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Getting there is not even half the battle

After a relaxing night at a Heathrow hotel we met up with Dean and Ray at the airport. Johan had sensibly opted for an Air France flight and would be joining us later in Mendoza. It was great to see both of them again after 12 months.

The BA leg was uneventful apart from a dramatic thunderstorm that most of the group slept through. Finding our way from the International to new Domestic terminal in BA was more interesting and we would have been late for the Mendoza flight if most of the Argentinians hadn't had even more problems.

Mendoza and the Nutibara hotel were unchanged after 12 months. The only difference was the new exchange rate which meant that prices had halved for us foreigners. Oh, and the excellent Italian restaurant had burnt down and been replaced by a poor imitation. Unfortunately for Johan, who must have thought we were mad.

We only spent one night in Mendoza before heading for the mountains, pausing only to pick up out park entry permits from the National Park Office.

We had tickets with Aerolinas Argentinas for London-Paris-Buenas Aries so it was quite a surprise to discover in Paris that we were flying via Madrid. Of course, being Paris, there was no flight information and no representatives from A.A. so it was more or less trial and error that got us on to the Madrid flight.
Heathrow airport, waiting for the flight to Paris. Dean is desperate to read the rugby reports but Clare wants to catch up on all the gossip.
Paris, Charles de Gaule… waiting for the flight to… err… Madrid? Strange, on the ticket it definitely says Buenas Aries. This could turn out to be a short trip after all... especially since we seem to be the only people waiting...
… but fortunately not. A not so brief flight across the Atlantic followed by a confusing perambulation around B.A. International airport and yet another flight, this time via Cordoba, finally leads us to the steaming tarmac in Mendoza.
At the Nutibara hotel - swimming pool, cold beer, toasted ham & cheese sandwiches. What more could you ask for... apart from a working air conditioner - It’s 30 degrees out there.
The group assembles outside the park office in Mendoza.
 
Acclimatisation at Penetentes

The first stop on the road to Aconcagua is the ski resort of Penetentes where we stayed at the Ayelen Hotel. The guests are divided into two groups, those on their way to the mountain and those on their way back. The latter are usually recognisable from their bizarre 'panda' suntans, assorted bandages, black digits and extreme alcohol consumption. People heading up the mountain form two subgroups - those that are going for the first time and those who are going back for another try. This year we fell into the latter category and therefore got to sit back looking cool. The main thing was to avoid any Americans, especially the ones asking questions like 'thinking of going to the top?'

The hotel was much improved this year - the heating was on and most of the showers worked. Encouragingly the Adams Family extras were also no longer working in the restaurant. The food was the same though. In typical Scandinavian style, Johan couldn't resist a bottle of wine. Unfortunately no one would share it with him. Alcohol and acclimatisation don't mix. Oh well, you'll know next year Johan!

No stay in Penetentes is complete without the obligatory acclimatisation walk to 3200m on the hills above the village. This year we had a couple of dogs for company on the walk. Oddly, the ski lifts were in use but we managed to resist the temptation.

Penitentes Village.
Penitentes Village.
Penitentes village and the Ayelen Hotel. In the Argentinian winter the hotel is home to the rich(?) and famous of Argentinian society. In the summer it’s over-run by a disreputable bunch of Andinistas... and us.
Feeding time at the Ayelen, group psychology starts to assert itself. Dean is waiting for Ray to be distracted so he can steal his soup. Ray is prepared to fight to the death to protect his few precious calories. Meanwhile Johan is apparently enjoying the effects of half a glass of wine at altitude.
Clare and Andy at the Ayelen Hotel. Unfortunately this room is too close to the loud Americans in the bar. The poor buggers didn’t reckon with a pre-emptive strike from Clare at 1AM though.
Acclimatising in the hills around Penitentes, the group adopts a characteristic ’resting’ pose while debating the pros and cons of using a ski-lift in summer time.
Clare strolls up.
Clare (left) and Dean and Johan (right)
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Andy posing below an appropriately worded sign near the ski lifts above Penitentes.
Johan attempts to break into the domestic animal photography business.
Johan embarks on a career as an animal photographer. Although they followed us all the way up here, these dogs are not stupid. What they thought of us, on the other hand, is debatable!
Ray demonstrates supreme faith in the Andean geology while posing above a drop of several hundred meters. The mountain in the background is Aconcagua, the lenticular cloud formation above it means that someone is having a particularly bad time right now.
Clare with Aconcagua in the background.
Clare poses with Aconcagua in the background, sensibly she has chosen to stand on slightly more stable geology.
Not to be left out, Andy also poses in front of Aconcagua.
Realising he has commited himself to a second attempt on ’that %#&!# mountain’ Dean searches in vain for an escape route.
A rare treat for the dogs... yesterday a valuable pack animal, today a launching point for Argentinian snowboarders. It is a dead mule, it has ceased to be.
Johan and friend crossing a stream on the way back to the hotel.
Flowing downstream.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Looking down on Penitentes Village.
Looking down on Penitentes Village, the Ayelen is the building to the left. Ever, the mule driver’s fuhrer bunker can be seen just in front of the hotel. If ever there was a place best visited with the lights off the fuhrer bunker is it... you definitely don’t want to see what’s in there.
 
