MT. ACONCAGUA – SUMMARY: Dec 2015 – Jan 2016

CLIMBING ROUTE
We took what is called the “Polish Traverse”.  Most people take the Normal Route which is up the west side of the mountain and then back down.  The Polish Traverse actually takes you up the east side of the mountain and then back down the west side where the Normal Route is.
Attached are some different views of the route.  In the map, the blue circle at the bottom is Penitentes where we stayed at the hotel.  We then drove 4-5 miles east and started at Punta de Vacas.  The first two days were due north to Papa de Lenas and then to Casa de Piedra.  From there we went west to the Base Camp at Plaza de Argentina.
From there I sketched in a rough approximation of the route to Camp 1, Camp 2, Camp 3, a short line to the summit, and then west down to Plaza de Mulas which is the Base Camp on the other side of the mountain.  The last day of the trip we hiked from Plaza de Mulas all the way down to the highway at Lago Hormones with a break at the Confluence camp.  It was a long day, probably 15+ miles in total.
OXYGEN
There isn’t much the higher you go.  I know from personal experience…  We don’t use oxygen bottles.  The altitude is not high enough for that unless it is an emergency situation.  If anyone does suffer from high altitude sickness, the quickest relief is to go down as soon and far as possible.  The best way to approach any high altitude is to acclimatize yourself.  This is done best by not rushing and “carry high” and “sleep low”.  This is one of the reasons that we carry gear to a higher location, cache it, and then return lower to sleep for a night and possibly take a rest day either before or after. This allows your body to get used to less oxygen.
In reality, the percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere everywhere is 21%.  This is true at sea level and all the way up to the summit of Aconcagua at 22,842 feet.  The problem is, there are just fewer air molecules higher up and every breath brings in less oxygen.
This link has an interesting chart showing this:  http://www.altitude.org/air_pressure.php
I was somewhere around 22,000 feet at my highest altitude.  If you plug this in, it says that you are breathing only 44% of the oxygen that is available at sea level.  Thus, each breath has 56% less oxygen compared to sea level.
This link (http://www.altitude.org/high_altitude.php) shows the altitude graphically with some interesting facts off to the right.  Change the altitude and you get different facts.  For example:
Fact about this altitude (22,842 ft)
The temperature falls about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees fahrenheit) for every 150m of ascent. This means that at the altitude you have selected (6962 m), the temperature will be approximately 46 degrees Celsius (83 degrees fahrenheit) lower than it is at sea level.

 

Fact about this altitude (21,000 ft)
Red blood cells are tiny cells that carry oxygen in blood. A single red blood cell normally carries an astonishing 960 million molecules of oxygen to your body. But at an altitude of 6401 m (21001 ft), even if you have had time to acclimatise, there would be only 900 million molecules of oxygen in each red blood cell.
 
Fact about this altitude (28,000 ft)
At 8848m, the summit of Everest is believed to lie very close to the maximum altitude at which human beings can survive without breathing supplementary oxygen.
If you really care about any of this, these sites (and others), have nice summaries of the affects of altitude on a person.
THE GUIDES
I can’t stress enough how helpful the guides are.  They carry much more gear than the rest of us.  They have multiple radios, first aid kits, extra gear and food, etc.  Whenever we went to a new camp, after we set up the tents and settled in, the guides then had to cook for us.  Once away from the base camps, they made us breakfast and dinner.  On non-climbing days, they also made us lunch.  They work hard and are in excellent shape.  I think I mentioned we went from Base Camp to Camp 1, around 2 miles and 2,400 feet up and 2,400 feet down, and it took us around 7 hours. The next day which was a rest day for us, Guide Aidan took about 20-30 pounds of gear up to cache it – he ran up and down and did it in 2.5 hours.  Almost 3 times faster than we could do it!
MEDICAL CHECKUP
At the first base camp, Plaza de Argentina, every climber has to check in with the camp doctor and have his blood oxygen levels and pulse taken.  Of course the pulse was high for most people at 16,000 feet and the O2 level lower than normal.  For all of us he said the same thing, “cut down on the salt”.