December 13, 2013
Reaching Mendoza, Argentina proved to be a tougher challenge than we anticipated for our team. Between cancelled flights, storm systems, and mechanical delays we all finally reached Mendoza, albeit a day late. Tom, Thomas and I happened to be on the same plane from Santiago to Mendoza and we had a stunning flight over the Andes with views north and south down the range. A fresh layer of snow blanketed the higher elevations of the mountains and Aconcagua stood tall above the surrounding peaks, it’s summit trailing a thin cloud on its leeward side.
When we stepped off the plane in Mendoza the temperatures were 70F and sunny, the austral summer in full swing with green trees lining the tarmac - a striking difference from the cold temperatures that we left at home! Unfortunately, the relief about reaching Mendoza was quickly muted when Tom and Thomas’ bags failed to appear. Undeterred, we filed our paperwork and were assured that the bags were on the next flight. So we headed into Mendoza, found our hotel, took a nice shower, and kicked back to share stories while we waited. And we waited, and we waited, and we waited…
The next morning found us back at the airport looking for a little more information on where the bags could have gone. The answer: Paris, France. It turns out that while we were hoping to head to Aconcagua’s Canaleta, the bags had something more like the Champs Élysées in mind. Even in the days of barcodes and instant tracking, it still takes awhile for lost baggage to find it’s way across three continents from Europe to the U.S. and finally Argentina. We made the most of the extra days in Mendoza to get the rest of our team gear organized, secure our climbing permits, catch up on rest from the flights, wander Mendoza’s tree-lined streets, and enjoy a glass or two of Malbec while hanging out in some of Mendoza’s outdoor cafes.
Finally by 5pm this evening the last of the missing bags reached Mendoza. We’ve enjoyed our time in town, but are eager to head to the mountains. Tomorrow morning we will make the drive into the Andes to the small outpost of Penitentes, wedged just south of Aconcagua National Park and a handful of miles from the Chilean border. We’ll sort our gear there and spend a night or two acclimatizing before we head into Plaza de Mulas, Base Camp on Aconcagua’s western Ruta Normal. We will check in tomorrow night from the mountains!
December 13, 2013
Finally with all of our gear, we left Mendoza this morning and headed for the mountains. The tree-lined streets of Mendoza gave away to carefully tended vineyards that produce the famed Malbec wine for which Mendoza is known. The road led into the foothills of the Andes, weaving along the edge of the thick red Mendoza River. The small hills soon grew to tall mountains and the road began passing through tunnels carved through the rock in the mountain sides. By midday we reached the ski outpost of Penitentes, a handful of kilometers from the Chilean border. Penitentes, no more than a few buildings with long slanted tat break the incessant winds, is a ski resort in the winter and a staging ground for Aconcagua climbers in the summer.
We spent the afternoon in Penitentes preparing our gear for the mountain. We set up and checked our tents, fired up the stoves, and packed our food and fuel into tight, well protected containers to endure the jostling of the mules on the approach to Base Camp. Once our loads were prepared, we ventured up the valley to Punta del Inca, a famous natural bridge created from geothermal springs that spans the entire river. Decades ago visitors would drive their cars across it. We ventured a bit further up the road to the mouth of the Horocones Valley where we caught our first views of Aconcagua since reaching Mendoza. Capped in clouds and new snow, the mountain’s impressive south face loomed over the head of the Horocones Valley. It was an impressive, exciting, and humbling moment.
We are settled into our Hosteria now, enjoying the thin cold air, and happy to finally be in the mountains.
How come your going up the Mulas side as oppossed to the Vacas valley?
