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bellows

[TR] Cerro Aconcagua - Ruta Normal 02/02/2020

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Trip: Cerro Aconcagua - Ruta Normal

Trip Date: 02/02/2020

Trip Report:

Back when the world was more normal, I took a solo two week trip to Argentina to climb Aconcagua: 

Day 1 (Thursday January 23rd): Fly out of Seatac – Santiago - Mendoza
Day 2: Land in Mendoza, get permit & supplies, drive to Penitentes (el ~8500) for the night at Hotel Ayelan
Day 3: Start of climb.  Hike to Confluencia (el ~11,100)
Day 4: Side trip to Plaza Francia at the base of the South Face for acclimatization, second night at Confluencia
Day 5: Move to Plaza de Mulas (el 14,100)
Day 6: Scramble nearby Cerro Bonete (el 16,417), second night at Mulas
Day 7: Carry water & gear to Camp Canada (el 16,600), third night at Mulas
Day 8: Carry gear to Nido de Condores (el 18,200), fourth night at Mulas
Day 9: Move to Nido, skipping over Camp Canada
Day 10: Acclimatization hike to Camp Colera (el 19,700), second night at Nido
Day 11 (Sunday February 2nd): Summit (el 22,841), return to Nido for the night
Day 12: Descend to Mulas
Day 13: Hike out, return to Mendoza, rearrange flight home
Day 14: Fly out of Mendoza - Santiago – LAX - Seattle
Day 15 (Thursday February 6th): Land back in Seattle 

It’s hard to capture two weeks in limited pictures, but here goes.

The park entrance off the main highway between Mendoza and Santiago, Chile has a great view of the mountain with the summit visible as the bump on the right. With limited vacation time, I increased my time efficiency (and fuel inefficiency) by renting a car at the airport in Mendoza and driving myself around.  This meant I didn’t have to faff around with bus schedules and figuring out transport to/from the trailhead, and also allowed me to get my permit in Mendoza, get some last minutes supplies of fuel, lighters, meat & cheese, and drive up to Penitentes all in the first day so I could spend my first night at elevation.  As an added bonus, I drove up to the Christo de Redeemer statue on a winding mountain road to a pass at El 12,572 where I spent 30 minutes walking around at altitude.
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The start of the hike to Confluencia was beautiful on wide trails through grassland with the mountain dominating the view in front.

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Confluencia, home for my first two nights on the mountain.  My North Face Assault-2 tent is barely visible near the big yellow and white domes on the lower right.

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The first night at Confluencia when my appetite was high, I splurged a bit and bought a nice dinner from my mule service provider.  From then on out it was lots of ramen, rice, and freeze dried.

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To help my acclimitization, I took a side trip up to Plaza Francia and the massive South Face of Aconcagua on my second day of the climb:IMG_5489.thumb.JPG.ed3f8cc4b9996446719007bd99a7b546.JPG

 

Heading up to Plaza de Mulas on the third day.  Helicopters were a common sight shuttling gear & supplies & the occasional climber up the valley.  Even more common were the mules who do the bulk of the heavy lifting.  I used Grajales Expedicions mule service to carry ~50lbs worth of gear from the trailhead straight to Mulas.  I was relatively cheap and well worth it.  Along with shuttling your gear, it comes with filtered drinking water and toilets and trash service at Confluencia and at Mulas.IMG_5524.thumb.JPG.89d77fe52b46ecefecc9b20075555dfd.JPGIMG_5529.thumb.JPG.620b805d7ec2a0b6495660e888691733.JPGIMG_5531.thumb.JPG.9167240e480c8b731b080d72093360bb.JPGIMG_5550.thumb.JPG.8b7b0cdb283c81a3dbb17351dab84b31.JPGIMG_5552.thumb.JPG.2a856fd02d9b0989cac8bba95888a852.JPG

 

Plaza de Mulas is a bustling place with tons of climbers from all over the world.IMG_5615.thumb.JPG.e1d8fb3726d9863e9e6c1bad7eb37ea0.JPGIMG_5603.thumb.JPG.44c9d88d8a7ad685b6b52b2ac475285d.JPG

 

There are rangers and doctors at Plaza de Mulas checking on climbers from both independent and guided climbs.  I brought a pulse oximeter to periodically check my SpO2 which hovered in the 70's for much of the trip.  The rangers also posted a weather report every couple days.  Mulas has cell reception (Verizon) so I was also able to check mountainforecast and other websites, but invariably the ranger forecasts were more accurate.  My ideal itinerary had me planned to summit on the 4th or 5th, but forecasted high winds had me push the envelope a bit and go for the summit a couple days earlier.

