This year’s South American trip took in yet another excursion to Aconcagua (6950m), the highest mountain outside the Himalayas, followed by an attempt at Ojos de Salado (6904m), now confirmed to be the second highest. Andy’s expedition diary is published here together with photographs from the trips.
Note to my companions -
living dangerously, I have published the text of my diary almost verbatim apart from the odd explanatory addition. Much of it was written at altitude and in sometimes difficult conditions. All of it was written by a lazy bugger! None of it is intended to cause any offence - I think you are all great people and I would travel with all or any of you again. - Andy
Stage one completed, made it to Gardermoen. Several repackings [early] this morning, eventually decided to hand-carry the plastics [boots]. Still have 28kg, don’t know where that came from. I have no more gear than last year. Hope I can persuade Dean to take the plastics too! Wonder if he’s on his way yet? Saying goodbye to the famous Ellis. The Antarctic trip sounds like fun - wonder who his rich clients are. Wonder if there’s room for another geologist and how much it would cost?
Life without a gold card is pretty miserable. Chances of getting it back are pretty slim too.
Damn! This fantastic value Norwegian notebook looks like it won’t last the trip either - what’s the point of a spiral bound notebook if all the pages are stuck together?
Also forgot to mention that I almost left my rucksack on the [airport express train] due to trying to avoid bug infested people. Seems like I attract them - how do they know where I am? Hopefully [the ones from the train] won’t show up here, haven’t seen them yet. Maybe it’s the silent ones that are more deadly? Maybe the visibly coughing, sneezing and sniffing ones are safe? Why don’t they use handkerchiefs? Why do they spit in the streets? Why do they need three attempts to get through a metal detector? Maybe it’s me? What kind of impression does a [airport] security guard walking around texting on her mobile send out? Get a digital camera and photograph it [for sale to the tabloid papers]?
Heathrow Terminal 1. A boring flight with SAS, not even any food. God, I hate Ryan Air and EasyJet [for what they’ve done to air travel]. It’s not as if the prices are any cheaper, [I’m] still paying the same to cross the North Sea, just getting less for it. At least I had the comfort of knowing that I was on bonus points so not, strictly speaking, paying to suffer.
Dean says he will be here at 15:00, so took a quick detour to Terminal 4 [to check in]. Tried to get an extra legroom seat but they are not open yet. Still, managed to get on a waiting list, which is something, although I’m not holding my breath. The return flight will hopefully be more civilised, some weeks in the future.
Found the Deli by the bus station [back in Terminal 1], second cappuccino of the day. Starting to feel the caffeine, better slow down. There’s a small French girl working here with the most unfeasibly large ’attributes’ - they must be real! Really paranoid about losing my stuff, especially tickets and passport, I’m like Andy McNabb on a job, constantly checking passports - tickets - rucksack - passport etc. Can’t wait to find out what I’ve forgotten. Decided not to bring any Gore-Tex in the end, based on [previous] experience it should be superfluous; if it rains in the desert then I’m not coming out to play!
Almost time to go and find Dean.
[Back in] terminal 4. Two more cappuccinos later, another ride on the Heathrow Express and here I am in Terminal 4. Got singled out for a [body] scan on the new all-singing, all-dancing [security] scan machine. A great way to fast track through the security and I haven’t got anything to hide. At least nobody laughed so that was OK.
Dean was in usual form, talking rugby and brandishing a radical new haircut. Jon seems like a nice guy, determined to get to the top this year - doesn’t want to be branded a ’fat twat’ back in the office. Plenty of reminiscing about characters from past trips - the pissing vicar, Greg, Cecilie, Caroline etc. Hopefully we haven’t exhausted all the stories quite yet.
Terminal 4 is very smoky considering the smokers are all corralled in a small plastic bin. Seems very primitive to see people smoking after being in [smoke free] Norway.
Managed to buy some deodorant so my fellow passengers will be OK. Thought about buying sunglasses but eventually decided to go with the glacier glasses - too embarrassed to ask to try on some Oakleys at Sunglass Hut, or whatever it’s called. Wonder how many sales they lose having everything locked away.
Next stop Buenos Aries.
Wrong! Next stop Sao Paulo. A long night with not much sleep. Maybe a couple of hours. Got my seat with extra ’knee’ room but definitely not ’leg’ room due to a bulkhead directly in front. At least my left foot spent a significant part of the flight in ’Club World’ or whatever the grade above ’cheap’ is. Watched ’The Village’, not a bad movie. I should have seen the twist coming at the end but I didn’t. Almost did, but figured that they would [not be able to explain] aircraft over flying - well, they did in the end although the exclusion zone would have to be huge. Also watched the ends of several other movies, listened to Tusk and the latest REM.
Apparently [at Sao Paulo] there’s a ’snag’ with the aircraft so we might be delayed. At least I’m not in a hurry, but maybe a good thing I didn’t check [earlier] flight times to Mendoza. This way there’s no stress.
No stress indeed, well not much. The plane landed on time (I think). A couple of young Australians took the [empty] middle seats [next to mine] from Sao Paulo. She was 21, looked about 16 to me [but] I read it on her immigration card. They were the mysterious two people who got lost on the way to the gate [delaying our departure]. Didn’t ask them how they managed that. Listened to Tusk again, amazing, I was seeing the Tusk tour in the UK before the two hussies were even born. Scary thought.
