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Climbing Aconcagua - by the Polish Route

Date:

December 11th 1997- January 3rd 1998

Climbers: Frederik, Mathias and Sean Franks
Terrain: A windy 6960 meter high pile of scree with snow on top
Area: On the border between Argentina and Chile.
Jump to a destination on the trip:
Argentina
December
11 Departures
12 Buenos Aires
13 Mendoza
14 Puenta del Inca
15 Las Lenas
16 Casa de Piedre
17 Plaza Argentina
18 Camp 1
19 Base Camp
20 Camp 1
21 Amencio Col
22 Camp 2
23 Camp 1
24 Camp 2
25 Camp 2
26 White Rocks
27 Retreat
28 Base Camp
29 Puento Vacas
30 Mendoza
 
Pack List
Schedule
Photos

Dec 11- Departures

When Sean and Mathias arrive at Heathrow, they find that their plane is delayed for two hours. This will make their connection in JFK (to Buenos Eires) very tight. Furtunately, they make their flights although it is several hours late. Fred leaves from Boise, but there are no problems.

Dec 12 - Buenos Eires to Mendoza - Map

M: Currently sitting in the plane to Buenos Aires looking down on the amazing vast Amazon rain Forrest of Brazil. Wild. Estimated time of arrival is 13.00, hopefully Fred will be there waiting for me and Sean.

F: Arrive at BA an hour late. Looks like S&M's flight is very late so they probably made the connection. After some waiting they finally arrive, what a relief - didn't fancy spending a night in BA, or heading to Mendoza on my own. All our gear has arrived in good shape, except M's ice axe is lost somewhere between London and BA. Annoying, but not critical because we can probably get a new one in Mendoza.

Bus is 14 hours (1300 km) so we decide to look at grabbing a flight instead. End up in domestic airport with standby tickets for 7 pm flight, cost $130 each. Heavy rain outside, wonder what the mountains will be like? Flight is very delayed because of bad weather. We meet Mariano, who designed "the official" Aconcagua website - quite an amazing coincidence. We actually have a printout with us of some of his pages... Mariano is very friendly chap who has lots of useful info about the climb and various practical things, although he himself is not actually a climber. He is very keen to find out what we think could improve his site. What a great way to pass the time in the airport - talking about the mountain and the web!


Finally checked in, best seats on the plane front row.  For the first time ever we all follow the safety-talk closely - it is delivered to perfection by the most gorgeous looking stewardess imaginable.

Taxi to bus terminal $10, find hotel Los Nevados near the bus terminal, $45 for large 3-man room with lots of space for sorting out the gear. We head into the darkness at 2 am to find some food. Our prayers are answered by a little sleazy bar on the corner which serves hamburgers. People hang out drinking beer and watching soft porn movies on a TV in the corner!

Dec 13 - Mendoza

Get permits, fuel, food etc. We take bus to permit office - but it is closed. Turns out that it is closed all weekend! Damn! This could cost us a lot of time -- we might lose up to two days on the tight schedule. We are not impressed, but we proceed getting fuel and food. We find the Orviz climbing shop and get a new ice axe for Mathias, and get some Mule prices from Jose. It will be very expensive - we probably need two mules out and one back, totaling $620!

S: Argentinean women - thank god we made it to the mountains, I'm not sure we would have lasted much longer without being locked up. What should you do when 3 scantily clad barely postpubescant babes wander past seductively slurping their ice cream cones whilst quite obviously, and naturally, giving us the eye? Either do the natural thing and suffer the consequences, cut your knackers off or run for the hills where the last thing you want to think of is 3 scantily clad etc. We chose the latter.

Dec 14 - Mendoza to Puenta del Inca

We explain Jose Orviz who owns the shop, that we have a bit of a problem obtaining the permits, and being the problem solver of Mendoza Jose offers to get us to Pt. Inca, sort out mules and sort out the permits later with the authorities back in Mendoza while we would be on our way into the vaca valley. Whoa that would be perfect! We don't hesitate much and Jose casualy mentions that we need to be ready in 15 minutes as he is taking a Brazilian party up there and we would get on that ride. Fine - we grab a taxi to go back to El Nevado to pick up our equipment and we return shortly after in a completely overloaded taxi scrapping along the road.