Walking in - Confluencia and the Road to Plaza de Mulas

We were astonished to find it was raining on the morning we left to start the walk-in to basecamp. Normally we would have expected temperatures in the high twenties. By the time we got to the park entrance it was snowing heavily and the park ranger tried to persuade us to go back to Penetentes. With Dean as our guide we opted to continue and headed off into something that had more in common with a Scottish winter than an Argentinian summer. We later found out that the park gates were closed after we went in and nobody else was allowed in. Fortunately the mules with our gear were already on the way, otherwise it would have been a cold night.

The blizzard continued until we arrived at the Confluencia campsite (3300m) , our next acclimatisation stop. The sun emerged as we downed our first mug of juice and the snow began to melt almost immediately. But the first night at Confluencia was probably the coldest of the entire trip.

While the snow was melting we took a hike up the Horcones valley to the glacier below the south face of Aconcagua. This is a great acclimatisation walk and provides some great views of the almost 4000m high south face and the ridge between the North and South summits.

Following a second night we began the 8 hour walk to basecamp (Plaza de Mulas).

The final stretch to basecamp is a vertical climb of 250m up to the glacier. Again this was much easier, but most of us seemed to have supressed the memory of the last couple of kilometers.

The day we are due to leave for the mountain dawns… err… dull and wet. This is not what we were expecting.
The day we are due to leave for the mountain dawns… err… dull and wet. This is not what we were expecting. But the adverse weather doesn’t seem to affect the traffic on the main road between Chile and Argentina though. This lorry driver must have been surprised by the camera flash though, probably thought it was a speed camera.
In a scene vaguely reminiscent of Scott’s last expedition to the South Pole, the team pose under the Argentinian flag at the entrance to the Aconcagua National Park.
Andy prepares to cross the bridge, this time last year we were eating lunch and sunbathing on the other side of the river.
Andy (left) and Johan pose beside a National Park sign. In 2002 we ate lunch and sunbathed a few meters from this spot!
Crossing the suspension bridge en route to Confluencia.
Crossing the suspension bridge en route to Confluencia.
Looks like we turned left instead of right and ended up walking through Glen Coe instead of the Andes.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
’It’s an adventure holiday’ is a frequently used phrase on this trip. Certainly is, but huddling under a dripping rock face to eat lunch is perhaps a tad too adventurous, at least before we’ve even set foot on the mountain.
Scottish winter or Argentinian summer. ’You coming or wot?’.
Finally we reached the snow covered tents at Confluencia. The residents had been busy all day trying to prevent the snow from collapsing the tents. The next day they were even busier trying to divert the floods generated by the melting snow.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Daniel Alessio’s facilities at Confluencia, juice, tea, biscuits and a dry tent. Things are looking up.
Confluencia campsite as you’ve never seen it before. At least not at this time of year. The weather conditions are ’exceptional’ but fortunately transient. Lucky for us we’re not on the mountain at the moment.
Dean, Johan and Clare discuss the weather in typically British fashion.
Now that we’ve arrived the clouds are starting to clear, in fact the sun is even starting to shine.
The clouds clear at Confluencia.
Now that we’ve arrived the clouds are starting to clear, in fact the sun is even starting to shine.
The next morning we leave Confluencia on the obligatory acclimatisation walk up the Horcones valley towards Plaza Franca to view the south face of Aconcagua. En route Dean, Johan and Ray take in the view.
Clare on the way to view the south face.
Andy and Clare walking up towards Plaza Franca.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Looking over the glacier to the impressive south face of Aconcagua. 4 km more or less straight down. One day I hope to see this view from the other end.
Dean and Johan enjoying(?) lunch.
Dean and Johan (left) enjoying(?) lunch with a view. Right: The group could never agree where to sit at meal times.
Johan bouldering.
Johan bouldering.
Johan proved to be the most able boulderer of the group, triumphantly overcoming the overhang on this boulder.
Dean bouldering while Johan offers advice... ’you know Dean, it would be much easier if you were six inches taller’.
Ray is just hanging around.
The day we’ve all (except Johan) been dreading dawns bright and clear. We set off on the trail from Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas. Last year the heat was extreme on this 20 km climb which takes us up over 1000 vertical metres. Dean is checking to see if the rest of the group are still with him.
Spectacular mountains line the sides of the valley for the walk-in to Plaza de Mulas.
We are passed by a mule train on its way to Plaza de Mulas. Everything at basecamp has to be brought in by mule or helicopter. It is not unusual to see the mule drivers asleep in the saddle, but the mules are more than capable of finding their own way there and back.
We are passed by a mule train on its way to Plaza de Mulas. Everything at basecamp has to be brought in by mule or helicopter. It is not unusual to see the mule drivers asleep in the saddle, but the mules are more than capable of finding their own way there and back.
?
On the way we stop frequently to apply more factor 30. The upper part of Aconcagua can be seen between the hills behind the group.
The infamous ’Pleasure Beach’. Deceptively flat looking and a nightmare to walk on due to the loose rocks and numerous river crossings. The morraine in the distance marks the end of the beach and the start of the serious climb. Although past half way in terms of distance it’s probably half way in terms of effort.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
The end of the Pleasure Beach is a good spot for lunch... anything to delay the agony of what is to come.
Finally we arrive at basecamp, Plaza de Mulas. The lack of photographs between the Pleasure Beach and here is indicative of the effort required... Now where the hell is LUUUUCAAAA???
 
