3 summits in 3 continents in less than a year, if you told me that a year ago I would’ve laughed at your face. Africa, Europe and now South America, how many 21 year olds can say they’ve had the opportunity to stand on top of the highest mountain in 3 continents within one year! Just goes to show if you put in the time and the work you can make things happen.
I knew Aconcagua would be nothing like Mount Elbrus in Europe or Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. They were more like difficult guided trekking tours rather than real mountain expeditions. Summiting Aconcagua would require at least two weeks on the mountain, days would be long with heavy load carries, greater self sufficiency and patience would be required, classic climb high sleep low altitude strategies would be used and I’d have to be ready to put up with potentially freezing temperatures and extremely windy conditions. Aconcagua was the mountain were my seven summits journey would start to get real, it would introduce me to real mountain expedition life. I’d get a little taste of what it will be like when climbing mountains like Denali or Mount Everest. Don’t get me wrong though there was a lot of luxuries and support on Aconcagua such as showers at base camp, breakfast, dinner and water was taken care of for us and big dome tents for cooking and salvation were set up at every camp. But in terms of living on the mountain, logistics, dealing with weather and greater self sufficiency Aconcagua would offer me an insight on what I’ll be up against for the rest of my seven summit journey.
31/01/20: Melbourne, VIC Australia > Sydney, NSW, Australia
- In true fashion I left everything last minute. The night before I was up at 12:30am packing and soughing out my s**t after a long day at work, I hadn’t even exchanged currencies until 4:30pm that afternoon. Nonetheless I was up at 3:00am with 2 and a half hours sleep, heading to the gym before catching my morning flight to Sydney, then to Santiago and finally to Mendoza. My amazing mum volunteered to drive me to the airport and see me off. These trips always remind me how much I love my family. As I say goodbye to mum I struggle to hide back tears, it’s a little embarrassing to write about, but I’m so grateful I feel such strong love for my family. After the goodbye to mum I said my goodbye to Melbourne.
- I arrived in Sydney an hour late due to my flight from Melbourne being delayed. This threw everything off, the delay made me miss my international transit flight to Santiago and the next flight to Santiago wasn’t until tomorrow, I was stuck in Sydney for the night! Qantas apologised and set me up to stay at a hotel for the night, free of charge. Lucky I gave myself an extra free day, I’m not going to lie though it still made me quite anxious. On the positive side though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, not only did it give me time to go out and buy a solar power pack for the mountain but it also gave me some time to meet up with a good mate of mine. John, the owner of Kokoda Trail Expeditions. He lives in Sydney and was good enough to stop by and have a chat. We’d be meaning to catch up and have a meeting for a while so I guess it was fate. Another bonus was the hotel had a gym so you bet I got in an extra workout.
01/02/20: Sydney, NSW, Australia > Santiago, Chile > Buenos Aires, Argentina > Mendoza, Argentina
- Although the unexpected extended layover in Sydney was a blessing in disguise I was antsy to get going and leave Sydney. I was nervous about getting to Argentina in time and I wanted to “rip the bandaid off”, meaning get it over as quick as possible and overcome the travel nerves. However life dealt me some different cards, at the airport and about 3 hours before getting on the plane to Santiago I realised something. My new itinerary said I wasn’t getting to Mendoza until the 2nd of February, I failed to realise Qantas had me stopping the night at Santiago before flying to Mendoza. This wouldn’t do, the expedition officially started on the 1st of February. In a rush I talked and negotiated with the staff at Qantas, there was no flights leaving Santiago and arriving in Mendoza on the 1st. If I wanted to arrive in Mendoza on the 1st my only option was to catch a plane from Santiago to Bueno Ares EXE Airport in Argentina, then take a taxi to Bueno Ares ADE Airport in Argentina and lastly fly to Mendoza. This way was more complicated and I’d get to Mendoza late at night but I’d get there on the 1st. It would be tight though, no room for delays. If something as simple as bad traffic when driving between Bueno Ares EXE Airport and Bueno Ares ADE Airport occurred I’d miss the flight to Mendoza. In my eyes though I had no choice, this was the only option. So mid-morning I hopped on the plane to Santiago from Sydney, quite nervous about the trip ahead.
- After a 13 hour flight I arrived in Santiago and quickly got on the transit flight to Bueno Ares EXE Airport. I then collected my luggage, went full efficient business mode and got a taxi to Bueno Ares ADE Airport. It was a race against the clock but I made it to Bueno Ares ADE Airport just in time, with literally no time to spare. No exaggeration I had no time to spare, boarding was closing as I literally ran towards the boarding gate.
- I arrived in Mendoza around 7:30pm and got to the hotel (Park Hyatt) in Mendoza at around 8:00pm. I did it, surely climbing Aconcagua can’t be as difficult as these flights I thought to myself, I felt like I’d already climbed the mountain. Once at the hotel I met Jim, my shared room partner, and even though we were separated by 40+ years we instantly hit it off. Straight off the bat you could tell Jim was a solid bloke, outgoing, positive, knowledgeable and a team player. Meeting Jim gave me a good feeling about the rest of the group and the expedition.
02/02/20 – Mendoza
- After a couple days of stressful flights I was ready for a quiet, chilled day. The expedition officially began today however we only had to get together, organise gear checks and permits and have a brief meeting. We’d all be meeting at the hotels breakfast buffet, Jim and I both got up early and hit the breakfast buffet at around 7am. It was good to have a roommate who was an early riser like myself. At the buffet Jim and I continued to refill our coffee cups over and over again until the rest of the group surfaced.
- Once everyone surfaced I finally got stuck into some food, I was starving. Granola, eggs, wholegrain toast, yoghurt, fruit, you name it I ate it. Breakfast buffets would have to be one of the best things on planet earth. Person by person I got to know everyone; Kevin, Natasha, Jules, Akbar, Jim, Allison, Angela, Blane, everyone seemed to be lovely people and I got positive vibes off everyone. This got me excited, its very rare to have a group were everyone gets along. We were also introduced to our lead guide Josh and just like my teammates I got positive vibes off him. He came across as knowledgeable, fun and organised straight from the get go, all qualities you want from a guide. Once we had breakfast we had a quick team meeting and went over the expedition, we were making a 360 degrees traverse of Aconcagua which meant in simple terms we were going up one side of the mountain and coming back down another. We were also introduced to our local Argentine guides, Colo, Seba and Capi, they too seemed to be solid, good spirited guys. With first impressions over I was definitely impressed by our team; both guides and clients.
