This falls into the better late than never category!
On January 9, 2009 I flew first to Buenos Airies and then to Mendoza, Argentina to climb Aconcagua as the first of my Seven Summits. I chose Alpine Ascents for the trip in part because the Vacas Valley route and not the Normal Route. I also like Alpine Ascents' focus on safety, their fantastic handle on logistics and their slightly slower approach to the climb.
We spent a day or two in Mendoza enjoying the town and finalizing our paperwork
Beautiful Mendoza and then we drove several hours to the ski town of Penitentes.
Our hotel in Penitentes The following day we set off on a three day trek in to the Plaza Argentina.
The starting line The hike was uneventful and the first two days were not very strenuous,
The good way to carry your gear
Trekking up the Vacas Valley
Our goal although the third day was significantly tougher as we climbed to 14,000' and camped there for the next three nights.
As part of our acclimating, we made a carry to 15,500' and left extra gear there.
Carrying to Camp 1 We then moved up to establish our Camp 1 and the following day we made a carry to Camp 2 at 17,000. We moved there and set up camp on January 20.
Moving to Camp 2
The weather was much colder at this altitude and sleeping became tougher, although for me the hard thing at higher altitudes always seems to be the ability to eat. Food loses its appeal and actually makes me want to gag. Once acclimated the problem goes away, but it makes for some hungry, low energy days. The following day we made a carry to Camp 3 at 19,000' and returned to Camp 2.
Looking down at Camp 3 on the way to Camp 4
We next moved to Camp 3, took a rest day and then had a second rest day imposed on us by high winds and a little snow. On Jan 25 we moved to Camp 4 without first doing a carry. Between the increased weight and thin air, it was a tough day.
Camp 3 with the route to Camp 4 visible above
We set up our tents at 20,000' on a very non-flat piece of ground! We went to bed early in very cold temps and extremely high winds. Our guides cooked up our dinner in their tent and then raced to each of the client's tents to deliver it in the frigid conditions. By this altitude food lost all of it's appeal. I tried to eat my dinner but quickly found myself outside painting the snow with it. Not good. The next morning I was starving, but was only able to gag down a granola bar over the course of an hour.
This made for a very long summit day as I was running on fumes. The winds were calm for the first hour but once we passed the Refugio Independencia
Refugio Independencia and gained the west face they grew fierce.
Climbing the west face on summit day I was wearing a ski hat and the wind blew it off my head with no hope of recovering it. Fortunately I had a backup and used my goggles to secure it. With my empty stomach, I thought the day would never end. The last 500 feet were brutal and I found myself taking five or six breaths for every step.
Nearing the summit
The highest point in the world outside of Asia
We climbed on packed snow for most of the summit day using our crampons and poles, but no rope nor ice axes. There really weren't any places of big exposure. I was thrilled to finally reach the summit, take a few pictures and head back down. I was able to eat a candy bar and drink a bit on the way back to our high camp.
The following day we descended all the way to Plaza de Mulas using the Normal Route. I can promise you that this is not the way to climb Aconcagua. It is a steep, never ending pile of scree and would be absolutely miserable to climb. However, it made the descent quite quick.
The Normal Route (good for down, horrible for up)
Plaza de Mulas
I have a pretty arthritic right knee and although climbing up doesn't hurt, flat ground and descending are painful. When faced with a 20 mile gently descending death march out to the highway,
The hike out I opted for a 10 minute helicopter ride courtesy of some Benjamin Franklins.
The quick way out I was met at the highway by someone from the hotel in Penitentes. I got a room for long enough to shave and shower three times, a driver took me directly to the airport in Mendoza where I was able to change my flights, flew to Buenos Airies, took the bus from the domestic to the international airport and flew back to Nebraska. In less than 24 hours I went from my tent on the side of Aconcagua to my home in Lincoln! You gotta love a plan when it works.