Things start of in the regular fashion. There is the usual last minute tying up of loose ends around the house. The hurried packing of things not related to the mountain, what to wear in Mendoza, on the plane,, what looks good but is comfortable on the three long flights.
Montreal- Toronto is uneventful as is Toronto-Miami. Actually to think about it the whole lot of them were uneventful. It all passes like a blur overlapping each other punctuated only by the meals. I sleep for most of the flight. On Lan Chile each seat has a video screen on the back of it. You can choose the movie from a pretty good list. They also have some simple video games such as chess. They must be dumb versions as I beat the computer twice. As J. D. calls it feel good chess.
We arrive Friday November 28th at 12:00 noon in Mendoza and head straight for the permit office. The permits are processed surprisingly easily and quickly as our cabbie waits in the shade. We are the only applicants at this time.
After we head for the local gear store. There used to be only one or two. but now there are many (about 6 in one 2 block area around Sarmento. I need to get 4 extra canisters of fuel as Laurie is not sure what will be left in our communal gear at the Hotel Aylen. Each one costs 10$ US. at the “Mountain Gear” store.
Lunch was a three cheese pizza with the mandatory tomato and onion salad. Then its pool side for the rest of the afternoon. This year, at my clients request, I am staying at the Park Hyatt. This is easy to take as it is the best hotel in all of Mendoza, 5 star. I could get used to this. The washroom is as big as my bedroom at home.
Mendoza has become one of those place that I go to but never really arrive. I have been here so often that it is like I have not actually gone anywhere. It is all so familiar.
After we do a tour of the 5 new outfitter stores now located within 3 blocks of each other. You can now get pretty well everything that you need here in the city. With the competition and the economy being what it is things are reasonably priced.
We then sit down and have a beer and watch the world pass by. which is always a good thing in Mendosa. Dinner consisted of a 400g steak cooked to perfection. I somehow managed to finish it off as I was very hungry. I do not normally eat steak at home but the meat here is so good it is hard to pass up. J. D. is impressed.
While we are finishing up eating I spy Jose and Lena walking up the street. They arrived on another flight. I introduce myself and J.D. They had not seen me for 5 years so at first they where not sure who was calling for them in the middle of a place they have never been to before. The evening ends on a positive note as all the party seem to get along as I expected they would. This is always a concern when you are in a group.
We depart the hotel on schedule and stop by the supermarket to get fresh fruit, cheese and bread for our day hikes we will be doing around our destination Penitentes. Then it is a 2.5 hour ride on the new road to the Hotel Ageylen at Penitentes. We check in, grab a sandwich for lunch and then take short hike up the ski hill across the highway. I actually go right to the top this time an altitude of 10,700 feet. This is 2,400 feet higher than the hotel. I feel good about this as I started at only 2,400 feet in Mendosa this morning.
Slept in till 8:30 after a restless night punctuated by the usual nightmares that I get when first arrive and altitude. After breakfast the first order of business is finding the tents and fuel left behind after our trip two years ago.
There seems to be a bit of confusion as to where exactly the gear is stored. For some reason some of the gear was brought out by Lanko, others by Aconcagua Express and the last pieces by the basecamp doctor apparently.
While they are looking for the two Tents, a Yellow moon and a Blue Moon, plus 10 canisters of Butane propane mix fuel. Carlos of Aconcagua tells us not to worry he will supply us with all the fuel we need as re remembers that we stored the gear with his company and takes responsibility for any missing items. The tents are more of a concern for me. He has Mountain Hardwear tents that he will loan us in the event the items do not turn up.
Lanko comes up with a bag containing most of Laurie Skreslets items. Ice axe, Crampons, Boots, and personal gear left behind when we had to make a quick exit because if Laurie's AMS two years ago. So this all checks out.
In the afternoon J. D. and I take a 5 hour hike up the hill behind the hotel across the Rio Mendosa. We climbed up all the way to 11.350 feet. Then we split up with J.D heading back down and myself continuing along the upper ridges to get better images of the surrounding peaks. I am also looking for an approach route to climb Penitentes the mountain behind the Village that bears its name. It looks like from where I am it would be very difficult to get up and around. The route appears to be from around the valley to the right. We are planning to head this way tomorrow so I will check this out. I want to get to the top of the peak as there are according to the locales Inca remains on top.