Hanging around basecamp and climbing Bonetti Peak

Basecamp on Aconcagua is a bizarre collection of tents and shacks. You can send and receive email, phone home, eat burgers and drink beer, but nothing is cheap having been brought in by mule. The Aconcagua hopefulls are an even stranger collection of individuals and groups. There are always people leaving or returning from the mountain, some successful, most not. We were unlucky enough to be subjected to an impromptu celebration... Luca is a dead man if we ever find out who he is.

While at basecamp your every need is taken care of, breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided in your own personal mess tent. Unlimited pizza is a speciality. Toilet requirements are now handled by air-portable 'potties', but make sure you don't pitch your tent near one. You are likely to wakened by a giant hairdrier hovering over your tent before depositing several kilos of raw sewage on your doorstep - lovely!

When not evacuating human waste the helicopter is usually kept busy evacuating the humans themselves. Pulmonary oedema is one of the more fashionable 'million dollar' ailments. Guaranteed to get you a free helicopter ride to the park entrance, assuming you can get yourself to basecamp. Other favourites are broken bones and frostbite. Death is less popular since this normally only entitles you to a free mule ride.

We had a rest day at basecamp and Johan took full advantage to clean himself and his clothes. The filthy Brits stood around and offered advice while flatly refusing to follow his example.

Bonnetti peak is an easy climb to a summit of 5000m from where you can get a great view of the west face of Aconcagua while working on your acclimatisation. This year we had the added bonus of snow on the mountain.