Taxi across town [to the domestic airport] cost 48 pesos, about 20 bucks. That was OK. Usual mad cannonball run through B.A. Serious accident on the other carriageway, two cars involved. The police had closed the road. They must be pretty quick to clear up because there must be dozens [of accidents] everyday but you never see them (says he who has made this journey precisely three times now).
No problems to change to an earlier flight, just a case of endless tapping on a keyboard. Checking in the bag was entertaining - not! Why do Argentinean queues move so slowly? They don’t move, they ooze like congealing magma. What are they doing up there.
Anyway, checked in but had to pay 42 pesos excess baggage. Only allowed 15kg on the ticket, not much good for an expedition.
Uneventful flight from B.A. to Mendoza, boring landscape. So many roads and tracks [down there]. All dead straight, no sign of any activity on any of them. Who decided where they should go? The farmers?
Bag arrived OK this time, almost first off so I was hijacked on the way to a taxi [and persuaded to get] another taxi without a meter. But it worked out fine, only 12 pesos - amazing.
Dean strikes a dubious pose in our room at the Nutibara. Erů Jon, can I sleep in your room tonight? Or maybe premonitions of a massive welsh rugby victory have just gone to his head? [Photo: Andy]
No Dean or Jon [at the hotel] but persuaded them to let me into Dean’s room. Seems like Jon got his own, don’t know how he negotiated that. Thought I couldn’t lock the door so nipped down to get a beer to drink in the room. Of course the door was locked when I got back. Never mind, back downstairs to wait [in the bar]. Not long before they were back, had another bullshit session and then Jon went off for a kip. Had a burger with Dean before going back to the room [to crash] before dinner at 19:30.
Nutibara Hotel. Sitting in the lobby, all the poolside tables are occupied, anyway, no big rush to experience the scorching heat just yet. A good night’s sleep with the A/C set to 20 degC - first time I’ve ever had a cool night in Mendoza. We were in bed by 10 [last night] after a huge chorizo steak at Fecundo. 15 pesos, truly amazing. We didn’t bother with a starter, just straight into the meat with papas fritas (chips) of course. Probably the best steak I’ve had since the first year [here], very good.
Sent [a] last email to Clare, she should be somewhere around Mt. Fitzroy today. Nothing coming back so she must be away from modern comms.
Daniel [Alessio] turned up at the hotel with his 12 year old daughter on the way to the dentist. [We’re] pretty much regular customers now. He and Dean went off to the bank to get the receipts for the permits. Dean asked for the 300 dollars again, but I already gave it to him last night - how we laughed! Next time I’m getting a receipt.
Didn’t even bother leaving the hotel today, just stayed in, drank agua con gas [soda water] and cafe con leche, talking with Dean, Jon and Daniel. A good laugh. Daniel was complaining that the [Argentinean] government gives too much money to the unemployed so that there is no incentive to work. Sounds like the same story everywhere. He said it is still too expensive for Argentineans to travel outside the country. It used to be 1:1 dollars to pesos but now it’s 1:3. Changed another 50 dollars at the hotel, got 2.89 which was OK. Daniel says anything over 2.90 is very good at the moment. Argentineans are still keen to get their hands on ’real’ dollars as opposed to ’virtual’ government or bank dollars.
The bus to Penetentes left at 14:30, [via] the Park Office [in Mendoza] to get the permits. Arrived at the Ayelen [Hotel] just after 17:00. As usual, can feel the altitude, especially after carrying the bags up to the 3rd floor.
Moved in and started hydrating on tap water. Don’t know if it’s residual West Highland Way puritabs [yes] or chemicals in the water [no] but it’s disgusting - yuk!
Storm clouds gathering in the distance, a taste of things to come from our balcony at the Ayelen hotel in Penetentes. [Photo: Andy]
Dean typing up his diary (cutting and pasting extensively from previous years) on his faithful Palm Organiser. Shortly to meet its demise - you do have a backup don’t you? [Photo: Andy]
It’s cloudy up here and [have] had a few spots of rain, but it looks like it’s been really dry; where it’s normally green around here is brown. Hope it snows on the mountain, otherwise water is going to be a problem.
Dinner is not until 20:30, but now I think I’ll take a shower while Dean is looking for Eva... too late, he came back. More stories, seems like everyone wants to make use of Dean’s guiding services, quite a few ex-Aconcagua, ex-Jagged Globe people have signed up for Alaska, Mont Blanc, Scottish Winter etc. He must have made a good impression last year.
Typical Ayelen shower, hanging on to the wall by a thread, bit of contortion required to get under it, but at least the water was hot. 10 watt bulb in [the bathroom] with a dark brown, dare I say shit brown, bathroom suite - amazing.
19:30 and we’ve battened down the hatches, it’s really starting to howl outside. Hopefully this is good news for the mountain - a bit of a change in the weather. Drank 2 litres of water, now off for my third pee - what goes in must come out. I guess this means that I am reasonably hydrated.
