Aconcagua

15 January to 1 February 2013

On 30 January 2013 we finally stood on the summit of Aconcagua, 6,962 m, the highest summit in the Americas and the highest summit on earth outside of the Himalayas. This was the culmination of 4 months of hard training and 14 days of gradually moving up the mountain with our group of 7 climbers and 3 guides from Alpine Ascents.

The plan was to climb the mountain along the Polish Variation Route with a high camp at Black Rocks at almost 6,300 m. A lot of recent snow prevented us from following this high route and instead we travelled through Camp Guanacos at 5,500 m and then established high camp at Camp Colera at 6,000 m. From there we climbed to the summit.

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Our expedition started on 15 January 2013 with a 3-day trek through the Vacas Valley to base camp at Plaza Argentina. The Vacas Valley approach is longer (3 days) but also much less travelled than the normal route through the Horcones Valley to Plaza de Mulas on the other side of the mountain.IMG_6829_small

On the trek to base camp, our gear was carried by mules. Here a couple of tired mules at camp in the evening…IMG_6827_small

Two mule trains meet going in opposite directions. A state of slight chaos prevailed for a couple of minutes.IMG_6834_small

Mules and muleteers.                                                                     IMG_6839_small

First view to the impressive peak of Aconcagua.                  IMG_6843_small

Our luggage passing us on the mules on the way to base camp. Plaza Argentina base camp is located at the end of the valley.IMG_6841_small

Aconcagua.                                                                 IMG_6849_small

Aconcagua, east face with the Polish Glacier.IMG_6850_small

Aconcagua.              IMG_6859_small

We spent 3 nights at Plaza Argentina Base Camp. We had one resting day and the following day we carried a load of heavy equipment to Camp 1 before finally moving to Camp 1 on the third day. Here a view down to Plaza Argentina.IMG_6860_small

Moving to Camp 1 – Marco, Jeff and Mike.IMG_6864_small

At Camp 1 we had quite a bit of snow but also some brilliant weather with blue skies and sunshine.IMG_6865_small

View from Camp 1.IMG_6877_small

Camp 1 of Alpine Ascents. Alpine Ascents uses 4 camps on the mountain instead of the usual 3. This helped us all acclimatise better and furthermore we had the benefit of being all alone in our camps 1 and 2 since they are almost only used by Alpine Ascents.IMG_6882_small

Camp 1 with fresh snow.IMG_6883_small

Danny is making empanadas for dinner. Very popular except maybe for the tuna variation!IMG_6879_small

A hungry crowd is gathered around the empanada tent.IMG_6880_small

Carrying equipment to Camp 2 at Ameghino Col.IMG_6867_small

A beautiful view back down through the valley.IMG_6873_small

The yak!IMG_6874_small

In Camp 2 we had a very windy night and in the morning we found a big snow drift in the vestibule of the tent.IMG_6884_small

Marco trying to get out of the tent to get hot water for tea.IMG_6885_small

View to Aconcagua from our Camp 2 at Ameghino Col.IMG_6890_small

It was a beautiful day but high winds were blowing snow off the crest of the mountain – the famous viento blanco (white winds) of Aconcagua.IMG_6888_small

We decided to move directly to Camp 3 at Guanacos the next morning. This was a deviation from the original plan to traverse the mountain at higher altitude at the foot of the Polish Glacier but the avalanche risk was too great because of all the new snow. Here is the view to the north of Aconcagua as we moved camp.IMG_6886_small

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Camp 3 at Guanacos. Here we enjoyed a resting day, tested our crampons, ate a lot of food and had a bit more snow.IMG_6891_small

After 3 nights at Guanacos we are finally ready to move to high camp at Colera. The weather forecast for the next day looked good and we were planning to make a summit attempt.IMG_6897_small

The next morning at high camp we woke up at 4 am to high winds and freezing cold temperatures. We got ourselves ready to go for our first summit attempt, hoping that the wind would drop. But at 7.30 we had to give up as the strong winds persisted. Finally, early afternoon the winds dropped and we could relax a bit outside under the brilliant deep blue sky. Here looking up towards the summit and hoping for better weather the next day.IMG_6898_small

View from Camp Colera to the north.IMG_6899_small

View from Camp Colera to the west.IMG_6901_small

View from Camp Colera to the east.IMG_6903_small

Matthew, Marco, Danny and Mike are watching as 3 Italian guys who tried to summit are returning back to high camp. The cold and the winds kept them from reaching the summit.IMG_6904_small

The next day, 30 January, we woke up again at 4 am but this time to a beautiful, clear and quiet summit day. We started out from high camp at 5.30 and reached the summit after 9 hours. Here Lhakpa, Roland and Jeff (first 3 guys from the left) are arriving at the top of the canaleta just below the summit.IMG_6905_small

View from the top of the steep canaleta very close to the summit.IMG_6906_small

High and happy at the summit of Aconcagua at 6,962 m!  IMG_6910_small

With our brilliant guides Lakhpa, Danny and Matthew (Alpine Ascents) on the summit of Aconcagua. IMG_6928_small

Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa with prayer flags at the summit of Aconcagua.IMG_6921_small

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12 hours later we were back in high camp after a very successfull summit day. We had hot soup and mashed potatos with tuna before crawling into the sleeping bags to rest. The next day we descended to the Horcones Valley base camp at Plaza de Mulas where we had hamburgers, fries and coca cola for lunch! Here we are on our way down from high camp to base camp with heavy rugsacks. IMG_6934_small

View down to Plaza de Mulas base camp and the waiting hamburgers!IMG_6936_small

View to the beautiful Cuernos peak.IMG_6937_small

View to the west towards Chile and the Pacific Ocean.IMG_6938_small

And the view back towards Aconcagua.IMG_6941_small

Plaza de Mulas at the end of the Horcones Valley. The following day we had a long, 30 km hike in front of us but at the end of the day waited the first shower for 17 days, a good steak, red wine and a real bed to sleep in so the motivation was high!IMG_6944_small

Trekking out through the Horcones Valley. Again we had mules carry our heavy packs and it was wonderful to feel so light – at least for the first 5-6 hours until the legs started getting heavy.IMG_6953_small

View back through the Horcones Valley towards Plaza de Mulas and Cuernos peak. IMG_6956_small

Mule train passing us on the way up the Horcones Valley.IMG_6958_small

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Gradually we gained this magnificent view to the steep and severe south face of Aconcagua. The summit is to the right.IMG_6980_small

The long walk down…IMG_6982_small

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We took a well deserved break at Camp Confluencia, just 2 hours from the end of the valley. Here Richard and Marco are displaying their impressive hair styles (17 days no shower).IMG_7000_small

Punto final! Finally at the end of the road, waiting for the bus to pick us up and take us to the hotel in Penitentes where a hot shower, a good steak and a bed with a pillow was waiting for us!IMG_7013_small


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