- After the introductions and meeting we grabbed our gear and started our mandatory gear checks, at the same time we met up with the lady responsible for collecting our information and money for the permits. This only took 1 – 2 hours and once done the rest of the day was ours. Afterwards I got in a solid back and chest workout at the hotel gym which was a very impressive and well equipped gym for a hotel. On that note I’d never stayed somewhere so fancy and with so many facilities, marble floors, steam and sauna rooms, nice pool, staff was all suited up I’d never seen anything like it. I felt a little bit out of my league staying somewhere so fancy. Lunch was next, we went out as a team to a place called BRÖD. This was my first real taste of the food in Mendoza, and what I can say is if your a meat eater it’d have to be one of the best cities in the world. I ordered a steak sandwich and boy was I impressed. It was loaded with steak and I mean loaded! Not like in Australia where you get a little bit of meat with lots of bread and lettuce, and not only was there a lot of it but the beef was of high quality. It was cheap too it only cost around $5-$8 USD with tips!! This amazed me, how could food of this quality and at this quantity be so cheap? After lunch Jim and I hit the pool were we spent the rest of the afternoon. The weather in Mendoza was perfect, the sun was out and the temperature was spot on. The whole day so far I’d felt like a kid at a candy store, I was so happy to be in Mendoza, I felt so lucky and privileged, I was out relaxing in the pool with perfect weather right before attempting to summit one of the seven summits. I can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed and at peace. For the first time in years I felt like I could put my head down and relax.
- Before I knew it, it was dinner time, our offical team dinner. Here we met up with our last group member Richard, a Denali, Cho-Oyu, Mont Blanc and Mount Everest Summiteer! And so it happens my future tent mate. Just like everyone else he fit right in, another great group member. Dinner was pleasant, my first of many steaks from Mendoza, it was also nice to put faces to names from our guiding company Climbing the Seven Summits (CTSS) as I’d been talking to them via email for months.
03/02/20 – Mendoza, Argentina > Los Penitentes, Argentina
- Jim and I once again hit the breakfast buffet early, most of the group wan’t up at this stage so for most of the time it was just us two. After breakfast I hit the hotel gym for the second and last time, shoulders and arms got hit this time. Once the gym session was over Jim and I walked to the shops. We needed to exchange some US dollars for Argentine Pesos, I also needed to find a pee bottle for when we got to the mountain. With little options I had to make do with a 1L Gatorade bottle, then we head back to the hotel. Once back at the hotel I ran into Josh; he was heading to the cash exchange with the permit lady and asked if someone could come. She was carrying the groups permits money which was easily $6000+ USD and Josh didn’t want her carrying that much money by herself. I volunteered and went for another walk. It didn’t take long and I was back at the hotel after around 30 minutes.
- Once back at the hotel it was time to get ready to go. Today we were leaving Mendoza to Penitentes were we’d be staying at a ski hotel for 1 night. After that we’d be leaving the hotels behind us and starting the expedition proper. The drive from Mendoza to Penitentes took us around 4 hours. We didn’t go straight to the hotel though, before that we needed to unload our expedition duffels with all our gear onto the mules. The mules would carry our equipment for the 3 day trek to Plaza Argentina base camp. It wasn’t until 7:30pm when we reached the hotel at Penitentes. Not much happened here we ate dinner (more steak), talked a bit and went to bed.
- I do want to say that at this point my confidence in myself and getting to the summit of Aconcagua was wavering. I knew that no matter what I was going to give everything I had to the expedition but this in itself wouldn’t be enough. My doubt came from the fact that I’d never spent more than a week on a mountain. I wondered whether I was mentally strong enough to be on the side of a mountain for two weeks in potentially freezing and windy conditions? Also I could hardly pitch a tent and I doubted my skillset as a camper and mountaineer in every aspect of the word. I told myself it was useless worrying about it though and closed my eyes before falling into deep sleep.
04/02/20 – Los Penitentes, Argentina > Papa de Leñas, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Finally we were officially starting the expedition it was time to put in the work. We hit Punta de Vacas, the entrance of Aconcagua Provincial Park at around 10:30am. I should mention here that we were climbing the mountain via the Upper Vacas Valley and traverse route, AKA The False Polish Traverse Route. We’d head to the mountain via the Vacas Valley, attempt to summit then climb down the other side of the mountain and exit via the Horcones Valley.
- My first impression as I started the trek was how beautiful and unique the Park was. Yes it was very dry, and dusty but it had it’s charm. The views were stunning with high valley walls on both sides of you with the river bed down below. In terms of difficulty the trek was quite easy, nothing too steep an/or technical, no massive jump in altitude and it only took 4-5 hours to get to the first camp, Pampa de Leñas. Once at Papa de Leñas we set up tents, relaxed a little and eventually made out way to our big dome tent. There was one or more of these big dome tents at each campsite, they belonged to Aconcagua’s guiding service companies each major company had it’s own dome tent(s). They were used for team dinners, breakfasts, lunches, gatherings and when higher up the mountain for cooking. For dinner in true Argentina fashion we had another BBQ! Beef steak, chicken, sausages, vegetables, bread and cheese. It was so nice to be eating good food during the trek in, I had no idea we’d be getting food of this quality.
- After dinner we hit our sleeping bags, our guide Josh suggested we try sleeping outside of our tents. No one seemed very keen on the idea which was fair enough it got pretty cold at night but the idea made my eyes light up. I gave it a go and it was a game changer, lying there in the fresh air with the cool breeze on my face whilst gazing at the stars inside my warm sleeping bag and on top of my closed cell foam mat and thermarest was amazing, I’d never seen so many shooting stars.
05/02/20 – Papa de Leñas, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Casa de Piedra, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- So far it probably seems like it was all sunshine’s and rainbows but not all was well. Ever since landing in Mendoza I’d been struggling with constipation, a common occurrence for me when travelling overseas. Upon waking up this morning I was ecstatic to find my body had finally adjusted and I thought my bowel movements where returning to normal, not quite. Instead the constipation was replaced with the runs. Great I thought today’s going to be “fun”, instantly my head was filled with anxiety. I have two pairs of pants for this whole trip which could potentially be over 14+ days long, I could not afford to have an accident. Yes these are the thoughts you have on these type of trips/expeditions, it’s not all stunning views, smiles and laughs. I shoved the negative thoughts to the back of my mind though, washed my hands with more sanitiser than I could care to think about and head to our breakfast table. OMG! Bacon, scrambled eggs and dehydrated hash browns!! This was not funny, how were they cooking such good food whilst camping. I felt like a spoilt kid on Christmas morning.
- The trek to our second camp, Casa de Piedra was longer than the previous day it took us around 6-7 hours. It was a beautiful trek too and it ended with our first glimpse of “the stone sentinel” Aconcagua! The day went by quick as I enjoyed the conversations I had with our lead guide Josh and took in the scenery. The more I talked the Josh the more confident I became in his ability as a guide. Not only was he very knowledgeable and had lots of experience but you could tell he had a good heart and was a hard worker.
- The day was a great one however it was overshadowed by my stomach and digestive problems. I made it to camp by the skin of my teeth as my gut exploded. I just managed to make it to the drop toilet at Casa de Piedra. The drop toilet was disgusting, s**t everywhere, apparently people aren’t great at aiming. The worse part was I had to go 3+ times this night so I had to constantly visit that S**t hole. I felt like I needed to sanitise my whole body every time I left that drop toilet. At this point I started to get dizzy and started seeing stars, am I sick? What’s going on, I had no shivers, sore throat or any other sickness symptoms but I was fatigued, dizzy and had a bad case of the runs. I decided/hoped I wasn’t sick and put it down as an electrolyte imbalance due to s**ting out my brains for the best part of 4 hours. I took some electrolyte dissolvable tablets and went for a bit of a stroll up some of the hills around camp to get the blood flowing. Also just in case I was sick I tried to avoid the group as much as possible this night, at dinner I made sure to keep my hands to myself. Dinner was amazing again though, another BBQ. I also on slept outside again this night. The sky was so clear, all night I could see shooting stars shooting from left to right. That night I closed my eyes feeling privileged where I was, at the same time though I hoping my stomach problems would improve and I’d wake up with more energy.
