As some of you may know this year I organised an expedition to Aconcagua and offered to coordinate all the logistics inside Argentina for any moderately experienced climbers that wanted to join my wife Sue and I on this amazing adventure. Well, after hundreds of emails and numerous phone calls eight climbers from Canada and the US joined the climb scheduled from December 22, 2006 to January 13, 2007. The team included; Dana and Rob a married couple from Vancouver, BC, friends Jim (Las Vegas, NV) and Allan (Puyallup, WA), Mark (Denver, CO) and Chris (Springrville, AZ) and solo climbers Hakno (Los Angeles, CA) and Lyle (Gainsville, FL).
Sue and I arrived in Mendoza on Dec. 22 to make sure all the necessary arrangements were in place and checked into the El Portal Suites Hotel. It was great to be back as I love walking around Mendoza and eating, drinking beer and shopping. If I could I think I would retire here. The other climbers began arriving on Dec. 23 and I met them at the airport to escort them back to the hotel. Everyone arrived on time but the team had a little scare as we were not sure if Mark's flight out of Denver would be cancelled due to a snow storm. Needless to say Mark arrived safe and sound but his luggage did not! Luckily we had scheduled to spend two days in Mendoza before the climb which gave LAN Airlines some time to locate and deliver Mark's gear to everyones' relief. The team spent two wonderful nights in Mendoza enjoying good food, plenty of wine and even got to sample a bit of civil unrest South American style when the local police attempted to arrest someone inside General San Martin Plaza and his friends decided to throw stones at the police. Sue, in an attempt to get some good pictures, was hit in the back by a stone and we ended up running up the street to get out of the line of fire. On Dec. 24 we quickly made our way to the Permit Office as I was told it would be a busy day since the office was only open from 9 AM to 1 PM. Luckily I had pre-paid the 1,000 Pesos for each climber the day before and we received our permits without difficulty.
Trekking to Base Camp
After having a bad experience with a mule service provider last year I decided to book our services through Eduardor Soler, Director of Xperience Aconcagua run out of the Hostel Independencia on Mitre Street in Mendoza, who I met last year. Eduardo was very helpful but Xperience Aconcagua does not have a base camp on the Vacas Valley side of the mountain so the services were provided through one of XAs partners Inka Expeditions. The team packed up on Chirstmas Day and were transported from Mendoza to the Hotel Ayelen in Penitentes by Pepe Morales of Aconcagua Transfer. At the hotel the team dropped of their duffels at the Inka office and several of us climbed the ski hill to about 9,500 feet across the highway to begin our acclimatizaion. From Dec. 26-28 the team trekked to base camp at Plaza Argentina and the only problem encountered on the way was a muleteer's refusal to help us cross the Rio Vacas at Casa de Piedra the morning of the third day. Luckily a phone call to the Inka head office on the satellite phone cleared up the situation with the assistance of two other muleteers from another company who loaned us a mule with a saddle.
Base Camp and Camp 1
After arriving at Plaza Argentina the team had a chance to rest on Dec. 29 and take it all in. We were warmly welcomed by Marissa at the Inka base camp. Having heard about the food and beer avaiable here the team was eager to sample what was available from Daniel Lopez, Aymara and Mallku. All the people were extremely friendly and the team found a great setup at Mallku who had, besides great food, a portable DVD player where we sat and watch climbing movies!
Given the large size of our team it was understandable that some members began to have issues with the altitude at base camp. Most climbers had never been above 14,500' and few had slept at this altitude before. This was noticable on Dec. 30 when only 1/2 the team made the carry to Camp 1 at 16,200' while the other 1/2 decided to spend a 2nd day at base to acclimatize. On Dec. 31 the same five climbers moved to Camp 1 while the remainder made their carry. On Jan. 1 (Happy New Year) the first 1/2 of the team rested while the remainder planned to move to the higher camp. Unfortunately one of the climbers in our group was not dealing well with the altitude and several climbing team members had to descend a help him in to camp. Although the climber appeared to be feeling much better after resting in their tent for several hours he and his partner decided to descend to base camp the following day. We would later find out that upon their return to base the park doctor decided that the climber should be flown out by chopper to recover. Not to worry however, the climber and his partner were well enough to travel to Buenos Aires and make a full recovery.
The next three days the schedule called for the team to carry, move and rest at Camp 2 located at 19,200'. By now the team had become separated with some members at base camp, others at Camp 1 and the remainder at Camp 2. This was acceptable however because the majority of the climbers were experienced, they were climbing with partners and the trails are all clearly visible.
After three days at Camp 2 the first 1/2 of the team was joined by the remaining three climbers but another climber was not dealing well with the altitude now. Over the next couple of days the climber's condition would not get better, as is typical at altitude, and the climber and his partner would also be forced to descend to base camp.
On Jan. 5 two strong climbers from our team left at 4:30 AM to attempt the Polish Direct. We had heard various reports of the route's condition from several people lower down on the mountain so the pair didn't know what to expect. As these were the only two climbers attempting the summit that day the whole camp watched their progress throughout the day. Although to us at camp they appeared to be moving slowly they were making their way steadily up the face. Near the second rock band clouds began to obscure our view and we lost site of them. As day turned into evening we began to worry about the length of time they were spending on the route but, to our relief, at 9:00 PM they returned to camp.
The next day called for unsettled weather that failed to materialize until late in the afternoon but during this day another strong solo climber from our group, Hakno, attempted the False Polish Traverse. Being very quick no one actually saw Hakno leave camp at about 5:30 AM but he completed the climb to the summit and returned in an amazng 9 1/2 hours.
Two days later after the weather passed and on our last available day Sue and I awoke at 3:30 AM to high winds. We decided to wait another hour before attempting our summit bid to see if sunrise would cause the wind to decrease. Luckily it did and at 4:30 AM we began our attempt. Ten hours later we were both standing on the summit on a beautifully sunny, windless day that allowed us to spend over 1/2 hour at the top and me to take the 10 separate photos used to produce the 360 degree panoramic shot from the summit posted below.