Laurie, Jose, Lena and Bill had arrived that afternoon. Dinner was chicken and salad.
Up at 7:30 and after a breakfast of toast and coffee, eggs and ham we settled the fuel issue and called Mendosa to check on whether Jen the last member of our group had arrived.
We all then set off for our day hike around to the base of Penitentes. The day was a pleasant walk with less altitude gain than on our earlier outings. The reason being that the new members of our group had only just arrived and we did not want to push them too high too fast on the first day. The highlight of the trip was the appearance of 7 condors that followed us for most of the late afternoon. The kept swooping in and showing off their plumage. we soon discovered the reason for there presence. There was a carcass of a cow at the top of one of the hills. They no doubt were concerned we would make off with this delicacy. J.D and I continued to the top of the ridge and took in a splendid view of the south face of Aconcagua. On the way back I studied the old iron telephone poles that lined the abandoned railway line. Seiman and Co. Ltd. England was the manufacturer.
Upon our return to the hotel the final member of our group Jen had arrived unfortunately without any of her luggage. This present us with a dilemma. Was her trip in jepordy. They rest of us were slated to leave for the walk to basecamp the next morning and we felt we had waited long enough for the whole group to show. The luggage delay would push us bach more days if we hung around. We all put our head together and with the help of the organizational skills of J. D. we managed to get together enough gear for her to continue on with us. The only missing items could be rented from Aconcagua Express. On top of that the two missing tents reappear.
After breakfast (3 cups of coffee) we divided all the gear into 30 Kilo bags for the mules. 293 kilos for 7 people 740$ US Pulse Ox readings were taken for the first time. William 93 OS 70 HR, J.D. 97 OS 69 HR Then we all drove to Puenta Vacas for the drop off.
5 hours later we arrived in Pampa Lena. Before dinner we visited with the Rangers and showed our permits and collected our garbage bags. Then it was a quick dinner of soup and beans and Sleep.
Decamped at 8:30 after getting up at 7 am. Helped the other take down their tents and pack the items back up the same way for the mules. Meter readings for this morning were taken William 94 OS, 63 HR, J. D. 93 OS, 73 HR We headed off and stopping every 1.5 hours made it to Casa Piedra in 5 hours and 40 minutes. A good time. We then washed up in the stream and set up out tent. We then waited in the grass for the rest of the group to form up. They arrived together with Laurie 1.5 hours later. Had a terrible rice Pilaf dinner which I could not eat. The cups of soup went down well. As well as the chips that I had sneaked into the food. we then hung out in Laurie tent for story telling. I slept out side the tent as I usually do. The stars were obscured by the clouds most of the night. I woke up at about 5:00 am with snow falling and crept back into the tent to avoid getting to wet. Slept till 7:30.
Packed up for the mules which arrived early. Readings were taken William 97 OS, 63 HR. J. D. 93 OS, 90 HR. We then hiked the 3.5 hour to our intermediate camp at 11,720 feet. We had lunch and in the afternoon hiked up the ridge to the left of camp . I went up to a vantage point (as high as I could go) at 13,450. ft. Here I relaxed and took in the view. I left a portion of an Eagle feather given to me by Jose as an offering to keep us all safe in the upcoming days ahead I dropped back down for dinner and shared a freeze dried dinner with Bill and J. D. Then slept outside. The moon was out in full force and with the mild weather made for a pleasant rest.
I awoke with the intentions of going back up the hill to photograph the mountain in the morning. This is am image that I do not have. I decided to rest realizing the I may regret it in the future. But felt I need the rest. This is probably the best decision all around. Readings were William 93 OS, 70 HR. JD. 93 OS 90 HR 2 hours and 10 minutes to Basecamp. The mountain awaited us. We had a coke that was offered to us by Aconcagua Express and settled on out tent sites. Hung out at Daniel’s tent the rest of the day and had an omelette for supper.
Woke at 7 am and had breakfast. Readings were William 88 OS 68 HR, J.D. 85 OS 85 HR. We then carried a small load up to camp 1 in 4.5 hours. We set up a tent and stowed all our gear in it then dropped back down to basecamp. my reading in the evening was William 97 OS 63 HR, J.D 88 OS, 89 HR which may me feel good about my acclimatization. We had steak and eggs for supper which was excellent.
