Aconcagua Expedition departed 22nd December 2018
Leader: Chris Harling
The team are all safely back in Mendoze, and we have received the following update from Chris:
Our summit attempt began at 5.30 on the 6th – the one day in the forecast when the wind speed / wind chill was at a sensible level. It got light around 6.30 and the team was moving very well, powered by porridge and Worthers Originals. Reaching the remains of the Indepencia Hut we were suddenly blinded by the rays of morning sun which felt warm through our down layers. We climbed onwards to the ridge above then into the shade of the Traverse where we were able to progress without crampons to make it faster. By the time we reached the Canaletta we had overtaken 4 other small teams and were feeling confident. Steep snow and rocks above signalled the need to put on crampons and switch to Mountaineering mode with an ice axe too. It was hard steep work yet varied and engaging as we weaved up the gully and overtook yet another small team. Finally only the summit rocks lay ahead and these abruptly yielded the top – Aconcagua, the highest point outside the Himalayas!
Thankfully the winds were still light and there was plenty of sun getting through the growing clouds. We had a luxurious 50 minutes on the top and made the most of all out hard work! Hugs, congratulations and photos were taken as we soaked up atmosphere – amazed how fortunate we were to have been ready to summit just when the relentless winds of the season eased for a few hours.
Concentration, good footwork and balance were required as we climbed back down the Canaletta and had a brief rest at the cave. Back along the traverse and the winds picked up, the clouds envelopes us and it began to snow heavily. Picking out the line became tricky as the ground blended in with the white cloud and snow. Above the Indepencia Hut the winds were blasting snow in our faces and GPS became a good friend as we weaved downwards in deepening snow and almost no visibility.
Finally the tents at camp Colera looked out of the mists, now disappearing rapidly under the heavy wind blown snow. More hugs and congratulations at a tremendous personal and team effort and the realisation of having climbed the second highest of the Seven Summits, during a spell of few successful attempts on a day when we saw less then 20 people trying for the top.
The following morning the wind was still rattling the tents with fine snow blowing around in the outer tent covering everything. The pack up was carefully planned and timed so we worked together to ensure tents were taken down without blowing away – in a scene akin to an Arctic exploration. Our 1700m descent to Mulas Basecamp began in driving snow as we climbed down steep rocks with a fixed cable to hold on to. Endless zigzags in deep snow followed as we made our way down the steep slopes. Eventually the ‘tent city’ of Plaza de Mulas became discernible and spurred us on down the mountain – arriving there after 4.5 hours of descent.
Well done to a fantastic team!
Success for Chris and the team. Chris sent a text tonight to say the team reached the summit at 12:30 and had to descend in a Snow storm, but all are now back safe at Camp Colera. They will descend to Plaza de Mulas tomorrow.
Chris called in today and the team are planing to head up to Camp Colera tomorrow with a view to making their summit bid on Sunday. We wish the team well and fingers crossed for a successful ascent.
Chris called in with an update, the team are all doing well and are at camp 1, they are doing a carry up to camp 2 tomorrow. The winds are dropping so it looks like the weather may be more on side from now on!
Mendoza was hot – like 34 C by 10am! Having collected our permits we headed out in our bus enjoying the scenery and the air con.
We arrived at Penitentes surrounded by stunning peaks and blazing sunshine – it was easy to forget it was Christmas Eve. A quick kit sort for the mules for the following day, allowed a relaxing evening and great food at the hotel.
So our trek into the mountains was to be our Christmas present as we strode off up the Vacas Valley on Christmas Morning – clad in shorts and t-shirt and loads of sun protection, it was so hot!
After around 5 hours we reached our first campsite at Pampa de Lenas where we had a lesson in tent erection and tactical use of lots of rocks to hold them down in the high winds we will encounter higher up the mountain. We also learned how to use the stoves and how to quickly make hot drinks. The muleteer who was a very friendly guy, cooked us our dinner which was a seemingly endless supply of barbecued meats, fresh bread and olive oil. Cake for pudding!
Boxing Day was a lovely trek up the valley to Casa de Piedra which was on much smoother trails allowing us to take in more of the stunning scenery as we walked. Just before arriving at the campsite we were treated to our first views of our objective Cerro Aconcagua – looking mighty – still 3700m above us.
We had to be packed up and ready for the mules by 6am for the start of our 3rd day, which meant an early breakfast and an opportunity to marvel at the clear skies and amazing array of stars to gaze at. The famous / notorious ice cold river crossing marked the start of our walk up to basecamp. The air temperature was below freezing which added to the refreshing nature of this obstacle. A quick plan and route choice was followed by about a minute of numbing water followed by the pain as the feet rewarmed on the far side!
Boots back on and still with numb toes we climbed up the steep-sided gorge which eventually opened out into the plains which eventually led to Plaza Argentina – our basecamp at 4200m. A spread of baked snacks and treats awaited us in our own mess tent and we each spent some time rehydrating before choosing our campsites.
The 28th was a well earned rest day after 3 hard days in the heat and a chance for the body to acclimatise to the altitude. We also sorted all the food supplies and gas to go up the mountain for our possible 10 days camping on the mountain itself.
We did our first carry to camp 1 on the 29th – an 800m climb which weaves through glacial moraine and finished climbing a long snow slope to the plateau of camp 1 – we were pleased to arrive there in 5 hours and cope well with the new altitude of 5000m – higher than all the peaks of the Alps.
It was quite windy so we found a sheltered spot to carefully transfer the food and personal gear to the kit bags waiting for us. After a good rest we headed down the snow slope – the team now getting used to their new big boots, and the long descent through the rocks to basecamp. It was a hard day but the team did very well and really earned their steak and mash for dinner!
Today, the 30th, we are resting again, sorting our gear to go down the mountain and continuing the endless process of staying well hydrated to help our bodies acclimatse for what is to come…
So tomorrow, New Years Eve, we head back up to Camp 1 and continue our quest to climb to the highest point outside the Himalayas.
Chris and the team have now arrived at base camp. All is well with the group. They will have a rest day to aide with the acclimatisation and then start their load carries to establish themselves at Camp 1.