| Bonus Peaks near Aconcagua
Cerro Catedral – 17323 ft per my GPS, 17503 ft per my map
Cerro Bonete – 16552 ft per my GPS, 16417 per my map
From El Refugio
Partners: Dominic & Teresa
After our successful Aconcagua summit we had four days to spare and we were faced with the dilemma of what to do. We could hike out and return to Mendoza for sightseeing, we could try to fly home early, or we could put off showers and real food in favor of remaining at base camp for a few more days. I'm pretty sure most parties who are put in this situation don't opt for the latter, but we're an odd bunch.
I think I had the strongest opinion about what I'd like to do because Dominic and Teresa kind of stepped back a little bit and let me propose an agenda. I really wanted to climb Cerro Cuerno, as did Dominic, but it was really out of the question because of its difficulty and our lack of technical gear.
Feb. 16th – Cerro Catedral
Cerro Catedral, a 17K peak near El Refugio, piqued my interest, but we knew very little about it. There was a line on my map that supposedly represented a route to the summit, but we had no idea what that route involved. A quick internet search yielded absolutely nothing. I was surprised that a peak so accessible from Aconcagua's base camp wasn't even described on SummitPost.
We then found out that the Spaniards were planning on attempting Catedral the next day. They knew more about it and said that it required traveling on a snowfield with crampons as well as some scrambling. They were planning on bringing a rope, harnesses, and helmets. The word "scrambling" means different things to different people, so I was a little concerned that it may be too serious for us without a rope. Also, we had no idea what to expect from the snowfield. It was late in the season and it didn't seem out of the question that this snow field could more closely resemble ice. The Spaniards invited us to come along, and we decided to give it a try. I threw my harness in my pack just in case the scrambling was tricky and I could make use of the Spaniards' rope.
The planned departure time was 10am, but everything was off to a slow start. By 10:30, the Spaniards were still waiting for the hotel gals to get ready to go and Miguel and Rene were still in bed so the three of us just decided to set off on our own. Hopefully the line on my map would be sufficient for us to find the route. If not we'd have to wait for the Spaniards to catch up to us.
One advantage of camping at El Refugio rather than Plaza de Mulas is that it is 20-30 minutes closer to Cerro Bonete and Cerro Catedral. We left camp and followed the obvious trail to the southwest as it switchbacked its way up steep scree to the flatter area of Morro del Catedral. Here, we finally got to hike past some nice penitentes. There hadn't been any on the normal route up Aconcagua. After passing by the steep termination of Catedral's southeast ridge, we began to look for where we should leave the well worn trail clearly headed for Cerro Bonete and veer north towards Catedral. Just as it was looking like possibly a good time to exit the trail, a small cairn appeared. Coincidence or had we guessed correctly? Although there weren't really any definite signs that feet had regularly trampled up the scree slope on our right, we decided to climb up and see what we could see.
Soon the snowfield came into view. It didn't look all that steep, long, or difficult, but looks can be deceiving when you're not used to looking at such big mountains. We strapped on our crampons, got out our ice axes, and Dominic led the way. The terrain was actually pretty rough and nothing like anything I've ever tried to climb. There were penitentes and big icy ledges everywhere. In some places we were climbing on just ice and in others we were climbing through a blanket of new snow on ice. Climbing the icy ledges required some pretty huge steps which were difficult for me and even more so for Teresita. The angle was probably 35-40 degrees. At first I felt more comfortable thinking that the huge penitents would probably stop of slip pretty quickly, but then I changed my mind when I considered how badly they would probably cut you up in the process!
Soon we saw two guys below us gearing up for the snowfield. The Spaniards were still out of sight. It felt really good for the three of us to be out on our own without the guides and we were all having fun.
After a while my feet started getting wet from walking through the snow with my trailrunners so we exited the snowfield to the left (west) and took a break. The rocks and scree on this side of the snowfield looked very tempting so we decided to remove our crampons and continue up on rock instead of snow. The two guys that had been below us passed us during our break, one remaining on the snow, the other moving to the rocks. Climbing this scree was much harder than it looked. I think we were on a glacier and underneath the top layer of scree it was pure ice. Hmmm, a new kind of scree to learn. I tried to find the biggest rocks or clumps of dirt that appeared to be anchored to the surface to step on, but it was tough work. Finally, we managed to climb above this very icy section.