Acclimatising in the hills around Penetentes, a brief snack-stop between the rain showers. Jon’s digital SLR is the bees knees and Dean is already hatching a plan to ’acquire’ it at the top of the Canaletta. [Photo: Andy]
The recent rain has triggered rapid blossoming of several plant species on the normally barren hillside. This one seems particularly adept at trapping droplets of moisture on its leaves. [Photo: Andy]
Dean at the lunch stop, high above Penetentes (just visible in the valley below). [Photo: Andy]
A slightly damp Andy looks across the valley, hoping to spot Aconcagua through a break in the rain clouds. [Photo: Andy]
Snow covered Andean mountains in the distance, typical loose scree and rotten rock outcrops in the foreground. [Photo: Andy]
A condor, one of four flying in formation, glides up the valley below our lunch stop. [Photo: Andy]
Just back from an energetic little walk up to 3515m, this time crossing the railway track and river behind the Ayelen and heading up a gulley. It was hard going up and even harder coming down. But the highlight was spotting 4 (no less) condors cruising up the valley below us. Lowlight was that it rained and rained and hailed and snowed on us. Pretty bad when we set out, cleared up for a couple of hours then soaked us [again] on the descent. About 200m above the hotel the sun came out again and we sat for about 30 minutes to hydrate and dry out - if that’s possible.
Definitely not as acclimatised as last year, although no headache this time. Last night Dean was cheyne-stokesing from about 04:00 to 05:30 which was encouraging since I was feeling pretty breathless too. Never felt like that at this level before. But [felt] better after the walk. Jon was also feeling it during the night, he seems to be going strongly although slightly lacking in confidence at times. Definitely better on the descent than me - my knees can’t take it anymore. It’s always difficult to gauge how you are going against the others in the group. Good to be back at the hotel anyway, [it’s] raining hard again. All [the] bags are packed, everything’s going to Confluencia which makes it much easier. Hope the weather is better tomorrow. Have to hand the bags over to Eva at 18:30 so have got another 1 1/4 hours to relax and hydrate.
Got up early this morning, 07:15, to ensure [that] some breakfast was left. Last shower in civilisation and much rucksack packing. Left a box containing jeans, t-shirts and teevas at the hotel.
Departed in an Inka expedition landrover with another [Alessio] group. 7 mixed Americans and Brits. Definite group mentality there, discussion about who needs batteries etc. Glad we are well out of it. Dropped them off at Puerto del Inca to shop and visit the church while we continued to the park entrance. Permits checked and on the [trail] by 11:10. New, smart helicopter this year, yellow and blue [Eurocopter].
The early part of the walk was tough, still knackered after yesterday, especially my legs. Think is was a big mistake to give up rowing and concentrate only on running this year. Too late now. Acclimatisation is good, been drinking copious amounts. Maybe some problem with my right eye [too], doesn’t seem to focus all the time - strange, oh well. Stopped [for a rest] a couple of times, but we all wanted to stay ahead of a large group behind us, so not for long. Blood sugar was quite low but an energy drink seemed to fix that. At the second stop I could hear Jon breathing hard so suggested to Dean that we stop, made it look like it was me wanting to stop. I think I am better acclimatised than Jon - he needs to drink more - but he is stronger than me. Arrived [at Confluencia] at 13:10.
The new location of Confluencia, the old one was in the valley behind the first ridge, before a glacial dam burst and washed it away. Dean and Andy used the peaks in the middle ground for acclimatisation last year. [Photo: Andy]
Confluencia has moved, [up on to the hillside closer to] the park entrance. Lots of tents here, flushing toilets [too]. Had a great pizza [cooked by] Alessio’s agents here, Paula and Oso. Nice people as usual.
Sat around and bullshitted as usual [for] most of the afternoon. Dean was cornered by ’The Tour Operator’, an idiot with too much money and a big mouth who’s branching into the trekking business by resurrecting OTT. Wants to offer Dean some work.
Now in the tent, relaxing until dinner at 20:00.
A great day today, kept awake for a while last night due to a couple of Alessio’s group (with Matoko as leader) falling out over ownership of a noxious smell in their tent. After that slept OK until 05:00 when some people started packing up to move out. Pretty damned early.
[Had a] slight headache, took an aspirin but mainly because I was searching the first aid kit at the time, looking for toilet paper. Frosty [outside] during the night but toasty [inside] even though some thin patches [are] appearing in my sleeping bag. We survive. Clare will be pleased to know that Jon has an Everest bag!
Had breakfast at 08:30 - yoghurt, cereal, toast, eggs and bacon and coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice. Amazing.
Left at 09:40 and had a leisurely stroll up the gulley to the NNE of the new [Confluencia] location. Up towards the spectacular laminated peak. 2 hours walking brought us to 3900m. Managed to scramble up some loose rocks (looser than the surrounding loose rock), which Jon didn’t like. Dean took him round the long way. Had lunch perched on a 30 degree slope of what looked like volcanic evaporite deposits - white powder? Left the spot at 13:30 to come down and were down by 14:20. Not as bad coming down as expected, a few twinges from my right knee. Couldn’t keep up with the other two but not too far behind.
