Trip Report #3

The challenge on the carry and eventual move to Camp One lay once again with the terrain and the lack of oxygen. I had experience little in the way of difficulty adjusting to the altitude so far, I did have high blood pressure but apart from that I was feeling OK so, I gathered about half of my gear 20KG or 45lbs, and started the hike to camp one.

The first few hundred meters were easy presenting little in the way steepness and the path was clear and easy to follow, easy with an asterisk that is, as it still meant loose scree and therefore constant awareness of foot placement, but it was relatively flat. I should mention that the distance between Base Camp and Camp One was really not the great at all, and many sections can be broken down into hundreds of meters, I’m not sure what it would in terms of KMs however I’d be shocked if it was more than 5-7kms.

The athlete in me found the lack of distance a challenge because I could see where I needed to go and wanted to get there as fast as I could. I was surprised to learn that patience isn’t a forte of mine; alright not that surprised. I was aware that going too fast here could be at absolute worst fatal due to altitude sickness or simply falling on the steeper section of trail, or at best mild altitude sickness and having to take a day off, so I was sure to pace myself as best I could.

Soon into the move I could see ice peeking out of the rock and dirt and I realized that this section is a large glacier covered in rock and dirt. It was startling and beautiful to see walls of ice where sections of the glacier had separated and slid apart revealing the white blue ice underneath. The walls weren’t discovery channel size but nevertheless they served as a reminder that we were walking on a giant piece of ice and every time I saw one I thought of how awesome this was.

Early in the climb I passed a group of Germans or Austrians being led by an older man, thinking that was the last I’ll see of them, only to have them pass me on my first break a few minutes later. I again, somewhat stubbornly, motored passed them only to have them retake me later on. This was very tortoise and the hare but in the end I managed to get to Camp One about 20 minutes ahead of them because the last section of trail was so hard that everyone was struggling with it. What was that about patience? This was not the attitude I wanted to have at altitude and I quietly told myself that when I moved to camp one the next day I would take extra time.

The trail narrows after the initial section and enters a steep sided gully formed by the glacial runoff on its way down to Base Camp just after it which it joins the Vacas river which was the river I had been following since the beginning of my hike. The river then continues on down to the city of Mendoza, which relies so heavily of Aconcagua for both water and tourism dollars. The gully at this point was reminiscent of what I described on my way in to Base Camp but on a smaller scale and with less path and more rock. The constant shifting and settling of the scree erased most tracks on the walls of the gully. There was no flat section to walk on, it was simply pick your way along the walls of the gully from one solid point to another, moving quickly between them on the sliding scree. I was shocked to discover that this type of fast movement caused burning in my legs and left me gasping for breath; it was a little like doing sprints in deep snow. This struggle up the gully lasted for about 30-45 minutes and then I reached a plateau lovingly referred to by some as the minefield. Personally I thought it looked a lot like a no mans land from a First World War movie.

This next area, the minefield, was a mess of trails that skirted the edges of craters that where about 5-10meters deep. Some of caters had glacial pools in the bottom that went who knows how deep. At first I found this sparse evidence of a glacier underfoot pretty cool and beautiful like the ice, but soon I realized how tedious this was going to be. The trail was somewhat marked by inukshuks but I lost it numerous times and though there was no fear of getting capital l Lost, there was the constant annoyance of getting confused and reaching dead ends. Both times I made the trip down back to Base Camp I got mixed up and spent about 20-30 extra minutes picking out a trail through this area. I did not enjoy this section.

After this the trail traversed along the steep wall of a ridge upon the top of which lies Camp Uno. The trail skirts along the side of this ridge for another few hundred meters until it reaches the runoff stream from higher up on the mountain at which point we ascend almost straight up the steepest part of the mountain I experienced. This section was truly difficult, the lack of Oxygen combined with the very steep trail and the constant movement of the rocks beneath my feet winded me repeatedly. I’m not sure what grade this section was but it was steep enough that I was using my hands frequently and if I hadn’t had poles I would have been in trouble. Once I crested the ridge Camp One was about 50 meters to my left up another little ridge.

The layout of Camp One made me think of a river delta; the camp was shaped a little like a wedge or a spoon. The top of camp was very narrow, only about 5 meters wide, enough room for one tent site surrounded by a pyrca (wall of stone built to protect from wind like in Base Camp) and long enough for about ten such sites in a line. This part of the camp was in a sunken streambed that was presumably dry now. On one side the site was the little ridge I’d climbed over to get into camp beyond which was the main glacial melt stream and the other side was a gradual rise punctuated by giant boulders that had fallen from a cliff about 15 meters away that towered above this section of camp. I found a good site in this narrow section thinking that those suckers below in the wider part of camp would be more exposed as their section wasn’t in the deep part of the old streambed nor was it close to the large wall that presumably, would offer some protection.

There was no doubt they were more exposed but it seemed that many of the tents in that area belonged to guiding companies, which I take to mean that someone had considerable experience. So, why were they down there when they could be in the shelter of streambed? The thought came and went rather quickly, and I’d like to be able to attribute that to altitude but in the spirit of honesty that I’m trying to keep alive in these reports, it was inexperience that helped me choose my site.

Anyhow, I buried my garbage bag full of extra gear and food under the rocks of my tent site, thereby hopefully reserving the spot for my move to Camp One tomorrow night and turned around and headed down the mountain with a considerably lighter pack. The way down is obviously quite a bit easier than the way up, but it hadn’t occurred to me how much easier it would be. The terrain poses problems in all the same areas as it did on the way up, just in the opposite way. Going down the very steep last section of the climb, meant almost skiing down rocks in my boots trying not too fall and not to shower those below me with rocks. The minefield was actually far more challenging than on the way up, I repeatedly lost the trail and had to back track, and the first steep gully was also difficult. Despite those challenges and getting mixed up in the minefield area it only took me a third of the time to get down as it did to get up which was great!

I settled down in my tent, luxuriating in the comfort of my sleeping bag after having
“washed” my self with some baby wipes and made a snack and rested for the next day when I would be carrying the rest of my gear the 3000 feet or close to 1000m from Base Camp at 13,200 (4000m) feet to Camp One at 16,200 (5000m).

Go Forward: Trip Report #4

Go Back: Trip Report #2