A Factual Summary of Success and Sufferfest on the Highest Peak outside of Asia

14 January 2018-  (Aconcagua 2)  Summary of Successful Climb of Aconcagua

Below follows a factual summary of my successful climb of Aconcagua, Normal Route.  I desire to capture as many details now as possible, as time tends to make details fade.

I left Los Angeles at 2300 on Wednesday December 20.  I had two large duffel bags of climbing gear with me, as well as a smaller bag with travel items.  My best friend in Los Angeles, John Byers, gave me a ride to the airport.

The travel to Argentina was challenging.  I elected, in poor choice in hindsight, to save a few hundred dollars by having two stop overs.  One in Panama City (a surprisingly expensive airport), and the other in Cordoba, Argentina, about 500 miles east of Mendoza.  Both layovers were 8 hours long.  Completely unnecessary.  In addition, the madness was exacerbated by the army of toddlers run a muck on the plane.  I will have a brood some day, but as I do not now, it was maddening.

I landed in Mendoza at approximately 1300 hours on Friday, 22 December.  I immediately went to Inka Expediciones, to arrange for my mule transport to the base camp.  Gilda helped me at Inka.  She, and the entire group with Inka, were very helpful and thoughtful.  

Unlike when I was in Argentina two years prior, this time I was expected to go to one location and purchase the climbing permits, and then to another location to actually pick up the permits.  I said good bye to Hilda, and checked into the Mendoza Hotel, and dropped off my bags.  I then went looking for the permit payment office. 

In my mind, I thought, since I am climbing the highest mountain in South America, such a grand thought, anything associated with climbing the mountain must also be large.  For example, I thought, when I went to pay for the permit, I expected a red carpet, and men playing trumpets for us brave and daring mountaineers.  

How foolish of me.  The payment area was a tiny kiosk, adjacent to the main government building, and little regard is given to those foolish to try the mountain.  Particularly if no guiding company is used (I used Inka only to bring up my gear to base camp).  

I paid the $800 cash to secure the permit, and then walked about 2 miles to obtain the permit.  Again, the park personnel showed little excitement to my endeavor.  One must always taper their own expectations.

I traveled back across town, and had a humongous hamburger.  The portions of food in Argentina rival those of American fast food places, and are at least 1/2 as cheap and twice as fresh.

I returned to my hotel, and was able to get a decent night of sleep.  I woke the next morning, had a large breakfast from the hotel, and then went to the bus terminal, where my bus was to arrive at 1030 hours.  I was pretty out of it still from traveling.  I had my passport, cash, and credit cards on me, and most of my climbing gear in my two large duffel bags.  

However, I had my old IPad and case, and keyboard, as well as my Sony RX100 point and shoot camera, my Garmin Delorne InReach satellite text device, and my journal, in my small carry bag.  I had that close to me, but unfortunately, it was just out of sight.  It was also not clipped to me.  

The people in the bus terminal probably saw me coming a mile away.  There were some things that occurred to me, after the fact, about how I set myself up.  In my own defense, I was very tired.  Regardless, just as the bus arrived, I noticed I did not have my little bag anymore.  It was disconcerting and a huge mental kick in the gut to be burglarized.  

I initially walked around the entire bus depot, looking to catch the man who had robbed me.  To no avail, and after becoming frustrated with the police, I quickly determined that Inka Expediciones was my salvation.  I checked my two large bags, walked another 1.5 miles back to Inka, and Gilda immediately began to assist me with my problem.  

The government was not interested in giving me another permit, but if I obtained an official police report, they would honor my loss.  This was my biggest concern; it was Saturday, December 23.  The entire Catholic country of Argentina was about to shut down for Christmas, and that would have  meant waiting until at least December 26 to get into the park, and I didn't have that luxury of time.  

Gilda was able to give me the confidence I needed.  I also anticipated problems over the next 2 weeks, so I asked her to contact every single person I would come in contact with and let them know what had happened to me.  In this way, I would not have to stumble through my poor Spanish, and potentially deal with a roadblock.  Gilda and Inka were very helpful and accommodating.  

I returned to the bus depot, and was able to leave Mendoza at 1530 hours.  It was about a 4 hour bus ride to Penitentes, along the main road between Santiago, Chile, and Mendoza. 

 I arrived in Penitentes, really just a couple of hotels to accommodate winter skiing in the area, and met with Pocho, and his wife Jessica.  They both worked for Inka.  They had two kids, Juan and Ulysses.  Jessica immediately sensed how distraught I was from the burglary , and she and Pocho invited me to have dinner with them, as well as a couple of young guys who ran the youth hostel.

I checked into the hostel, had a nice Argentian meal with my new friends, and my faith in humanity was slightly improved.

I woke up the next day, assembled my gear, and went into the Park at approximately 1300 hours.  I made my way from the park entrance to Confluencia, at about 12500 feet. I was greeted by Inka camp operator Beto.  I shared some good Kentucky bourbon I had with him and one of his mates, and I also met Fernando and Junka, from Brazil and Japan, respectively.  Fernando and I were of the same age, and very similar challenges in life in 2017.  We became immedate friends.

