MT. ACONCAGUA: 1 – 7 Jan 2015

Jan 1 – Happy belated New Year to all.  Today is a big day, we are heading to base camp.  We were up around 5am with cereal and PB&J for breakfast.  We broke camp, left our gear for the mules and started hiking around 6:50am.  We had to cross 3 small streams about 200 yards out of camp.  The streams are usually a lot higher, up to mid-thigh we were told.  Sometimes they are flowing too high and strong and they have to rent mules to get us across.   This year there is very little water flowing.  It was probably just up to our lower calfs.  However, the water was absolutely frigid and we were all happy to get our socks and boots back on.  It was another pretty easy day of hiking with lots of sun and a nice breeze.  It was cooler with the elevation but pants and a windbreaker was all we really needed.  We gained about 3,335 ft/1,016 meters over 7 miles.  The guides had us doing a nice slow pace and we made it to Plaza de Argentina (14,000 ft/4,267 meters) in the early afternoon.  We set up tents and relaxed for the afternoon.  The guides we used are partnered with a local guide company called Grajales.  Grajales has some common areas that we use and provide some of the meals at base camp for us.  That night we had a very good lasagna for dinner.

Jan 2 – We got to sleep in this morning as this is a rest day for us to help with the acclimatization process.  We had breakfast at 9am, French Toast with bacon and cereal.  We also discussed what to expect the next few days.  Tomorrow is a “carry” day where we will take gear and food to Camp 1 to cache it before returning back to base camp for the night.  We received our gear that was sent directly to base camp from Penitentes.  A few of us went for a walk around camp and started sorting through all our gear.   After that we relaxed, napped and read books.
As a side note, the meals that Grajales are providing have wildly exceeded my expectations.  In fact, I didn’t even realize we were going to get meals like this. I just assumed we would be cooking and eating near our tents every day.
Base camp.  This photo was taken coming down from Camp 1 and shows how big an operation this base camp is.  The complex of 10-12 white and yellow tents to the right are the Grajales guides our US guides teamed up with.  You will see red and white tents to the left and other groupings of big tents throughout base camp, they are all local guide services that other companies usually team with.  They usually provide a number of meals, water (you still have to treat it), bathrooms (OK, really phone booths with holes in the floor or occasionally a seat), internet service and beer and cokes (for a really hefty price).  I had a 16 ounce Coke for $5.
In the Grajales tent for a break and snack.
Grajales meals.  The food was really good, much better than I expected.

Jan 3 – Today is a “carry” day and we are going to take gear and food up to Camp 1 to cache until we move everything out of base camp.  This includes some of the warmer clothing, crampons, food/snacks etc. that we do not need until higher on the mountain.  We have pretty heavy packs today – probably 50+ lbs each.  The hike was tough as the trail is really rocky and there is a lot of scree which slows you down a lot.  Today we are gaining roughly 2,400 ft/731 meters over 2 miles. We started hiking around 9:15am and reached Camp 1 about 5 hours later.  The hike down only took around 2 hours.  It was a perfect hiking day, clear skies, fairly warm with a light breeze.  My knee was sore so I used a knee brace Guide Richard had on the way down and wore it the rest of the trip.  Had an excellent chicken and rice dinner that night.

Jan 4 – This is rest day to help recover from yesterday and provide some additional acclimatization.  We had a nice breakfast omelet with bacon and leftover steak and onions in it.  We took a relaxing two hour walk near camp to stretch out our legs.  Around 3pm we had lunch of tortillas with cheese and tuna in them.  Then we mostly relaxed and cleaned our clothes and camp as best we could.  We also created two piles of gear – the first was gear that we no longer needed that could go to the hotel in Penitentes and the second pile was gear that would be taken to another base camp on the other side of the mountain called Plaza de Mulas.  This was our trekking boots, shorts, tee shirts, etc.  Mostly stuff we would use to get down the mountain once we reached the other base camp.  The weather was very nice again, temps in the 50’s, very sunny with minimal clouds.
The guides also discussed hiring some porters to help get gear to Camp 1.  After a short discussion, we were all for that and hired 3 porters.   They mostly carried some of the group gear such as tents, cooking gear, food, etc.   As a bonus, they would have the tents set up when we arrived at Camp 1 saving us a 1-2 hours of work.  The porters carry a maximum of 44 lbs/20 kilograms each but the end result is that instead of us each carrying 80+ lbs on move day, we would have 40-50 lbs each.
With the good food I mentioned, some people were wondering how much weight I gained on this trip…I actually weighed in at 205 lbs/93.2 kg and at the end of the trip I was 193 lbs/87.4 kg.  I lost about 12 lbs in 16 days.  If it wasn’t for those good meals, I might have wasted away right on the mountain…
Larry and myself ready to go.
Our route out of base camp will go directly behind the yellow and white Grajales tents in the middle of the picture.  We will be near the rock mass to the left and start up the valley pretty much to where you see the point of the “V” in the middle of the picture.  Once we get up to that area, things become somewhat flatter with more small rolling hills.
In these next 2 pictures, we have gained some elevation out of base camp and can see our goal.  If you look at the snow field that is coming in from the right hand side of the pictures and follow it all the way to the middle of the picture where it comes to a sharp point at the top of a steep face, Camp 1 is located just at the top of that plateau.  It’s deceptive from the distance but that last 200-300 foot climb is steep.  The last 50-75 feet before you reach the plateau is really steep and full of scree making climbing very slow.  A lot of time if you don’t step carefully you slip back a step or two.
In this photo, you can see where we have come from.  This photo was taken from Camp 1 near the edge of the steep face we climbed up.  Just left of center in the picture you can see the valley we followed from Casa de Piedra (where we camped the second night on the trail) to Base Camp.  If you follow the dark brown rocks from the right side of the picture all the way to their left edge, then go to the very bottom of that rock face, Base Camp is located a few hundred feet below that in a relatively flat area that can’t be seen in this photo.
This picture shows us coming down from the “carry” day just before base camp.  This is the part you can’t see in the previous photo.
Chicken dinner!
Rest day hiking area.  We hiked a couple hours in this area to stretch our legs out.
Amazingly, there is actually some wildlife in the area.

