Ascent of Aconcagua on 2011-01-20

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Greg Slayden -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Date:Thursday, January 20, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
    Elevation:22841 ft / 6961 m

Ascent Trip Report

We summitted this peak 12 days after Ojos del Salado (8 Jan), making a relatively rapid ascent thanks to our previous acclimatisation, although we had to wait nearly a week for a suitably wind free summit window.

Wed 12 Jan morning flight from Santiago to Mendoza. Met at airport by Luz from Mallku Expediciones who assisted us with obtaining permits, food and fuel, and transporting us to Puente del Inca; they also provided mule services, and garbage disposal and toilet facilities at base camp. We had expected to pay USD600 for our permits but soon discovered that the price had increased this season to USD750 (NB the payment has to be made in Argentinian Pesos, not USD as we had thought). This was about 50% up on the previous season! This applies to the high season of Dec 15 to Jan 31: for Feb the advertised fee was approx 25% lower.

Key locations:
Tourism office, S32.89015 W68.83914 (collect permit forms)
Cambio S32.88970 W68.83907 (change USD to Pesos)
Pagofacil S32.89074 W68.83897 (pay permit fee)
Tourism office again, to complete permit paperwork and wait while permits are issued
Mountain HardWear store S32.88895 W68.84248 (propane-butane gas canisters, white gas)
Carrefour supermarket, S32.88590 W68.84759 (food shopping)
Mallku Expediciones office, S32.88482 W68.84711 (pay Mallku fees)
Caro Pepe, S32.88526 W68.84495 (all-you-can-eat buffet for last minute carbo loading)

Note: it was not possible to buy dehydrated meals at either of the stores visited, nor did Carrefour sell instant noodles. This cost us some gas consumption. I was lucky that Petter Bjorstad donated 3 meals left over from our Ojos trip: these met my needs at Nido.

We left the airport at 0950, had our permits by 1100, left Carrefour at 1200, had a meal then left for Puente around 1330, arrived 1600 (S32.82623 W69.90956, 2738m). We then separated our gear (60kg between us for the mule; gear to carry; gear to leave at Puente with Mallku). The ever helpful Oswaldo (Mallku) also gave us a lift to the trailhead to deal with permit formalities to enable an early departure the next day. This efficient process was just what we had in mind, and enabled us to reach Puente del Inca comfortably in a day and to be back at altitude at base camp by the end of the next day. We stayed overnight at the (very basic) Hostel del Nico. I was billeted in the main dorm with a large friendly Polish group. Greg and Adam had a rather cramped room to themselves. We ate at one of the several food outlets available.

Thu 13 With a long day in prospect we left early, in case it should become warm later. Oswaldo gave us an early lift to the trailhead (S32.81182 W69.94264, 2945m): after a quick breakfast we started hiking at 0527. Almost immediately, on passing the first house, we were asked for our permits (in the dark – very keen!). Initially there are several “daytripper” side trails: staying on the widest trail is the safest bet in the dark. The wide trail leads in approx 2km to a suspension bridge which crosses to the E bank of the Rio Horcones. Early in the walk there are nice views of the towering S face of Aconcagua. Several mule trains pass during the day.

We reach Confluencia camp (S32.75895 W69.96751, 3419m) at 0804: a few groups are heading up the trail. Fine scenery. We soon reach the major Horcones confluence, descending to a small bridge then steeply back up and over a low ridge. Beyond, we enter a wide stony river valley sloping gently uphill, with colourful arid peaks beside and ahead of us. The distinctive boulder Piedre Grande (S32.73931 W70.00190, 3551m) is reached at 0950. The route seems quite long (the scale of the valley is quite impressive). The next main landmark is a rock outcrop, Ibanez, S32.69857 W70.05431, 3797m, reached at 1211. By this time the valley has swung R and the distinctive snow peak Cuerno is now visible ahead. At Ibanez, the trail leaves the valley floor and climbs up the R (E) bank, the Rio Horcones now confined to a narrowing gorge.

The valley widens again higher up. We pass the prominent boulders of Playa Chica (S32.67230 W70.05965, 3994m) then the ruins of the old base camp building, then a steep loose climb leads finally to Plaza de Mulas – base camp and our home for the next week or so. A colourful place. We report in at the rangers building (first on L); they explain where the Mallku tents are (near the upper – N – end); we find our mule bags in one of the tents, and set up camp (S32.64846 W70.05816, 4394m). We arrived at `1545 after 12h15 hiking. Most parties will take several days, acclimatising en route, but having already acclimatised we were pleased to get back to altitude and look forward to a well earned rest tomorrow.

