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[TR] Cerro Aconcagua (22841 ft / 6962 m) - Polish Glacier direct 1/5/2007

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Trip: Cerro Aconcagua (22841 ft / 6962 m) - Polish Glacier direct


Date: 1/5/2007






Trip Report:


Last year I got the itch to climb a big mountain. Thinking about where to go, last spring I saw Brad Marshall's post here on cc.com looking for teammates for a 2006-2007 expedition. He was offering to do all the logistics planning, from airport-airport. Not knowing Argentina or the mountain at all, I signed up. Brad's trip report is here


It was also appealing that this wasn't a guided trip, so after base camp we would be on our own. And it was affordable =).


The Polish Glacier direct route looked good, offering some moderate glacier climbing at altitude, with an easy descent route. So, I teamed up with Mark Hinton from Colorado. We had previously met once on a training climb of the Rio Grande Pyramid in Nov. We seemed to get along good, so what the heck?

Arriving in Mendoza just before Christmas, I met my 9 teammates: Mark, Brad, Sue, Hakno, Lyle, Rob, Dana, Alan, and Jim. 4 Canadians and 6 Americans. We enjoyed the culture of Argentina while prepping for the climb. Finally, on Dec 26, we started our approach hike up the Vacas Valley:





We passed many frustrated people glad to be leaving. They shared stories of high winds & shredded tents, and all were leaving without getting to the summit. My friend Erik later told me this was called "La escoba de dios", or "the broom of God". Luckily this passed before we arrived.


The end of the 2nd day, we got our first views of the peak. Looking up some 12000', it was most impressive:




Eventually, we turned up the narrow Relinchos Valley and made the last few miles to base camp (called Plaza Argentina), just under 14k:





Here began the hard work, and after a rest day we began hauling our gear up the mountain and continued acclimatizing.

The route up to camp1 was interesting, and featured multiple sections of penitentes:



Finally, we were staged at camp2 and took another rest day. Although we had a small snowstorm (couple inches of snow), our first potential summit day, Jan5, had a good forecast and we were excited. Camp2 offered by far the best views we had seen:



By this time, we were getting used to tent life. We used Mark's EV2, which was pretty comfortable for me, considering that I am 6'2":



We scouted out the lower glacier the day before our climb:


photo courtesy of Mark Hinton





Finally, the day had come. After a quick breakfast, we headed out by headlamp around 0430. There were electric storms coating the valleys below us, but it was clear above 20k.


By about 10am, clouds started rolling in. Luckily there was little wind, and enough breaks in visibility to occassionally spot our next landmarks for climbing the route:






Most of the glacier was snow (of various conditions and quality), and so the going was pretty straighforward. We simul-climbed, placing pickets and moving pretty well. The route steepens as you progress, and the crux was the 2nd rock band. This featured the only ice on the route, and was pretty fun to climb. After this, the only obstacle is the last, steep (>50deg) snowdome to reach the summit plateau. This seemed to go on forever, but finally we topped out. Visibility was poor, so I pulled out my gps.




Unfortunately, it said the summit was about 1/3 mile away and 400' higher. Turns out this was a pretty easy hike, and the summit is actually a small hill on the plateau. Amazingly, the deep snow simply disappeared as we climbed the last 200', and from the top the descent trail (normal route) was obvious.








We descended back to camp2 in about 3 hours, moving pretty slow (but steady), and crashed hard. The next day another snowstorm moved through and dropped maybe 4" of snow.

After a rest day at 19400', we loaded up everything (= heavy packs), and headed back to the comforts of base camp:



At base camp, I celebrated my birthday and enjoyed some beer, pizza, and parilla (bbq). I ended up selling my boots, rope, ice screws, runners, and summit pack to some guides who had lost their gear in a mule accident. I got more money than I would've on ebay, and they got a good deal since climbing gear is so expensive in Argentina.






Mark and I had been the first from our expedition to summit, so we waited and eventually the rest of the team descended to base camp. All in all, 5 of 10 made the summit. The other 3 climbed the Polish Traverse route that we descended. Unfortunately, 1 of our teammates was earlier flown down from base camp due to being very sick, but by the time we made it to Mendoza he had recovered and gone to Buenos Aires to party.


The hike out was scenic but long! We were all pretty excited about showers, wine, and good food.



Prior to the 20 hours of travel back to the US, we went wine tasting and enjoyed some of Mendoza's finest:



Uno mas, por favor:



Looking back, it was a great trip. Mark was a great ropemate. Brad's planning efforts gave everyone a good shot at the summit. Everyone on the team was nice and all provided their own contributions to a fun adventure. Our schedule had great weather overall, and being there over the holidays meant few people on the mountain.

I recommend the Polish Glacier direct for those with experience on moderate snow & ice looking to push themselves on a bigger mountain.


Gear Notes:

ice axe + ice tool, 60m 1/2 rope, pickets, couple ice screws, strong tent, mules


Approach Notes:

Vacas Valley - Relinchos Valley - Plaza Argentina - Ameghino Col - Polish Glacier

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What temperature is it at 20,000 feet? How do you keep warm at night? How do you get enough sleep?

I think it was around 0deg F at camp2, which wasn't too bad when not windy. I brought an alaskan sleeping bag, which was overkill, and I didn't zip it up the whole trip.

As for sleeping, it just depended on the individual. I felt pretty good and acclimatized well, so sleeping was pretty normal.

Another key was the food. Mark and I brought way more food than everyone else (like 20lbs more than the other pairs), but this seemed to pay off. We ate a lot and stayed pretty strong, not losing much weight at all.

The only downfall to this strategy was the significant blue-bag cargo we had to haul back to base camp :tup:

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