Acclimatising at Confluencia on the walk-in to Aconcagua. Dean is dwarfed by the crags protecting the entrance to this gulley. We follow the mountain stream up to a high point at 3900m. [Photo: Andy]
Jon (left) and Dean climbing in the rock gulley above Confluencia. [Photo: Andy]
A structural geologist’s paradise or nightmare. The fractal nature of nature is epitomised in the Andes. Repeating patterns appear in massive rock faces and small boulders. [Photo: Andy]
After the chilled air of the gulley, the warmth of the sun hitting us as we round a corner is very welcome. A few minutes later we are starting to overheat and reaching for the factor 30. [Photo: Andy]
Andy (foreground) and Jon pose for another of Dean’s publicity shots. [Photo: Andy]
Dean pauses to admire the screwed up geology. The caption on his T-shirt reads ’every morning I wake up and thank God that I’m Welsh’. On his cap is a welsh dragon. He’s been described as a moderate extremist. [Photo: Andy]
Dean and Jon on the (slightly) less extreme route up the loose scree to our high point and lunch stop. [Photo: Andy]
Dean on the loose scree. [Photo: Andy]
Jon arrives at the high point, the ground is sloping at 30 degrees - we measured it - so it’s not the most relaxing place to have lunch, just got to keep those heels dug in. [Photo: Andy]
A last look back down the valley towards the park entrance. Civilisation is only a short downhill stroll away, but we must go upů upů up. [Photo: Andy]
Andy on the hillside above Confluencia, at the start of the walk-in to basecamp. [Photo: Andy]
More pizza back at Confluencia. [The] wind got up and it rained for a while. Lots of snow at Plaza de Mulas apparently.
Resting pulse rate at 3900 m was 68! Wonder if it will last?
Stroll into Plaza de Mulas. Quite a good night, very quiet around the campsite tonight, managed all night without a pee as well. Got up at 06:45 before virtually everyone else and made good use of the facilities (flushing toilet!).
This rock is a well known landmark on the otherwise featureless floodplain that leads to Plaza de Mulas. As the only large rock in the area it’s particular popular with women and anyone suffering from pizza overload. Watch where you step. [Photo: Andy]
’I fart in your general direction’... but Jon’s initial salvo is wasted on the welsh Maestro - just wait until the high altitude flatulence really kicks in. [Photo: Andy]
Mules carrying our bags overtake us on the Pleasure Beach. [Photo: Andy]
An ominous view of Aconcagua from Plaza de Mulas. [Photo: Andy]
An ominous view of Aconcagua from Plaza de Mulas. [Photo: Andy]
Moonrise over the north ridge of Aconcagua. [Photo: Andy]
Tent down and packed up by 07:30. Good breakfast - yoghurt again - great! No pancakes sadly. Tipped all three of the staff, 5 dollars each. I think they liked us, hugs all round. Started walking at 08:50. The old Confluencia is still there but slightly truncated at the top, the river has washed some away. [The] bridge is now at the bottom where we hopped over the boulders last year.
Easy fast walk over the first bit. The rocky ’Pleasure Beach’ was annoyingly rocky as usual but we made the lunch rock by 11:50 despite a strong headwind all the way. Had another energy drink at lunchtime. Met Gianni [Alessio’s base camp manager] riding a sick horse (later abandoned) to Plaza de Mulas. Also Kahlil heading down with a group of Gibraltarians who hadn’t made the summit due to bad weather. The last part of the walk was a drag as usual, but no worse than last year. Jon was a bit knackered towards the end. Climbing the steep section was relatively easy. Checked in with the Park Rangers at 14:50 - so exactly six hours, not bad considering the headwind. Got one shit bag this year, Jon took 3!
Saw Martine as we were arriving - he actually recognised me but I guess Gianni told him we were on out way. Pleased to see Dean of course. Two new [staff] here, Gato and Javier, plus Pakka and one other girl (Sushi). Juice, cake and sticky popcorn. Sitting around watching the weather deteriorate, snow coming in but not settling yet. The [other] group started to trickle in around 18:00, taken them a long time to get here.
18:30, really starting to snow now! Didn’t amount to much in the end though.
A rest day. Breakfast at 09:30 just as the sun was coming up. Disappointing breakfast - just a few pancakes, we sat around asking ourselves if that was it. Lazed around for the rest of the day, doing very little. Not a warm day even though there were few clouds. Jon phoned home on the satellite at 5 dollars per minute. Only a couple of minutes though. Decided against a walk to the hotel [refugio]. Couldn’t sit any longer on the [uncomfortable] stools so had a couple of hours in the tents. Slept a little but kept waking myself up [by snoring]. Listened to MP3s and read quite a lot.
Dinner at 19:30 - better than yesterday, some sort of stew. Jelly to follow. Had a brief chat with some of the guys in the other group, most of them are OK really. In bed at 21:30, big party at Inka, loud music. Used earplugs and managed to sleep through most of it. There are a large number of worryingly thin patches on my sleeping bag. Not a pleasant thought.
Stayed in bed until 08:15, was minus 2 degC in the tent with good ventilation. Warm enough, sweating at times, [the trick is] to keep the thin patches at the bottom of the bag on the thermarest.