Fri 14 Up at 0930 when the sun emerges from behind Aconcagua summit and warms the tent. Almost windless – doubtless an excellent summit day for those higher up – the last for nearly a week, as it turns out! During the day we wander over to the hotel, explore the foot of the glacier / snowfield (impressive waterfall). In the afternoon I wander up past Camp Canada (S32.64509 W70.04292, 5060m) to a distinctive rock outcrop at 5274m, just below Camp Alaska. Moving steadily with no backpack, I’m up in 1h50 and down in 25 minutes (the descent route is on scree, keeping R of the obvious stream). Late afternoon we go down to the medical hut for the mandatory checks: our O2, pulse and blood pressure are pronounced “very good”. Some poor chap is in an oxygen mask and is helicoptered out soon afterwards. We become accustomed to the scenery: the neat rock cone of Bonete, the dramatic snow peak of Cuerno, and the towering buttressed mass of Aconcagua, turning orange with every sunset.

Sat 15 Up 0930 with the sun, as usual. Forecast (available at the rangers hut although you usually have to go in and ask to see it) is for two windy days, then a reasonable summit day Monday. We head up to Nido de Condores (“Camp 2”, S32.63672 W70.02753, 5591m), making a cache of our summit gear (axe, crampons, plastic boots) plus some food. A chilly inhospitable place. With rough weather in prospect we make sure we weight the bag down and make a careful GPS and mental note of the location, before heading back down to Mulas. We’re down by 1710; later we see a casualty being short-roped down the trail (snowblindness apparently). A windy night – we’re glad not to be at Nido, or Berlin...

Sun 16 Up 0930 as usual; the wind drops with sunrise but the day remains breezy. Looking up, we see spindrift in the area of the summit and also in the direction of Nido. Greg and I head over to the hotel to buy another gas canister then I enjoy a nice afternoon ascent of Bonete (5060m). Late afternoon while cooking we watch an impressive display of lenticular clouds over the summit of Aconcagua: a sign of very high winds.

Mon 17 Today we and our tent move up to Nido: depart 0840, Canada by 1040, arrive Nido 1300. Our cache bag is buried by snow (consistent with the spindrift we saw from Mulas). We choose a campsite at the top end of Nido, at the start of the path to Camp Berlin. We pitch on snow, carefully securing the tent with a combination of snow anchors and rock guys. It’s a nice afternoon, fairly still with a fine view north to Cerro Mercedario. The forecast is now less good for tomorrow but we live in hope.

Tue 18 Awake most of the night – quite windy. The planned 0300 start never happens. We now understand from the ranger in their tiny Nido hut that the weather should be good Wed and Thurs... Rest day in the tent, reading, playing Poker, 2 hours melting snow.

Wed 19 Awake most of the night – very windy, although the tent is nice and stable. This was not forecast. No chance of summitting today. Rangers say forecast is (really!) good for Thurs and Friday. However we have insufficient gas for another 1 or 2 nights, so I go down to Mulas to buy 2 more canisters from the hotel, pick up some extra food – and double check the weather forecast and the Mulas ranger station (not quite as good as the Nido version but worth a try – and we’re running out of days before our flights home). On the re-ascent to Nido I’m noticeably more tired than on Sunday – partly an effect of 3 nights at 5600m and 2 windy sleepless nights. This doesn’t bode well for summit day...

Thu 20 Up 0300, no wind, depart 0400, in crampons and all our warmest clothing. Very cold: Greg soon stops and (we later learn) fits toe warmers – we don’t see him again until after the summit. I hike with Adam. The braided trail is less than obvious in the dark: we climb too steeply, making several shortcuts, but arrive at Camp Berlin safely (S32.63825 W70.02163, 5933m). After a few minutes rest we continue (ENE, crossing a rocky ridge) to Camp Colera (White Rocks) S32.63744 W70.01861, 5979m, arriving at 0554. By now it is light and we have the company of several large parties, mostly from these upper camps although some have like ourselves come from Nido. Yellow dawn lights the eastern sky and soon we seen the alpenglow on Mercedario and other nearby summits. Zigzag paths lead up to Independencia, S32.64610 W70.01551, 6385m. A lot of cold-looking people. Adam offers me a pair of chemical handwarmers. Someone remarks that these don’t work at this altitude (insufficient oxygen to activate them) but after a few minutes a gentle warmth begins which lasts all day.

