- Melissa Arnot
- Alex Barber
- Bridget Belliveau
- Jake Beren
- Zeb Blais
- Katrina Bloemsma
- Megan Budge
- Lance Colley
- Sean Collon
- Leon Davis
- Elias de Andres Martos
- Pepper Dee
- James Easley
- Chris Ebeling
- Mark Falender
- Leah Fisher
- Lindsay Fixmer
- Eric Frank
- Steve Gately
- JM Gorum
- Casey Grom
- Billy Haas
- Dave Hahn
- Walter Hailes
- Mike Haugen
- Andy Hildebrand
- Joe Horiskey
- Nick Hunt
- Tyler Jones
- JJ Justman
- Andrew Kiefer
- Mike King
- Adam Knoff
- Caleb Ladue
- Ben Liken
- Josh Maggard
- Paul Maier
- Linden Mallory
- Lindsay Mann
- Jeff Martin
- Jess Matthews
- Bryan Mazaika
- Hannah McGowan
- Stoney Molina
- Chase Nelson
- Billy Nugent
- Brent Okita
- Sid Pattison
- Tyler Reid
- Kel Rossiter
- Geoff Schellens
- Hannah Smith
- Mike Soucy
- Garrett Stevens
- Sarah Strattan
- Mark Tucker
- Mike Uchal
- Pete Van Deventer
- Alex Van Steen
- Ed Viesturs
- Christina von Mertens
- Blake Votilla
- Mike Walter
- Seth Waterfall
- Solveig Waterfall
- Peter Whittaker
- Win Whittaker
- Robby Young
Posts for Aconcagua
For the past two winters I’ve traveled to the south side of the globe to join RMI’s teams on Cerro Aconcagua (Argentina). Despite being a skier and winter-lover through and through, each fall I find myself eagerly anticipating my trip to Argentina. Thanks to the Andes, the cuisine, and the new friends I make there each year, I’ve fallen in love with Aconcagua. Here are the top five reasons I look forward to making the long voyage south each winter:
Mules: Aconcagua is a unique mountain in that it is exceptionally dry. Its base camp at 13,800’ is reached by hiking twenty-seven hot, dusty miles along the Vacas river which sits deep in a rocky and sparsely vegetated valley. We rely on mules to carry our heavy expedition equipment to Base Camp over the course of our trek. The mules, loaded with two or three 30 kilogram duffels a piece, run along the river kicking up dust with the southern flanks of Aconcagua as a backdrop. Unlike horses, which expire quickly without water, the mules can run the 27 miles to basecamp fully loaded in a single morning and make the return trip to the trailhead that same afternoon. The mules are cared for and driven by Herrieros, the predecessors of the iconic South American Gauchos. The Herrieros ride the largest and sleekest mules and wear a traditional red cap that looks like a wool beret. They tie large patterned sashes around their waists and tuck a large, leather-sheathed blade in the back. At night the sashes are used to cover the eyes of the younger or more rambunctious mules in camp while the riders sit around a fire and grill in the Argentinian style. Which leads me to another part I love about an Aconcagua expedition…
Asado: A traditional grill that sits just off the ground. Slow burned hardwood provides the coals to cook large slabs of heavily salted steak. There is simply nothing better than coming down from climbing to a camp dinner of fresh steak and wine. Over our Asado dinner the last night on trail, the team has a chance to reflect and enjoy each other’s company, knowing they’re reaching the end of a successful expedition.
Mendoza: This small city nestled in Argentinian wine country is our jumping off point for all Aconcagua expeditions. Mendoza draws tourists of all sorts: wine connoisseurs, climbers, fly fishers, horseback riders, and a host of others. But all of them find in Mendoza some of the best cuisine and wine South America has to offer. The rise in popularity of Argentinian wines complements a rich food culture that descends from a mélange of European and native cultures. Whatever you crave after three weeks in a tent, whether steak, authentic Italian pasta, empanadas, fusion, or just pizza, you’ll find it in Mendoza. I promise, it will be delicious.
