Text Box: Nicholas Rice
Extreme High Altitude Athlete
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Expedition Dispatches

Aconcagua Expedition 2007

February 5th, 2007: Today we started the three day trek up to Aconcagua Base Camp via the Vacas Valley. We began the day with breakfast in a small ski village called Los Penitentes after which we got a ride via jeep to the trail head in Punta de Vacas (2,350 meters). The trek was over moderate terrain and only took about four hours. Our mules, however, organized by Fernando Grajales for $480.00 one way were two hours late, leaving the three of us with nothing but our daypacks to wait out the dust storm at Pampa de Leňas (2,950 meters). Upon arrival, we checked in with the guardeparque, received our marked trash bags and officially entered the park. From this day on, we would have 20 days to climb Aconcagua and exit the park before we would have to pay for a second permit.

Josh Carnes, David Keitz and Nicholas Rice (from left to right) at the trail head

The first camp on the three day trek to Aconcagua Base Camp, Pampa de Lenas.

January 31st, 2007: Today we all arrived in Santiago, Chile and met up at the La Casa Roja Hostel in the Barrio Brasil area of Santiago. While waiting for our room to be ready (an affair which would eventually take four hours), we ventured out in search of an ATM and something for lunch. After some searching, we stumbled upon a gas station with an International ATM and then went to a small café for lunch. We then decided to try out the subway and search for a minibus to Mendoza, Argentina that could hold our large number of duffel bags. We found one and paid CP 33,000 for it. After returning to the hostel, we relaxed near the pool, never venturing into the water due to its green murky color, and chatted with our new friend, Emma from Brisbane, Australia.  We set off to the plaza de Toro where we had a nice coffee at the Hosteleria Time above this charming colonial plaza.  This area also contains the fabulous restaurant Zully.  Dinner here was fabulous and the wine was the best we had ever tried in all our collected experience.  It was a 2006 Concha y Toro Carmenere.  When we hit the rack back at the hostel we fell asleep immediately.

February 1st, 2007: Today we woke up early and made our way to the bus station and proceeded to our ticket counter. The bus company had apparently sold our places to another company so they sent us over to another counter. After waiting over half and hour to get our passport information transferred to their roster (for the border crossing between Chile and Argentina), we headed over to the bus. We loaded our seven duffels onto the bus (each weighing over 30kg’s) and then were told that we had to unload them and go on the next bus. When that bus came, we again loaded the bags onto the bus (some on top) and then were told that our names were on a different bus’s roster. They told us to unload our bags AGAIN and put them on the now third bus. We did so reluctantly. FINALLY we were on our way to Mendoza, Argentina. We were on board with six Europeans and three locals. The ride to the border was quite pleasant. The border crossing however was a mess. It took over two hours to get through and was a very disorganized event. We arrived in Mendoza at five in the afternoon and, after unloading our bags from the bus, ended up paying the bus driver extra to take us to our hotel; the Hotel Nutobara. We got organized and showered and went to eat at Senor Buque, where we ran into everyone we had met up to that point in South America, all at the same restaurant.

February 2nd, 2007: Today we woke up and had the free “breakfast” in our hotel and headed out to get our climbing permit. All of our guide books said that it was located in General San Martin Park, however, after three hours of searching, we discovered that it was in the city center and headed that way. We paid the $235.00 fee (each) and got our permits. After all that walking, we decided to get money (Argentinean Pesos) and go eat. We ate a relaxed lunch, headed over to the “McCafe” for the closest thing we could find to a Starbucks Frappuccino and then back to the hotel. From there, we headed off for four hours of grocery shopping at Jumbo Supermarket after which we returned to the hotel for a much deserved Andes Beer next to the swimming pool. Then off to dinner at Don Mario’s for another great steak and more tasty wine all for around fifteen dollars a piece. We returned to the hotel, still with quite a bit of energy, and decided to go out to a disco, where we stayed till around 4:30am. Quite a night.

February 3rd, 2007: Today we woke up around noon and went to lunch, which was a treat with live music and dancing in the square. From there, we took a cab to the Super Walmart to pick up some last minute items from our grocery list and organized our meals and bags for transport to Los Penitentes. We ate dinner and headed off to bed.

February 4th, 2007: Today we woke up early and headed off on a minibus to Los Penitentes. After about four hours, we arrived in this deserted ski village (most of which was closed due to it being summer) and met with Mauricio from Fernando Grajales  Expeditions about our mules. We headed one building over to our hostel and then got lunch at one of the two restaurants in town. The menu was a ham and cheese sandwich or meat, so we opted for the ham and cheese since we had already consumed so much meet in the last week. Then, it was off to the Fernando Grajales office to organize our gear into 30kg bags for the mules. Dinner at the hotel was something we’d all like to forget!

February 6th, 2007: Day two of our trek into Plaza Argentina took us from Pampa de Lenas (2,950 meters) to Casa de Piedra (3,250 meters) and gave us our first view of Aconcagua up the Los Relinchos Gulch. The day’s climb took about 5 hours and as soon as we arrived we set up our tent and got dinner going. This was one VERY windy camp. We all managed to contract a stomach issue we assume in Santiago so the night was very eventful.