Earlier breakfast, pancakes again. Packed up ready for a load carry to camp 1. No Bonette peak this year. Only about 5kg of food plus ice axe and crampons. Left camp around 09:45, the first part was quite hard, up and out of base camp but eventually developed some kind of a rhythm. Made it to the lunch rocks [Conway’s Rocks] in one hour. Jon going a little slower than Dean and me, but not as slow as he thinks. Arrived at camp 1 at 11:50. Dean and John arrived at 11:55, had 1 1/2 hours in the sunshine and then decided to come down as Jon was developing a headache. Cached some food etc.
Load carrying to Camp 1, Dean pauses beside the track with Cerro Cuerno (5400m) in the background. [Photo: Andy]
Preparing the cache at Camp 1, the orange bag containing food and climbing gear will shortly be buried under a pile of rocks by three breathless idiots. [Photo: Andy]
Took 45 minutes to come back down [to Plaza de Mulas]. Managed to keep up most of the way, just a few warning messages from my knee. My toes appear to be in better shape so far this year. Back in base camp just after 14:00. Drank a couple of litres of juice and ate a lot of melon, apple, popcorn, crackers, cake etc. Could be a long time to dinner. Jon said he was knackered but still managed to wash his hair.
Resting pulse rate 64!
Big news today is that Jon has picked up a bug or something. According to the doctor it is irritable bowel. He doesn’t look good. Dean and I hatched various plans for what we would do if he dropped out, in fact we already dumped a load of food. Thought about going straight to camp 2 without staying at camp 1. We [both] want to get it over with as soon as possible. Carried another load to camp 1 today, much harder than yesterday. Left at 09:45, arrived camp 1 at around 12:00 as usual. Had a 40 minute break for lunch then slogged up to just below camp Alaska. Spent an hour [there] for acclimatisation and then a fairly rapid descent back to Plaza de Mulas (40 minutes).
Jon not much better. Pigged out on popcorn, biscuits and cake with 2 1/2 litres of juice. Back to the tent to relax for a while.
Beef stew for dinner - not too bad. Jon was feeling pretty rough, just eating cake. Sat up talking with Dean (aka Dim) until 22:00, brilliant moonrise on the way. Read until 23:00.
Excellent night’s sleep, slept through until 05:00 and dozed afterwards. Didn’t hear the drumming at 01:30 - apparently the Argentineans were at it again.
Rest day today, leisurely breakfast at 10:00. Asked for more pancakes, not a great way to make friends [with the cook] but we got them anyway. Dispatched Jon up to the top of the track for a test run. He seems better but we are not optimistic, especially with his breathing.
A toilet barrel is airlifted from Plaza de Mulas. [Photo: Andy]
Vegetables for lunch - we want solid food. Maybe [we will] go for a burger on the way back from getting our oxygen levels topped up.
The [base camp] doctor was pissed off that we hadn’t come to see him before, but he turned out to be a cheerful chap. Got checked out, pulse 61, [blood] oxygen 88%, blood pressure 120/80. Went back for a second oxygen test because there were no more customers waiting and got 92%. The doctor thought I’d been hyperventilating outside [but I hadn’t]. Dean got 94% as usual but blood pressure 160/100 - oops! Jon got 87% and pulse rate 88(?). Better than 106 yesterday.
Burger on the way back, including ham and a fried egg, delicious. 21 dollars for 3 burgers and 1 bottle of coke.
Back to the [mess] tent to find more cake and popcorn so polished that off as well. Vegetable lasagne for dinner, we want meat.
Up at 08:15, ice inside the tent - minus 5 degC at 06:00. Packed up and had breakfast, waiting for the sun [to hit] the tents. Tents down and ready move out. Jon [carrying] more weight due to missed carry. Started out at 11:20 after sorting porters (sharing with other groups). Jon going slowly so left Dean to wait for him and went on alone. One hour to [the] lunch rocks but didn’t stop. Overtook a couple of large groups, some English [people]. Caught in a squall, very cold in just Helly Hansen top, had to put on the wind suit and fleece - hands very cold.
Arrived Canada [camp 1] at 12:15 just before the porters. Put up [the] Quasar and retrieved [the] cache. Dean and Jon arrived about one hour later. Tent up, fetched water (brown) from stream (soon frozen) and much brewing and chatting in Dean [and Jon’s] tent. Very pleasant, Jon going OK so far.
Now back in Quasar, very cold with only one person but warm enough in sleeping bag. Snowed earlier, quite windy now. Make that very windy, Quasar stable though. 21:45 - time for some sleep and maybe [some] MP3s for a while. Goodnight.