The View from Chopper Camp: So far everything I’ve mentioned about climbing Aconcagua has been about food and culture (forgive me, I love a good meal!). And while the cultural experience in Argentina is undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of the Aconcagua expedition, the view at Camp Two on Aconcagua takes my breath away every time. Sitting below the Polish Glacier on a small ridge at 18,600ft, Camp Two (or Chopper Camp) offers up the first views of the greater Andean range. From Base Camp on up, climbers see Aconcagua towering above them day and night, until suddenly we come around the final traverse into camp and the Andes stretch out as far as you can see: to the north and east toward Mendoza and west all the way into Chile. It is here, at Chopper Camp, that the expedition picks up energy: the summit is close, the final push on the horizon!
The Team: As the old adage goes, it takes a village to climb a mountain, or something along those lines. Aconcagua requires a tremendous amount of teamwork every step of the way. Our broader team includes the mule drivers who make sure our equipment arrives, the porters who help a climber with an especially heavy load, the Base Camp staff who cook us our first dinners, the drivers, expedition providers, hotel staff and numerous others who work with RMI year after year to make sure climbers and guides are cared for along the way. These people become part of our team. They have become friends and mentors and I look forward to seeing them each year. And then, there is our expedition team: the three guides and ten climbers who live together, work hard building camp together each night, eat every meal together for almost three weeks, and learn more about each other in that time than most people learn in a year. This network and the chance to be part of a new climbing team, more than anything else, calls me back to Aconcagua year after year.
Katrina Bloemsma hails from the mountains of Colorado, but now calls the Pacific Northwest home. She guides in Washington on Mt. Rainier and the North Cascades, and further south, on Aconcagua. An avid skier and climber, Katrina can be found chasing deep snow and warm rocks when she isn’t guiding.
Posted by: | March 10, 2015
Having recently returned from an Aconcagua expedition, and having unpacked all my duffels, it was time to reflect on what I learned from the experience. I learned that I will never be called out for breathing like Darth Vader or for taking too many rest steps, resting spots are always further away than they initially appear (or are promised) and it is statistically impossible to pack too many gummies. In fact, learning the exact food preferences of your guides, and anticipating their needs before they become hypoglycemic (or just cranky) is key to any successful Aconcagua expedition. For instance, I am now equipped with the powerful knowledge that Steve is partial to sour worms, irrespective of the time of day or the altitude, and Mike has an aversion to any form of fruit and won’t touch chocolate on summit day. And you can never EVER pack too many tubes of Pringles. I will forever carry this insight with me on future climbs.
So what else did I learn? I admit that initially I had reservations about my ability to handle the rigors of an Aconcagua expedition, my “level” being best described as “enthusiastic”. I wondered whether I had sufficient experience to effectively prepare for an extended trip. I had deep concerns about my long-time nemesis, altitude, and how I would acclimatize “on schedule”. And I wondered if being a female climber (and therefore packing less than 200 pounds of pure muscle – a “lightweight”) would prove to be a limiting factor for a climb of this nature. As it turns out, picking rocks up and putting rocks down is not the most important expedition skill after all. In fact, as a female climber you probably innately possess many of the skills you will need.
It is precisely because your mindset is not that of muscling your way up the hill, that as a lightweight, you will appreciate that technique matters. You will quickly grasp that rest-stepping is a technique and not a pace. It is because you will be more open to learning how to do things differently that you will pay closer attention to what your guides are doing and follow their lead. It is true that stuffing your too large a sleeping bag into your too small a compression sack will always remain a fun, high altitude workout, however being inherently more detailed oriented, you are more likely to remember to weigh down the tent bag and keep a firm grasp on the tent while setting it up in hurricane-force winds so it doesn’t blow away into Chile, and to remember to double check that the tent fly is fully zipped so it doesn’t rip in the wind. Perhaps it is because you are more likely to be aware of your own limits that you will appreciate the value of thorough preparation, of perseverance and of thinking several steps ahead. You will naturally be more disciplined, and always purify your water, pack that extra layer and know where every item in your backpack is located. It is because you are more cautious by nature that you will take care of all the details (whether it is cold fingers or simply reapplying sunscreen). All these details will add up over the course of an expedition. Ultimately it is what is in your head that counts the most – your own sound judgment, your own inherent sense of self preservation, that only becomes more deeply ingrained with each climb, that will prove your most valuable expedition skill.