06/02/20 – Casa de Piedra, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Plaza Argentina, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Woke up with an improved stomach this morning and actually felt quite refreshed, looks like the worst of my stomach problems had past. It was an earlier start today, we were heading to Plaza Argentina (Base Camp). It was going to be the longest day for us yet both in duration of trekking, distance and altitude gained. Like all I was looking forward to actually getting to the mountain and starting the process of reaching the summit. I was also ready for bit more of a challenge, a major factor that attracts me to mountaineering is the challenge and being out of my comfort zone, having to push myself. Without sounding arrogant so far everything had been quite easy and I was antsy to start struggling and being forced to challenge myself. Don’t get me wrong though I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I was enjoying the company of my team, our guides had been perfect and CTSS had done a great job of running the expedition.
- It was a fresh and pretty cold start as we left camp, what made it colder was the fact we weren’t wearing shoes. Within the first 5 minutes of leaving camp we had to make our first and only river crossing. Normally groups would have to make more river crossings and they’d be crossing lager bodies of water however this season had been really dry. If anyone was still half asleep they were instantly woken, the water was freezing! As soon as I put my first foot in the water I knew it wasn’t going to be fun. I’m going to be honest it f**ken hurt, it only took 20-30 seconds to cross but it felt like an hour. It was like someone was freezing my feet whilst at the same time smashing them with a baseball bat. Luckily the water wasn’t that deep, only making it halfway between my feet and my knees. Once across I instantly started drying my feet in a race to put my socks back on. With no exaggeration it took about 10-20 minute of walking for my feet to warm up and start feeling like they were still attached to my ankles.
- Todays trek was definitely the most interesting day of trekking, it was also my favourite. The river crossing in conjunction with the trek along the valley’s walls was both enjoyable and stunning. We also had the mighty Aconcagua staring down at us all day as we headed right for it. The whole day it was in front of us and each hour it was getting closer and more beautiful. I felt like I had to take a new photo every 20 minutes because it felt like each 20 minutes I had a new perspective showing different features of the giant “Stone Sentinel”. We also encountered a few large packs of guanacos, a native South American camelid which looks a lot like a llama. Apparently this was quite rare to see so much in one pack. Today was also the day I picked up my lucky mule shoe, the one that I then carried with me throughout the rest of the expedition, up and down the mountain.
- Mid-afternoon we finally reached Plaza Argentina! It really felt good to be at basecamp, I didn’t exactly get there in the best circumstances though. Yes my stomach was much better but the last 2 hours of the trek killed my gut as I held in another explosion. Luckily Josh let me run off ahead so I could make it to basecamp without s**ting myself. This is where I’ll make a quick confession, although I told everybody I made it to basecamp just in the knick of time this is only partially true. To be 100% honest I had to make a quick stop to unload the first round. After running out ahead of the group I realised I wasn’t going to make it, even though at this stage I was only about 200 m away from camp. With quick thinking I ran up a scree hill where I could see a big rock I could use it to hide myself as I unloaded. To be honest it was actually quite a dangerous hill but in desperate times, desperate measures needed to be taken. I got to the rock just in time. Without going into details lets just say I made it and I hope to god no one goes near that rock. This wasn’ the end though I didn’t let it all out and needed toilet paper so from the walk I carefully made my way to the camp and finished the job in a drop toilet that didn’t belong to our group, whoops.
- The rest of the afternoon at basecamp was great, the group gave each other pats on the pack for making it to basecamp, we then relaxed, chatted and had another BBQ. We also set up tents but since I was loving sleeping outside I slept outside again.
07/02/20 – Plaza Argentina, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Rest day, a day most people look forward to not me though. My kryptonite is doing nothing and today, that was the expectation. It didn’t have to be physical I just wanted to do something productive, I hate sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I understand it’s needed for acclimatisation but I felt good and was bursting with energy. I asked Josh, Colo, Seba and Capi (our guides) if they needed help with anything, they didn’t. I re-organised my gear and cleaned myself but still I needed something to do. So what did I do? I teamed up with another person who I met the day before, Julia. She was with another group and was also having a rest day. She too was bored so both of us teamed up and made out way up the mountain towards camp 1. We planned to go just for an hour or two however it ended up being more like 3. She was fast and honestly put me out of breath, I wasn’t used to being the one out of breath. I was definitely feeling the altitude, maybe this idea of rest isn’t such a bad idea I thought to myself. Eventually though I adjusted and had a great time, we made it around 2/3’s of the way to camp 1 before deciding to turn around. We also ran into a Sherpa from Nepal, Psang Sherpa coincidently he was one of the Sherpas Richard climbed Mount Everest with. His eyes lit up when he saw the CTSS logo on my hat and we broke into a great conversation. Psang came across as one of the happiest, warmest and kindest people I knew even though I only chatted with him for 5 minutes or so. It was a pleasure talking to him, turns out he was there to fix ropes for climbers to use on an attempt to summit via the Polish Glacier!! A much more technical, dangerous and difficult route to the summit.
- The rest of the day was filled with resting and eating, well at least until late afternoon. At around 3-4pm Richard and I went up the mountain the same way Julia and I did earlier. I really enjoyed Richards company, he was ridiculously funny, modest and just an all round good bloke.
- Lastly our last group member arrived today. Zenab woke us all up to the sound of her helicopter as she got dropped off at the camp. Zenab was using the speed accent method to summit the mountain, she spent the past couple months in a Hyperbaric Chamber to acclimatise to the low oxygen levels at altitude. She instantly hit off with the group, just like everyone else she was smiley, kind and came across as a team player. By the end of the day it was if she had been part of the group since day 1.
08/02/20 – Plaza Argentina, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Camp 1, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Today was our first carry, we’d be carrying our individual gear along with group gear to camp 1, where we’d then stash it. From there we’d head back down to basecamp, sleep at basecamp for the last time then wake up and move to camp 1 the following day. I had a good sleep the previous night and according to my journal apparently I definitely saw a spaceship amongst the shooting stars, “Slithering like a snake” is how I put it. Breakfast was once again amazing, bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast and yoghurt. I thought I might actually gain weight on this expedition, the amount of good food I was eating was ridiculous! Turns out though this was not the case, by the end of the expedition I’d lost 4 kg.