So we are off! Jose turns out to be quite a competent driver who seems to know every turn on the 2 hours ride (The Brazilian guys went in a car of their own) We manage to overtake several trucks and stuff on the way, the highlight being when we - with the hand on the horn - overtake an ongoing cycling race. We all laugh loudly after having scared the hell out the the 50+ cyclists. When we arrive in Los Pouqitos (10 minutes walk from Pt. Inca) Jose introduce us to Rudy who apparently is Mr. Mule hire himself and we settle on hiring two mules for Place Argentina for 360 dollars.

We set up camp in Rudy's place, Los Puquios. It was definitely our good fortune that we met Jose Orviz in Mendoza. He is now sorting the permits out for us in Mendoza so we can start the hike tomorrow morning. The mules are sorted - we have two mules which can carry a total of 90 kilos. We have 10 kilos to spare, so we will put both stove and the small tent on the mules as they are staying with us at each camp on the hike in. Very convenient. And as our packs are already fairly lightthings are looking promising.

There is a solid wind here, but it is quite warm and clear, blue sky. Fred regrets he didn't bring his Tevas. There are much fewer climbing groups than we expected, and as far as we know we are the only team setting off on the Polish route. We wonder if any other teams will be in base camp or on route - quite unnerving if we will be the only ones there!

We wander around Puenta del Inca - doing a bit of caving inside the interesting hot-spring buildings under the natural bridge. Unfortunately, the sulfur leaves our coats full of stains.

We also visit the mountaineer's cemetary which is right next to our camp group. Very sobering experience right before we start the climb!

We head in to PtInca for the evening and eventually we decide to go for the second meal in the hotel. On our way to the table we met two old guys sitting and eating their dinner. One turns out to be Norwegean, the other British so we strike up a conversation in English-Danish-Norwegean. They have tried the Polish Glacier at three previous occations (!!), but have had to back down. This year they attempt the Normal Route. The Norwegean repeatedly warns us about the cold weather up there, putting it quite dramatically "The Cold is the Killer!". We all have good gear, but Mathias gets a little nervous 'cause his sleeping bag is not as warm as Sean's and Fred's. We fall a sleep hearing the old man's mantra blowing in the wind: "The Cold is the Killer!".

Dec 15 - Pt. Inca to Las Lenas
Temperature, morning: 3C Vertical meters: 680 Weather: calm, chilly, no clouds
Temperature, mid day: 25-28C Time: 4h walking; 1h lunch Team mood: jolly

We wake up at seven. We slept the three of us in Sean's North Face Mountain-24 and we only just fit in. It will be some pretty intense days staying in the tent should we run into a snowstorm. But it is light and seems completely stable in the strong wind. We cook three portions of porridge and sort out our stuff. Charlie, the chauffeur, picks us up in Los Poquios and drives us to Pt. Vacas (incl. in the mule price). FINALLY! - We are ready to go. We pick up our rucksacks and start the hike along Rio Vacas at noon. The sun is at its highest and is burning hot. We stop every half hour to drink and we have a long lunch midway - taking it quite slowly. We arrive at the Las Lenas shelter at around 5 pm. This is where you normally show your permit but as we do not have any, we rely on the ranger knowing about Jose sorting out our permits in Mendoza. He knows, so there are no problems. Things seem pretty laid back, but it might be because it is early season yet. We set up our big tent (Mathias') and it also seems okay in the wind.


Things seem pretty laid back, but it might be because it is early season yet.

We have been wondering if other people are doing the Polish Glacier Route. Everyone in PtInca were on the Normal Route. Rudy tells us that he send off an Italian group five days ago. When asked if it was normal to climb this route at this time of year, Charlie responds "No!". This is getting us a bit worried, but also gives a great sense of adventure as we set of into the remote unknown. Reaching Las Lenas, we are happy to see a Mexican group of two heading for the glacier as well. I'm sure we'll appreciate the security more people give, when we are on the mountain.

Dec 16 - Las Lenas to Casa de Piedre
Temperature, morning: 5C Vertical meters: 530 Weather: windy, cold, blue sky
Temperature, mid day: 21C Time: 5h walking; 0.5h lunch Team mood: strong

We start the day by crossing the river on the mules. The current is strong, but the mules feel reasonably stable. Would have been troublesome crossing the river on our own.

