the next day.
Smooth flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza and our taxi was waiting for us to take us to Hotel Mendoza.
Our time in Mendoza was busy.
Visit to the Inka Expeditions office to pay for our transfer and mule service, Aconcagua Park Licence to pay for and obtain and gas and white fuel to source for our stoves.
We also needed to purchase enough snacks for 2 weeks to complement the 20 packs each of 1000kcal expedition food we had flown over for our nutrition on the mountain. When you have never been on a mountain of this magnitude before it’s hard to know what to take, or how much.
I had read that Altitude tended to kill appetite and turn you off certain foods, especially sweet stodgy food. With this in mind I bought cup a soups, oxo cubes (salty to replace lost minerals) museli bars, trail mix, salami, cheese, nougat, pringles and biscuits – in addition to packs and packs of Tang – a fruit powder added to water to improve the taste of chlorine treated mountain water.
A 3 hour drive to the ski resort Penitentes would be our next stop before heading onto the mountain.
After spending the day rushing around all over Mendoza we arrived at Penitentes at 17:00.
Penitentes sits at 2600m Altitude and at the time of our visit was hot and very dry. Baked brown, dusty mountains surround this ski resort which acts as a hub for those heading onto and coming off the mountain.
First things first and we needed to repackage our luggage in preparation for transport on the mules.
Many who visit Aconcagua invest in one of the many mountain service providers who provide all tents set up, food prepared, water and guides who also carry equipment up the mountain for those willing to pay their fees. It’s akin to a mountain hand holding experience where by those who invest in such services are guided to the top and supported every step of the way. The only thing you have to do is carry minimal kit, some water, snacks and get up the hill. These services come with a high price tag.
We had decided to save money and immerse ourselves in the full expedition experience – that being to be totally self-supported on the mountain. Preparing all our own food, carrying all of our own gear, finding our own water and moving up the mountain as we progress with our tents etc.
In a holding bay below the hotel we set about the process of equipment evaluation, planning and meticulous packing.
We were each allowed one bag of 10kg which would be taken by mules to Confluenzia, the first camping stop up the hill before heading to base camp.
In another bag we were allowed 20kg of equipment each which would be taken by mules directly to base camp. This contained largely food and heavy items such as plastic boots, ice axe, helmet, down clothing and crampons that we wouldn’t need until much later in the expedition.
We would also carry our own rucksack with gear (clothes, sleeping bag, tent etc) and food for use on the way to Confluenzia – around 10kg.
A couple of hours later and we had packaged everything away not without a little stress!
Due to the quantity of gear and the fact we had all of our own food for the next two weeks we needed an extra mule purely for carrying food up the mountain – a cost of $300 USD.
Job done and it was time to retire to the hostel for the night and the last time we’d be sleeping in a bed for the next 12 to14 days.
When walking around Penitentes we hadn’t really felt the altitude.
During the night I had a restless night’s sleep and on a number of occasions woke up feeling very out of breath which necessitated gulping down 3 or 4 deep rapid breaths to restore normal breathing.
My head felt ever so slightly fuzzy too and the altitude was starting to hint at its presence.
Despite the poor night’s sleep I woke up feeling refreshed and excited to get moving and get trekking!