MT. ACONCAGUA: 8 – 15 Jan 2015

Jan 8 – We slept in since the winds were really high.  Gusts at camp 1 were in the 50-60 mph range.  So we had some cereal for breakfast and relaxed most of the day.  Aroud 6pm the winds finally died down to nothing, zero clouds and very nice temps.  In bed early since we are moving everything to camp 2 tomorrow.  I have a couple videos that will give you an idea of the winds that I will try to send via other means.


Jan 9
– Up with breakfast at 6am.  Perfectly calm night with no wind finally.  We packed up camp and started climbing about 8:20am.  Fantastic weather conditions – mild and no clouds but my pack was probably 60-70 pounds (27-32 kg).  Guide Richard and Bob went ahead with the tents to try and get 2 good tent sites at camp 2.  Guide Aidan, myself and Doug took a slower pace.  We made it to camp 2 (18,000 feet/5,486 meters) around 12:45pm.  The tents were set already set up which was nice.  The scenery is gorgeous and the views are fantastic the higher you go.  The mountains in the distance have a lot of muted tans, browns and rust colors and large patches of snow.  Mountains closer have more grays and blacks with lots of gravely scree.  We have the afternoon to relax, take photos and enjoy the views.  Tomorrow we will go back to the Aubergine Col to back-carry all the gear we cached a couple days ago.  Overall the move to camp 2 was a 1,600 foot (487 meters) elevation gain.  Camp 2 is also known as Chopper Camp as well as Guanacos III Camp.

Jan 10 – Up at 7:30am and had some cereal for breakfast.  We grabbed our empty packs and hiked back to our cached gear and picked it up.  It took 30 minutes to get there as it was mostly downhill or flat.  The hike back up took an hour and a half or so.  We then had another breakfast of pancakes.  After that we spent time going through all the food and gear.  Richard, Aidan and Bob then took stuff to cache at camp 3 which is at 19,600 feet (5,974 meters).  Doug and I did the dishes and I walked around camp to give away a lot of excess food since we lost 3 people.  The rest of the afternoon was free for relaxing, reviewing personal gear, writing these notes, etc.  The weather was great again – mild temps, lots of sun and a light breeze.  The glacier behind us melts during the warm days and a stream splits the camp in two.  At night, it freezes and stops flowing completely until it warms up enough the next day to start again.  Tomorrow the plan is to move everything to camp 3 so we will have very heavy packs again!
One last picture from camp 1 looking east towards base camp and the valley we hiked to get to base camp and camp 1.

 