- We head off with our loads to camp 1 from basecamp at around 11am, I was itching to get going. My pack was around 25kg/55 pounds which would be my lightest load for the whole expedition. As we took off I felt good almost instantly, theres something I love about carrying heavy loads whilst up in the mountains. It changes me all of sudden my confidence rises, I become more of an extrovert, I feel good in my skin and can just socialise without feeling awkward, I feel in my element and love it! The trail from basecamp to Camp 1 is quite steep, in 4-6 hours you gain 800-1000m of elevation. In hindsight it’s probably the hardest terrain/trail between camps of the expedition (besides summit day). It’s a great walk though theres plenty to look at; you’ve got a stream that runs down the mountain that’s coming from the melting ice and snow, theres pools of melted glaciers one of which I named Tom’s lake due to it’s significance of being the turnaround marker for the previous days hikes with Julia and Richard, and there’s giant rock walls on either side of you. Step by step we were slowly making our way up to camp 1, it was clear though there was a significant difference of paces between the front and back of the group. It put me in conflict with myself, the selfish part of me wanted to go faster and break from the slower members of the group so I could get to camp 1 quicker however the other side of my brain wanted to stay back and encourage those who had a slower pace. In my eyes we were a team, we started together and should finish together. Every climb I’ve done I’m met with this challenge, I have to constantly remind myself where a team and to stop being so selfish, my ego always tries to take over. Thank goodness my ego always looses. I made sure to stay at the groups pace and instead of using my extra energy to go faster I used it to support the group the best I could. Being a team player in my opinion is one of, if not he most important parts of a successful expedition. It should be said though that Josh, Colo, Seba and Capi did a remarkable job of keeping us all together.
- At around 4:40pm we arrived at camp 1, the last part of the trail really challenged the group, it was very steep but it was great to see everyone reach camp 1 still looking strong. I felt like we were a really good team, everyone was encouraging each other and offering to help those who seemed to need a hand.
- We made our way back to basecamp after about an hour at camp 1. Again I kept myself in check as the trail runner in me wanted to break from the group and try running the descent. We got down after about 2 hours, we’d done our first carry, well done team.
09/02/20: Plaza Argentina, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Camp 1, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Apparently I was too lazy to write in my journal for day 10 “missed writing something yesterday, we moved to camp 1 and honestly I couldn’t be bothered” thats my words from my journal on day 11. Luckily it seems I wrote in my journal twice on day 11, in the morning reflecting on day 10 and in the afternoon reflecting on day 11. Thank goodness because I can’t remember a thing about the move to camp 1, I’ll blame that “on the altitude”
- Today we camped at camp 1, I was happy to finally be camping on the mountain, the expedition finally started feeling like it was getting real. Although this was exciting it had its downsides; for one it was a lot colder and windier so no more sleeping outside and two we had to start s**ting in a bag. S**ting in a bag is not fun, not only do you have to hold a bag to your a** whilst you squat down behind a rock which hardly gives you any privacy but also you have to p**s beforehand, otherwise your bag gets full of urine. I’m sorry if this seems inappropriate to write about this but mountain life isn’t all amazing views, fun climbing and walking, and joking around with mates. Theres a few not so fun things you need to put up with. Also unless you pay for a porter to carry it down for you, you have to carry this bag of s**t with you the whole time your on the mountain (6-10 days depending on weather). Luckily for us we were able to pay $10 USD each for a porter to carry our s**t bags down every time we moved camp.
- The move to camp 1 from basecamp was the same as day 9, only difference was we weren’t going back down to basecamp once we got there. Our packs were supposed to be lighter when we moved up to camp but mine was heavier. I underestimated how much gear left I had and after taking on some extra group gear and a few peoples individual items it turned out to be significantly heavier than the previous day. I didn’t mind though, if felt good to be a useful part of the team. Dinner at camp 1 was again amazing, we had burgers!! Beef patties and cheese in bread, I mean c’mon how?!! Who would’ve thought we’d be getting burgers on the side of the mountain, all whilst watching the beautiful sunset.
10/02/20: Camp 1, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- First night in the tent was actually pretty good, Richard became my tent mate and we got along well. No bulls**t or complaints about room or noise in the tent. We talked for a bit said goodnight and went to sleep. We both woke up around the same time too! Bagels for breakfast this morning, Josh also gave me a leftover burger from the night before, off to a good start. Today was the carry to camp 2, I was looking forward to seeing what camp 2 looked like, we head off mid-morning. My pack undoubtedly felt heavy this day “not gonna lie the extra food made my pack f**ken heavy, managed though” these where my words, I estimated the pack weighed around 30kg/66 pounds. “Your an idiot” I thought to myself, why didn’t you train with your pack before the expedition? Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t struggling and maintained the pace but life just would’ve been easier if I trained carrying heavy loads. Anyway the climb to camp 2 was much easier than from basecamp to camp 1 and before we knew it camp 2 was in our sights, so was the jaw dropping views. Once up the steep part of the climb we were greeted by beautiful views of other mountains that called the Andes home, lots of them snow capped, it was a stunning sight. From here it was only a 1 hour walk to camp 2. The terrain here was also pretty cool, the last 100 m of the walk we walked through snow formations called penintentes. Penintentes are made from solid snow and ice, they’re found at high altitudes, nearly always closely spaced together and take the shape of long, thin, blades. They were head high too so as we walked through them it was like we were transported to a whole new type of terrain. For a brief moment there was no dust or rocks!
- Once at camp 2 I definitely noticed I was more out of breath and had a slight headache however no other negative effects from the altitude hit me yet. I felt good, my body felt good, I wasn’t sick and the altitude didn’t seem to effect me much, for this I was very grateful. The only things annoying me or giving me grief was my hips which were being rubbed raw from my pants and pack strap. My hips started becoming bloody from friction burn scabs, a constant sting followed me around every time I took a step, my hips are still red (nearly two weeks being off the mountain). I also had an ingrown toenail on my big toe which wasn’t much fun (eventually it turned to a blood blister). Nothing serious though so it was all good, I just made sure to smother them with hand sanitiser to stop them from getting infected. I was having the time of my life. The altitude and heavy pack was enough to satisfy my hunger of being challenged physically, I was with a great group of kind and funny people that continued to impress me, our guides were accomodating all our needs whilst being great company, the weather was good, we were successfully making our way up the mountain and I was surrounded by jaw dropping views of the Andes Mountain Range, I felt at home. Still hated s**ting in a bag though.
- After staying at camp 2 for a little bit we made our way back down to camp 1. Tonights dinner was something that once again blew my expectations away, pizza!! Seriously how the hell are they making pizza on the side of a mountain nearly 5,000m/16,404 feet above sea level!! To top it off our guides did delivery!! As Richard and I stood outside the cooking tent chatting away our guides started delivering pizzas to our team members relaxing in their tents, I couldn’t believe it. Not only this but they changed the toppings of the pizzas to accommodate peoples food requirements (vegan, vegetarian, etc). Talk about going above and beyond!! Again I have to shout out, Colo, Capi, Seba and Josh absolutely amazing.