Next was a long, steep stretch of good old scree, the normal kind without ice. It was extremely loose in areas, ball bearing like sometimes. It took a tremendous amount of effort to climb this thing and I didn't think we'd ever reach the top! Finally, we did though and with some nervous scrambling up little crap covered ledges we reached Catedral's southeast ridge. We took a break there, gazing at the steep and scary looking ridge above us. The route wasn't at all clear. Fortunately it would turn out that the opposite side of the ridge which we couldn't see from here was much mellower. The group of two who we'd leapfrogged with arrived at the ridge a few minutes after us. They appeared to be rangers, or mountain police as they seem to be called, but they could speak very little English and let us know that they did not know the route. We remained in the lead and they followed us.
I checked out a little, loose 3rd class chimney nearby and was pleased to find what looked like a reasonable route at the top of it. I called down to Teresa and Dominic that it looked good and gave the other two climbers a thumbs up. The terrain was rather complicated and there were many different gullies and ribs so we built a cairn at the top of the chimney so we could find our way back.
After climbing up some more scree, we found ourselves on what was actually the main ridge, the one that leads over to Cerro Bonete. Again, we built a cairn so we wouldn't get ourselves into trouble on the way back.
From here, we stayed mostly on the ridge crest. There were steep drop offs to our right and a steep, but reasonable slope to our left that was snow covered. We tried to stay on the dry terrain near the ridge crest and that involved some steep, loose scree, sometimes over hardpan.
Soon we the snowfield extended over the entire ridge and we stopped to put our crampons back on. This snowfield was very similar to the big one we'd climbed but the penitentes were more pronounced. Finding our way through them ended up feeling like a little maze.
At the top we found ourselves on the final stretch to the summit and it was nothing more than a stroll.
The summit was small and fairly exposed with awesome views of Aconcagua.
It had taken 5.5 hours to climb the 3000 ft to get here, a testament of how physically challenging it had been. My quads, which were so shot and actually sore to the touch from the previous day's descent of Aconcagua, were wondering what the heck I was trying to do to them! The climb was definitely harder than I'd expected and far more dangerous than out climb of the "big guy", but it made the ascent that much more rewarding.
Two of the three Spaniards and the other group of two arrived before too long and after taking pictures of each other, we relinquished the small summit block and headed back. After all, it was already 4pm and we were lucking out big time with the weather. The Spaniards soon passed us on a mad dash down the mountain. Our cairns really came in handy on the way down and I was so glad we'd made them. Downclimbing the 3rd class section and the loose scree wasn't nearly as bad as I though it would be but it was impossible to avoiding sending rocks down the slope. The group of two politely waited for us to get out of the way before descending the 3rd class section so they wouldn't kick rocks on us.
We got on the snowfield much earlier than we'd exited since the icy scree didn't seem to be a good idea. The group of two passed us on the way down, but were nice enough to hang around at the bottom of it to make sure we made it down OK. We made our way cautiously down, negotiating the large, icy ledges once again. Sometimes I just jumped from one level to the next because it was too far to step. Things had softened up considerably so that the snow was balling up in our crampons and there were little streams running down the ice. My feet got pretty wet, but it didn't matter at all.
At bottom of the snowfield, we removed our crampons and made the short trek back to El Refugio, arriving at 6:20. Miguel and Rene had taken showers while we'd climbed.
I don't think that this peak gets climbed all that often and even after returning home I couldn't find any information about it. In our opinion, it's a little too involved and physically demanding to use as an acclimatization climb. I can't imaging trying to climb up that enormous scree field while trying to acclimate. I was glad that I was already well-acclimated.
Feb. 17th – Cerro Bonete
Cerro Bonete is located to the south of Cerro Catedral and is a much more popular hike. It requires just over 2000 feet of elevation gain from El Refugio and there is a trail the entire way to the summit. In contrast to yesterday's strenuous climb of Catedral, today's hike was very peaceful.
We left El Refugio once again around 10:30 and followed the now familiar trail up into Morro de Catedral. This time we crossed the creek and continued to follow the well worn path. There were many of nice switchbacks through the scree, making it an easy walk. I stopped often to admire and check out the cool rocks everywhere. From the trail we got some great views of the snowfield we'd climbed on Catedral the previous day.
The trail traversed across Bonete's rugged north face with interesting rock formations and then climbed up some rocky terrain on the north ridge to reach the summit. The hike took 2:15. Once again, we had the summit to ourselves, though we could see a few others on their way up. The views of Aconcagua and Catedral were very good, and we hung out on the summit for a while, soaking in the last peak of our adventure.
It was a fast, hour long descent back to El Refugio.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):