The hike is long, gentle, going up a valley full of rock. It is very hot and some head protection from the sun is necessary to avoid instant toasting. We see Casa Piedre sooner than expected, and notice the Racones valley cutting in on the left (West). Then an amazing sight- Aconcagua is visible for the first time in the distance! It is extremely beautiful, with a tiny cloud blowing on top. The Polish glacier is clearly visible, and we study it intensely through the binoculars. It look very steep from this angle, and it has an intimidating drop off just below it. Not a good place for slipping. The south face is also visible from here - very serious stuff. We are very happy to finally see what we've seen on numerous pictures, but it looks so much better for real.

F: I have been worried about whether my knees would be up for climbing and hiking 5000 vertical meters. They got injured about four weeks ago and haven't been feeling right since. I brought some knee braces which are proving invaluable, and I don't think I could have made it without them. On down hills I can feel them ache, so I am worried what they'll do when we go up and down, carrying loads at the high camps.

Dec 17 - Casa Piedre to Plaza Argentina (Base camp) 4200 m
Temperature, morning: 7C Vertical meters: 1015 Weather: very strong wind, blue sky
Temperature, mid day: 7C Time: 5:45 Team mood: Good

Today is the final hike through the valley up to base camp. We start at eight a clock and wait for the muleteer by the river. As Yesterday we count on him bringing us over the very cold and fairly deep river. He arrives at around 10 am and for some reason rides past us without giving us a lift. Hmm, well we then pass the river ourselves resulting in some freezing feet and some nasty comments on our otherwise very nice muleteer.

S: By the time I had forded the thigh {I had crossed in the wrong place} deep river with my rucksack, changed my blister patches, redressed and warmed up I had thought of at least 50 untimely ends for the muleteers. We met the muleteers later returning from base camp-I managed to resist plunging my ski pole into his heart, but couldn't resist telling him that we would have paid him after the second river crossing. I hope this isn't going to hamper us getting a mule back down.

We the head up the Racones valley and it turns out to be quite a bit of hard work and we are also starting to feel the altitude. We arrive in base camp 5 hours later totally exhausted but in high spirit because of the promising base camp site.

There are about 4 other teams in base camp. Two Mexicans who we met on the way, 2 blokes from Leeds, 3 Italians and an American guy with an Argentinean guide. Until now, noone has made the summit from the Polish Route, although a few parties have tried. There is plenty of nice tent sites and we find a suitable spot for putting up both our tents. There is running water in a stream close to camp.


Quote of the day: Sean w/ plastic boots, super gaiters, and 10 pairs of socks in base camp at +5C: "I cannot feel my feet!"

Dec 18 - Carry to Camp 1 (4900m)

Temperature, morning: -3C Vertical meters: 850 Weather: very strong wind, bit of clouds
Temperature, mid day: -1 (at camp1) Time: 4:30 (up); 1h down Team mood: Focused

Although we had originally planned on a rest day, we decide to carry food and climbing gear up to camp 1. It takes quite a lot of time sorting out how much food we need, and it turns out we might be a bit low on evening meals. Never mind. We finally sort out the packs, filter a couple of liters water each and set off around noon. It is very hard hiking. We also have lots of problems finding the way up. The lower bit is a small rubble path, midway there are lots of penitentes (fields of snow spires), and at 4500m there is a steep snowfield leading up to camp 1. The snow is hard-packed - almost requiring crampons, but it goes in our solid plastic boots.


We can feel the altitude more than ever up here above 4500m.

We can feel the altitude more than ever up here above 4500m. It is bloody hard work, requiring frequent rests and Mathias and Fred both have mild headaches. When we finally reach camp 1, the headache is joined by nausea. These are classic early symptoms of altitude sickness, so we waste little time as we stash our gear behind some rocks in two dry bags. It is extremely windy up here, and the camp spots are not as good as in base camp. It is going to be miserable up there - but with a better view! Jim and Henry (the Brits from Leeds) have set up camp already.

As we hurry back down the snowfield (nausea not getting any better!), we bump into the two Mexicans we met in Las Lenas. One of them is totally exhausted and moving extremely slowly, but they are still planning on spending the night up at 4900m. Hmm, he could easily run into altitude problems.

Finally, we return to our camp in Plaza Argentina and start the stove for a cup of tea and some dinner.

