Aconcagua - Normal Route, 11/2015

Aconcagua - Normal Route, 11/2015

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Nov 25, 2015
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

Aconcagua - Normal Route, Nov-Dec 2015

This was a Colorado Mountain Club trip to do the Normal Route on Aconcagua for the CMCs 2015 Celebration of the Year of the Mountaineer, World Summit Series. 

These emails sent during the trip document the climb.

See pics from 3 team members at:

From: Bill
Sent: Monday, November 23, 2015 4:29 PM
Subject: Re: CMC 2015 Year of the Mountaineer Aconcagua Trip

Hi All,

Update from Mendoza, Ar.

We all made it to Mendoza on schedule yesterday, Sun, and had a great dinner together. Today we got all our chores done on schedule:  met w/ the outfitter, park permits, gear shop, groceries, etc.

Tomorrow we ride ~3 hrs to Puente de Inca, near the TH, spend the night there then hit the trail Weds AM.  So all is going well.

More next time.


Bill []
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2015 2:11 PM
Subject: Re: CMC 2015 Year of the Mountaineer Aconcagua Trip

Day 4, Tues, 11/24,

Had a beautiful ride to Los Penitentes. Ar., and are at Ayelen Hotel de Montana, near TH.  

Met with head mule driver and transferred gear for mules.  All is well and on schedule.

We hit the trail tomorrow AM for a 7 mi/2500' hike to the lower base camp, Confluencia. 

May not have web access there so may not get a msg out till Thursday, if then.  

On Sun night in Mendoza there was lots of celebrating for Marci who won the Pres. Election but no problems. Just lots of cars driving around honking horns with banners. No alcohol for sale from Fri night thru all day Sun till
the polls closed.

More next time.


Bill Blazek []
Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2015 3:15 PM
Cc: Bill Blazek
Subject: Re: CMC 2015 Year of the Mountaineer Aconcagua Trip

Sent on Weds, 12/2, now that I am back at base camp and internet access is now available at another outfitter.

Day 5, Weds, 11/25

After 1+  years of planning, training and preping we were thrilled to fiiiiinnnnaaaalllly hit the trail and are on the mtn!!!

Our shuttle picked us up at 10 am and we were checked in at the park ranger sta and hiking before 11AM.

The hike from the TH to Confluencia was and easy 7k/4.6 mi./~2400' gain that we did in ~2.5 hrs.  Not the 7 mi we thought it was. All our gear made it here on the mules fine and our bunk and tent spaces were waiting for us.

We crossed the 1st snow field in the 1st mi. They had the most snow here last winter in the last 10 years per the head mule team mgr. Normally there is no snow till well above 14k at this time of year.

This year there is snow as low as 9k now!!!! This is putting the whole climbing season behind schedule for the outfitters getting base camps ready.

No internet here so will have to wait till tomorrow, if even then, to send this out.

We were supposed to get our medical check-up today but it kept getting delayed by the doc who was late getting to camp then had 2 sick trekkers to attend to. So we won't be able to do it till 8am tomorrow which will delay our departure.

Day 6, Thurs, TG day.

Got our med check done by ~9:30.

After an easy 1st day yesterday, today's 12mi/3K' gain,  from 11,200 to 14,300,  with sustained, unrelenting head winds of 20-40 mph right in our faces the whole day was a real challenge!The most sustained wind I've ever experienced by far!  It took a full 10 hours for the last of us to get here.

Tomorrow is a well-deserved rest and acclimatization day.

No internet/wifi yet here at base camp so will send this out whenever I can.  How primitive! :-)

The extra heavy snow this year is putting the whole climbing season behind schedule.

Day 7, Fri

Had a relaxing 1st rest day at base camp till our high camp food arrived and we found it was not what we expected. It was not freeze dried food but some canned and still hydrated foods and pasta that will need lots of cooking.   And liquid drinks and foods that will freeze solid and be useless when cached.    And lots of stuff we don't need, large bottles of hand santitizer, TP that we already had, etc. And packaged for an expedition with a base camp and group cook, not for individual tents at high camps. Will take hours to sort and repack and causing serious concern by all of us. 

