I decided to climb Aconcagua, the Polish glacier direct route in the traditional style by carrying all my equipment by myself. I did not try to save money. I think doing all the work by myself will get me better prepared for the summit day, I like to be independent so I have the freedom of making quick decisions and changing the plan if necessary.I have determined that I want to carry a backpack with no more than 75 pounds of total weight. In order to achieve that I had to compromise. I decided to use a bivy rather then a tent, I was hiking in my La Sportiva, EVO climbing boots, I reduced the amount of food and white gas because I know from my previous experience, I can get all that from people who are on the way down, I brought a lighter sleeping bag rated -20 F.
My plan was to hike everyday to the next camp so I would arrive in the camp 2 in six days and summit the following day.
Equipment and costs
OR alpine bivy, crampons, La Sportiva EVO boots, one ice tool, one normal ice axe, MSR stove, 2,5 L of white gas.
Flight to Santiago $ 1200
Flight to Mendoza $ 80
All taxis in Mendoza $ 48
All food in Mendoza $ 120
Hotel Albi, three nights $ 170
Park permit $ 770
Bus to Th and back $ 18
White gas $ 16
Arrived in Santiago, flew to Mendoza, arrived in the hotel.
I had to pickup my luggage in Santiago and take it through the custom process. In the emigration form I stated that I am not importing any fruits or meat. I completely forgot that I bought a full bag of dry fruits at the airport in Atlanta. They scan all your luggage and so here I am with a one pound bag of fruits. It became a big issue and they spend good twenty minutes doing the paper work with me. The fine would have been $ 250 but they were willing to believe my story and dropped the charge. I saw bunch of other people importing beef jerky, nuts, dry fruit and they all went through the same process. Normally there is a $ 140 entrance fee to Chile but if you fill in the immigration form in the address filed "aeropuerto" and tell them that you are going to Argentina, you do not have to pay. There is no entrance fee for Argentina but the import restrictions are the same. In Mendoza I took a taxi to the hotel in downtown. It is about 15 minutes drive and cost $8. I stayed in Hotel Balbi, which is three blocks from the Plaza Independencia. It was Christmas day, everything was closed and so I went out to find out all the places I have to go on the next day.
I went to the Subsecretaria de Turismo office located at 1143 Av. San Martin between Catamarca and Garibaldi on the second floor. They open at 9 a.m. It is a ten minutes walking distance from the hotel. The permit was $ 770 and you have to go outside to a bank and pay there. When you get back you get the permit and instructions. The whole process only took about half hour. Then I went to the Mountain Gear store to buy white gas. The store is located on a corner of the Plaza Independencia, at Espejo 285 and has all the things you need for mountaineering. One MSR 1,5 L white gas bottle is $ 8. Then I went to the bus station and bought a ticket for $ 9 to Punta Vacas. The agency has three connections at 7 a.m. - 10 a.m. - 3,30 p.m. Then I went back to the hotel and packed. I could leave all things I did not need on the trip in the hotel and took a taxi to the bus station. The bus was a regular bus which stops in many places but it was all right and took about three hours to get there. Punta Vacas is the trail head for the Polish direct route and also a military check point for traffic between Chile and Argentina. I had to sleep at the trail head until next day because the park ranger told me, that the office close at 6 p.m.
TH Punta Vaca to Pampa Lenas
At 8 a.m. I was able to talk to the ranger, get the trash back and instructions from him and start hiking to the Pampa Lenas camp. It was a very hot day, around 90 F and it took me 7 hours to get there with my 75 pound pack. I did not meat any people on the trail until I got to the camp where was a group of twelve people. The camp has no drinking water, in fact all camps had drinking water. The Rio Vacas is on the right hand side all the way to the camp.
Pampa Lenas to Casa de Piedra
The night was very windy and the temperature in the morning was 45 F. The second hike day was pretty similar to the first one. Just above the camp is a bridge across the Rio Vacas river and the river stays on the left hand side all the way to the Casa de Piedra camp. It took me around seven hours to get there. It was a very hot day again but the clouds covering the sun made the hike more pleasant.
Casa de Piedra to Plaza Argentina
The camp is located at the mouth of the Relinchos Valley. The night was pretty windy again and the temperature in the morning was 40F. The day starts with crossing the Rio Vacas. The river was about two feet deep and so I appreciated the offer from one of the man working for the mule companies to take me over. I paid him 100 Pesos, I thought dry boots are worth every penny. The trail was pretty steep for some time until I got to the saddle, after that it is more moderate. I got to the Plaza Argentina camp in six hours. It rained and snowed on the way up but I was able to dry all my stuff in the evening. This camp also has drinking water, you can even order cooked food and Internet service.
Plaza Argentina to Camp 1
The night was pretty nice, no wind and the temperature was 28F. The morning was sunny, I dried all my stuff and left the camp around 10 a.m. I reached the camp in about five hours.
Camp 1 acclimatization day
The night was windy, the temperature in the morning was 25F.
I hiked up to Camp 2 just with a water bottle in about 4 hours to check it out, to see the glacier and to acclimate. Unfortunately the clouds were covering the sky and so I did not see much of the glacier. But I was exited, I was finally on snow and it felt like my mountaineering adventure just begun. I ran all the way down to camp 1 in 45 minutes.
Camp1 to Camp 2
The night was windy, the temperature in the morning was 20F. It was sunny so I dried my sleeping bag and bivy. I reached the camp 2 in six hours. There were a few tents and a group of twelve people getting ready to move further up. I could see the glacier and went to check it out. It seemed that kicking steps should work and there was not too much snow. I also talked to a guide, who gave me a lot of useful information but also told me that the weather is going to change tonight. Sure enough, it started snowing around 6 p.m. I woke up at 3 a.m. and it seemed that the weather is not too bad. I quickly decided to try the normal route and started breaking trail on the traverse. There was so much snow that the traverse disappeared and there was no way for me to do all the work by myself and get to the summit. I returned disappointed back to camp 2. The day was very windy, it was snowing again and I watched the group of twelve going up to the Black Hills. It took them seven hours to do the traverse. I was glad I did not go.
Camp2 - Summit day
I knew from the guides that the weather in the following three days will be very windy and it would be really hard to try the summit. I had no choice and started my second attempt for the summit. It was blue sky but super windy. I only reached 21,000 feet as I decided to return. It was really hard to move in such wind and since I was by myself and hardly slept the two last nights I thought it was better for me to go back. The problem was, I did not have a tent and sleeping in the bivy in such high wind and blowing snow was not possible. I had no place to rest. I probably got some sleep here and there because I was feeling strong and wanted to summit.
Camp 2 - Summit day
The night was super windy and I became claustrophobic that night. My bivy was buried with snow, I was not getting enough oxygen and was not able to sleep again. The guides said the weather will not change in the next two days and so I decided to pack. I went down from camp 2 to the Pampa Lenas camp in fourteen hours and reached the camp around 9,30 p.m.
Pampa Lenas to Punta Vacas to Mendoza
I went down to the TH and took a bus at 4 p.m. back to Mendoza.
I spent the day in the hotel relaxing, eating out and enjoying the city.
I changed my flight and went to the airport.