Posted by: Randy Christofferson on 12/14/2013 at 10:17 am
December 15, 2013
Buenas tardes from Plaza de Mulas, the Base Camp on Aconcagua’s western side! Plaza de Mulas sits on a big rocky glacial moraine, near the eastern side of the amphitheater that makes up the head of the main Horocones Valley. Sharp summits surround us in every direction, the deep red color of the mountains here occasionally interested with striations of yellow and grey. Most of the peaks still hold snow from last winter snowpack and fields of penitentes - sharp snow spires that form from the intense sun - are emerging in the snow patches that still reside in the shallow gullies running alongside Base Camp. The panorama is framed by the massive cliff of glacial ice of Horocones Superior to our north and the hulk of Aconcagua rising immediately out of camp to our east. From this low on the mountain the majority of our route is obscured from view by the scree covered flanks running into camp, but far above us the steep cliffs that guard Aconcagua’s twin northern and southern summits occasionally emerge from the clouds. Despite the relatively non-technical nature of this route, we still found ourselves craning our necks to look up at the mountain from Camp.
After reaching camp we quickly set up our tents and unloaded our gear that came in by mule. It was a relief to see that our gear made it unscathed after bouncing up the valley on the back of what seemed to be semi-tamed mules (whatever you do, don’t stand in the trail and play chicken with an oncoming mule train!). With our camp established we explored around camp a bit before settling into our tents for some R&R right as the afternoon clouds spit a few sporadic snowflakes down on us.
The team is doing well and we are all very happy to be up high, finally eyeing the route above us and contemplating the next few days. If weather and acclimatization hold strong, we hope to carry a portion of our gear and supplies needed for the upper mountain to Camp 1 tomorrow. The sun is just starting to sink behind the ridge lines that separate us from Chile and the temperatures are getting chilly as we head off to dinner. We’ll check in tomorrow after our day.
Sounds breathtaking. Keep it up, glad the equipment arrived intact!
Posted by: Nanook on 12/16/2013 at 7:57 am
December 16, 2013
The clouds moved in after dinner last night and left a thin dusting of snow over camp. When I poked my head out of the tent early this morning things were looking ominous: a thick cloud cover hung just over camp and everything was white. But a few miles down the valley the cloud bank broke and I could see morning light hitting the peaks behind. Gradually as I watched the clouds overhead dissipated and the peaks immediately around Base Camp lit up in the pink morning light. With the hulk of Aconcagua immediately to our east, Base Camp sat in shadow while we crawled out of the tents for breakfast. Even by 8:30 with the clear skies and snow there was a nip to the air as we packed our bags but just as we shouldered our packs, the sun peaked over the ridge line high above and immediately warmed us up.
Bound for Camp 1 with loads of gear and supplies for the upper camps, we set out from Base Camp and crossed a small field of penitentes - the sharp snow spires - to begin ascending. The trail zigs and zags across the rocky scree slopes of Aconcagua, occasionally wrapping around rock outcroppings that jut out of the seemingly featureless slope. We made great time towards Camp 1, settling into a consistent pace and watching the brightly colored tents of Base Camp fade to small dots far below us. By midday we reached Camp 1, called “Camp Canada” which sits on the backside of massive stone tower at 16,600’. With the sun still shining and the winds holding at bay, we unloaded our gear and cached it among the snowdrifts and rocks at Camp 1. To our west large clouds were forming and soon after starting our descent the skies began to spit torrents of snow and hail that would come as quickly as they went. Between the snow flurries the sun would come out and it would be down right hot until the next wave of snow. Despite the swings in weather, and our constant clothing adjustments as a result, we made it back to Base Camp by mid-afternoon where we retreated to our tents to hang out and watch the clouds bounce over the mountaintops.
Tom and Thomas climbed remarkably well today, tackling the new terrain and altitudes with little fanfare and all the while keeping me entertained with unending stories. We are all feeling good after the day and looking forward to our planned rest day here in Base Camp tomorrow before we move higher on the mountain.