We decided we needed a lot more fuel to cookthis food and 2 porters to help carry it to high camp.  Fortunately we canget them by the time we move to high camp.

Weather is looking good for the next few days and will do first carry tomorrow.  Still lots of snow here in patches around base camp.  Sunny days, some mild wind,  late afternoon snow shower, cold nights in the 20s.

One person has not been able to sleep the entire trip and not feeling well and decided to go down today. Fortunately this was arranged fairly easily.  The rest of us got checked in w/ the doctor at the medical station this afternoon and all are well.  So we are down to 10 now.

Day 8, Sat.

One more person decided today to go down tomorrow. He is feeling ok here but may not be strong enough to go up tomorrow for a long carry to Nido.  So he is putting the needs of the team 1st.  Thanks!

So tomorrow we will be 9.

After brkfst we spent several hours repacking the food for high camps. We're leaving more behind than taking but with the extra fuel and porters we should be able to make this food work.

Bobby and Michelle where chomping at the bit to start hiking again after only one rest day so they did a carry of fuel toCamp Canada today!  That's a big help for both carrying up the load and finding out the trail conditions.

Day 9, Sun.

Today we did a long carry to Nido de Condores camp at ~18k, ~3mi, 4k gain from base camp.

All the extra snow this year made this carry and hike back down a lot harder. ~12 hours RT.

There is at least some snow directly on the trail from base camp all the way to the summit and we needed our crampons to cross numerous hardback snow fields up to Nido.

It was clear and sunny on the way up but socked in and snowed heavy later in the afternoon on the way down, enough to make it hard to see and follow the trail numerous times.  That has been the weather pattern since we got here: clear early with snow showers in the afternoon.

The reports are the snow is just gets worse the higher you go, esp near the summit.  The afternoon snows are probably continuing to add to it.  So far no one has made it to the summit yet this season!

Day 10, Mon, 11/30

Another much needed rest day.

Today 4 more people decide to go down since making the summit is looking like a long shot.  They will stay tomorrow and go back to Nido to retrieve personal gear from the cache and then hike out Weds.

Tomorrow the remaining 5 of us will move camp to Nido and hope conditions improve.  Arrangements were finalize for the porters and extra fuel.

Day 11, Tues

Today the remaining 5 of us, "The Summit Team" moved camp to Nido with no major problems, but it's a long haul and the snow fields made it tougher.  But the views from Nido are awesome.  This area of the Andes is very rugged.  Sunset from 18,000'is spectacular.

Day 12, Weds

After the move yesterday I had a rough night and could not sleep or breath right.  My blood oxygen % was down to 60 and I felt like I was suffocating all night.  Clearly I was not recuperating from the strenuous hike well at this altitude, 18,300'. I did take a Diamox that eventually helped somewhat but it took many hours to really notice a slight improvement.  So I decided I should go back down to base camp to wait for the others and not risk any worse AMS.  I was able to make it down with a full pack in under 3 hrs.  My blood oxygen % was back up to the mid 80s. 14,000' almost feels like sea level!

The summit team will take a rest daytoday.  I am able to talk to them via our walkie-talkie radios since base camp is almost straight down hill from Nido camp.  Tomorrow they are going do an exploratory hike up to the next camp, Berlin, or beyond.

Now that I am back at base camp, I found internet access is now available at another outfitter. So am finally sending this out.  But no webcam yet. :-(

Note: See additional report from Matt Klimock below about the stay at Nido and Cholera/WR camps by the summit team during these days.

CMC Aconcagua 2015 Days 13-16

Day 13, Thurs

ST4, Summit Team 4,  Matt, Bobby, Ian and Darren, reported that they stayed at Nido camp again today due to the weather,windy, 35 kph, snowing most of the day and cold of course. At least one other team is now camped at Nido too,  Sean and Jason that we met several times on the trail over the last few days that Darren communicated with online.

