Aconcagua Memoirs Trek to Base Camp
Aconcagua Memoirs Trek to Base Camp.
Woke up at 5am after a better night’s sleep. Today we head to base camp – Plaza De Mulas at 4370m it’s higher than the height of Ben Nevis stacked up 3 times on top of each other!
First things first, pee bottle emptied and water on to boil – not to be confused with boiling the contents of your pee bottle!
A pee bottle is a very necessary piece of kit on the mountain and certainly breaks down the barriers with your new tent mate!
Night time is just too cold to want to consider getting out of your tent and into the freezing cold nights air in few clothes and after being in a super cosy sleeping bag! Enter the pee bottle!
I used a 1l Nalgene bottle with a wide neck making splashes and spills less likely. You simply kneel up, open the bottle, tuck your bits in and usually with head pressed against the tent roof, try to relax enough to let it flow. The only thing you really have to worry about is the risk of it over flowing given the fact we were drinking 5l per day of fluid!
Possibly too much detail but budding readers, it’s important you know all the ins and outs of mountain life so you get the full picture!
Breakfast and Drugs.
Boiled water poured into expedition food bag and left to “cook” for 8 minutes – porridge and blueberries today.
Took 300mg of aspirin to thin the blood and drive away the headache which was now developing in the front of my skull – in 30 minutes it would be gone again.
Gloopy porridge forced down, all 1000kcal of it, gear crammed into a full rucksack, tent down and off we go at 07:20am.
In our enthusiasm we start at a fast pace heading up the valley. My breathing feels like it would do if I were running at a reasonable pace and yet I’m not, I am hiking at around 2.5mph with 10kg on my back.
We ascend over dusty, rocky tracks and we see the mountain helicopter buzzing up the valley taking supplies as it flew to base camp.
On this day is was very busy as it is also used to evacuate casualties off the mountain and into Mendoza hospital.
We over take group after group of people – our trek today is about 11 miles and takes between 6.5 and 8 hours usually – according to the internet.
I notice slight feelings of nausea in my stomach on drinking water from my bladder pack and I am aware we are racing ahead.
I voice my concerns along the lines of “I didn’t know we were on a test March boys” and the pace slows to something slightly more pleasant.
After 4 hours of trekking along the valley floor we hit a rocky wide section that is hard work. Constantly walking over rock and boulders for what I guess is about a mile prevents me from getting into a decent flow. The trekking poles make life easier and are a godsend.
Baking in the Suns Heat.
The sun emerges from behind the mountains and we start to feel the morning’s heat rise.
We all compare notes and by now I am feeling pressure developing in the head from the altitude. Our energy expenditure has been high and yet none of us are really hungry. I force a muesli bar into my mouth, not really fancying it and instantly it makes me feel more nauseous.
We take 15 minutes rest behind a huge rock trying to stay out of the suns blistering heat. We all have factor 50 sun cream on and our noses and lips are white with sun block. A buff worn around the neck is used to protect the back of the neck, nose, face, ears and mouth. My back is drenched in sweat from the effort and rucksack.
After taking a rest it’s time to press on again and face the toughest section of the day.
We had gained little by way of height from Camp Conflunenzia at 3395m so the majority of the altitude gain (around 900 vertical m) was to be had in the last couple of hours of trekking.
We began to ascend a rocky narrow path skirted by jagged, steep mountain faces overlooking us.
And Suffering Starts.
By now we all had pounding headaches due to the altitude. I took a paracetamol which had little effect. The headache is made worse by the most simple of actions – bending over to reach into the rucksack causes a tremendous “thump, thump, thump” which takes a time or two to reduce once standing back up again.
We walked at a slow steady pace, held back by breathing which was becoming more laboured and compounded by the feeling of heart thumping in its new location – my head.
After a while we could see the tops of tents at basecamp – the only thing standing in our way was a very steep, loose rock incline.
To the side of the incline amongst the rocks we could see the bony remains of a mule that had met its untimely end – most likely had fallen and broken a leg which at this altitude and location would be fatal.
Several groups of mules had passed us on the way to this point. Loaded with duffel bags, rucksacks and crates of food the mules and their mule masters are something to behold.
They make short work of the challenging terrain and I could only marvel at how they carried up to 60kg on their backs and looked very comfortable despite the severity of the terrain.
By comparison here I was with 10kg on by back and feeling like death warmed up.
As we began to ascend the final steep incline our pace slowed to a crawl. Up two or three paces, stop, lean over on trekking poles and suck in deep breaths of air. Rinse and repeat.
Whistles and calls sounded as a herd of mules began the descent from above us. An element of fear and caution took hold of me as I watched for falling rocks dislodged by the mules. I had heard tales of people being hit in the chest and worse by falling rocks and so it was with our senses switched on we climbed.
The mules came to pass us as we tried to stand out of the way, just inches from these beasts laden with heavy loads on treacherously steep mountain side. One trip and a mule could easily fall and crash into us.
After what seemed like an eternity and was more like 30 minutes we got to the top of the climb incident free breathing like we had raced a marathon.
Plaze De Mulas – Base Camp.
Where the tents of base camp had seemed close they were now out of sight again.
With a sinking heart we carried on the slog and eventually we arrived at the ranger’s cabin, checked in, received our excrement bags (more on this another time) and was greeted by the wooden sign that indicated we had arrived at Plaza De Mulas – Base Camp.
6 hours of trekking had been done.
We all felt rough. My head was pounding and I felt nauseous and heavily fatigued. Others went off to use the bathroom and be sick, some just needed to lie down.
After checking in with the ranger and our mule company we went off to find a suitable pitch for our tents and to establish camp – which was exactly the last thing I wanted to do.
I sat on a rock and held my head in my hands massaging my throbbing temples. I thought to myself “if this is what basecamp is like, fuck knows what it’ll be like higher up.”