Light snowfall covers a group of tents at Camp 1. [Photo: Andy]
Our tents at Camp 1 with the trail to Camp 2 (Nido de Condores) in the background. [Photo: Andy]
Andy taking advantage of a brief break in the clouds to soak up some rays at Camp 1. [Photo: Andy]
Inside Dean’s 3-man Mountain Hardware tent. Jon is still smiling because he hasn’t discovered the slow leak in his Thermarest yet. At least he has an Everest sleeping bag to keep the worst of the chill off. [Photo: Andy]
Mmmm... tuna. Lovely! [Photo: Andy]
Evening at Camp 1, the upper slopes of Aconcagua have been dusted with a light covering of snow. Unfortunately it’s not enough and we are forced to drink brown water from a small meltwater stream, until it freezes as the sun sets. [Photo: Andy]
It’s a long way from the tents to fetch water. As the evening sun sinks, Dean is returning with a rucksack full of water bottles and a orange bag of dirty snow. [Photo: Andy]
The upper slopes of Aconcagua change rapidly from pink to deep red in the setting sun. [Photo: Andy]
Dean’s birthday. We all forgot until we reached Nido [de Condores (Camp 2)] but then I asked what day it was and he remembered. At least I gave him a card down at Plaza de Mulas. Was quite a windy night, must have been gusting to 60 - 70 km/hr at times. Minus 8 degC in the tent, pee bottle was starting to freeze this morning. Dean brought a brew over around 09:00 just as I was about to go over to their tent. Drank it then over for another of Dean’s disgusting breakfasts, last night’s tuna and mash mixed with potato, egg and bacon mix. Just managed to keep it down. Plus 3 or 4 mugs of tea.
Tents down by 11:30, waiting for the porters - sharing with [the] other group again. [The porters] were carrying 30 kg each, they took our tents, food and fuel, leaving us with personal gear etc. Dean and I left at 12:00, Jon slightly before. He’s going better and overtook two groups, including one fit looking one. He says he’s enjoying it, but maybe not too amused about the lack of water. [We] stopped at Alaska to let him catch up at 12:55. Continued on and arrived at Nido at 13:45. Very cold and windy, put on wind suit and met up with Nils the super-porter [who] carried 30kg up in the same time it took me! Found a reasonable campsite (albeit smelling like a public toilet) and waited for the other two. Only thing missing was the porter with the tents, couldn’t see him. Eventually found [that] the tents [had been] given to another guy so got them back.
Usual [high altitude] effort to put them up, everything getting very difficult now. Resting pulse at around 16:30 was 84, Dean 102. Brewing and eating continuously in Dean and Jon’s tent. No headache so far today, something of a miracle. Up here the air pressure is 0.5bars and the sky is vivid blue. Still windy but warm in the sunshine. Jon took another bad picture of me in the tent - yuk! Waiting to see what evil concoction Dean will come up with tonight. Need a couple more brews too - only now getting a slight urge to pee.
Just back from a load carry to White Rocks (6000m). Sun on [the] tent at 10:00 this morning. Had four brews and crunchy cereal for breakfast - tasted OK but very chewy. Packed up some light loads of food and fuel and left at 12:00. Very, very windy, almost blown off the [the] trail from time to time. Jon really determined, going at his own pace but looks quite strong. 1 3/4 hours to Berlin (5900m), 1/2 hour to White Rocks. Managed to find a slightly better sheltered place than last year, but we will see what the weather brings. Dean all for going back to Berlin. Hopefully [there will be] no rock falls, it’s not the most stable place to camp.
Braving the gale force winds to load carry from Camp 2 to White Rocks at 6000m. Dean is approaching the half-way point. Already we are higher than most of the mountains in the area. [Photo: Andy]
Peaks of the high Andes, including Mercedario, are reflected in Dean’s well-worn glacier glasses. [Photo: Andy]
Jon approaches the half-way point sporting a pair of Rab expedition down mitts. These turn out to be absolute cr*p and will shortly be disposed of in favour of more mundane but warmer Gore-Tex items. [Photo: Andy]
Sheltering in the lee of some wind blasted rocks at the dreaded White Rocks campsite. This is where we plan to make our high camp, and we cache a pile of food, crampons, ice axes, cameras, fuel and energy drinks. Little realising that it would be the last time we would see them. [Photo: Andy]
Cached food, fuel, ice axes and crampons. Coming down [was] much easier. All with headaches but mine not too bad, almost gone. Visited [Alessio’s] group on [the] way back, they have not gone anywhere today. Matoko says [the] weather forecast tomorrow is terrible but that may not mean much. They don’t seem keen to move up the mountain (Robin went down yesterday). Back to [our] tents at 16:30, helped Dean fetch more snow. A brew is on its way. Found that I had cached all my snacks [at White Rocks] - stupid, obviously wasn’t thinking too well this morning. The Mars Bars were supposed to stay down here. Bummed one off Dean.
Resting pulse in sleeping bag this morning was 60.
An interesting 20 hours, lying here in a damaged tent, fully kitted up for a hasty retreat. But to begin the story, Dean was pretty ill last night, headache, nausea, vomiting etc. He says it was a bug but more likely altitude sickness after a hard day. Was wondering if we’d have to take him down today but he was OK this morning, at least I won’t have to sneak off for a solo summit attempt.
During the storm, Andy in his sleeping bag in the Quasar, fully dressed and ready to beat a hasty retreat should the worst happen. This may be my last diary entry. [Photo: Andy]
This morning we were really hit badly by the wind. The [sound of] the wind on the summit was extreme, like a fleet of 747s revving up for takeoff, with characteristic lenticular clouds. At times it looked like someone had opened a giant plughole in the sky and everything was being sucked into it. Anyone [outside] on the mountain is risking severe frostbite and possibly death.