11/02/20: Camp 1, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Camp 2, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Breakfast burrito this morning, do I need to say anymore? I mean these guys are like magicians, every night and morning they seem to pull rabbits out of a hat. Once we had breakfast we took down the tents and moved to camp 2. Not much to say here, the climb was pretty much the same except the penitentes had changed and were no longer head high. The group was doing well, guides again were patient and accommodating and I felt good. I continued to talk an enjoyed conversations with Josh and Capi. Eventually we all arrived at camp 2 for the second time, our group was doing an amazing job, everyone was getting along and it was positive vibes the whole time.
- Once at camp 2 and after setting up our tents I got pretty bored, I wanted to contribute more to the group. I could see our guides working tirelessly to make us as comfortable as possible but I felt guilty for this. I felt like I was being served, it made me uncomfortable and I wanted to contribute more. Every time I asked if help was needed it was always the same, “no where good thanks”. So the best I could do was say thank you over and over again and ask the rest of the group if they needed help with anything. In hindsight I hope my asking to help didn’t get annoying, I imagine it might’ve. Josh did give me something to do eventually though, create a rock stand for the CTSS flag so he could take a few pictures of the flag with the mountains as the backdrop. Although a very insignificant task it made me realise something, I felt proud representing CTSS as a client. They where respected on the mountain, they’d conducted themselves professionally thus far, they obviously cared for the mountain and the people on it whether clientele or not (Josh proved this as he was picking up rubbish on the trek in and always aided other groups that needed it) and so far treated us with respect. I didn’t feel like I was another number that was only important because I was a source of income.
- Oh yeah forgot to mention we had gnocchi for dinner, yeah thats right. This might as well be a food tasting tour rather than a mountain climbing expedition.
12/02/20: Camp 2, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Our second rest day, I was still feeling energetic so was a little disappointed to be resting. Again though it’s a necessary part of the acclimatisation process and our group as a whole needed it, the altitude take its toll. There was some good news though, pancakes for breakfast! Although it was sunny it was quite a cold day, Aconcagua’s famous winds was bringing a harsh chill and honesty made it pretty uncomfortable out of the tent so thats were most of my group stayed. I couldn’t sit still though and decided I’d go for a hike to camp 3 also known as Camp Colera, I was keen to see where we’d be setting up camp after camp 2. The climb to Camp Colera was definitely the shortest so far and probably the easiest however the altitude made it a lot harder. I noticed if I didn’t drink enough headaches came on quick at this altitude, also I started to breath consciously as my breathing rate increased from simple tasks such as putting on shoes. Still though I got to Camp Colera in about 1 and a half hours and was greeted to a ghost town. There was no tents set up, only a few of the guiding services big dome tents. Besides myself there was only 1 other person at the camp, he looked to be a porter sitting by himself. I had a bit of a look around, took in the views, congratulated myself for a new attitude record and head back to camp 2. When I got back lunch was about ready, quesadilla’s this time, again impressed. Then I chatted with whoever was out of their tent. I think Blane was, Blane who was from Canada was a straight up stereotype, in simple words he was one of the kindest people I’ve met. Every time I interacted with Blane it was straight up positivity even when he was exhausted or struggling. Once lunch past I went up for another hike this time only 3/4 the way up, on the way down the wind really picked up. When I got pack to camp it was the coldest and windiest it’d been the whole expedition. The tents were rattling quite violently, luckily this was pretty much the end of the day. Before sleeping though we had dinner, ravioli with pesto, I continued to be impressed!
- I wanted to add that at this stage I started thinking about the summit quite a lot, it felt within reach now and summit fever started to get to me. I did my best to not ask Josh about summit day and what the plan was but boy was that hard. Luckily he gave us the breakdown this night, the 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th were out of the picture due to really strong winds (I think some days winds on the summit reached 50-70 km/hr), the 15th and 16th looked to be the possible days for us though, clear skies with moderate winds (30-50 km/hr). However this meant we’d have to stick out the strong winds tomorrow as well as the day after (13th & 14th). On the 13th (tomorrow) we’d make the carry to Camp Colera and on the 14th (the day after) we’d make the move to camp Colera. This would place us in a good position for the summit on the 15th.
13/02/20: Camp 2, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Today was pretty full on, so full on that I made no comments about breakfast or dinner! However I do remember breakfast.
- The wind was really strong especially in the morning. It was so windy that Richard and I along with everyone else didn’t leave our violently shaking tents until late morning, except for the one time when I had no choice because otherwise my bladder would’ve burst (I lost my pee bottle). As we lay in our tents Richard and I joked around and talked anxiously about our possible summit opportunities and the now uncertain carry to Camp Colera. An hour or so passed and we continued chatting, after some time at around 8-9am we heard someone calling our names. What the hell? Who’s that I thought, who’d be out of their tent in this weather? It was pretty obvious really it was Josh, he was calling our names through the howling wind. He was outside our tent, I opened the tent zip and there he was holding a bottle of warm water and coffee. Are you serious right now I thought, it was freezing outside, my hands went numb after a minute with no gloves on when I went to the toilet and staying on my feet was like walking on a tight rope! And here was Josh serving everyone warm water and coffee in our tents! Then he asked for our bowels, you are not serving my lazy ass breakfast in conditions like this I thought to myself, feeling kind of guilty I gave him my bowel. The guilt plagued me though and after 2 minutes I was out of the tent asking if he needed help. However once again I received the same answer I’d been getting the whole trip. “No where good, Cola and Capi are helping me with everyones breakfast”, “no worries” I said and walked with my tail between my legs to the tent (almost after nearly falling over due to the wind). 10 minutes later our names were called again, once again I unzipped he tent door and in came scrambled eggs, dehydrated hash browns and bacon. Richard and I just looked at each other jaws dropped, we were so amazed these guys were still serving us breakfasts like this in conditions like this.
- The extremely windy morning continued on, at this point Richard and I we were both concerned about the carry to Camp Colera not happening today. This was concerning because these are the kind of stories you hear from people who don’t summit. They encounter days like this or take additional rest days and miss their summit day windows. Although concerned we managed to joke around for the best part of 2 hours. It was such a pleasure to share a tent with Richard during the climb of Aconcagua, seriously a really funny and good dude.
- Luckily at around 11am the wind started to die down, as soon as this happened we heard Josh’s voice calling our names once again. We unzipped the tent and was informed of the best news of the day. “Get ready, in half an hour were making the the carry to Camp Colera”.
- Half an hour past and we set off, the wind was still strong and it was bitterly cold. I nearly had all my layers on; 4 layers for my torso including my down parka and 3 bottom layers; my climbing pants, thermals and windbreakers, I also had my buff up to my nose, beanie, two pairs of gloves and double layer boots. I definitely noticed the conditions effected the groups morale and I did my best to encourage everyone, we were all in this together. The first part of the carry to Camp Colera from Camp 2 was quite steep and technical. It broke up the group due to different confidence levels and physical abilities and I felt guilty being at the front, I felt like I was ditching the group. Should I be staying back, slowing down and helping my other group members? If I slowed down to help I was worried they’d think I didn’t think they weren’t capable. I ended up staying at the front and because of this Josh had me lead the front group for a little bit whilst he checked up on everyone in the middle to back pack. Capi, Colo and Seba had there hands full with individual group members at this point. He didn’t leave me leading for too long though for obvious reasons (I’m not a guide), I tried my best to set a pace that was close to if not exactly the same as Josh’s, whether I did a good job or not of this I have no idea. Josh did teach me a little bit about guiding though when he caught back up, I really appreciated this. Mountain guiding is a dream job of mine and any insight was really appreciated.
