Aconcagua trip review
This year we had a team of twelve clients from four different countries – Iran, Ireland, England, South Africa and Argentina – and three guides to take the team to the top of the Americas. Gavin was joined by Greg Coe and Pasang Tendi Sherpa from Nepal who had the second of the Seven Summits in his sights.
The team met up in Mendoza as usual for the pre-trip administration, including buying the Aconcagua permit which this year increased to USD$800 per person. Every year it has increased and one wonders how much more the clientele will take.
We travelled to Puente del Inca and then hit the trail for the walk to Confluencia and then up to Plaza del Mulas on the Horcones trail, base camp for the next few weeks. The acclimatisation plan enabled us to climb high and sleep low, so we did some carries but always slept back at the lowest possible point. Weather was initially very hot during the day but gradually a big front came in and a decision had to be made about what to do.
Gavin was getting twice daily forecasts from the office back in the UK and it was clear that the low pressure and bad weather would sit on the mountain for about three or four days, after which winds would drop and we might have a chance at the summit. The plan called for two nights at Nido de Condores but Gavin and Greg agreed to extend this to four nights so we would be well positioned for a climb up to the final camp and a short summit window.
For most of the group the experience of sitting in a tent at 5500 metres during a four day storm was something new. The noise of the wind, and the battering of hail and snow was incessant. Sleep was difficult and pretty soon boredom and a sense of trepidation set in. Would the tents survive the weather? We worked hard to ensure everyone was eating, drinking and sleeping as best as possible.
Eventually though the weather cleared and we were treated once again to blue skies with snow on the ground, even though the wind was still high on the tops and it was bitterly cold. Leaving non-essential items behind, and no small amount of poo bags, we quickly ascended to the final camp at 6100 metres and prepared for a long summit day.
Starting at about 4am in the dark the route initially winds through some rocky patches which require a bit of scrambling, after which the moonlight was strong enough to turn the headtorches off and enjoy the special experience of climbing at night on a big mountain. The wind had dropped as forecast and everyone was very well acclimatised and fit. The craic was good, and as a red dawn rose we had the splendid sight of the shadow of Aconcagua cast against the horizon.
The real hard work started above Independencia Hut as the team hiked across the Gran Acarreo which is a large exposed traverse and then began the ascent of the infamous Canaleta. Greg had to nip back and get the crampons which we’d dumped below, because the hardpack was just a bit too hard for kicking steps. Gavin did manage to kick enough of a route in the snow for everyone to ascend though, and by about midday we entered the final high rocky amphitheatre which leads to the ridge called the Cresta del Guanaco and onward to the summit. People were really tired but this final hour is fuelled by adrenaline as the summit is in sight. You can see the small shapes of people celebrating, and it does spur you on.
It was still sunny and clear when we got to the summit, and amazingly we had the place to ourselves. The views were spectacular, completely clear for miles around. The South Face of Aconcagua is jaw droppingly spectacular. We stayed for half an hour or so, enough time to take the photos but also really appreciate the height, the view and also the scale of the achievement.
Our descent was not without incident, as we met many ascending groups trying to beat the clock and the weather. We watched them summit in heavy cloud, and pretty soon it was snowing heavily, windy and really cold. One team dislodged some big rocks and those people below were suddenly seen sprinting out of the way, despite being at 6800 metres!
We moved together and even had the ‘confidence rope’ out on some icy sections, but gradually the snow gave way to rock again and the campsite came into view. It was a tired but elated team that eventually came back into camp after a 13 hour summit round trip.
We still had to get out of the Park though and the next two days were equally as exhausting carrying heavy packs to base camp and then a long hike back down the valley with sore feet. The drive back to Mendoza was a bit fraught because of large landslides on the road which delayed our transport, but eventually we made it back to the hotel in the small hours.
The team this year was particularly good with some memorable characters. As always the pleasure comes in meeting great people and achieving something together. Aconcagua is no pushover and it takes strength and teamwork to succeed. Thankfully we got the summit window to allow everyone a chance to stand on the highest point in South America and the highest point in the world outside the Himalayas. Well done!
Summit team: Philip Ó Condúin, Daithi Olionaird, Matthew Lowe, David Wilde, Darren Birmingham, Paul Farrar, Kyle Walker, Maziar Sadri, Melodika Sadri plus Gavin Bate, Greg Coe and Pasang Tendi Sherpa.
Additional: Sara Cooper and Eugene McManus both achieved high points of 6100 metres, and Mariana Barrios achieved her high point of 5500 metres.