Around 10:00 we were hit by a massive squall with absolutely no warning. One moment I was trying to defrost a tube of cheese, the next the tent was down on top of me (I was still in my sleeping bag). One of the red poles broke and ripped the flysheet. Fortunately the squall passed in a few seconds. The other two were lucky not to be tent less - the [lighted] MSR was catapulted, together with a pan of boiling water, into the middle of [their] tent. Dean managed to rescue it before it set fire to the tent and fortunately water boils at a very low temperature up here so they weren’t scalded. So we have spent the last few hours supporting the tents against more squalls, occasionally drinking tea and trying to keep warm. So far we haven’t had anything as bad as the big one but the Quasar feels definitely weakened by the ordeal. Hopefully it will survive [for] Ojos too.
Have seen a number of people struggling down from Berlin, it must be pretty bad up there. Now it’s starting to snow, maybe the wind will drop. [It’s] still howling on the summit though.
Another day of waiting to see what the weather will do. Not much food left, only soup, but we have been here so long that we are losing interest.
After the worst of the storm, fresh snow coats the slopes around Camp 2 while the wind torments the air above the summit ridge, forcing the moisture it contains to condense into bizarre cloud formations. Wearing gloves while taking photographs is, unfortunately, obligatory! [Photo: Andy]
Camp 2, Nido de Condores, is a depressing spot at the best of times. In the aftermath of a big storm it seems even more desolate. [Photo: Andy]
Views of the surrounding peaks from Camp 2. [Photo: Andy]
Our tents after the storm. The Quasar looking a little the worse for wear having been ousted from its position as ’strongest tent in the world’. Dean’s Mountain Hardware tent was also knocked down but no poles were broken. [Photo: Andy]
Holes in the Quasar’s flysheet made by the razor sharp ends of the broken pole. Grabbing the broken ends prevented much worse damage but left the single occupant in an ’OK, what do I do now?’ situation. Fortunately Dean was quickly on the scene with a pole repair section. [Photo: Andy]
Jon gets ready to head down to basecamp. [Photo: Andy]
Andy’s sleeping bag airing in the morning sunshine while we prepare to go and collect our cache of gear from White Rocks. [Photo: Andy]
Although the wind at Camp 2 has moderated, it is still raging across the slopes above. A plume of spindrift is being ripped from the ridge. [Photo: Andy]
Although the wind at Camp 2 has moderated, it is still raging across the slopes above. A plume of spindrift is being ripped from the ridge. [Photo: Andy]
After failing to reach the cache at White Rocks, we break camp and start to make our way down to basecamp. Just below Camp 1.5 (Alaska) we pause in the sunshine. Our first real food for several days is now just a few hours away. [Photo: Andy]
Heavy snowfall during the night, quite strong wind but much less than before. Minus 20 degC in the tent this morning, hoar frost everywhere. Had to dig out the bell end. Dean started brewing at 09:00 - had three brews, one from our last teabag [and] a couple of Jon’s energy drink. Nothing left to eat. Jon started down to Plaza de Mulas via camp 1 to pick up his gloves. Dean and I tried to go to White Rocks to retrieve our gear from the cache. After struggling up maybe 200m vertically through new snow it was obvious that we weren’t going to make it. 2 days with little food and 4 days above 5000 m had depleted our reserves. We decided to head back down and abandon the cache.
Took down the tents, packed up everything and started down. Very hard going, no energy left in my legs to stabilise a 20kg rucksack but finally made it down to Plaza de Mulas at around 15:00. Saw a couple of ice pinnacle avalanches on [Cerro] Cuerno on the way down. [The] weather looked like it was declining for a while but improved again during the afternoon.
Good to be back down, shame about the cache though. Gianni, Pakka and Sushi very disappointed that we didn’t make it. Got some soup and an omelette though [when Gianni found that we hadn’t eaten for two days]. [Also] ate 2 bowls of popcorn, melon, cake [and] Jon’s chocolate - amazing. Still very tired though.
Dean, Jon and Robin [now] sitting in the mess tent and discussing sport.
Breakfast at 09:00, no tent to take down, all three of us slept in the mess tent last night.
[Last night a] Malaysian group arrived at 23:00 after taking 11 hours to walk from Confluencia - the oldest group member was 71! [Alessio’s] basecamp staff had to go down to the old Plaza de Mulas with hot water and drinks for them. We were in the cook tent for a while, then over to GeoTrek for a beer. Back to the cook tent and then back to GeoTrek for a while. Robin had arranged a concert with Nils and Gato, they finally came around 23:30. Robin ordering beers and Jon paying for them at 30 dollars a round! [I] tried to stay out of the [cigarette] smoke and only had two beers. Nils and Gato were excellent, Robin and Dean did ’Wish you were here’ by Pink Floyd and Dean sang the Welsh National Anthem [in Welsh]. Pakka was entranced - Dean is pretty good! Finished about 01:30, amazing stars on the way back, but Jon [was] too cold and not wanting to stand around and watch. Some shooting stars too, amazing, almost too quick to see.