Woke at 7 am and had breakfast. Readings were William 88 OS 68 HR, J.D. 88 OS 89 HR. We then carried a full load up to camp 1. It was cold but the weather was OK. The mountain looked like thisWe had lasagna for supper which was excellent.
Woke at 7 am and had breakfast. Readings were taken but I forgot to log them in my book. We then moved up to Camp 1. Set up tents quickly as the weather cooperated. Had dinner and slept fairly well.
Woke at 7 am and had breakfast. Readings were William 88 OS 68 HR, J.D. 85 OS 85 HR. We then carried a small load up to camp 2 in 5 hours. We stowed all our gear in a cairn on a tent platform it then dropped back down to camp 1 in 1 hour. This was very tiring work. Our first really difficult day. This was made more difficult by the snow penitentes which easy to move on if they are soft but when hard are difficult. We had supper and went to sleep. This did not last long. The wind and driving snow awoke up at 2 am. We had to get out on three occasions to re-guy the tent. The lines were snapping and we had to attach new lines. This compounded by the noise of the wind made sleep almost impossible. This carried on all night and into the next day.
Woke at 9 am and had breakfast. The snow and wind kept up. We discussed our options. I was for holding fast for another night as I felt the storm would break in the late afternoon. But The rest of the group did not want to spend another sleepless night if the weather was to continue the same. The decision was made to descend to basecamp where we could wait it out and enjoy better food and larger living quarters (and perhaps be below the storm.) So we packed up some of our gear such as sleeping bags and left everything else. We had backup stoves down below so these stayed as well. The descent went well as the lower we got the visibility improved. Everything waswhiteWe all ate in Daniel tent as the wind had destroyed our basecamp tent as well as two of the mules providers kitchen tents. Steak and eggs again. We all sleep in Daniels storage tent. Amazingly no one had to get up in the night. We all slept 10 hours straight, a testimony to how tired we all were.
We had breakfast. Readings were William 93 OS 65 HR, J.D. 88 OS 85 HR. Our plan was to return to Camp 1. J.D has been on the sat phone all morning with a client who is making his life difficult in his absence. I notice that he is pensive ad keeping to himself. When I approach him to find out if anything is wrong, he confides in me that he is seriously considering leaving the mountain. He says he will think about it more and will ask Laurie his thoughts on the matter. The decision is to not head up to camp 1 till after lunch. The weather is holding and there is no rush to leave the comforts and sun of Plaza Argentina.
After lunch J.D has decided to leave. The mountain will still be there next year he says and there is too much going on at home that is distraction him from the goal of climbing Aconcagua. since I am responsible for him I will walk out with him. He gives me the choice of remaining with the rest and staying. But I decide that I would not want anything to happen to him on the way out alone by himself. He should have no problem but I believe I I came down with him I should see his trip through. I offer to go up to camp 1 and bring all of our gear including the tent back to basecamp. J. D. says he will wait for me and we will then descend to Casa Piedra for the night. Then walk the rest of the way the next day. Carlos will meet us at the road. It takes me 2 hours and 20 minutes to get back up to Camp 1. Then 1 hour to pack and 1 hour to descend to Plaza Argentina. On the way down I meet the rest of the group on there way up. I say my fair well and wish them the best of luck. A part of me wishes to stay and do the summit with all of them. They are all great people and I am glad to have met them. J. D. and I have supper with Daniel. and the begin the trip down. As I leave I trun and take this imageI don’t get to Casa Piedra till 10:00 pm by headlamp. I am at this point so tired of walking in the dark that I don’t bother to remove my shoes crossing the rivers. I just plow through not noticing the cold. At camp, a small flat area next to a clear running stream. I have my wet socks on my trekking poles. and empty my shoes of water. We both sleep out in the open having not brought a tent of stove to save on weight. We bring lots of snack food to eat. And that is supper. The stars are wonderful.
Woke at 6 am all bent out of shape. I struggle into my frozen shoes and slowly walk to a vantage point where I knew I would see Aconcagua in the morning sun. I took many shots Aconcagua1 as the clouds changed the scenery. I then moved on and retook more from another vantage point Aconcagua2 before we started the 8 hours walk out to the road and civilization.
We are to return and finish of the rest of the mountain hopefully in December 2004.