I'm staying in base camp and keeping in touch w/ ST4 by radio at least once a day and using the Internet cafe at another outfitter to get weather updates for them.  The rest of the team has descended and gone home or hang out in Mendoza due to the weather and climbing conditions and a variety of personal reasons.

There is a real Internet Café here, almost, with wifi, 2 laptops, drinks, including wine, puzzles, books and snacks.  But no cappuccinos. J  You pay by blocks of time.

The forecast for tomorrow is the same as today but Sat afternoon and evening it will snow heavier but with calming winds.  Then clear Sun w higher winds again.  So ST4 needs to decidehow long they want to stay up there.  The schedule gives them till Tues.  They must come down by Weds.

Reports are now that only 3 people have sumitted so far this season: 

  • A Chilean guide and client and 
  • A rookie Rescue Polici, who didit solo, got back to Camp Nido with frostbite toes and needed to berescued himself!  How's that for irony!

A large lenticular cloud developed over the whole summit area this evening from the high winds.  I'll find out tomorrow how it was at Nido tonight.

In the dining tent today I met 

  • the team doc of a team from United Arab Emeretes whose team is up at Camp Canada,  
  • a solo climber from Ireland who lives in Buenos Aries and 
  • a single climber from Columbia w his guide.  

A very large, very international camp.

I also did a short hike to the old abandoned hotel that is ~ a mile away.  It is still used as a communications base for satellite communications for the camp here and  the Rescue Polici has a cabin nearby.  After dinner I also got roped into a game of chess w one of the guides or porters,  can't tell who is who, that works for our outfitter.  As I expected, I lost quickly but blamed it on the altitude.  :-)

Day 14, Fri

The large lenticular cloud remains over thewhole summit area this AM.  But otherwise there is a thin layer of highclouds and mostly calm at base camp this AM. More lenticular clouds aredeveloping over other peaks and in the skies in the area this AM.  It eventually all clouded over so we can't seethe upper mtn and higher clouds.

At 1PM today ST4 reported they are heading upto Berlin camp today with one tent, make camp and make a summit attempttomorrow with an early start and turn-around time of 2PM,keep the incoming snow in mind.  They said it was not very windy at Nidocamp last night, despite the lenticular clouds above but that they were pickyup.  All is well otherwise.

Unknown if I'll be able to get a radio signalfrom them at Berlin or above for further updates but check for a call from themevery hour on the hour, noon - 10 pm.  These are 4 smart strongguys and I fully trust their judgement.

Weather forecast is mostly the same for thenext several days.

Just got a SPOT Ok msg so all is well.


From: Bill[] 
Sent: Saturday, December 05, 2015 2:31 PM
Subject: Re: CMC 2015 Year of the Mountaineer Aconcagua Trip

Day 15, Sat

Disaster strikes at base camp:  My pee bottle develops a leak!  :-(

At noon Matt radios that ST4 is coming down tobase camp today. They spent the night above Berlin camp and considered a summitattempt today at 2 AM but the weather was too bad above including high windsand lighting!  Wisely they chose to not go up as did everyone else at thesame camp. So they came back down to Nido camp and on down to base camp.

We needed 2 porters to bring all the gear backdown. Rangers took the extra food and fuel we don't need fortunately! Victor, the porter master advised that there happens to be 2 portersarriving at Nido soon and  they can bring our gear down today.  Thisis good news.

ST4 met with the porters and gave the gear tothem. ST4 and porters were back in base camp by 4:30 PM.

Tomorrow we all will hike out to the TH and stayin Los Penitentes. Then be shuttled to Mendoza on Monday.

All is well.

From: Bill[] 
Sent: Sunday, December 06, 2015 4:31 PM
Subject: Re: CMC 2015 Year of the Mountaineer Aconcagua Trip

Day 16, Sun

Last update.