December 17, 2013
Today was everything you could ask for on a rest day during a mountaineering expedition: we stayed burrowed into our sleeping bags until the sun hit the tents at Base Camp and then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, speculating about the outcome of the weekend’s games that we missed and drawing out our meal well into the mid-morning. Taking advantage of the perfect weather, we spent a few hours spreading out our equipment and once again going through our gear, culling the unnecessary items and making sure that we had everything we needed for tomorrow’s move to Camp 1. In the afternoon we wandered across the moraine to an old hotel built decades ago. Now boarded up, the stone and wood structure sits awkwardly in the middle of the landscape of rocks, glaciers, and snowfields. Despite its current state of neglect, it offers phenomenal views of Aconcagua’s west side and while we stood there we were fortunate to have not a cloud in sight. By late afternoon the long shadows crept back over Base Camp and the temperature immediately began to fall as we wrapped up dinner. Base Camp’s 14,400’ elevation is starting to feel less challenging and we are feeling well rested and ready to move up the mountain. Tomorrow we will climb to Camp 1 at 16,600’ and set up camp. While we’ve enjoyed being at Base Camp, we are ready to move onto the next portion of the climb, we’ll check in tomorrow evening from higher up!
December 18, 2013
Once again clouds hungover Base Camp this morning and the moisture and cold temps covered camp in a thin layer of frost. We broke down camp and packed up our gear in the cold early morning shadows, stopping now and again to warm our hands while brushing frost off of the tents and packing them away.
The first rays of morning sunshine found us climbing out of Base Camp on our way to Camp 1. The rest and added acclimatization from yesterday paid off as we moved up the trail, making switchback after switchback up the rocky slope. By midday we reached Camp 1 and taking advantage of the good weather quickly set up our tents. Camp sits on a gentle slope at 16,600’, just above a series of spires and cliff faces that roll off below us. The slope meant we had to put in some work rearranging rocks and flattening the platforms but before long we had everything set up and tied down in case the winds picked up.
The rest of the afternoon passed building rock walls for wind protection and retreating to the tents when occasional squalls of snow blew through. Thankfully nothing major came about and by early evening the clouds lifted a bit, giving us amazing views of the glaciers and peaks above Base Camp while we had dinner.
We’re tucked into the tents and heading to bed to get some rest before tomorrow. Our plan is to make another carry to Camp 2, getting more supplies up there for when we move the following day. It’s great to be out of Base Camp an up on the mountain. Tom and Thomas continue to climb very well and we are all adjusting to the altitude smoothly. Buenas noches from Campo Uno!
December 19, 2013
2,200’ higher in the Andes is a noticeable change in temperature! While our mornings at Base Camp were chilly before the sun reached us, it was downright cold this morning at Camp 1 as we prepared to leave. The cold nip was softened a bit by the views: there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we watched the entire range around us soak in the morning light as we packed our bags. Once again we hit the trail as the sun reached us, following a long traverse out of Camp 1 towards a shallow basin at the head of the slope. After a few minutes we settled back into the rhythm of climbing and the time ticked by as we ascended. After several hours of climbing, traversing rock slopes, crossing small snowfields, and weaving around large boulders, we crested the gentle saddle on the Northwest Ridge of Aconcagua and arrived at Camp 2.
Known as Nido de Condores, or Nest of the Condors, Camp 2 sits along a ridge line of distinct rock towers and the views are impressive: to the north stands Mercedario, another 6000m Andean peak, to the east lies Chile, and to our south: our climbing route up Aconcagua. We sat up there in the good weather for a few minutes after unpacking our gear just to enjoy the panorama and get used to the ever higher altitudes. Once satisfied, and with our packs nearly empty, we descended back to our tents at Camp 1. Yesterday’s snow squalls are a thing off the past and we’ve enjoyed sunshine all afternoon.
Tomorrow we will pack our gear and move up to Camp 2.
December 20, 2013
We were treated to another wonderfully calm, clear ... and cold night last night at Camp 1. The almost full moon hung huge in the western sky, just above the edges of the Horocones Glacier below us when we poked our heads out of the tents this morning. We dragged our feet a bit getting out of the tents but once the sun reached us we warmed right up and soon had our packs loaded and were heading up the trail. The climbing today was perfect, not too warm and hardly a breeze. Our acclimatization at Camp 1 was noticeable as we moved smoothly across the difficult sections of trail where the bedrock is covered by a thin veneer of gravel and loose stones. The time and the altitude ticked by with us hardly noticing until we found ourselves weaving between the large boulders that mark the entrance to Camp 2 at 18,330’.