Jan 5 – Up at 6:30am to break camp.  Breakfast at 8:00am and we started hiking around 9:15am.  This was a tough trail with over 2,400 ft/731 meters gained in 2 miles.  Thankfully we have 3 porters that are carrying a total of 130+ lbs/60kg of weight that we don’t have to carry.  It’s another sunny, breezy day.  Our progress was OK but Larry was pretty sick and had to stop a lot.  We made it to Camp 1 around 2:15pm.  The tents were set up so we just piled in and relaxed for a couple hours with occasional bursts of energy to unpack our gear.  Dinner was some pasta mess that the guides cooked around 6:30pm.  It tasted good but I tend to lose my appetite at higher elevations and don’t always eat as much as I should.  Around 7pm the sun started dropping behind the ridge and it started cooling off so we jumped into our tents for the night.

Jan 6 – I had my best night of sleep so far and felt pretty good in the morning.  I read a book in the AM for a while and we all started getting up around 9am for breakfast.  It was a windy night and windy all morning so far.  Maybe mid-40’s temps and steady 20 mph winds with gusts to 35 mph.  We had oatmeal in an empty tent site near our camp behind a rock wall to cut the wind.  I then worked on the rock wall around our five gallon bucket (toilet) for an hour so we could have a small bit of privacy.  Then we mostly relaxed in the afternoon.
Last night and last meal at base camp.
The trail.
Different views of Camp 1. The trail heads upwards from here…
Our water source at Camp 1.
Jan 7 – I couldn’t sleep much last night.  Probably because I relaxed and slept so much during the day.  I might have got 3 hours total sleep.  We got up late for breakfast because we weren’t sure what the plan was for the day.  Eric was still not feeling well and decided to leave the expedition.  His buddy Kim hurt his back and also decided to leave.  Their friend Larry called home and after consulting with his wife, also decided to leave.  We took a couple hours to tear down 2 tents and move the remaining 3 people into the larger, 4-man tent.  Guide Richard then took Kim, Larry and Eric and a lot of extra food and gear that was no longer needed to base camp.  Guide Aidan, Doug, Bob and I then loaded up with gear and food to cache it at the top of the Col leading to camp 2.  We started hiking around 1:30pm and reached the cache site around 4:30pm.  It was a very windy day.  We probably gained around 1,000 ft/305 meters and our guide Aidan (who is also a pilot) estimated winds and gusts where 60-70 mph where we cached our stuff.  We immediately started down to get out of the wind.  The wind was expected to be bad the next couple of days so we are not sure if we will move up or stay at camp 1 for the duration.  We also have to wait for Guide Richard to get back from base camp either tonight or tomorrow.  It was tough to see Larry, Kim and Eric leave.  They were very good hikers and climbers and enjoyable company.

 

This picture shows camp 1 looking up.  Just to the left of the sharp point in the right half of the picture is where we cached our gear on the 7th.
This picture is looking down from where we cached gear.  At the bottom of the hill in the middle of the picture you can just make out tents at camp 1.  In addition, in the distance you can see the valley we hiked on day 3 to get to base camp.
Here is another picture looking back down towards camp 1.  For those wanting to know what scree is, just look at the gravel and rocks on the left side of the picture.  You can also see the trail in the lower right corner of the picture.
During the night a tent next to ours collapsed due to high winds.  This is the result.  Their tent is trashed.  I did not hear anything during the night but I heard the people had to jump into other tents their group had and move their gear over in the middle of the night.
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