We are all back in Los Penitentes at theAyelen Hotel and all is well!

The 16.7 mi hike out was long but we made it.

The %^{€{£' wind that was in our face all theway up to PdM has switched and was now in our face much of the way down! Fortunately it was a warmer wind because it was come up from the valleys.

Tomorrow we get our ride back to Menadozatomorrow AM.


Post Trip Info

After the trip, I exchanged emails with the solo climber from Ireland, who lives in BA, I met on Day 13 in the dining tent.  He reported making the summit on Monday, 12/7, at 6:30 PM. Extremely late!

On the descent, he got lost in the dark, spent the night out and had to call for rescue rangers.  They found him early the next morning and had to evacuate him out by helicopter due to frostbite.  He had 1st stage frostbite on all 10 fingers and stage 3 on several toes!  He required extensive hypobaric and oxygen treatments but will not loose any digits but will have a long recovery.  Watch for his TR here eventually on Summitpost.

I'm glad our Summit Team did not push it that hard to make the summit.

Account of 2015 CMC Aconcagua Expedition at the High Camps

by Matt Klimock

Tuesday December 1st

On Tuesday December 1st, the fiveremaining expedition members made the move to establish camp at Nido deCondores, carrying additional supplies and also retrieving bottles of white gasremaining at Camp Canada along the way. After arriving to Nido inmid-afternoon, two tents were quickly set up in calm weather, but it was soondiscovered that half of the third tent, which had been sent up earlier that daywith the porters, was missing.  This situation caused a few minutes ofanxiety until it was realized that the second porter had not yet arrived at Nido. Sure enough, the porter soon arrived and was greeted with great relief. Heexplained that it was his first day on the job and that he had gotten a latestart.  Team members spent the next few hours melting snow and cookinguntil we were treated to a spectacular red sunset late in the evening.

Wednesday December 2nd

The next morning, the group leader, who hadspent a sleepless night suffering from acute altitude sickness and was notexperiencing relief from the symptoms, descended alone and arrived safely to basecamp a few hours later.  Since there was a decent line of sight runningfrom the edge of Nido to the valley below, the leader and the group were ableto continue daily communications by walkie-talkie, exchanging news and weatherupdates.  The four remaining team members rested all Wednesday atNido.  The weather worsened during the day.  The wind directionshifted and substantially increased, and there was low visibility due toblowing snow.  To act as a barrier against the drifts threatening to coverthe tents, snow walls were constructed.  During the day, we walked over tothe government hut and spoke with the two GuardaParques (Park Rangers)stationed there; they advised that they would be descending tomorrow, and theirreplacements would arrive in a couple days.  The team decided that anacclimatization hike up the mountain would be attempted the next morning ifconditions permitted.

Thursday December 3rd

The poor weather continued and the wind howledunabated all night.  By Thursday morning, conditions had improved at theNido level; however, the weather was still bad at upper elevations (high windsand no visibility), and it was decided to delay the exploratory trip until thenext day.  The team spent another day resting, eating, and hangingout.  With the rangers gone and no other groups present, we were alone atNido.  During the day, another pair of Colorado climbers arrived from CampCanada on a caching trip and visited with the group briefly before headingdown.  During the scheduled daily radio contact, the leader relayed thatthe weather forecast for the summit was very favorable for Saturday morning(calm winds and no precip), but that a big snowstorm was expected to arriveSaturday afternoon.  After consultation, the group determined that thebest window for a summit attempt would be Saturday, and it was agreed to moveup the mountain and to establish a high camp at Berlin or Cholera on Friday.