Walked out with Robin, much easier than [the] last few years. Jon and I out in front, Dean and Robin behind. Picked up a Czech girl about 45 minutes out of Confluencia. Jon thought she was being stalked by a muleteer but I’m not so sure, [I] think he just deserted her when they were close to the camp. Anyway, we took her the rest of the way [to Confluencia]. Didn’t wait for Dean and Robin, just carried on to the Park entrance and checked out. Arrived [there] at 16:50, exactly six hours including a couple of stops. [I] think Jon was quite tired. Dean and Robin arrived about 45 minutes later - [they] had stopped at Confluencia and then at the Horcones lake.
Waiting for Dean and Robin as we approach Confluencia on our way out. [Photo: Andy]
Waiting for Dean and Robin as we approach Confluencia on our way out. [Photo: Andy]
A last view of the south face of Aconcagua. [Photo: Andy]
Had to wait until 18:40 for the bus, [eventually hitched a lift but only got as far as] the road and met the minibus coming up with Vincente (the driver), Eva and Clare. Robin was immediately interested, made some comment about ’that’s more my age group’, think he didn’t know who she was! [The] bus was late due to [a] KE group [being] unable to get it together. Made it back to [the] Ayelen [Hotel] and picked up the cached gear. Then had a beer with the others, Clare taking expected instant dislike to Robin due to smoking etc. At least it appeared to be mutual. Such is life. Saw Ian (KE guide) again, but Vincente [was] in [a] hurry to get on [the] road so couldn’t stay long.
Stopped in Uspallata for Bife de Chorizo - giant steaks - with papas fritas (chips). Excellent. Another beer and then a long, uncomfortable drive to Mendoza. Arrived [at the] Nutibara around midnight. Had been [only] 12 degC in Mendoza during [the] day but [was] starting to warm up again now. More El Nino weather it seems. Bad night’s sleep, the first in a real bed for a while.
Day in Mendoza, sorting gear and getting washing done etc. Barroluco for lunch, good but not what I remembered. Basically eating all day, huge chorizo [steak] in the evening. Clare ordered wine [from her waiter friend] but Robin intervened, he seems to be oblivious of what others are doing around him. Maybe it’s the salesman in him - never rests. He lent me his crampons and ice axe to replace mine left at [the] White Rocks cache, so I can’t complain too much. [He’s] also giving away and buying stuff for almost everyone he meets - an interesting personality.
Recuperating, repairing and preparing for Ojos de Salado our ’superior’ room at the Nutibara in Mendoza. [Photo: Andy]
The broken Quasar pole. [Photo: Andy]
Jon decided he wants another crack at the mountain and wants to go back up as soon as possible. He must be mad, [I] can’t imagine going back up the pleasure beach let alone the mountain this soon (says me of to Ojos tomorrow). Daniel [Alessio] can’t arrange anything for him it seems.
Better night’s sleep after some sitting around the pool, Clare showed me her trip details. Patagonia looks interesting. [I] wonder if Dean will go to Antarctica next year? If he doesn’t it won’t be for lack of [research] on Clare’s part - he should pay her for the [work]!
Another day in Mendoza, long breakfast. Clare and Robin not on best of terms. Jon fretting about getting back up the big A. Daniel couldn’t help, Jagged Globe and KE [are] not interested. [I] suggested he try Inka - success! He goes back to Confluencia to join an Inka group tomorrow - poor bastard! His wife thought two or three days extra, not 2 1/2 weeks. Oh well, [this] should get it out of his system. Everyone concerned about his state of mind, especially as he’s even more stressed now he’s going [back]. Oh well, he’ll probably survive, mad guy that he is. [In fact he made the summit with Inka].
Going to be a long night. Calzone [pizza] for lunch, no chance to sleep this afternoon due to packing etc. Taxi at 19:00, Clare came to the airport [but] didn’t stay long [before going] back to the Nutibara for dinner with Dean. Robin [is] expecting Jack back from Aconcagua so she should have a better night. Dean [is] leaving for the UK tomorrow, Clare the day after.
At Mendoza airport - flight delayed 30 minutes, [I] hope they don’t cancel it. Looks like a late incoming aircraft but it’s still expected. Quite a few people here anyway. Clare, Dean and Jon will be off on another quest for food by now, but [personally] I think the hunger pangs are starting to fade.
I don’t think I will arrange any more back to back trips, the emotional stuff is too much to deal with. It will be strange for Dean to fly back on his own, but Karen and Ellis will be waiting for him. I think he is quite concerned about Jon. Oh well, not his problem for much longer. (Some people fly with some strange stuff - looks like one guy is flying with half a kitchen as hand luggage!)
Robin thinks I am cool, calm and capable - ha, ha!
[The] flight from Mendoza to BA was uneventful, 25 minutes late in the end. Found that my bag was checked [all the way] through to Catamarca but it still came through on the baggage reclaim [in BA]. The guy on the door took my receipt but luckily I kept the baggage tag on because it was actually booked through [in the system]. Had to go the rest of the way without a receipt. Usual taxi derby to the Orly Hotel, a real shit heap compared to the Principado across the road, but only there four hours. [A] friendly guy showed me the facilities including non-working TV etc. Wonder if I can warn Clare [about this place] before she leaves [Mendoza]?
||Ojos de Salado