Archive for March, 2009

Aconcagua: Days 1-3, Hike to Base Camp

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Hotel in Mendoza, preparing to leave

Our start in Mendoza can be seen above, as we get our stuff ready to pack in the trucks. For some background I just wanted to introduce the people that will show up in the pictures. Our guide was Ryan from the US, who has summited Mount Everest several times, and Aconcagua ‘about 7 times or so’, to put it in his words! He was guiding our group of three, which included Emil from Sweden, the youngest of our party, Kerry from Scotland, the oldest of our party, and myself! We got to know each other pretty well on this climb, which is one of those nice things about trips like these. If you want additional info on hiking distances and elevations, refer to my previous post.

Punta de Vacas, the 'before' picture

Alright, first let’s show the ‘before’ picture above, as we prepare to finally depart and start walking. The hike to the top of Aconcagua starts at Punta de Vacas (Point of Cows, as we walk beside the river ‘Cows’ (vacas) on the first day!), where we carry just what we need for the day and have mules carry the rest. The route is quite scenic, with some nice views and beautiful colors along the way.

On the first day of hiking

We start ahead of the mules, and while we were taking our lunch break they passed us, and would be waiting at our first camp for us. The ‘mulers’ as they are called, the guys that lead the mules up and down the mountain, are quite nice, and every night that they camp on the way to Base Camp (BC) they have a big barbecue with great Argentinian meats of all kinds! And they usually share some with whoever needs a little extra nourishment!

The Mulers and the Mules

The way was pretty easy, just trail hiking really, but there were some tricky points like crossing cracked glaciers that made it just interesting enough!

A dirty old glacier

The first night was spent at Las Lenas (2700m, which is high enough to make it part of our acclimatization), and was pretty uneventful, just hanging around the campsite and getting to know the other climbers, talking to the mulers, learning how to put up a tent correctly, and getting that first sleep on the uncomfortable mattress.

Staying warm the first night and taking pictures

The second day we hiked a little bit further, and spent the second night at Casa de Piedra (House of Rock), named such because there is a huge rock which has been party hollowed out and is used as a hut by the Mulers.

Casa de Piedra

This evening was a little bit more eventful in that we had a bit of a snow storm come in, a preview of what we would face on the parts higher up the mountain. Below are the tents we slept in, two people in each.

The snow falls on our camp

The third day the hiking was a little more difficult at times, starting off with crossing a river (which we luckily got to do on mule-back thanks to the Mulers, as the other option was to take off shoes and wade through ice-cold glacier water, which was not an attractive option on a cold morning after a snow storm).

River crossing on muleback

Also, the route was party on the side of a valley/canyon (that can be seen in the picture below), and made for some steep sections where good footing was critical. So on the picture below you can see our route, we started the third day at the end of the river valley behind me, and walked along and above the river.

The valley we walked on the third day

The Mulers on their way to BC, with Aconcagua in the background.

The Mulers leading the way to  Base Camp

From this point we also had a good view ahead at the mountain we were going to summit. This is really the first and last good view we had of the mountain as a whole, as when we got closer you couldn’t quite see it the same way. So I’ll use it to point out the route we followed, refer to that when I am talking about the higher camps in later posts (you may need to click on the image and pull it up in the gallery to see detail about the route we followed).

Aconcagua, and the route that would take us to the top

My typical mountain climbing dress: Waterproof/windproof yet breathable shell, polarized sunglasses, hat to protect from sun with a bandanna to have ear/neck protection, and my trademark Adidas pants.

Aconcagua and myself

After hiking about 5 hours each of the three days, we finally reached our destination, Base Camp called Plaza Argentina at 4200 m above sea level. And from this point on I will continue in the next post…

Plaza Argentina, otherwise known as Base Camp