Dec 19 - Resting in Base camp (4200m)
Temperature, morning: n/a Vertical meters: 0 Weather: getting stronger; strange clouds
Temperature, mid day: n/a Time: - Team mood: relaxed

After Yesterday's carry, with headaches etc, we decide to hang out in base camp for a day of acclimatization. During the morning, both the Brits (Jim and Henry) and the Mexicans come down because of altitude problems. J&H's didn't sleep all night because of severe headaches, and were just lying in their tents waiting for daylight to get down. We never saw the Mexicans again, and assume that they had to give up because of they ascented to rapidly. The American with the Argentinean guide set off after noon to move to camp 1 (they've done some carries already), but also return (late) not because of altitude, but because of cold strong winds. Our camp is right by the path up to the mountain, so we get to see all the comings and goings.

The weather is looking quite weird with lots of strange cloud formations and very unpleasant-looking conditions on the glacier (6500m). There are some very strong winds down here that bend our fine base camp tent into strange shapes, and also break a few of the tent lines. We spent a good part of our rest day building stone walls around the tent and the living quarters (including kitchen). During the night, we frequently wake up expecting the tent to rip open and disappear in the wind.

Tomorrow we plan on moving to camp 1. Lets hope the weather stays reasonably good.

Dec 20 - Move to Camp 1 (4900m)
Temperature, morning: -4 Vertical meters: 795 Weather: consistent strong wind; more clouds
Temperature, mid day: -1 Time: 4 hours Team mood: happy

We got up at 7.30, packed our stuff, made coffee and porridge and headed up towards camp 1 around 10am. We where the first ones out of base camp but was soon overtaken by Henry and Jim and later by the two Italians and finally by a newcomer from Quebec. Nevertheless we arrived at camp 1 about 4 hours later and we set up our tent in the howling wind. Sorted out all our gear - food in one end and stove in the other. All the rest has to stay outside.

Dec 21 - Carry to Amencio Col (5500m)
Temperature, morning: -4 Vertical meters: 495 Weather: stormy; no sun, snow
Temperature, mid day: -9 Time: 3 hours Team mood: tired

We feel ok, so instead of vegetating in the small tent (it is too cold and miserable to sit outside) we decide on taking some fuel, food and climbing gear up to camp 2. Again, it is very hard work. The first section is a big snow field, crampons needed. Then some scree slopes leading up to Amencio Col at 5400m. It has started to snow and there is limited visibility, but it doesn't really limit our progress - the lack of oxygen does, though! Camp 2 is at 5800m, but at this point we are too tired to carry on, and decide to dump the gear at a split rock just under the Col.

Henry and Jim stay in camp 1 all day - perhaps we should have done the same? Well, at least we don't have to sit in the tiny tent all day. Very blowy night, and Sean gets top honors for spending the night in a bivibag. It was at least -9C and very windy.

Dec 22 - Carry to Camp 2 (5700m)
Temperature, morning: -6 Vertical meters: 800 Weather: stormy; sun w/few clouds
Temperature, mid day: -7 Time: 6 hours Team mood: exhausted

We were debating whether to move to camp 2 or whether to carry some stuff and return to camp1. We go for the latter - a slow approach is called for. We pack little bits and pieces, and pick up the stuff we left at 5400m Yesterday. It is bloody hard work. The weather is perfect, but still windy and cold. The first few hundred meters is on a hard packed snow slope that we negotiate with crampons. The rest of the way, it is scree in various forms. It's mostly solid enough, but in places it is very frustrating because you slide down some with each step. We arrive at 5700m totally exhausted. Camp 2 proper (according to the guide book)  is at 5900m but we simply don't have enough energy to carry on, so we dump our stuff and head down. Great views from up here! Some very beautiful mountains to the West.

Yesterday night Sean volunteered for sleeping outside in a bivi bag. The previous night none of us got any sleep mainly because of "El Henry", an offspring of El Nino which seemed to rage the mountain every night. (The name arose from our imaginations that Henry from Jim and Henry was out shaking our tent violently every evening - yes you do get a bit paranoid when you are alone with other psychopaths on a isolated mountain face [Sorry Henry!]). Another critical cause for the lacking of sleep was the size of size of tent. It was only possible for us to sleep in two positions and we woke each other up every time we tried to move into one of these positions.


When someone with a French accent gives you food and assures you that it is very good you shouldn't turn it down.