Quasar ’strongest there is’ tent at basecamp. Home to Clare and Andy. Sleeping bags are airing on top of the tent. On the right is the infamous ’Everest’ bag, 1.5 kg of rampant goose down it takes a small army to fight it into its stuff sack every morning. And she still says she’s cold!
From basecamp there are excellent views of the West Face of Aconcagua. Geologically the mountain is made up of marine deposited volcanics which have been uplifted, faulted and erroded. Through binocculars the geomorphology of the west face is spectacular and changes continually with the angle of the sun
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
The sun sets on the west face of Aconcagua. Soon we’ll be on our way up there.
It’s a hard life... Johan takes full advantage of a rest day at basecamp. If only we’d known how restless he was going to get later in the trip - the joys of young love! Next year we’ll put him on Valium right from the start.
Gollum. ’Yesss presssious. We hatesss them. The nasssty ssssmelly britssss who never wassssh’!
Bonnetti Peak, at exactly 5000 m it makes an excellent acclimatisation peak. This year, covered in snow, it was even more spectacular and gave us an excuse to break out the plastic boots.
Johan crossing a snowfield on the approach to Bonnetti.
Ray amid some smallish penitents. These bizarre ice structures result from dust settling on the ice and causing it to melt at different rates. They are so named because they are thought to resemble penitent monks.
Andy and Johan negotiating some penitents while Dean stands ready to scoop a photograph in the event of a crevasse opening up.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Rest stop on the slopes of Bonnetti. Johan with Ray behind.
Like a young puppy, Johan was forever dashing ahead.
Johan (left) and Ray demonstrate their superior fitness on the Bonnetti ridge. Dean and Andy adopt the slow but steady approach of the more mature climber.
Dean and Andy approaching the summit of Bonnetti Peak.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Dean claims the summit of Bonnetti for the Welsh. The rest of the group agree that he’s welcome to it.
Johan looking pleased on the summit. Bonnetti was a new height record for him.
Andy by the summit cross.
From the summit there are spectacular view across the border into Chile.
The west face of Aconcagua seen from the summit of Bonnetti. Compare this with the same view from 2002.
The west face of Aconcagua seen from the summit of Bonnetti. Compare this with the same view from 2002.
Descending from Bonnetti. Johan, Dean and Ray pause in front of a swarm of penitents lining the slopes of the peak.
On the decent from Bonnetti.
Coming down is soooo much easier than going up, it takes us less than an hour to lose most of the altitude we’ve gained during the day. Descending these easy snow slopes is a real pleasure even though we are starting to feel the effects of exertion, dehydration and our lack of acclimatisation.
More views along the road to Plaza de Mulas
Dean celebrates his second consecutive birthday at Plaza de Mulas, little realising it will not be his last at Plaza de Mulas…
Dean was (un)lucky enough to celebrate his second consecutive birthday at Aconcagua basecamp. Sergio presented Dean with this amazing birthday cake and we were allowed to have our summit champagne before we’d even set foot on the mountain. Right: It was Dean’s birthday cake and he was damned if he was going to let anyone else have a piece.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Following his birthday bevy Dean retreats to his tent to sleep off its effects. Mental note - more acclimatisation required before indulging in alcoholic beverages.
 
Impressions of Camp 1

From basecamp the normal procedure is to first make a carry of food and fuel to Camp Canada, Camp 1, at 4900m. It normally takes about 3 hours for the trip with a load of around 15kg, but it's a tough journey when you are not acclimatised. The return from Canada to basecamp takes about 30 minutes down the loose skree slopes.

This year we did not attempt to carry additional supplies further up the mountain, having learned our lesson the previous year... always quit while you're ahead!

After a second rest day at basecamp we moved up to Canada with our personal equipment. This year I had concentrated on aquiring light weight gear and consequently had a load of 14 kg while Ray was carrying over 20 kg. It's best not to ask how much Dean had. We also employed a couple of porters plus one for Clare to carry the tents and more fuel.

Once you get to Canada there's not a lot to do other than sit back and watch the entertainment as other groups arrive and try to find space for their tents. We were unlucky enough to end up next to two of the world's loudest snorers, fortunately it was only for one night. The main advantage of Camp Canada is that it is higher on the mountain and therefore the sun sets much later!

While at Canada we encountered a group of Serbs on their way down. They had made the summit but were much the worse for wear having bivouaced in a cave. Clare gave them some of our water and they eventually continued their decent, we still wonder how they got on because they were completely exhausted. On the plus side, they did leave us with a huge quantity of corned beef.

From basecamp we made a carry of food and fuel and then moved up with our personal equipment and tents to Camp 1, also known as Camp Canada. There is limited space here and it pays to arrive reasonably early to get a good site for the tents. This year there was ample ice for melting close by and we didn’t have to trek miles to get it. However, it is best to heed the advice of Frank Zappa - don’t drink the yellow snow!
Johan, Andy and Dean look on disapprovingly as the neighbours misbehave.
Andy, Johan, Dean and Clare relaxing in the evening sunshine at Canada.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Once you’re set up at Canada there’s not exactly a huge amount to do, apart from sit around. One way to pass the time is to try and guess the nationalities of other groups from the way they behave. The Germans, for example, have a habit of reserving their campsites years in advance and then chastising anyone who encroaches on their personal territory... ’I am memorising your equipment zo zat I can come back und deztroy it later’.
View from Camp 1
Views from Camp Canada.
Our tents at Camp 1. Dean’s Marmot in the foreground. The ’feeding hatch’ to Ray and Johan’s pad is just visible on the right. Green Quasar behind is too close to the dark tent at the extreme left which contained a world champion snorer.
At home with Ray and Johan. The feeding hatch at the far end is linked directly to Dean’s not-so-fast-food take-away.
Evening at Camp 1.
Sunset and cloud formations over the West Face.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
 