- It was a slog of a day, the conditions where pretty harsh, I had quite a lot of extra gear so my pack was pretty heavy and being physical at this altitude takes the life out of you. I was stoked once we reached Camp Colera. We’d all mate it and I’m not gonna lie I felt a sense of pride for my effort and contribution to the team. Not everything was good though, I noticed a man collapsing just below the camp as he made his way up the last part of the steep hill. I had a double take to make sure I wasn’t seeing things but there he was, a man by himself on the ground about 50 m below. I ran down not knowing what I’d do, luckily I was accompanied by another man which turned out to be his partner. I was pleasantly relived to find he was still conscious, we gave him some water, got him to his feet and I grabbed his pack. His mate helped him get up the last part of the hill whilst I carried his pack for him. He was noticeabley dazed and I asked if they needed anything and if they were alright, they spoke Spanish not English but in broken English said “he’s ok, were ok, thank you”. The one who collapsed then gave me a massive bear hug, I felt like I was being crushed, he asked me my name and gave me his “Alfredo”. Then they sat and started drinking and eating, “ok I thought, they’re alright”.
- We didn’t stay at Camp Colera for long, conditions were horrible up there. We made our way down and got back to Camp 2 by around 6pm.
14/02/20: Camp 2, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Camp Colera, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Summit day eve, not much to say about today. We made our final move up the mountain from camp 2 to Camp Colera. The move was pretty hard for me, the extra group gear was weighing me down. I couldn’t complain though I volunteered to carry it, no one to blame but myself. It made me feel like I was part of them team so I was happy to carry it.
- Once we reached Camp Colera for the second time it felt like the end of something, as from now on we’d be making no more carries or moves up the mountain, we were close to the finish line. Once the whole team made it to Camp Colera I definitely felt a sense of pride within the group, it really felt like we achieved something. Summit or no summit we all made it in one piece to the highest camp. That’s quite impressive when you’ve got a group of 11; all different ages with different speeds and skillsets. I felt contempt with myself too, I could honestly say I contributed the best I could towards the team and our success as a collective, how much did this really help I’m not sure but I knew I’d done my best. I was also astounded that besides a minor headache and being slightly out of breath I felt great. Here we were 6,000m/19,685 feet above sea level, we’d put up with some pretty nasty conditions yesterday and I still felt fresh and had plenty of energy.
- Once tents were up and we settled at camp 3 we started talking about summit day. For example what gear to wear, our plan for the day, our wake up time, etc. I’m not going to lie listening to Josh talk about summit day made me anxious, the past 14 days had led to this. I’d payed $10,000+ AUD to be here and spent numerous hours preparing to get to the top of this mountain. Now I was here the weather gods had given me an opportunity and all I had to do was grab it and run with it. I did have to remind myself though that although I knew nothing within my control would stop me from summiting there was things out of my control that might.
- Once summit talk was over we had dinner, Richard and I prepared our packs and clothing for tomorrows summit day, I set my alarm for 5am for a 6am departure time and attempted to get some sleep.
15/02/20: Camp Colera, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Summit day, the anticipation was killing me I think I would’ve had a maximum of 2 hours sleep, I just couldn’t relax. All night my head was racing in excitement and anxiousness about today. I managed to relax a little by listening to Logics Supermarket album but still sleep was few and far between. So when my alarm went off at 5am I was already up and ready to go, Richard got more sleep than I did but he was up pretty much straight away too. We’d already packed everything the night before and I was already completely dressed too. Being organised kept me somewhat calm. It was a cold and windy morning, so cold that once out of my tent when I took my gloves off they became numb in about 30 seconds. I had all my torso layers on; my base layer, my fleece jacket, my soft-shell jacket, my down parka and my hardshell windproof jacket. For my lower body I had my base layer, my soft-shell climbing pants and my synthetic puffy pants. I also had my heavy gloves on with mittens and hand warmers, my buff, beanie, two hoods over my head, one pair of socks and my double layer mountaineering shoes. I was layered up and still felt the windchill. Within our group besides the two members who left an hour early I was the first up and out of the tent. I made my way to the cooking tent where our guides could be found, to no surprise there was Josh and Colo boiling water, once again hard at work. I asked if there was anything I could help with and for the first time Colo said there was. He asked if I could make sure everyone was up and to let them know that hot water was ready, along with breakfast (cereal this morning). So off I went happy to be usefulI, funnily enough the task of relaying this message ended up being one of the harder things all day. There was 10-20 tents set-up at Camp Colera and most looked the same, I had no idea which ones belonged to our team members. So I walked around camp disturbing random peoples tents as I asked if the tent belonged to any of the CTSS group members. After a few people telling me to f**k off which was understandable as it was 5:30am in the morning, I finally found everyone’s tents. I told everyone hot water was ready along with breakfast but it turned out there wasn’t much point of me doing this. Most of my group members were running on their own times this morning. As a result the whole group wasn’t together in the cooking tent until around 5:40am. To be honest this kind of pi**ed me off. The aim was to leave at 6am, I made sure all my s**t was ready the night before so we could leave on-time. It was summit morning and some people weren’t even out of their tents until nearly 6am. I didn’t understand, didn’t everyone want to give themselves the best chance of summiting? I couldn’t think of anything worse than not reaching the summit because we messed around taking too long to leave camp. These frustrated thoughts came from the heat of the moment, I mean no disrespect to my group members I was stressed and tired, love you all. Although I felt this way I also felt bad for feeling that way. These were the same group members I’ve been having the time of my life with for the past two weeks. I hid my frustrations and anxieties and once I ate breakfast I put this negative energy towards something useful, helping others get ready.
- Eventually 45 minutes later than planned we took off. Up we went, it was a beautifully cold and clear morning. As we made our way up the sun started to rise, now this was something special it was beautiful. You could see the the enormous shadow of Aconcagua as the sun hit the mountain, the shadow stretched across the smaller snow capped peaks and the stunning sunrise was in the background. Although the morning was beautiful it was also stressful, within half an hour of leaving one of our group members had to turn around and Colo had to go down with her. This was stressful for numerous reasons the most important being we discovered this particular group member turned out to have a blood oxygen count in the 50s, she hadn’t been drinking much and was feeling extremely fatigued. I was concerned for her health and safety so was happy to hear all other vitals were ok. She was going to have to be taken down the mountain though. On a far less important note we were left with only one guide, that being Josh until Colo came back up. Seba and Capi were with two group members who left an hour earlier than us. That meant Josh was in charge of 8 of us. If anyone else needed to turn around before we caught up to our other two group members we’d be in trouble. Whilst all the mayhem was taking place Josh sent me down to hang with the back of our group until Colo came back up. I was more than happy to do this as we were a team and things were getting pretty full on. 30 minutes past before things started to sort themselves out. We caught up to our other two group members and at around the same time Colo caught back up with us. Now with everyone together including all 4 guides the decision was made that Seba would go down and escort our team down to Plaza De Mulus, the basecamp on the other side of the mountain (the side we were going to descend). Once I heard this I felt like I could relax a little, she’d be safe down there I thought. Josh, Colo, Seba and Capi all did an amazing job dealing with all this. I thought I was stressed I couldn’t imagine being one of the guides. Anyway we’d been ascending the whole time whilst this was going down and were close to Refugio Independencia (our first official break spot). After about 20-30 minutes we were there.
