This Aconcagua Trip Report was written by our expedition leader Ronan Lenihan, who led our Aconcagua Climb in January 2017.
Our Aconcagua Adventure begins!
On the 18th of January, I met with a diverse group of fellow mountaineers in Dublin Airport. For the first time on an Earth’s Edges trip everybody was on time, including myself. We are only 5 minutes in and the trip is looking good so far. After making sure all the team received an Earth’s Edge custom jacket and buff and weighing the bags we checked in and made our way through. And so began our long journey to Buenos Aires.
After almost 20 hours of travelling, we arrived in a positively balmy Buenos Aires, 38 degrees Celsius! Whilst in the Airport waiting for our transfer we picked up another member of our team and then took the next flight to Mendoza.
In Mendoza, we met the local members of our team, Gabriel and Bruno; both highly experienced mountaineers and guides as well as medics.
We arrived at the Hotel Diplomatic, where we picked up the final member of our team. It is only now I realise how diverse (as long as you ignore the fact that it’s all guys) a group it is – lawyers, soldiers, farmers, accountants, doctors, students.
The Hotel Diplomatic was not the ideal choice of accommodation as it’s wonderful rooms, gym, pool and lemon meringue pie for breakfast meant some of us did not want to leave.
A few problems arose on our travels, the doctor’s bag did not arrive and I had a tooth knocked out on the plane, long story!
Permits for Aconcagua
Whilst in Mendoza there was work to be done. We got our permits for the National Park sorted, people got some last bits of kit and the doctor bought a pair of shorts that were two sizes too small!
As well as all of that we made sure there was time for food, wine and a little bit of sightseeing.
The next stage of our journey was a four-hour drive to Penitentes. On the way, we stopped for the biggest steak that most of us have ever seen during which we were entertained by a massive thunder and lightning storm. Whilst enjoying my steak more of my tooth came out!
We arrived in Penitentes, a ski resort which looks a bit bare during the southern hemisphere summer. That being said the hotel was once again excellent with great food and a great relaxing bar area. There was a little bit of apprehension that evening as the following morning was the real beginning of the expedition. That night we experienced tremors from an earthquake and most of us were awoken by our beds shaking which is somewhat unusual when you’re on your own!
Beginning the trek
The next three days involved walking from Pampa De Lenas to Plaza Argentina Base Camp. This took us up the Vacas Valley with amazing views, flora and fauna. On this journey, we were accompanied by the muleteers who transported our heavier equipment to base camp.
The highlights of these three days were; steak cooked on a campfire for us by the muleteers, beautiful night skies combined with lightning storms and our first view of Aconcagua itself on the second day. The team also had to cross a river which was too deep and wide to wade so we paid the muleteers for a very frightening donkey derby across the river.
However, these three days were marred by Poogate, where one of our team attempted to go to the toilet illegally away from the campsite. The national park ranger who witnessed this dealt with him while his pants were down, much to the rest of the team’s entertainment. As funny as it was, it is a good reminder of how delicate the ecosystem is and how important it is to protect it.
The team arrived into base camp and seemed to be pretty impressed, big tents, great food, showers, views and clean toilets.
The next day was a very welcome rest day as we were now at 4200 metres and a few people had headaches.
The following day we left base camp to carry some equipment up to Camp 1; the day was challenging as people were carrying massive loads on loose scree.
4We cached our gear at Camp 1 and descended to dinner at Base Camp. It was our first really tough day and all the team did great. The next day was to be another rest day so that night we enjoyed a wee tipple of whiskey, sloe gin and wine. In retrospect, it seems more than a tipple.
Moving up the mountain
Our move up to Camp 1 involved carrying more heavy loads and when we got there, there was still work to be done setting up tents and rebuilding protective walls. It was also extremely hot. The highlight of Camp 1 was when two of our team were enjoying a wash and were filmed stark naked by another teams drone. I’m sure it wasn’t that teams highlight!
The next day took us up to Camp 2 which I believe is the most scenic day of the trip. Everyone was blown away by the views to the north. Camp 2 is spectacularly located and once again we cached equipment before descending to Camp 1.
The following morning we packed up all our remaining equipment and moved up to Camp 2. Everybody is now feeling the altitude and looking forward to the rest day which follows.
Our rest day at Camp 2 actually involved some work. People explored and took lots of photographs, people practised with axes and crampons on the glacier behind the tents and we talked at length regarding the next couple of days and our summit attempt. And we had pizza for lunch!
Arriving at camp 3
We now moved up to Camp 3 at 6000 metres. Camp 3 is also known as Cholera Camp but we decided we would just call it Camp 3, it sounds more hygienic! Today was tough as we were moving all of our kits in one go, unlike previous days. We arrived at camp three early. It is set in a stunning location but it is difficult to appreciate the beauty when you’re so high and so cold.
That afternoon we packed for our summit attempt early the following morning. At this stage, some of the team made the decision not to attempt the summit. This was the right decision for them.
We left for our summit attempt at 5.30am on the 1st of February. This day is normally 12 to 15 hours long and involves being tired, energised, too cold, too hot, dismayed and elated. Two of the team turned around during the summit attempt. Although some of our team didn’t make the summit they all achieved the objective of traversing the mountain. The rest of the team continued the climb to the summit which was occasionally interrupted by drinking, eating, peeing and vomiting, however not all at once.
The final hour of the climb is on steep loose terrain and you arrive on the summit all of a sudden without warning. We were lucky to have no wind on the summit so we could enjoy the few moments that we took up there. After the obligatory hugs and summit photos, we decided to perform the highest altitude dab in the world outside of the Himalayas. Totally naff.
The descent from Aconcagua
Now we began our long descent to Camp 3 and it was just dark when we arrived. We forced ourselves to eat and drink a little before collapsing in our tents. Those who did not go for the summit had already descended to Plaza de Mulas which is the base camp on the other side of the mountain.
The following morning we started late. This was to allow us longer to rest and for the sun to reach our tents and then we began the loose scree filled decent to Plaza de Mulas. When we arrived the rest of the team were there to greet us and congratulate us on our success. We celebrated that evening with the coldest champagne and wine any of us have ever had.
Our last day on the mountain involved 30 kilometres of walking on very tired legs but the stunning scenery eased the pain. It helps knowing there are showers and comfy beds at the end of this walk. That night we were back in the hotel in Penitentes with great plans to celebrate, however, most of us were in bed early.
From Penitentes, we travelled on to Mendoza where we had a couple of days to relax, celebrate, recover and to be regular tourists taking in the sights.
In summary, this was a great successful expedition but not because we got people to the summit. It was a success because nobody got hurt and everybody came back friends.