A few more parties have arrived at camp 1 when we return. Two French-Canadian hotshots, Hugo and Mathieu, come over and talk to us. Very nice chaps. Out of nowhere, they answer out deepest prayers when they offer us some of their excess food. We are running a bit low, so we gracefully accept a full bag of freeze-dried dinners, soups and nuts. When someone with a French accent gives you food and assures you that it is very good you shouldn't turn it down. They got all the spare food because of their third team member had backed out. They tell us that they want to move to camp 2 tomorrow morning which is extremely ambitious (having just arrived at camp 1), but they look pretty determinated and strong. That night we completely change our food strategy from having been very conservative about the amount of food we consume to eat like crazy and just enjoy ourselves. We try Hugo's recommended "Pasta Chichi" and it turns out to one fantastic meal that we eat with tears slowly vaporizing on our chins.

Note: Hugo and Mathieu didn't make it to the top - we never met them again, but was told that they had had to retreat due to the bad weather conditions and altitude troubles.

Dec 23 - Rest day in Camp 1 (4900m)
Temperature, morning: 0 Vertical meters: 0 Weather: sun+clouds+snow; lots of wind
Temperature, mid day: 0 (shadow) +46C (sun) Time: - Team mood: chilled out

Taking it easy after Yesterday's hard work. Eating, drinking, relaxing. We watch Jim+Henry and Hugo+Mathieu taking off for camp 2. The weather seems to be getting milder. Except then it starts snowing suddenly. Sean's farts are getting more frequent (probably caused by the nuts from the French-Canadians) and they are becoming a threat to the expedition. (If you go camping with Sean, note the little tick marks inside his tent, and ask him what they mean.)

Dec 24 - Move to Camp 2
Temperature, morning: n/a Vertical meters: 920 Weather: strong wind; no clouds
Temperature, mid day: n/a Time: 4:30 Team mood: strong then singing

First half went very quick - certainly compared to our first times on this section. Second half is a bitch because of loose scree in upper section, but our rest day has obviously does us good. We meet Henry and Jim who were resting after having moved up here Yesterday. We share a very tight camping spot at the foot of some huge cliffs with an awesome view of the mountains to the NW. We are quite tired but J&H have tea/soup ready. We are thankful for that.

Christmas eve: We put up decorations in the tent. The tent is green, so we imagine that we are sitting inside a Christmas tree. We have some tinsel from Chris, and Mathias' brought some traditional Danish xmas hearts, which we hang up inside our tree. We open presents from Frog/Liz (tiny little presents with little jokes and quizzes in them - very fun), Mum Willerup (lights and cards), Chris (some goodies which we gobble up very quickly!), Paola (a pair of orange underpants each - very appropriate at this point!), etc. We sing Danish xmas songs (Sean is humming), and start a singing competion with the Brits in the tent next door. We light a few sparklers, but are a bit nervous that the tent will set on fire. Sean has a little badge which can play jingle-bells and flash some lights. It's snowing. Great evening, with lots of fun and relaxing.

Dec 25 - Rest at camp 2 - Decision day
Temperature, morning: -7 Vertical meters: 100 Weather: very strong
Temperature, mid day: cold! Time: - Team mood: mixed

We get up late, and use several hours melting water for breakfast and drinking during the day. Camp 1 had a tiny stream in the afternoon (in the morning we melted lumps of ice), but up here there is just very dry snow to use. We wander up approx. 100 meter with Jim and Henry and *bang* there is the most awesome view of the Polish Glacier right in front of us - turns out to be right behind our tent spot. It looks very steep from this angle and much shorter than the 1000 vertical meters it is supposed to be. Optical illusion, obviously. The normal route looks exposed with a fatal drop over the east glacier below, should you slip, but the direct route looks doable and with reasonable snow (although quite a few patches of ice). It is *very* windy, though. The ridge on top of the glacier look very exposed to the wind.

On the way down we notice another tent, which turns out to be Jay and Nico (the American and Argentinean). They invite us in (their tent large enough for five!!) and share their Christmas cake with us. Very nice of them and very good fun. We want to go for the summit the next day, but the wind seems to strong. Nico thinks it is out of the question in the current condition, and he should know being the only local on the mountain. The rest of the day we spend in agony trying to make a decision of what to do. We do not want to wait for days in our little green tent barely big enough for all of us (we are starting to change the old Norwegean's mantra to: "The Green is The Killer!"). We also calculate our remaining days and it turns out that we have to start descending the 28th at the latest, allowing a two extra days to arrange mules back from base camp.