February 7th, 2007: The third and last day of our trek was the longest and steepest taking six hours to complete and ascending 850 meters up some very exposed terrain. The day began with a river crossing of the icy cold Vacas River (which Josh and Nick decided to cross with the help of the mules). Then it was up the Los Relinchos Gulch, an area of the trek where the trail is quite narrow and sometimes washed into the Los Relinchos Creek. As soon as we crossed the river, we were gifted with magnificent views of Aconcagua and Mt. Ameguino. We arrived at Plaza Argentina only to discover that our mules had run down the valley the previous night and the mule skinners had gone down to catch them. We were told that our mules would arrive extremely late that night. We were sitting at base camp with nothing but daypacks and our leftovers from lunch. We lucked out however; our mules arrived at about 8:00 that night and we managed to get our tent set up before dark.

February 8th, 2007: Today was a rest day. We packed our loads to carry up to Camp I and registered with the base camp doctor, who took our pulse, blood oxygen saturation and blood pressure.

February 9th, 2007: Today we carried loads up to Camp I (4,900 meters) from Plaza Argentina (4,200 meters). Each of us carried 20kg’s of group gear and our own personal gear for up higher on the mountain. The ascent took roughly three and a half hours over scree almost the entire way. We all felt great at Camp I and set up a tent and left a cache of gear and promptly descended back to Plaza Argentina with nearly empty backpacks. 

February 10th, 2007: Today we rested from the carry up to Camp I the previous day. We organized final loads for the move up the mountain (which ended up being far heavier than we anticipated; each carrying 30KG’s) and got to bed.

February 11th, 2007: The day was here, we were finally moving up to Camp I to sleep and thereafter, move up for our summit bid. We got up relatively early and got our things packed, which ended up being around 30kg’s each. The day was very windy, especially towards the end of the climb to Camp I where we were practically being blown down the steep scree slope, holding on to the few stable rocks we could find around us to keep ourselves upright. When we arrived at Camp I, we double checked the guy lines, got our gear organized, got water, and got started on dinner.

February 12th, 2007: Rest Day at Camp I. Today we just rested and got our high altitude gear ready for a carry to Camp II. Quite a windy evening.

February 13th, 2007: This morning, we woke up to a very gusty day. We got our things together and carried 20+ Kg’s up to Camp II. We cached our gear carefully, checked out the polish direct route which looked like it was in excellent shape, and headed back down to Camp I. The climb up took about four hours.

February 14th, 2007: Rest Day at Camp I. Bad weather came in the evening in the form of severe winds along with some light snow.

February 15th and 16th, 2007: Bad weather prevented us from moving to camp II. Winds gusting in excess of 100mph as well as snow combined with a small tent made for some miserable conditions. On the night of the 16th, we had had enough and decided to come down to Base Camp to allow our stuff to dry, bring up more food, and regroup. We began our descent through the storm at 7:00pm and arrived down at Plaza Argentina Base Camp at dusk. Two others who had descended only hours earlier were evacuated upon arrival at base camp presenting with severe frostbite to both their hands and faces. The weather was considerably better at base camp and we finally got a good night’s sleep.

February 19th, 2007: Today we woke up at 5:30am and climbed from Plaza Argentina to Camp II to get our gear that we had previously cached for our summit bid. We made good time, arriving at Camp II in six hours and returned to Base Camp the same day. The weather was perfect in the morning, but soon deteriorated into the weather we had become accustomed to.

February 17th and 18th 2007: Rest days at Base Camp. On the 18th, we helped tear down the grajales base camp setup and were invited to an afternoon barbeque where we tried a number of interesting Argentinean dishes including blood sausage.

February 20th, 2007: Rest day at Base Camp.

February 21st, 2007: Today we packed up our duffels for the mules and began the two day trek out of the park with 25kg packs camping at Pampa de Lenas. Here we checked out of the park officially and rested our twisted sore limbs after our nine hour day of trekking over sixteen miles of rough terrain.

February 22nd, 2007: Today was the last day of our stay in the Parque Provincial Aconcagua. We began the last leg of our trek at 7am and reached the outskirts of civilization at 10:00am (Quebrada del Rio Vacas trail head). From there, we called to get a ride back to Penitentes, ate lunch, retrieved our bags from Fernando Grajales, and got on the bus back to Mendoza. A scorching four hours later we arrived at the bus station, took two taxis to the Hotel Nutibara and had a much needed shower. We made our much anticipated reservation at Don Mario’s and later, met up with Mika and Martin for drinks.

Penitentes on the route from Base Camp to Camp I.

Our Tent at Camp I. Note the hefty wall built up around it to protect it from the severe winds which Aconcagua is notorious for,

View of our route, the polish direct, and of the summit from Camp II.

View of the Andes from a break enroute to Camp II.

Camp I during a brief break in the storm.

Base Camp upon our return from Camp I.

The Barbeque with the Plaza Argentina Staff at Base Camp.

The Fernando Grajales Team.

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