Friday December 4th

The group got off to a slow start the nextmorning.  Visibility still did not look very promising higher up themountain, but it was decided to continue anyway.  The plan was to bringonly one tent along for all four of us to sleep in.  We packed the largesttent (the leader’s NorthFace VE-25) and left the other two tents pitched. We informed the newly arrived Park Rangers of our plans, and they advised us toremove the poles and flatten our tent before leaving for a summit attempt, andthey also said that we should stick to a turnaround time of 2pm on Saturday(due to the impending storm).  After briefly speaking with the leader byradio, we started hiking around noon.  Due to the elevation and thelimited visibility due to blowing snow, we made slow but steady progress up themountain.  We were generally able to follow the established trail of theNormal Route, but sometimes needed GPS.  Wearing crampons from thebeginning, we traded off at the front of the line, breaking trail and kicking steps.Upon arriving at Berlin (19,490’), we found the camp empty.  After lookingat possible camp sites, taking pictures and a brief rest, we continued ontowards Camp Cholera, which was a few hundred feet higher.  The terrainbetween the two camps became rockier and icier, and we made good use of a fixedcable/hand rail that ran along the steepest part of the trail.  We arrivedat Camp Cholera (19,690’) in inhospitable conditions, with bitter winds andblowing snow, and found it deserted.  After quickly surveying the most“sheltered” camping sites in this barren place, we elected to set up the tentright next to the aluminum emergency shelter (named “Elena”) that was apermanent fixture there.  Since all four of us were stuffed like sardinesinto one tent, it was very cramped quarters, but we worked out a system forarranging our sleeping gear, and melted snow for dinner.  The plan: Wakeup at 2am for the summit attempt.  The mood was upbeat as we went tosleep.

Saturday December 5th

At 2am, we woke up and ventured outside toassess conditions. They were not good. Looking up the route towards the summit,the wind and blowing snow continued unabated, with very poor visibility. It was decided to wait and assess conditions again at 4am with the hope of seeingsome improvement.  As we drifted back to sleep, flashes of light could beseen on the tent walls.  Although no thunder could be heard, we eventuallyrealized that lightning was occurring far in the distance.  At 4am, thewind and lightning continued without improvement.  At dawn, around 6am,voices could be heard outside. Investigation revealed that a large,well-outfitted expedition of climbers from Dubai (with their own videographerin tow!) had arrived and were congregating in and around the Elena shelter andour tent.  They were all wearing crampons and were stepping very closearound our tent’s lines, and this caused us some alarm.  There was somefriction between members of the two groups in the crowded conditions.  TheDubai group’s guides decided not to continue on the route above Cholera due tothe hazardous conditions, and the whole group eventually left camp anddescended.  Meanwhile, we also met the two other climbers from Colorado(they were making their own summit attempt from Nido), but they also descendedafter looking at the weather conditions. 

The group discussed our options.  Onemajor complication was that the groups’ sleeping bags and other gear had gottensoaking wet from the condensation caused by four people breathing all nightlong in cramped quarters. It was doubtful that our sleeping bags would dry outat Cholera, and this made the prospect of spending another night there verydubious, due to hypothermia concerns.  Also, we had only brought enoughfood and fuel for one night.  In addition, we did not want to get pinneddown by the impending storm at Cholera. It was eventually agreed that the bestcourse of action was to break camp, descend to Nido, break the remaining campthere, and then to descend down to base camp that same day.  Now aloneagain at deserted Cholera, it took some time to dig out the frozen tent stakesand snow bollards, stow the tent, and pack our gear.

The hike down to Nido was quick anduneventful, and visibility markedly improved as we descended to lower elevations. When we arrived to Nido, we began disassembling the two tents.  There wasa large surplus of gear, food, and fuel remaining from the original cache leftby all the members of the expedition who were no longer on the mountain, andthe four of us would be unable to carry it down.  We radioed the leader,who arranged for two porters to take the excess gear.  Luckily, the ParkRangers in residence at Nido agreed to take all of the extra food andfuel.  In the early afternoon, after meeting up with the porters, wedeparted Nido for the last time and descended safely to Plaza de Mulas within acouple hours.


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