If it's Thursday it must be Camp 2

From Camp 1 it's just a quick stroll to Camp 2, otherwise known as Nido de Condores - the Condors nest. We moved everything from Camp 1 straight up to Camp 2 with a little help from the porters so there was no chance to acclimatise before we spent the night at 'Nido'. This was where things started to get serious, and suddenly everything required a lot more effort. Moving around was hard, putting up the tents was a major task as was collecting ice for water etc. Clare and Andy were sharing one MSR stove while Dean was providing full catering services for Ray and Johan. The jury is till out over who was getting the best deal. At least several reasonably hot meals were produced without burning the tents down. Unfortunately Clare decided that enough was enough and opted to return to basecamp from Camp 2, taking the Quasar with her. This meant that Andy had to move into the Marmot with Dean, a major trial without the benefit of breathing apparatus.

Once again the entertainment is provided by the other climbers on the mountain and a lot of time was spent speculating over who might or might not have a chance of making the summit. You can also use a lot of time trying to locate the best toilet areas... it needs to be one of the less popular areas but should have a good view. Fortunately Ray quickly located an ideal spot even if it was 10 minutes hard breathing slog from the tents.

The first night at Nido was very windy and we opted for a rest day the next day spending it watching the antics of one of Gabrielle Cabrera's groups on the Canaletta. Amazingly all the group, including a microscopic Japanese woman, made it to the summit. Given the conditions this seemed most unlikely and we suspected that either a number of 'ringers' were used or drugs were involved.

From Camp Canada the route wends it way across and up the scree, past Camp Alaska and on, over the snow covered shoulder, to Camp 2. In the picture a large group in characteristic ’caterpillar mode’ can be seen toiling up the centre of the slope.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Camp 2, also know as Nido de Condores (or just plain ’Nido’ - the Condor’s Nest) is a large flat area on the col below the north ridge of Aconcagua. There is no shortage of camping area but finding enough rocks to tie your tent down is another matter. Only in an Antarctic penguin colony would you find piles of rock being more jealously guarded. Clare and Andy’s Quasar is not going anywhere.
Ray and Johan’s palatial tent at Nido with the budget Quasar off to the left. The orange bag contains snow waiting to be melted for water. We were lucky with the weather here, it was only blowing a minor gale and there was little risk of becoming airborne, unlike many former occupants.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
View to the south through the bizarre, weathered rock formations at Nido.
View from Nido, looking up the trail towards Camp 3 (Berlin). There is still some small scale volcanic activity on these slopes and the smell of sulphur is unmistakeable. It’s not the after-effects of boil-in-the-bag, honest! In fact Dean’s digestive processes are more than capable of clearing the entire mountain if unleashed outside the confinement of the gas tight Marmot. Thank heavens for good ol’ yankee technology.
Views from one of the more exclusive toilet areas at Camp 2. Definitely worth the walk, but not recommended after dark.
Views from one of the more exclusive toilet areas at Camp 2. Definitely worth the walk, but not recommended after dark.
One important task while at Nido is to locate the most optimal toilet area. Preferably it should be relatively unfrequented and possess excellent views of the surrounding mountains. Here are some views from Ray’s preferred spot. Just don’t go there after dark.
Looking up the Grand Acareo or ’Great Slog’ skree slope towards the summit of Aconcagua, Camp 2 in the foreground. This was the route that Mattias Zurbriggen used to climb the mountain for the first time. As the guide book says, it must have been a dark day when he made that decision. The normal route now follows the easier ridge to the left.
Summit of Aconcagua with Nido de Condores, Camp 2, in the foreground.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
View from Nide de Condores (Camp 2) of the north ridge of Aconcagua with the north summit in the centre of the picture. The traverse to the bottom of the Canaletta can be seen below the summit pinnacle.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Another view of the isolated community that is Nido de Condores
The sun sets on Camp 2. Time to seek refuge amongst the feathers. Oh, sorry Johan… hope you remembered to shoot the guy who recommended a synthetic bag!
The sun sets on Camp 2. Time to seek refuge amongst the feathers. Oh, sorry Johan… hope you remembered to shoot the guy who recommended a synthetic sleeping bag!
Sunset from Nide de Condores.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Sunset on the north ridge and Gran Acarreo, seen from Camp 2.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Clouds in the distance from Camp 2.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Fantastic views across the snowfields to the distant Andean mountains.
[Photos: Ray Tennant]
 