- When we reached Refugio Independencia we were hit with another blow. Another one of our group members were turning around, I was shocked. That’s two members down and we weren’t even halfway to the summit yet. This in combination with a warning talk from our guides that some of our group members paces was too slow put some doubt amongst certain people. I could see it, oh s**t I thought, once that thought of doubt enters your mind it’s pretty much over, doubt hangs around like a heavy cloud and eventually leads to giving in. Adding to the stress was how long we stopped for. We had a 30 minute break and I was again stressing believing we were taking to long. As usual though I kept this negative thought to myself and I knew our guides knew what they were doing, who am I to question their methods?
- From Refugio Independencia we head off upwards towards a part of the trail called the traverse. The traverse was exposed and as a result was very windy and cold, I couldn’t stop shivering as snot run out my nose, into my buff and then froze on my face, I breathed hard and kept myself relaxed and positive. Then it happened, nearly half of the team was turning around, I couldn’t believe it. At the time our team was split into two groups, the front pack which consisted of myself, Josh and 5 others and the back group which consisted of Capi and the other 4 team members. Colo was hanging back with the other member at Refugio Independencia as they were waiting a little bit before descending. I couldn’t believe the back group was turning around, I was shattered, I had this hope all 11 of us would be at the top summiting together but that looked to be a pipe dream now. Then to add to the wound one of our team members at the front pack decided they had enough and turned around too. This shocked the s**t out of me, she had easily been one of our strongest members. So down they all went, just like that 5 group members where going down. Capi made his way to the front pack which now consisted of 5 group members including myself. I should mention this all went down whilst we stood still, freezing on the traverse. This was the hardest part of the whole day for me purely because of the exposed, freezing conditions and the disappointment of practically half the team turning around at once.
- On we went with 2 guides and 5 team members, it was a hectic morning and our guides juggled it fantastically. Luckily from here on out no more drama went down (at least within our team), my anxiety started to die down at this point too. I felt we were finally starting to make consistent progress. Still though it was somewhat overshadowed by the disappointment of losing more than half of the group. Once off the traverse we started the climb to “The Cave” which was the base of the infamous La Canaleta. The climb here was steep and at times the scree sent you sliding down backwards but overall it wasn’t anything to strenuous or challenging, no real technical hiking skills were required. After an hour or so we reached the cave. This would be our last big break before the summit. I was still shivering from the traverse at this point, it felt like a deep coldness. I wouldn’t feel warm again until we reached the traverse whilst descending! I get cold very easily so this feeling was most likely unique to me, others seemed to be quite warm. Helmets went on here too and after a good 30 minute break we started making our way up the La Canaleta. It was definitely steep, and honestly it felt a little dangerous at times. Rocks came rolling down from above and there was times were falling could quite easily lead to a broken arm or leg due to the distance you’d be falling. The scree was also a bit ridiculous, one step forward, two steps backwards kind of thing. We made progress though and although I had a headache and was cold I felt pretty good. Summit fever never really kicked in, every-time I looked up I could see others posing on the summit but I felt no excitement. Even though we were making progress it seemed like the summit was never getting closer, eventually though all of a sudden we were right below the summit. Still no feeling, I felt kind of empty as if “let’s just get this over with”. I wasn’t physically exhausted or to be honest even really challenged I was just mentally drained I’d had enough. Then we got to the top.
- We all congratulated and hugged, I was happy to be at the summit. I felt proud doing it with CTSS and quickly took my helmet off replacing it with my CTSS cap. However to be honest when I look back now it was a bit of an anti-climax. I never really had to dig deep, a big reason I love mountaineering is having to find strength when your at your limits and although I had an amazing time I never had to do this. Have you ever came fifth or fourth in a race and knew you could’ve pushed a little harder and placed? It felt a bit like that, my happiness came from seeing others happy. For example this was Richards third attempt due to situations out of control so I was ecstatic for him. I was super grateful to Josh for doing such an amazing job as our guide and Capi too but I never felt 100% contempt. Anyway plenty of summit photos were taken and the views were superb!! 360 views, the earths curvature and you could see the Andes Mountain Range in all its glory with numerous 6,000m/20,000 ft peaks. I swallowed my disappointment with the anti-climax and reminded myself I was privileged to be standing on top of the highest mountain in South America with a group of people I now would consider lifelong friends. We were on the summit for a good half hour. Then we made our descent, this was a little crazy people were being short roped whilst attached to their guides. They were too exhausted to get down themselves, they were constantly falling on their a**es. We were descending some pretty steep and potentially dangerous terrain, I was amazed there was no major injuries. Everyone in our group was pretty good though, exhausted but very capable. Descending is always the worst part of summit day, your tired both mentally and physically and theres nothing besides your own safety and getting to some more oxygenated air motivating you. Down we went, past the La Caneleta, then the cave, then the traverse, then Refugio Independencia, finally at around 6pm our camp was in our sites and by 6:30pm we were back.
- We were greeted by the rest of the group who were all congratulating us. This was amazing, I’m sure they were fighting back disappointment but they were to kind enough to congratulate us anyway. I didn’t know how to react, I didn’t want to celebrate when there was group members who didn’t make it. Thank you everyone who was offering to take me pack, get me water and/or food it was really appreciated. A big shout out to Kevin especially, he went and got me some warm water, trust me that was appreciated more than you know.
- The day wound down with some soup and then we went straight tour tents. Once in the tent Richard and I had a bit of a laugh as I struggled to get my shoes off but once they were off all I could do was lie there. I couldn’t be bothered doing anything else; that includes figuring out what was wrong with my thermarest and why it was deflated or getting changed. I welcomed some sleep.
- I want to show my respect and add on here that a girl from a Russian team was killed on our summit day. I believe it was from a rockfall and/or tripping over which led to an open fracture and severing of a major artery around the leg which led to her bleeding to death. I’m sending my condolences to her team and those close to her.
16/02/20: Camp Colera, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Plaza de Mulus, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina
- Slept much better last night, still not great but what do you expect we were sleeping 6,000m/20,000 feet above sea level. First thing I noticed when I woke up was the wind was worse than yesterday, Richard and I looked at each other “lucky our summit day was yesterday”. After a brief time lying still in the tent I decided it was time to get up and see what was happening with our group. It was around 8:30 am and everyone else was still in their tents, we were all pretty exhausted. I made my way to the cooking tent and of course there was Josh and Colo once again boiling water for the group. Josh asked me to let everyone know he wanted to aim to leave the camp by 11:30am. Once I told everyone Josh’s message Richard came out of our tent and we had some coffee. This was followed by an interesting conversation, it went like this “hey Richard you’ve got blood running from your nose” his response, “so do you” this made us laugh. This whole trip my nose had been p**sing in me off. At night it would become blocked making it harder to breath then during the day it wouldn’t stop running, a combination of blood and snot. This had been happening for nearly two weeks now.