No afternoon clouds were forming in the west and the weather was perfect so we took our time setting up camp, soaking in the views, sipping on water, and erecting large rock walls around our tents in case the do winds pick up. The rest of the afternoon passed with little action other than relaxing in camp and getting used to the new elevations. The approach of the longest day of the year down here (tomorrow!) means that even approaching 8 o’clock in the evening the sun still hangs high in the sky right now and is keeping the tents pleasantly warm.
We are all definite feeling the new jump in altitude up here - everything takes just a bit more effort - but are all feeling good. It is exciting to be moving higher on the mountain and suddenly the summit doesn’t look, or feel, as far away now. We are planning on taking a stroll above Camp tomorrow but largely using it as a rest day to adjust to the new elevations and recover a bit from the days we’ve had since leaving Base Camp. We’ll check in tomorrow afternoon.
Happy winter solstice!! Stay strong and take lots of wide angle shots of Aconcagua. You can never have too many (-;
Posted by: Monsieur Homme on 12/21/2013 at 8:28 am
December 21, 2013
The southern solstice treated us to a long, restful, and relaxing day here at Camp 2. We waited until the sun reached camp before stirring and then had a relaxed morning, watching the long shadows coming off the mountain above us gradually fade as the sun rose higher. From camp, we have perfect views of a good portion of our climbing route on summit day. There was hardly a puff of wind coming off of the top of Aconcagua and we could make out our trail crossing the wide scree slope called the Acarero and up the gully known as the Canaleta to reach the summit ridge. The perfect weather, views of the route, and time to rest and recover has motivated us and we are excited about the coming days. Tomorrow we plan to move up to Camp 3 at 19,500’ in hopes of making a push for the summit in the following days. We are all feeling strong, rested, and ready for the next push. We’ll check in tomorrow from high camp.
Bill Dorn- Wishing you a Merry Christmas from Rita and Carol in sunny, hot Florida.
Posted by: Rita Powella on 12/22/2013 at 9:21 am
Bill Dorn! We are so proud of you and your entire team. Can’t wait until we can hug you on January 23 (our next breakfast club) and get all the stories. Climb safely. Love, Dav’ne
Posted by: Dav'ne Stahley on 12/22/2013 at 8:34 am
December 22, 2013
We’re fortunate to be in the midst of a very stable and almost perfect weather pattern here on Aconcagua: the days are clear and calm and today was no exception. After a great night’s sleep at Camp 2 we packed up our gear and left for high camp by mid-morning. The trail to high camp ascends a broad north facing gulley, occasionally intersected by small cliff bands and large boulders. We weaved our way up, crossing sporadic patches of snow and across pockets of yellow dirt and rocks that smelled of sulfur. After a few hours of climbing we reached a small cliff band and followed a natural weakness in it to scramble up and over our final obstacle and right into our high camp.
Sitting at 19,540’, Camp 3 is a small flat area ringed by rock towers on nearly all sides. Between the towers we can catch views over the Vacas Valley to the east into Argentina and all the way around to the west over the Horocones Valley and into Chile. Above us stands the final 3,000’+ of Aconcagua with the first portion of our route visible from Camp.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon in camp, finalizing our gear for the summit push and trying to rest up and hydrate as much as possible. We are sharing camp with a few other teams and we traded notes on conditions and forecasts: we all agreed, tomorrow is predicted to be a great summit day!
We’ve retired to the tents even though the sun is still quite high in the sky in hopes of getting some rest tomorrow. We are planning on making a pre-dawn alpine start tomorrow morning and going for the top! We’re all doing well, feeling strong, and excited to make an attempt! We’ll check in tomorrow after the climb.
Wahoo! Wishing everyone a safe summit and decent. Merry Christmas!
Posted by: Nookster on 12/23/2013 at 10:52 am