Looking up from camp 1 to where we cached gear a couple days before.  We are climbing to the lowest point in the left side of the picture.
From the top of the Col things flatten out for a bit.
Looking back, you can just make out the path we followed. In the middle of the picture to the very right hand side, you can make out another group of people on the trail heading towards us.
We had to go over a couple hills like this one and then we arrived at Camp 2.
Camp 2.  The green tent in front is ours and the red tent behind it was our guides.
In these pictures, you can just make out the trail leaving and going steeply up to the left.
Enjoying the view.
Picking up the cached gear.  When we brought the gear up a few days before it was blowing 50-60 mph.  We buried the gear with rocks so it wouldn’t blow away.
Jan 11 – After a partial rest day yesterday, we are moving everything to Camp 3.  We had heavy packs and left around 9:30am and arrived at Camp 3 around 2:50pm.  The first 45-60 minutes out of camp were very steep but after that the trail was pretty good although the altitude wipes you out quicker.  Aidan and Bob went ahead and tents were set up again when we got there.  This is a huge timesaver.  The latest on the weather is that tomorrow will be a great day to try and summit and the day after not so nice. The guides both thought I definitely had it to make a summit attempt without a rest day.  So, Bob and I and the two guides will be giving it a try tomorrow.  Doug is completely wiped out and he is going to take a rest day.
After the initial hour climb out of Camp 2, we hit a long traverse upwards.  In the left of the picture you can see the trail and just ahead of that you can see 3 small dots that are people ahead of us.  Camp 3 is located just to the left of the highest sharp point in the right hand side of the picture.
A couple views of the tents at Camp 3.  It’s not a busy camp area compared to the other ones.  I suspect that more people must bail out at the lower camps.  I can’t think of any other reason why it’s so sparsely populated.  Our tent is the green one and our guides used the red one.
This next view is actually looking off the West side of the camp and is where we will hike out to the base camp on the other side of the mountain on our way out.  If you look closely you can just see the hint of a trial in the lower middle of the picture. You can also see a steel cable.  The initial descent is very steep for the first 100 feet and the cable is there to assist you.  In addition, climbing down all the scree after that is very difficult with fully loaded packs.
Jan 12 – We were up around 4am.  It’s pretty cold although I have no idea what the temperature is. Probably down in the single-digits maybe into the mid-teens.  We started climbing around 5am in the dark using our headlamps.  After about 30 minutes guide Richard and Bob took off and Guide Aidan and I took a slower pace (one I could handle!).  Around 1-1.5 hours the sun started to come up a little.  Around this time during a break I told Aidan that I didn’t feel like the summit was going to happen but I wanted to get over 20K feet at least.  He said we would take it slow and enjoy the day which was beautiful – minimal clouds, low breezes and ultimately, lots of sun.  I took the lead so I could move at a steady pace.  Aidan was really good about setting some short goals like “There is a great view 300-400 feet up and it should take only an our or so to get there.”, or, “The Independencia Hut is only 500 feet ahead.”   So, after each break I decided to move on to these interim goals.  Since I was leading I was able to go at my pace and we took a number of breaks.
At the Independencia Hut (around 21,400 feet/6,523 meters) we took a long break and I seriously contemplated stopping for the day.  However, Aidan again convinced me to move on and I concurred.  At this point we had to put on crampons to get over a small glacier field – maybe a total of 150 feet elevation.  Once we got over that, there was a very long traverse along the West Face of Aconcagua, ultimately coming to the Canaleta (a couloir) which has a climb to the summit.  About 25% of the way across this traverse we took a break.  It was here that I decided that I could not go on.  Technically I could go on but realistically, I was looking at 3+ hours ahead of us for only a thousand feet and I was out of gas.  Aidan thought I was at around 21,100 feet but since the Independencia Hut is actually at 21,400 feet I am estimating that we were actually closer to 21,750 feet/6,629 meters.  I haven’t had time to coordinate with the guides on this so I ended up somewhere above 21,000 feet and probably closer to 22,000 feet. So, after some discussion, we started down.  The trip down was much quicker and we reached Camp 3 around 12:30 – 1pm.
Guide Richard and Bob came down later in the afternoon and they were successful in summiting which we were all happy about.
The guides were great about trying to get me to the summit. They offered to have one guide take the other 2 climbers down to Base Camp and let me try to summit again the next day or even take a rest day and try the day after.  I was pretty tired and told them I doubted I would try but I would also think about a bit.  Later in the afternoon I came to the conclusion that I was wiped out and would not make another attempt.  The items that contributed to this were probably not enough good sleep for a number of days (it’s tough to sleep good at altitude when your breathing is labored and you are up 2-4 times a night to use the pee bottle), not eating enough in general (I lose my appetite at higher altitudes and I was stuck with buying a lot of snacks that I was unfamiliar with and did not really like that much), and not taking a rest day at Camp 3 before trying to summit.  In any case, I decided to move down although the temptation of having a personal guide to make another summit attempt was very high!
This photo was taken at 7:10am somewhere above Camp 3.  You can see the shadow Aconcagua projects on the surroundings from the sunrise.
These photos were taken at the Independencia Hut (21,400 feet) around 8:55am.  The hut is extremely small, you could maybe put 2-3 people inside it and part of the roof is missing.  It can be used as an emergency shelter but at that altitude, it only provides a little bit of relief from the elements.
This photo was also taken at the Hut looking up.  You can see a couple groups heading out and the small glacier area that continues up to the left that we had to climb.  This is the only time we used our crampons the whole trip.  Apparently a number of years ago there was a lot more snow and glaciers even lower down above Base Camp but over the years with the temperature increases it has melted.
This following photo came from this web site:  http://www.fourteeners.org/climbs/intl/acon09/acon09_part4.htm#
In the middle of the picture there is a rock sticking up next to the trail where we stopped and I made the decision to go down. I did not take this picture but included it to give you an idea of the West Face traverse before you turn left and go up the Canaleta and reach the summit.
From that rock where we took a break and I decided to go down, I took these pictures of the scenery.
View of Camp 3 on the way down.
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