We finally decide to set the alarm for a summit attempt the next morning

We finally decide to set the alarm for a summit attempt the next morning, but if the conditions are not improved we will traverse the mountain on the Falsos Polacos Route which joins the normal route at 6200 meters. If this happens we will spend a night at White Rocks (6100m) and attempt the summit on the 27th.

Dec 26 - Camp 2 to White Rocks
Temperature, morning: -10 Vertical meters: 500 Weather: strong; a few clouds
Temperature, mid day: -10 Time: 3:45 Team mood: exhausted

The alarm went off at 2am, but the wind is violently strong - stronger than Yesterday. Damn. With almost no discussion we wack the clock and sleep on (although actually it is more or less impossible to get any sleep because of the weather hacking our tent). We are now going for option 2 - the traverse. We take necessary food and gear for two nights and set off.

The traverse is a *nightmare*. The wind is directly against us and strong enough to knock us over several times. It is a matter of taking some steps when the wind is reasonable and bracing yourself against your ski pole or sitting down when the stronger blows come. We almost give up half way, but go for it and reach the camp after traversing a small snow-ice field that required crampons. We set up camp in an exposed spot with lots of difficulty (because of the f*cking wind) - we have to put two people and backpacks inside the tent, while the third arrange pegs and guy-lines. Otherwise the tent would take off. It is very hard work in the thin air.

M&F have headaches and don't feel good. We are now on the normal route but strangely there are no people. We think they might be in Berlin camp - a more common high camp below us at 5800m(?).

Despite the wind and cold we have a fun evening, playing charades while we melt water for the next day. The night is very windy and cold (particularly for Fred who is against the windward side of the tent!) and again we don't get much sleep.

Dec 27 - Retreat!
Temperature, morning: -15 Vertical meters: -1900 Weather: storm; many some nasty looking
Temperature, mid day: -18 Time: the whole day Team mood: disappointed but alive

The night at White Rock was quite miserable. The wind was relentlessly hammering the tent the whole night. For some reason condensation covered the whole inside of the tent with little snowflakes, which sprinkled our heads with each blow of the wind. Impossible to sleep. Our thermometers showed -15 inside the tent in the morning! We all had the usual headaches, but Mathias' was very bad even followed by throwing up the morning tea after being presented with the porridge. The weather looked nasty as well, with a big black cloud on the summit. We decide without much discussion to admit defeat and get the hell down from there as quickly as possible. It took ages to take down camp, mainly because of the intense cold and the strong wind. We got blown off our feet a few times, but miraculously nothing blew away in the wind.


We got blown off our feet a few times, but miraculously nothing blew away in the wind.

S: I have had problems with condensation inside the tent before, but not on this trip. We had melted 4 or 5 liters of snow in the evening without opening any of the vents. With the very low temperatures it was inevitable that we would wake up to sheets of ice on the inside. Our first problem in the morning was how to clear it out. I stood, wind allowing, outside whilst Freddie passed gear out and scraped ice from the inside of the tent. The wind was so strong that it would rip gear from your hands. Breakfast was a cursory snack, Mathias' stomach had had enough of porridge. We then did ten rounds with the wind trying to put the tent away.

So, that was it! Having reached 6200m and spent a night at 6100m, it's Aconcagua 1 Sean-Fred-Mathias 0.

Back to camp 2, meeting Jim and Henry, who was (as usual) vegetating in their tent. They had no plans to try the summit in this weather but would hang out a day or two for better conditions. They obviously have more patience or determination that we do. All we can think of now is our roomy base camp tent (and wondering if it is still there?), and proper food and drink.

The gear we left at camp 2 weigh heavy in our sacks as we head on down, wishing Jim and Henry the best of luck. Further weight is added in camp 1, but eventually we are back in base camp, 2000m below our morning site.

Base camp is very different - lots of tents and people. Lots of new arrivals gather around us to hear news from above - all of them Americans for some odd reason.  Still none has summited because of the nasty weather, which takes away a little of the disappointment of not having made it. In fact, it turns out that we have gone highest of any party so far. We are also told that several people have been evacuated off the normal route, because of frostbite incidents. We can certainly believe that, after our chilling experience at White Rock. It turns out that most people in Plaza Argentina have been staying put, not even moving to camp 1, because of the strong winds on the mountain. Unfortunately for us and fortunately for everyone else, it looks like the weather is now changing. We hope that it will give Jim and Henry, the only party established at high camp, a chance of being the first ones to summit this year (via the Polish Route that is).. We also met Jay and Nico who turned back as well because their tent got ripped apart in camp 2. Later on, we hear that the Italian's tent suffered the same fate - it turns out that they were camped a few hundred meters below camp 2, although we never spotted them.