Aconcagua is set in a strikingly harsh environment. You will spend many hours scrambling over a glacier in a desert, as the mountain slowly reveals itself the higher you climb. You cannot take a bus to see it – there are no short cuts. You will only be privileged to see it if you climb it. It is hard. And it is worth it. It will be difficult to recall the exact moment when, reservations aside, it occurred to you that the expedition had been a success, and not only did you cope, but in fact you thrived. Perhaps it was the moment you mastered skiing down scree, or when you welcomed snow as now there was an easily accessible water source and an opportunity to strap on crampons, that you realized you had gone further than you ever thought you could. Maybe it was when you were completely at ease being tent-bound for 4 days at 18,000ft, wondering not if but when your tent would be shredded by the wind, or were content to spend an evening watching snow slide down the tent fly, mere inches from your face. Surely it was the moment you realized you were actually looking forward to ramen night (again!). No, it must have been when you thought nothing of foregoing the tent altogether, and were perfectly satisfied simply to lay down your bag among the rocks and the mule droppings, with a rock for a pillow and just count shooting stars and watch the moon rise beneath an Andean sky. Perhaps it was at that moment that Aconcagua had worked its magic, and you had fully assimilated into expedition life. It is at that juncture that you will realize, that despite being a lightweight, YOU DID IT!!!!! And you can start to dream of your next climb.
Rebecca R. - Aconcagua, February 2015
We are currently back in Plaza Argentina enjoying some well deserved pizza and ice cold beverages. The team cruised down hill this morning, picking up gear and waste, leaving Aconcagua in better shape then we found it. When your descent takes only 4.5 hours compared to the 9 days it took on the ascent, you have to just shake your head a little.
The team is all smiles, waiting on shower water to heat up, enjoying time out of their boots and laughing.
This will be our last dispatch of the climb. We will walk to Leñas on Saturday for an amazing Argentine BBQ (that’s slow cooked beef for you non-southerners). Sunday will see us with a short hike to the road and back in Mendoza.
Thanks for checking in on us during the climb.
February 12, 2015 - 11:56 am PT
The team is all safely back at Camp III after a successful summit day! Warm temps and literally zero wind made it one for the record books!
RMI Guide Steve Gately
9:20 am PT
Hi, this is Mike King with RMI Aconcagua Team 7 stand on the top of South America! We had a challenging day with extremely cold weather, and wind in the morning. We had a lot of new snow and scree on the way up on the upper mountain. The team did great. We’re gonna be heading back down in about 20 minutes. A beautiful day, I don’t have ever seen a more beautiful day on the top of Aconcagua. We will call or send a posting when we get back to high camp. Thanks for joining us!
RMI Guide Mike King
Mike King Calling from the Summit of Aconcagua February 12, 2015
We finally got around to packing up camp and climbing up to 19,600 feet, our High Camp for the expedition. Extremely cold and calm morning with a new blanket of snow on the surrounding Andean peaks made for a scenic day.
High Camp is never anyone’s favorite camp for a few reasons:
1. Sleeping at 19,600 feet can be difficult.
2. There are no ‘great’ tent sites due to how the wind swirls around.
3. Lack of snow makes drinking water a time consuming process.
Good thing we are making our summit bid tomorrow and will be back in Base Camp telling stories before to long.
Wish us luck! We will check in hopefully from the summit on Thursday afternoon.
On The Map
The Gambler said it best, “you have to know when to hold em, know when to fold em”. He wasn’t referring to his chain of Kenny Rogers’ Roasters, but to our team taking another weather day at Camp 2.
We received only a few inches of snow, and with strong winds our tents were drifted in this morning. A cloud reminiscent of Mordor hung over the upper 4,000 feet of Aconcagua until 11am. Instead of getting a late start and arriving in High Camp later in the day, we will dry our sleeping bags and acclimate.
Our summit day will be the 12th. The Gang is hangin’ tough and enjoying the saxophone riff from WHAM’s “careless whisper”.
