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The Road To Mendoza

Ever wondered what happened to old SAS and Air France Boeing 737 aircraft after their airframes run out of hours? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind at 30,000 ft over South America.
Here we are on final approach to Mendoza, wine capital of Argentina. Yes, we did sample the merchandise and found it most excellent!

Safely on the ground in Mendoza - yes, it’s hot... damned hot!
Loading the bus for the trip into Mendoza - we draw lots to see who will load Ray’s bag on to the roof-rack.
 
Acclimatising At Penitentes Village

A three hour bus journey and a giant pizza takes the group to the Ayelen Hotel in Penitentes village. In the winter a fantastic ski resort, in the summer it’s home to a disreputable bunch of ’Andinistas
Impressive rock formations form a backdrop to Penitentes village.
Acclimatising on the hills around Penitentes.
Ray claims his first Argentinian summit.
Lunch - is that mayonnaise or sunblock?
Andy and Clare at the Aconcagua Park entrance. The start of the long march to basecamp at Plaza de Mulas. On the way we will spend a couple of days at Confluencia to acclimatise.
Police rescue helicopter stationed at the park entrance. Aconcagua is visible in the background.
 
To Confluencia Camp

Loading the gear on to mules at the park entrance. Mules are the only means of transport allowed in the park. Want a ride on the way back? That’ll be $60 for you and $60 for your bag...
Permit check - no permit means no entry and definitely no emergency helicopter evacuation. And make sure you don’t lose your personalised rubbish bag while you’re on the mountain, otherwise it’ll cost you $100 to get out again!
Clare at the entrance to the park.
>Paraffin budgie... hopefully this is the closest any of us will have to get to this beast.
Geology.
Aconcagua reflected in the waters of Horcones Lake, close to the park entrance.
Crossing the only bridge on the way up to our acclimatisation camp at Confluencia.
This is Confluencia camp where we get our first taste of life in the wild - four course meals, delicious food, great service and (bliss) a ventilated toilet tent. Nepal this is not!
The group’s tents at Confluencia camp.
 
Diversion To Plaza Francia (Views Of South Face)

Geology or I’m a dutchman. Just call me Anders van der Clark!
It’s a desert out there, it doesn’t take long to get above the minimal vegetation on the trail from Confluencia up to the Lower Horcones glacier for a view of the South Face of Aconcagua.
Folding and faulting and much geological misbehaviour along the Lower Horcones valley.
The Lower Horcones glacier leading up to the South Face. There’s ice under all that dirt.
Andy with the south face of Aconcagua just coming into view.
The South Face of Aconcagua.
Andy in front of the South Face.
More geological chaos on the trail.
And we’re going up there? Yeah, right!
Sorry to go on about it but this geology really is a mess! Someone should clear it up.
Clare and Andy in front of the South Face - the summit is the left nipple.
 
Approach To Plaze De Mulas (Basecamp)

On the trail from Confluencia to Plaze de Mulas (basecamp). Make the most of the greenery because there is none beyond this point!
Ray on the trail from Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas.
About half way to basecamp... now we’re cooking. And it’s uphill all the way.
Mattias, our local guide, discusses Argentinian foreign policy with a mulateer. ’They have dollars... don’t mention the Malvinas yet!’
Motorway service station on the road to basecamp. Toilets at the rear, watch where you stand.
 
Basecamp And Bonete Peak

And finally here it is, Plaza de Mulas (altitude 4260 m). Basecamp and home to an almost endless stream of hopeful people staggering up and down the mountain.
Daniel Alessio’s village, uniquely decorated with Nepalese prayer flags. Source of three meals per day including a four course dinner complete with ’vino tinto’ (red wine, or to quote Dean - ’I think there’s something wrong with this juice!’)
Looking north up the valley from basecamp.
Looking south from basecamp.
Daniel Alessio’s basecamp team, Gianni (manager and occasional porter), Sergio (waiter and strongest guy at Plaza de Mulas) and Silvio (best high altitude chef in the business).
Welcome to basecamp - please excuse us while we bring the latest victim of pulmonary oedema down off the mountain.
The helicopter arrives to remove yet another casualty from the mountain.
Practicing with the Gammow bag - using a foot pump the pressure inside the bag can be increased to 2 psi above atmospheric. Very effective treatment for anyone suffering severe altitude sickness.
Clare testing the Gammow bag... ’pump harder slaves, take me down to 2000 meters’.
Dean celebrates his 40
Penitentes - weird ice formations caused by sunlight heating dust blown on to the ice. Supposed to resemble penitent monks. These are on the side of Bonete Peak, one of our acclimatisation objectives. At 5400 m it’s higher than Mont Blanc!
Climbing the upper scree slopes of Bonete Peak, alongside a large swarm of penitentes.
The West Face of Aconcagua seen from the summit of Bonete Peak.
Another view of the west face of Aconcagua from the summit of Bonete Peak.
Ray at basecamp.
Graham at basecamp.
 
On The Mountain

Camp 1 (4900 m). Looking northwest. The regular afternoon snowstorm is rapidly approaching. Unfortunately so is dinner, and it’s not up to basecamp standard. Pasta la vista Dean!
Dean and Mattias at Camp 1.
After the snowstorm. Looking up the mountain towards the West Face.
Evening photo opportunity at Camp 1.
Camp 2 - the Condor’s Nest (5400 m). A thriving community in a cold and windy place. A place where no stone has been left unturned in the quest for a fresh toilet.
Our tents at Camp 2.
The refuge at Camp 3 (ca. 6000 m). Built by the Germans as a memorial to one of their countrymen who went up but failed to come back down the mountain.
Clare and Andy at Camp 3, the summit of Aconcagua is the left hand nipple (on the mountain!)
John at Camp 3 after we made the first load carry from Camp 2.
View from Camp 3.
No lunch today, fortunately Ray has found some of yesterday’s at the bottom of his rucksack.
Cecilie, Greg, Clare and Graham at Camp 3.
Dean modelling the latest Pertex style from Gucci.
Clare living life on the edge at Camp 3.
 
Back At Basecamp After Reaching Camp 3

Andy looking despondent after returning to basecamp.
Ray recovering at basecamp after his epic solo escape from Camp 3.
Sunset on the West Face of Aconcagua
The successful summiteers return to basecamp (Greg, Cecilie and Graham with Mattias).
The summit team celebrate.
Clare and Caroline contemplate the 18 mile (29 km) walkout from basecamp to the park entrance. Can’t afford a mule but at least it’s downhill most of the way.
 
Aconcagua - the normal route

The west face of Aconcagua as seen from Bonete Peak. Showing the entire Normal Route from Plaza de Mulas to the summit. (large file - 160kB)
 
 
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