- The winds had been slowly getting worse all morning and by 10 am it was quite bad. This resulted in Richard and I having a slight problem, our tent collapsed. I was taking care of business with my s**t bag at the time so I had no idea it was happening. I could hear Richard yelling my name but I couldn’t hear what he was saying so I ignored him. Once I finished and washed my hands I turned around to start walking to the tent but was shocked to see our tent rattling and rocking uncontrollably, what the hell I thought. I went over and found Richard in the tent weighing it down by lying down in it. I don’t remember our words but I jus remember laughing, anyway we decided we may as well take the tent down. This wasn’t easy in the strong wind though, luckily Jim came to the rescue and held the tent down whilst we took it apart.
- By around midday everyones tents were down, we had organised our gear and were to head down to Plaza De Mulus (basecamp). The wind was only getting worse so it was good to start heading down the mountain. Capi would lead us down whilst Josh stayed back to pack up the remainder of our camp. Today we were moving all the way down to Plaza De Mulas, everyone in our group hired/shared a porter to help carry down their gear except me, I was too much of a tight a**, my ego was too big and quite frankly I was out of money. I had items hanging from the left, right and centre of my 100L pack. Everything from the whole climb as well as group gear was stuffed in there. I’m not gonna lie it was heavy, somewhere around 35kg/77 pounds. This was the hardest day physically of the whole trip for me. My quads, IT bands and calves screamed at me whilst descending, I felt every step. I actually at times had to put my trekking poles underneath my pack and lift with my arms to take some weight off the legs. I was silently getting frustrated, there was a point when one of my mountaineering shoes fell from my pack and everyone was offering to carry it for me or to carry something else from my pack. That shoe falling really pissed me off, more than it should have and after I politely said “no thank you” to the offers I then got the are you sure? questions, I lost it. It was so stupid but I did, I gave everyone the silent treatment ignoring the, are you sure? questions and started walking off. Luckily I checked myself and forced myself to stop and wait because we were a team and everyone was just trying to help. Capi tied the shoe back to my pack and off we went again, as a team. This was a little embarrassing and reminded me I’ve got a lot of maturing to to do.
- I was happy we were descending this side of the mountain as its a much shorter route compared to the side we came up. It also involves plenty of scree skiing which is pretty damn fun, although it did burn my quads. This route is considered the standard/normal route and it was crazy how we were descending past this routes camps 1 and 2 so quickly and heading all the way to basecamp in a couple hours. When climbing up the mountain it’s a 4-8 day process (dependent on rest days etc). All the way from camp 2 you could see the small village which was Plaza De Mulas. Down in the valley surrounded by mountains Plaza De Mulas stood out like a saw thumb, it was massive. Dozens of big dome tents surrounded by 20-40 smaller tents were set up down there.
- Besides Plaza De Mulas, some surrounding peaks and melted glacier pools theres not much to look at whilst descending the normal/standard route. It was just a scree-field that happens to be a steep hill leading to the summit of Aconcagua, very dusty and rocky. After a good 4-5 hours Capi got us down to camp. With that I want to give a shout out to Capi, there was no more available porters to carry down our human waste so without telling any of us he carried it all down himself, talk about going above and beyond.
- Once at Plaza De Mulas we head to one of the big dome tents where we were re-united with the group member who had to go down on summit day due to low blood oxygen levels, it was good to see her healthy and safe. It was nice to sit down on some chairs, eat some snacks and unwind with the group. It was yet another reminder of how much I appreciated our group, everyone was so frickin awesome. A couple hours past and eventually Josh as well as the remainder of our group members who who were behind us caught up. The rest of the afternoon and night we ate and relaxed in the dome tent. BBQ for dinner (again amazing) and no tents had to be set up, the guys slept in the same dome tent we ate in and the girls went and slept in the luxury facility our once sick group member was put in the night previous. It was an easy and relaxing evening.
17/02/20: Plaza de Mulus, Aconcagua Provincial Park, Argentina > Mendoza, Argentina
- We woke up to snow, cold cconditions and strong winds it was the first time I’d seen it snowing on Aconcagua, a good send off I thought to myself. I thought about those at camp 3 they would’ve been blown to shreds, it would’ve been crazy, let’s just say I was happy to be at Plaza De Mulus. A couple days later I saw some footage of those at camp 3 this day, the video was literally a tent being blown to shreds!
- Not much to say about this morning, we had breakfast, organised our gear placing most of it in rice bags which were being carried off the mountain via mules and then we hit the trail. I will say though it was hilarious to see Capi try Vegemite at breakfast, he spread some on toast and took a bite, we all watched in anticipation, his first reaction “this isn’t very strong” then that was followed by a squinting of the eyes and a response that went like this “this is very strong, what is this? fish” he had me balling, I mean literally crying. Capi’s such a legend.
- It was going to be a long day it was a 30 km hike out of the National Park. Hours past as we hiked through the Horcones valley. It was a nice hike but we were all pretty much done, everyone was pretty quiet and was in their own worlds. We didn’t stop for breaks that much either we were making a beeline for the exit. One of the few stops stops we did make was at a camp called Camp Confluencia, it was like a ghost town there. It was completely empty with an exception of a few people. Apparently during peak season it’s full of climbers and trekkers but at the end of the season when we were there it was a complete ghost town.
- We walked and walked and finally at around 5-6pm we were out, we were off the mountain and out of Aconcagua Provincial Park! I was ready for a good feed, a shower and a nice, soft bed.
- It wasn’t a straight forward process getting to bed but after messing around with the mules and gathering our gear, stopping to have a feast of empanadas and grilled chicken, having a long shower and messing around at the hotel I was in bed at The Diplomatic Hotel at around 2am.
- What an experience, I’d lost 4kg/8 pounds which is a lot for a skinny guy, had some busted up hips, black toenails, pushed through some pretty extreme weather conditions and although I wasn’t pushed physically as much as I would’ve liked it ended up being the best experience of my life. The friendships I made, all the expedition and mountaineering lessons I learnt, the beauty of the mountain and being part of an expedition that was run professionally, smoothly and with care made me proud. Our guides were fantastic, seriously couldn’t of asked for anything else from these guys, expectations were blown out of the water. Josh, Capi, Colo and Seba thank you so much!! Although I’m just another client I didn’t feel like this. I really felt like Josh had become a good mate and a mentor. As someone who would like to be a mountain guide one day I looked (look) up to Josh. If I ever become a guide being half the guide Josh is would be good enough. I loved the Argentinian culture and the personalities of the Argentines I met, the steaks were the best I’ve had in my life and the summer weather was spectacular. Thank you CTSS for putting this all together, you bet from now on I’ll being using CTSS when heading to the mountains.