Mt Aconcagua, Argentina

29 Dec - 6 Jan 2002 - by Steve Bonowski

A group of 10 Colorado Mountain Club friends left Denver & Kansas City on Dec. 28 for 3+ weeks of adventuring in South America. We certainly got our money's worth, beginning with exposure to the Argentine fiscal crisis. Fortunately, Mendoza, where all must appear in person to get their Acon climbing permits, was very quiet. We paid for most of our trip to Aymara ("eye-ma-rah") Outfitters in travelers cheques. They were kind enough to take the cheques even though once deposited, there were stringent rules on how much could be withdrawn. While we were there, the Argentine peso largely died, as people took dollars over anything else. The climbing permit for Acon is now $200 in high season, instead of the published $160. Aymara set us up in the Refugio for our base camp stays. Their web site is http://refugioaconcagua.org.ar.elserver.com/

Some might consider this "less than sporting." But we still had eight nites tenting and considering the vagaries of weather, anything that can help the chances of getting to the top should be at least considered.

We arrived in Puenta del Inca on Dec. 30 to begin our acclimitization process. We stayed two nites, and got in a good day hike on the 31st. We hiked up to Confluencia on New Year's Day and on up to Plaza de Mulas and the Refugio on the 2nd. Another new rule: even independent climbers must contract for"banos" services at Mulas with an outfitter, and presumably at Confluencia. The camp at "C" has been moved and is downstream on the east side of the river to the south of the bridge. Very dusty area.

Our scheduled carry day up to Nido was the 4th, following a rest / acclimatization day at Mulas. Bad idea! Big snowstorm blew in all day, with about 5" at Mulas; we heard 18" at Nido; and a full meter at Berlin. So, we got another "rest" day which was OK. One member of our party worsened a bad cold, and left for home on the 3rd, which brought us down to nine persons. Our carry went well, but long & tedious, on the 5th. Then yet another rest/acclimitization day followed by moving camp up to Canada. The snow turned out to be a blessing as Canada can be very dry, and there were some good, but rapidly shrinking, drifts there to get snow for melting.

Finally got our camp up to Nido where we settled in for three nites, with a carry up to Berlin. As expected, about half the group was battling various ailments, from colds to mild GI distress. We moved camp up to Berlin on Jan. 11 with a planned summit attempt scheduled for the 12th. Most of the prior week's snow was gone, but still some drifts around. The upper hut has been cleaned up some and a park ranger stays in there occasionally. There is also a ranger, and a police officer, staying pretty much full time now at Nido.

Too bad that right after midnite on the 12th, one of the infamous or legendary clear sky/high windstorms came up and the winds didn't die down until mid-morning on the 13th. So much for our summit day on the 12th. We estimated gusts at Berlin in the realm of 35-50 miles per hour, and higher up, the wind sounded like a dozen jet planes taking off at once. Another of our party was having some altitude problems and never moved his tent up to Berlin. He came up to retrieve his cache and headed back down, which left eight. On morning of 13th, 4 started up while 4 stayed in the sleeping bags. Soon, two were back complaining of the cold. The other two proceeded slowly onward, helped by the slackening winds.

They needed crampons prior to starting the Grand Traverse. One gave out at the base of the Canaleta, and the last one, Steve Sprowles from Conifer, continued on up slowly to the summit. The remaining six of us packed up to go down, leaving a tent up for the two climbers, and some boiled water for their use on return.

We also stayed in radio contact with them. Steve got his picture taken on top by some Germans, and he in turn took their picture. Rick was joined for a while down at the bottom of the Canaleta by a park ranger. Seems like the rangers are now really patrolling the peak, helping out climbers, etc. We also noted they weren't all owing anyone to come up to Berlin on the 12th.

Anyway, we all reassembled down at the Refugio. Four of our party had a desire for "warmer climes" and headed down for Puenta on the 14th. The remainder of us came out on the 15th. After a celebratory dinner in Puenta for our one summiteer, and for the rest of us getting out with all body parts intact, we headed for Chile for some R & R time in Los Andes, a bus trip to Vina del Mar on the coast, and then tour of Santiago on the 18th before catching our 10 PM flight for Miami.

Was an interesting trip for several of our group. One was on his 3rd try for Acon, and another on his 2nd. Both agreed this was their last try. For me, I don't know. It was worth trying once. But I'm more inclined to head north towards the Ojos de Salado area, where it's warmer & drier, if I return to climb in the southern Andes. The lure of one of the Seven Summits is still there. But I lead Kilimanjaro & Elbrus for the CMC, and have my eyes set eventually on doing Kosciusko (I agreed with Dick Bass' comment when I ran into him last summer on top of Colorado's Mt. Yale: "any elementary school geography student can tell you that New Guinea (home of Puncak/Carstenz's) is an island, not a continent"). So maybe I'll stop at 3 of the 7.

Couple final points. Our 7 calibrated altimeters showed elevation at Berlin to be 19,530', which is different from the Secor guide and what the provincial park says. We noted other differences among the available references & altimeters. So best recommendation is to consider everything and take your best guess! Steve Sprowles & I checked our Timex watches occasionally to make sure we had correct time ("grin"). And thanks to Dick Falb for doing all our translating. It really helped to have a person fluent in Spanish along.


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