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Summit day!  I got up at 2AM and was hiking by 3AM.  I hiked relatively fast early on, but as I got higher my pace slower considerably. First light right below Independencia:

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Traversing the Gran Acarreo.  By this time my pace had slowed to about 5 second rest steps.

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Resting at La Cueva below the Canaleta.  The summit looked SO close from here, but was still over an hour away.

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On the summit ridge:

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On top about 1pm in the afternoon.  I spent all of two minutes on top.  I had severely rushed my acclimatization schedule because of the weather forecast, and my hypoxic addled brain was well aware that I needed to get down quickly.  Looking back a couple months later and summit day is definitely a fuzzy memory.IMG_5804.thumb.JPG.9eab6ade839aa87c7f5b4aa180f91de9.JPG

 

A day later back at Plaza de Mulas I splurged on the best pizza I've ever had.

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Mules once again carried the bulk of my gear down from PdM to the park entrance, and I had a pleasant hike out enjoying the thick air and satisfaction of a climb well done.  And finally beer in Mendoza!

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Gear Notes:
Carried an ice axe and crampons but never used either since it was an incredibly dry year. For footwear I wore trail runners all the way to Nido. For the upper mountain I used La Sportiva Baturas with Mountain Tools Supergaiters.

Approach Notes:
Grajales Expedicions is top notch for mule service A rental car can save a few days on the trip total if you don't have three weeks of vacation. Easy free longterm parking at the trailhead.
  • Like 1
  • Rawk on! 3

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We did that climb in mid 90’s and I think we used Grajales also.  They didn’t serve food back then.  That food looks way better than anything I can make at home!

 

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Nice work! That Quilmes brings back fond memories. Next time, stock up on Mantecol and alfajores in Mendoza. Way better than freeze-dried stuff, or energy bars from the States.

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On 5/22/2020 at 2:25 PM, bellows said:

I brought a pulse oximeter to periodically check my SpO2 which hovered in the 70's for much of the trip.  

Interesting, it does not sound like you acclimated very well ... years ago when I was there I developed a respiratory infection on the way into Plaza Argentina. I got my SpO2 checked and remember it being in 70s but my the time I recovered it was in the lows 90s.

Edited by ScaredSilly

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Good observation @ScaredSilly.  Despite the low o2 readings, ultimately I think I acclimatized to the altitude fairly well.  My only real symptoms throughout the trip were a little trouble sleeping and headaches in the middle of the night, especially the first nights at each camp.  The first night at Nido I woke up thinking my head was going to explode, took an o2 reading in the 60’s, and sat up and took deep breaths for awhile watching it climb into the 80’s and feeling the headache dissipate.  I did this every couple hours.  During the daytime things were relatively good and I felt strong.  In retrospect, the pulse oximeter probably caused me more stress than anything. I’m still not exactly sure how to correlate the readings with how I felt.  

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The pulse of really doesn’t tell you much about how acclimated you are unless you have a wealth of personal knowledge of how you’ve satted at a given altitude and how you’ve subsequently felt. there’s no hard and fast rule, and you can feel and be fine in the low 70s at 10k ft while someone else might be in the high 70s and feel like their brain is being smashed with a hammer. 
 

as an anecdote I satted in the high 60s at 14 after going to 20k. I felt fine. The other guys I was with were all around the same reading. They all felt fine, no one had ams symptoms. 
 

Listening to your body will likely tell you more than a little pulse ox, unless you’re unconscious and someone else finds you lying there with it on your finger and it’s reading in the 30s, at which point there are more pressing issues...

 

edit: cool trip! Sweet to see what that mountain looks like up close!

Edited by keenwesh

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Nice TR and photos, thanks for posting. That peak has always loomed large in my mind since I had a friend die up there in 1980 after the first alpine style ascent of the Messner route on the South Face. Your way actually looks attractive, until I recall how much I didn't enjoy myself at 18,800 on Orizaba  :D

 

 

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