We arrange a mule to take some of our gear out, and plan to leave tomorrow for Mendoza.

Dec 28 - Base camp to Las Lenas

7 hours walk

We spend the morning splitting up our beloved basecamp and head  down the valley at around 10oclock. Our sacks are fairly loaded (mostly with food!), but the hike back is quite pleasant anyway with gentle downhills and strong wind - this time in our backs. We turn around many times to get a final look at the very beautiful polish glacier and summit of Aconcagua. We reach Casa Piedre a bit after lunch and speak to some Americans who are on their way up to attempt the mountain. We camp in between Casa Piedre and Las Lenas in a very nice spot completely alone and with loads of wood for making a nice campfire. We also blow up one of our spare gas canisters which is quite an explosion shaking the whole pampas and scaring a lonely hiker walking past in the very second the thing blows up. Typical. We meet him the day after in Pt Vacas and give him an excuse for scaring the hell out of him on the plains of Argentina.

Dec 29 - Las Lenas to Puenta Vacas / Mendoza

5 hours walk

We wake up 8 in the morning, make coffee and porridge (Fred and Mathias is now getting seriously fed up with porridge while Sean still enjoys every mouthful). Head off at 9 and we reach the river crossing at Las Lenas 2 hours later. Pretty serious stuff but we all get over without incident except three sets of frozen balls. At Las Lenas we sort out the permits and garbage formalities with the ranger and we move on for the last 3 hours walk to Puento Vacas. From Vacas we are picked up by the muleteers wife and she drives us to Pt Inca where our duffelbags are waiting.

In Pt. Inca we enter the hotel for a long awaited meal in the restaurant. As we sit down at our table Mathias says loudly to Fred "Hold da kæft, hvor mit røvhul klør!" obviously assuming that nobody other than his brother can understand his foul language. But as he finishes his very informative sentence two girls at the neighbour table burst out in laughter (and disgust) and they turn out to be Trine and Dorte from Denmark! What a coincident. They end up coming along to Mendoza and we go out to eat them later that same evening.

Although we are perfectly timed for taking the bus to Mendoza we cannot help accepting an offer from one of the many private taxi drivers who is in Pt Inca searching for people to drive to Mendoza. Although a bit more expensive (and slow!) this turns out to be quite a festive decision as our driver Ricardo is a *typical* south American hombre - huge, fat and with big arm movements with no attention whatsoever to his own and others driving. Actually he was in absolute heaven because of our two female additions to the party, and he insisted that they both should sit on the front seat next to him so that he could show his beautiful country to them. This guided tour combined with Italian opera music bursting out from his car stereo was quite an appropriate return to civilization.

When we finally pull in to Mendoza Ricardo suggests a "Hotel Garcia" which we book ourselves into a and which turns out to be a perfectly situated place to live with a very nice atmosphere and with some very nice people running it ($40 for huge four-bed room). Recommendable.

Dec 30 - Jan 3


  a banana
  strawberry ice
  vanilla ice
  chocolate ice
  canned peach
  sugared penuts
  whipped cream
  chopped almonds
  (without shell)
  chopped nuts
  chocolate sauce
  strawberry / cherrie

We spent a few days in Mendoza mainly regaining our weight (by eating numerous Bananasplits amongst other things) and getting used to civilization. We also had a great New Years Eve staggering back to the hotel at half past eight in the morning. We met Jim and Henry in Mendoza who gave us the news about their struggle with the mountain. They had quite an epic. The day after we left them, they attempted the Glacier as the first party that year. It was not in great condition, and they had to pitch several sections that contained sections of ice. They made good progress until somewhere below Piedra Bandera (probably around 6300m or so), when they had an unfortunate incient. Henry was leading, with Jim belaying from a wide slowledge below. Suddenly, Henry feels the rope go tight, looks down and Jim is dangling without his ice axe or head torch below. They don't quite know what happened, but Jim probably got hit by falling ice, passed out and fell off his ledge! Obviously, this forced them to retreat immidiately. Very unfortunate, because they definitely had the capacity (experience and determination) to reach the top! We also heard rumours that the Italians were the first to make the summit. After their tent ripped below camp 2, they went back to base camp, picked up their other tent and eventually made it to the top.

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