Camp 3 and a little bit above

After 2 nights at Nido de Condores the remaining 4 members, Dean, Ray, Johan and Andy, made a carry up to Camp 3 - Berlin at 5900m. Andy, who wasn't going too well, only managed to carry about 3/4 of the way but the others made it all the way without problems. One more night at Nido saw us moving up to Berlin with the tents. This time Andy was going much more strongly and reached Berlin without any problems.

Berlin is one of the great toilets of the world and little surprises lurk under every rock. Although you probably never get used to the overwhelming urinal smell but most of the time you're too tired to care anyway. It's good to get to Berlin early to find a reasonably flat spot for the tents, preferably some distance from the wooden huts which are used by the local guides.

After an epic boil in the bag meal we retreated to our sleeping bags where we were entertained by the cries for help from people lost higher up the mountain. Being too tired and selfish to mount a rescue we lay in our bags hoping that they would eventually find their way down. At approximately 04:50 we finally fell asleep only to be woken 10 minutes later by the alarm. Damn! Breakfast was an ordeal best left to the imagination and it was a relief to start for the summit at 07:00.

The path to the summit climbs quite steeply out of Berlin camp and all the way up to ridge above Independencia hut at 6490m. This turned out to be a real killer and both Andy and Johan were wiped out by the start of the traverse. The gale force headwind was the last straw and the less intrepid pair opted to turn back at the Finger, about half way along the traverse. Dean and Ray continued on to the Canaletta and successfully made it to the summit. Meanwhile Andy and Johan returned to Berlin, collected a tent and continued on down to basecamp, not wanting to miss the opportunity for some more pizza. As Johan said when he reached basecamp - 'That was the hardest thing I've done in my life!'

Meanwhile back on the mountain Dean and Ray were embarking on the intrepid rescue of a German with pulmonary oedema and a Canadian who had spent the night out on the Canaletta, miraculously surviving without frostbite.

View from Camp 2, looking up the trail towards Camp 3.
From Nido we made a new carry of food and fuel up to Berlin (although Andy only made it 2/3rds of the way). Looking back to Nido from the slopes above the col...
... and looking northwards.
At about 2/3rds of the way to Berlin a rock overhang provides and ideal spot to rest. Here a larger group is just moving out. A wide mix of nationalities, they had the gear but apparently little idea of what they were doing. Probably they got to the top since fortune seems to favour the foolish on this mountain!
Johan approaching.
Johan approaching.
Johan approaching the rest stop en route to Berlin.
Andy at the rest stop on the way to Berlin. Don’t be fooled by the sunshine, it’s bl**dy cold.
Berlin camp, one of the world’s great toilets.
Berlin Camp (Camp 3). The hut is a memorial to a German climber who died on the mountain. Our tents are the two joined together on the right. The Quasar has returned to basecamp with Clare.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Looking down on Camp 2 from Berlin Camp.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
View from the Marmot at Camp 3 - the upper slope of the Gran Acareo is visible. It gives some idea of the angle of the slope up which Mattias Zubriggen must have struggled on the first ascent of the mountain.
On the summit day we left Berlin at 7AM and toiled up the north ridge in strong headwinds. With fingers, feet and faces freezing in the wind there were not too many photo opportunities. After several hours climbing we arrived at the ruined hut at Independencia (6.400m). The route to the summit is up the slope behind the hut.
Resting at the ruined Independencia Hut. Johan is lying on the ground, Andy and Dean sitting on the rocks behind.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
After climbing the steep slope above Independencia the next section is the traverse to the base of the Canaletta. The altitude makes the traverse seem much longer and steeper than it looks in this photograph! The ’finger’ where Andy and Johan turned back can be seen on the left of the scree.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Ray and Dean continued along the traverse and reached the base of the Canaletta, an obscene climb of 300 vertical meters up a steep boulder field. This is the crux of the normal route and takes several hours. This photograph is looking back along the traverse from the base of the Canaletta.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Dean and Ray triumphant on the summit of Aconcagua (6952 m). Probably the highest people in the world at this moment, with the possible exception of a rare Himalayan winter climber.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
Meanwhile Andy and Johan have returned to Berlin after turning back on the traverse at 6.490m. As Johan said - ’That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life’. Unfortunately it’s not over yet. Now we have to pack up the tent and stagger all the way down to basecamp.
Clare at basecamp.
Ray back at basecamp after successfully reaching the summit (6.950m). In considerably better shape than the previous year.
 