On The Map
This morning we woke to the traditional Aconcagua weather pattern, cold temps and consistent winds. We watched snow billow off the upper Polish glacier into the sky forming clouds that resembled smoke rising from a 23,000 ft bonfire.
Everyone is chomping at the bit to move camp and begin our summit attempt, but we will spend one more night at Camp 2 and hope the forecast of 5-20 mph winds holds out.
Quesadillas for lunch and more tent time. If you are reading these blogs with any desire to go expedition climbing get a Kindle and crush tent time like a pro.
RMI Guides Mike King and Steve Gately
On The Map
Rest day at Camp 2:
Our coldest morning of the climb here at Camp 2 on Aconcagua. Our water source is a large snowfield, that lately has been a raging torrent due to warm temperatures and almost zero snowfall this season. The amount of water and ice that has melted at Camp 2 has begun to erode tent sites that have been staple spots at an already cramped camp.
We are going for a walk to 19,000’ this morning to stretch our legs and lungs. 18,000 ft is the highest our group has slept and the guides are pleased with how everyone is acclimating. We are still anticipating high winds tomorrow and remain flexible in our ability to move up if we see a significant difference in the forecast.
RMI Guides Mike King, Steve Gately & Team
On The Map
The Gang Moves to Camp 2
Well the good weather only lasts for so long when you are climbing in the big mountains of the world. We moved camp this morning after enjoying another warm and calm night.
We spent the day looking at high wispy cirrus clouds over the summit from the West and ominous lenticular clouds building in the East. The most recent forecast has high winds entering the picture starting tonight and lasting several days.
We are in a good position to wait for better weather with a rest day tomorrow and the ability to use two weather days if needed. We are sitting on a lot of food and fuel.
Until next time,
On The Map
As the expedition draws to a close, the days come flying by in a blur. After a big descent to Aconcagua Base Camp with heavy packs, we fell into our sleeping bags and got one of the best nights of sleep of the trip. The group chose to fore go setting up tents and laid out sleeping bags in the big dining tent, and for the first time in many nights, we didn’t spend the whole night listening to the wind slap at our tents. We woke in the morning, caffeinated up, and did a hasty pack job of the our duffels for the mules. We grabbed our day packs, light once again, and started off down the mule trails, retracing the paths we had walked two weeks earlier (ironically, most of the group didn’t remember much of it and was convinced that we were exiting a different way). While our packs were light, and our hiking shoes a lot more comfortable than our boots, the nearly 15 miles of rocky trail walking took about ten hours, and by the end, everyone’s dogs were far beyond barking.
Fortunately, the amazing arryaros were waiting at Pampe de Lenas, with the fire already started and meat on the grill. The team feasted on more carne than we could possibly eat, especially with the shrunken stomachs that result from two weeks of high altitude living. Once again, we chose to fore go the tents, and everyone unrolled pads and bags on the ground and watched the Southern Cross trace its arc across the canyon rim. We woke early, and though everyone was feeling the previous couple of days, the motivation to finally reach the park entrance and be done trumped all of the physical discomforts. Three and half more hours brought us to the tree-lined aqueduct that signals the final stretch to the end of the long trail. We grabbed our dust covered bags from the mules and loaded a shuttle to Mendoza. With a quick stop for another huge meal, we were in Mendoza by evening, showering off the weeks of dust.
We wrapped up the trip with another great culinary experience at El Patio Azul de Jesus Maria. We feasted on a traditional Argentinian parilla (bbq) with boundless different cuts of meat cooked slowly over a wood fire. Malbec was plentiful for washing the meal down, and was the perfect way to refuel after weeks up the mountain. Most of the group will spend the next two days in Mendoza, planning to explore the shops, rest by the pool, and perhaps tour a few vineyards, before we return to winter time in the States.
We would like to thank the whole team for the incredible team work that they displayed throughout the entire trip, the camaraderie, and the effort that each and every one put out. This was a group that was a pleasure for the guides to work with. Finally, I’d like to thank Alex and Juan for kicking ass the entire trip. The whole trip was a pleasure all the way around, and we’re already looking forward to next year!
RMI Guide Pete Van Deventer