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Ascent of Cerro El Plata on 2019-01-29

Climber: Connor McEntee

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Tuesday, January 29, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Cerro El Plata
    Location:Argentina
    Elevation:19488 ft / 5939 m

Ascent Trip Report

Prior to climbing Aconcagua, I decided to climb something else to help with acclimatization. Initially, I was thinking of going to Marmolejo, but the permitting and logistics didn’t work out on short notice. Instead, I settled on Cerro El Plata, an almost 6,000m peak that requires no permitting and is easily accessible from Mendoza. The trail is good and the route ascends quickly making it perfect for acclimatization. Fortuitously, the weather was phenomenal (primarily the winds were low), so we were treated to gorgeous days in beautiful terrain in the High Andes.

The climb starts from the Vallecitos ski center. This is a tiny ski area consisting of a few buildings at the end of a windy dirt road. There is no public transportation, though some parties were able to take a bus to near the base of the road and hitchhike up. (There isn’t much traffic on the road, so I would suggest only attempting this on a weekend or be prepared to walk a hot and dusty road.) I was also later told that there is a local who will do private transfers for $30 per person one way, but I didn’t get the contact info. I would imagine that the local gear shops in Mendoza could provide information. Anyway, I ended up renting a car in Mendoza and was easily able to make it all the way to the parking lot.

Day 1 (Vallecitos - Las Veguitas): We started late in the afternoon and hiked to only the first camp, Las Veguitas. It’s a beautiful meadow with lots of water in an otherwise dry and barren environment. However, it’s also not very far from the road, so it is not a quiet place. For much of the evening we enjoyed the area and were greeted by the local mules. Later in the evening though, a large Argentine family showed up and made an excessive amount of noise to the point that it disturbed out sleep. If I were to do it again, I would proceed to Piedra Grande, the second campsite, which is an hour or two further up the trail.

Day 2 (Las Veguitas - El Salto): The next morning we woke up and took a leisurely breakfast before proceeding up the trail. The goal was to head all the way to El Salto, which is the third camp in the valley at around 4,500m. This is a very popular camp situated in a beautiful location just above a large waterfall. It’s also often used at the high camp for the various summits. Consequently, it’s also a pretty disgusting campsite. The rangers are requiring that everyone pack out their feces, but there seems to be no enforcement nor do they provide bags. As a result, there is a lot of feces just off the trail surrounding the camp. There is an upper Salto camp, which is less wind sheltered but somewhat cleaner. The river that runs through the camp doesn’t provide a very good source of water. I would definitely treat it due to sanitation issues, but it also has a lot of sediment in it. Because all of the water is glacial during the peak climbing season, by the afternoon it is undrinkably muddy. Fortunately, there was a water source 5 minutes up the trail coming straight out of the rock. I felt very comfortable drinking that water untreated. It’s only fault is that it was high in mineral content, but all of the water in the area is the same. Anyway, we lazed around camp for the afternoon and enjoyed the spectacular views down the canyon.

Day 3 (Rest Day): The previous night around dinner time, we started to develop headaches. We made the mistake of not climbing higher than we slept and developed mild AMS symptoms. Originally, I had though about going for the summit in the morning, that was now obviously a bad idea. Instead, we hiked up to the upper camp, La Hoyada (4,700m). This high up in the canyon it was starting to become mildly windy, but the sun was also nice and warm. So, we rested in one of the open tent sites and enjoyed dramatic views of Cerro Vallecitos. After a while, I proceeded higher up the headwall of the valley to 5,000m, where I stashed a bottle of water in the rocks right off the trail. By mid afternoon, we had returned to camp and I took a long nap in a warm tent. A climber we had camped near on the first day also arrived. We learned that he had summited twice before and never had he seen weather this good. The area is notorious for strong winds, but it was almost completely calm. This boded well, since I planned on summiting the following day.

Day 4 (El Salto - Summit - Las Veguitas): I woke up around 7 hoping to get a 7:30 start. I figured that would balance having plenty of time to climb in the morning before afternoon weather came in (every day by 2pm lots of clouds would collect) with having sunlight to keep me warm. Straight out of the tent I encountered a light breeze that hadn’t be there the previous two days. It wasn’t windy, but it was going to be windier than spectacularly calm weather we’d been enjoying.

I made quick progress up the valley to La Hoyada. The route then climbs the headwall up to a large plateau-like saddle that connects Vallecitos and El Plata. There are two main climbers trails that go up. One ascends quickly to a small saddle and then follows a ridge up to the main saddle. The other goes directly up the headwall. The trail going straight up the headwall is more worn, and I stashed my water bottle that way. So, that’s the trail that I took. However, about halfway up the headwall I seriously regretted this decision. The trail turns to loose scree and climbers are using it as a quick descent route. For an easier ascent, I needed to take the trail on climbers left from La Hoyada or suffer a small amount of scree by branching off the route I was going. However, I stubbornly trudged all the way up the scree field.

I could now see other climbers collecting on some rocks just below the saddle. Within minutes I caught them and discovered why. Just a couple meters higher in the saddle, the wind was intense and frigid. So, people were snacking and layering up. At this point, I decided to ditch my trail runners and put on double boots. I also layered up, put on goggles, and grabbed some mitts. The next 30 minutes of climbing was quite uncomfortable. On the other side of the saddle, the wind was a little less intense, which was a relief. As I started to traverse around the false peak there were even occasionally wind free pockets. There were also a couple small snowfields with small penitentes that needed to be crossed, but there was nothing that required my ice axe or crampons.

At this point, the views started to become expansive with the south face of Aconcagua dominating the skyline to the northwest. It was hard to believe that I was only a few thousand feet below the top of Americas. But then again, I was really feeling the altitude and my pace was significantly slowing down. After numerous switchbacks climbing up toward the still out of view summit, I had to take a break and eat something. I was hesitant to look at my GPS and see how far I was still from the top, but I relented. Ironically, even though I couldn’t see the summit I was less than 200 vertical feet from it. So, I quickly picked up my bag and dashed off to put this one away. Sure enough, just around the corner was the crashed helicopter and the final small climb to the summit block. The wind was blowing steadily, so I only soaked in the view for a minute or two just long enough to take a dozen pictures.

I descended rapidly and even thought about using the small glacier, but it was just icy enough that I’d need crampons. Before long I found one of the wind free pockets and basked in the sun for a while. From my vantage point, I could see the other groups of climbers slowly making their way across the traverse. Frustratingly, as I descended I discovered that the wind was significantly weaker than what I had encountered just an hour before. I guess I should have slept in for another hour…

I was back in camp by noon and attempted to nap for a few hours. We then proceeded to pack up and tromp on down to Las Veguitas, so that we could get to Mendoza by noon the next day. Even though it wasn’t a weekend, we had the pleasure of an Argentine family surrounding us with their tents after dark and proceeding to make a bunch of noise. At least I was tired enough that I quickly fell asleep after the initial disruption.

Day 5 (Las Veguitas - Vallecitos): We woke up, quickly made our way to the car, and then reached Mendoza where we enjoyed a fantastic shower.
Summary Total Data
    Trailhead:Vallecitos Ski Center  -9999 ft / -3047 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Cold, Very Windy, Clear



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