Getting the hell out of Dodge

With the group reunited at basecamp there was only one thing to do... get the hell out. Johan opted for a mule ride out 'for the experience' while the rest completed the 30 kms on foot - fortunately it is downhill most of the way. We stopped off in Confluencia for refreshments and to say goodbye to Martin and Sergio before continuing on to the park entrance. This time we didn't have to wait for Ever since he was already waiting for us. A brief ride in his pickup returned us to the relative civilisation and hot showers of Penetentes. From there it was downhill all the way to the poolside in Mendoza and on to a final parting of the group at Gatwick airport.

Now it's just a matter of preparing for Aconcagua 2004... oh yes, we'll be back (and so will you Johan!)

Happy, shiny people at basecamp - Clare (left), Ray (centre) and Johan. Johan is happy, not only has he got access to a telephone, he knows he’ll never come back to Aconcagua. At least that’s what he thinks... Watch this space!
This is Sean. After making the summit he blacked out and ended up spending the night on the Canaletta at 6.500m. Even though he had no bivouac gear he avoided frostbite and staggered into Berlin the next morning. His boots had fallen to pieces and his crampons were broken. Dean brought him back to basecamp where he found that his friend had been airlifted out with pulmonary oedema... how lucky/unlucky can you get?
Clare at basecamp.
The KE group prepare to move off up the mountain for their attempt. In fact only the two girls and one of the guys made it to the top. We suspect the rest of the group fell victim to a viscious lentil attack at basecamp. The comdemned ate a hearty meal... unfortunately! Lucky for us we were heading in the other direction.
Fernanda, the Lucretia Borgia of basecamp, and Gianni celebrate as we prepare to leave basecamp for the last time. Little did they realise that we would be back within 12 months.
The monument commemorating the first ascent of Aconcagua by Mattias Zubriggen, a Swiss mountain guide.
Clare (left) and Andy pose infront of the plaque commemorating the first ascent of Aconcagua by Mattias Zubriggen, a Swiss mountain guide.
Adios Aconcagua.
Walking out.
Possibly the worst part of the whole trip is walking out from basecamp to the road, a distance of 30km. But the only way is down and it has to be done. At least we are now fully acclimatised and reasonably fit, and it’s downhill most of the way. Here Dean leans on a geographical marker errected by the University of Mendoza.
The first signs of vegetation on the way out, although sparce, are always welcome. Soon colourful butterflies abound, mountain streams cascade down the hillsides through verdant greenery and birdsong fills the air. Umm... maybe not.
Walking out... It must be done. And the scenery is not so bad, especially if you are a geologist. Did I mention that 60% of the group have been or still are mudloggers? Tough luck Ray, next time we’ll give you an oilfield dictionary.
Walking out... It must be done. And the scenery is not so bad, especially if you are a geologist. Did I mention that 60% of the group have been or still are mudloggers? Tough luck Ray, next time we’ll give you an oilfield dictionary.
Walking out.
Walking out.
Johan rides out. Looks cool but 30 km on a mule is no picnic - you should see the blisters!
Walking was too mundane for Johan who insisted on riding out. Looks cool but, as we tried to point out, 30 km on a mule is no picnic - Hey Johan, what was the REAL reason you decided to walk the last 5km? Couldn’t have anything to do with blisters on your bum could it? :-)
Walking out.
Walking out.
More views of the geology on the way out.
Walking out.
Walking out.
Walking out.
Adios Aconcagua.
A final look at the mountain... We’ll be back.
Almost at the park entrance now we glance back for some final views of the mountain before it disappears from sight.
Classic view of Aconcagua from the Horcones Lake, close to the park entrance.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
A final look at the mountain... We’ll be back.
Aconcagua reflected in the waters of Horcones Lake.
[Photo: Ray Tennant]
 
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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