The next day, Christmas Day, Fernando and I walked to Plaza De Mulas, the base camp.  Along the way, I found a mule shoe, and gave it to Fernando for Christmas and for good luck.  We bonded on our way up.  I arrived at base camp at approximately 1600 hours.  You check in with the park personnel, and schedule a visit with the doctor.  My heart rate the next day was 60, BP was 120/70, and oxygen saturation was high 80s.  All very solid stats.  

I put out my tent and spent the 26th around base camp.   I hiked over to an abandoned hotel, visited with the park police in the area, and they shared Mate with me.  Mate is an Argentina based tea, is very bitter, and very enjoyable.  I enjoyed socializing with the police, and practicing my Spanish.

I went to a massive glacier about 2 hours away, and walked around on it.  I then returned to my tent.  The next day, the 27th, I ferried a load to Camp 2, Nido de Condores, which sits at about 18500 feet.  On my way back down, the weather deteriorated, and I became disoriented and lost my way.  That was the beginning of the challenges.

The next day, on the 28th, I moved the remainder of my gear to Camp 2, and relocated there.  I met a Chilean climber, who was going to summit the next day, and he asked if I cared to join.  I advised that I would try, which was not a good idea.  That night, I slept miserably, and then got up and got moving at 0300 with my new Chilean partner.  I gave up on my summit bid with this partner after about 2 hours, at approximately 19800 feet.  

I returned to my tent, and rested.  I remained in my tent on the 29th.  I melted snow, and attempted to take in calories.  Incidentally, I moved about 80 lbs of weight to Camp 2.  A lot of fuel, a lot of food.  But, you have no appetite.  Also, you are expected to pack out your own human waste, which can become challenging.

On the 30th I hiked back up to Camp 3, 19600 feet, and was feeling strong.  However, on December 31, the weather turned, and began to be very windy, and snow came in.  Winds were around 40 MPH, and snow as abyssmal.

I met another climber from Argentina, and he asked if I desired to ascend on January 1.  He advised the weather was supposed to improve on that day.  So, the  morning of January 1, after celebrating New Years Eve in my tent, alone, with no ability to communicate with anyone, I attempted, again to summit.  I again made it to 19500 feet, and took refuge in a dilapidated tiny structure.  

My feet began to freeze (I had no overboots; I also lacked mittens, but was able to borrow those), and so I took off my boots and began to rub my toes to keep them from freezing.

The conditions outside were nearly a white out, but I had to get back to my tent.  So, with a bit of luck and a lot of determination, I was able to make it back to my tent.  I spent the entire day and night sleeping.  In the middle of the night, I actually felt rested, and then turned over and noticed about 3 inches of snow had blown into my tent, courtesy of an improperly secured vent.  That was not a very happy moment.

Incidentally, when I left Los Angeles, I had developed a respiratory infection.  It  never went away, and only worsened on the mountain.  I was also having major gastrointestinal issues, which was a disaster at that altitude.

I decided January 3 would be my last attempt on the summit.  I also decided that I would be willing to sacrifice a toe or two to get the summit.  I did not want to come back.  So, the morning of January 3, at 0800, I began my ascent.  This is a late time to begin an ascent.  By 1600 hours, I arrived at 22000 feet, at the last feature of the mountain, the Canaletta.  

Just as I began my ascent of the Canaletta, I was intercepted by a mountain park ranger.  He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to go to the summit, as I was there too late.  I was able to convince him to change his mind, but he made me agree that I would check in with the police upon my return.

I achieved the summit of Aconcagua at 1800 hours on January 3.  The temp was probably about -10F, and there were 40 mile winds.  I took a few very quick pictures with the remaining camera (which was just about dead), and then descended back to my tent.  I arrived back at my tent at 2200 hours.  I checked in with the police.

The next day, January 4, the winds were the worse they had been the entire time.  I had no choice but to break down my camp, put the remaining 60 lbs or so on my back, and descent to base camp.  It was a miserable descent.  I did have a bit of Mate with the police before I left.

I arrived at base camp at about 1600 hours on January 4.  I set up my tent.  I paid for a meal.  I checked the internet.  I had a lot of concerned friends.  That was a nice feeling. 

The next day, January 5, I packed the majority of my items on the mules, and then hiked out the remaining 20 miles to the entrance of the park, which took about 7 hours.  I went to the "highest art gallery in the world" and bought a small, very expensive piece of art from the local artist, Miguel.

I arrived back at Penitentes at about 1800 hours, and was able to get a ride back to Mendoza, arriving at approximately 2230 hours Friday.  I took a long bath, the first time I had bathed in over 2 weeks, and shaved off my beard.  I had a late meal.

I am happy I was able to summit this time.  

Anthony McClaren