The trail is mostly snow covered and we stay in crampons to the summit. Rounding a corner we begin a high traverse, exposed, windy and very cold. We pass a slow party, then encounter a large army group which I overtake and Adam stays behind. At the foot of the main Canalete climb (S32.65331 W70.01622, 6808m) everyone sits down for a rest. I notice a solo climber taking the steep trail up to the left, and in a while I follow. It’s a steep snow climb – easy except for the altitude which makes for very slow progress. I see two climbers behind me and am intent on maintaining the distance between us! At last I near the summit and hear a shouted greeting: the climber I saw earlier is obviously glad of some company. 1130. We take each other’s photos. He’s local, from Mendoza: this is his second ascent. In a while he leaves, and I have the Americas’ highpoint all to myself for a few minutes before the (Spanish) pair arrive.

The highest point (S32.65307 W70.01205, 6969m) is a rocky area above a sheer drop. A little lower are two smallish crosses (one is fallen), then a birdhouse (with toy bird!) labelled “Lovehouse 6963”; the other summit furniture is perhaps meteorologically related.

I head down after an hour, at 1230. I soon see Adam who is on the ridge nearing the summit. Further down the Canaleta I see Greg, also moving well – looks like we’ll all make it! There are many climbers on the route but they thin out below the main Canaleta climb and by Independencia I have the descent to myself for a while. However, Colera is quite busy as is the whole route down to Nido. I carefull follow the zigzags down to record a good GPS track.

I’m back at the tent at 1450: 7h30 up, 2h20 down. I have a snow melting session then relax until Adam and Greg arrive, a little after 6pm, within 5 minutes of each other. They report that cloud came down during the descent, also that some parties were summitting late, also that at least one party came straight up from base camp and one person had to be helicoptered down with AMS. Clearly people take risks on this mountain.

I later learn that my friends Lindsay and Janet Munro and Alison Richardson summited Kilimanjaro this very day - a lovely coincidence!

Fri 21 Up 0920 when sun hits tent. Dusting of fresh snow on Aconcagua; lowish cloud: we certainly had the best summit window. Leisurely morning; we descend at 1400; light snow falling. We have large packs; I have the tent poles strapped to mine, except that they’re not there when I arrive at base camp! We hire a larger tent from Mallku for the night. We treat ourselves to burgers @ 9USD – long anticipated and delicious. We visit the art gallery (!) and Greg sends an email notifying our friends and families of our success. Arrangements are made for waste disposal etc; permits are annotated accordingly. Another casualty at the medical tent: leg fracture: another helicopter ride.

Sat 22 Our mule bags have to be ready before 1000. The 62 kg has diminished to 48 kg now the food has gone, and we’re carrying less, too. We hike down at 0945, moving easily in nice cool conditions. It’s a breezy day and the summit is obscured – not ideal summit weather we suspect. Just past Confluencia, two hikers pass us. One has an OMM rucksack – I ask if he’s done the event (Original Mountain Marathon - UK event which I’ve done myself a few times). No but I’ve done the Marathon de Sables, comes the reply. Serious athlete! They are part of a South African group, although he’s Aberdeen based. His companion works at Needlesport, a Cumbria-based gear shop which I use regularly. Small world... After a while we let them go ahead and finish our hike at a more leisurely pace, reaching the parking lot at 1630. Good old Oswaldo is there with our bags! There’s a bus at 1730 and we reckon we can catch it. We quickly retrieve our remaining bags, buy our tickets ... and the bus doesn’t turn up.

However the South Africans are there and are good company. One of them, Lance Metz, now has just Denali left to complete the 7 Summits and has plans for an O-free Everest. However he bagged a $600 helicopter ride down from Plaza de Mulas... another of the group took a $120 mule ride... Anyway they generously passed their hotel room booking over to us so we had a comfortable night and a nice meal, at the Hostelaria Puenta del Inca.

Sun 23 We are assured the 1400 bus will arrive – which it does. Meanwhile we stroll down to the nearby mountaineers cemetery, an interesting and thought provoking place. Arriving at a chaotic-yet-organised Santiago bus terminal we quickly find an ATM then a taxi to Plaza Londres hotel where we spend a comfortable night -and get some laundry done.

Mon 24 In tourist mode, we explore Santiago, summitting the diminutive Cerro Santa Lucia, S33.44031 W70.64344, 625m. After lunch, Adam and I summit the slightly more significant Cerro San Cristóbal, S33.42513 W70.63289, 855m (by funicular railway) then explore the downtown area on the way back to the hotel. Late evening we fly home.

Tue 25 I have a long layover at JFK. Having cleared immigration (the US don’t do “transit”), on the advice of Greg I take the sky train then the Long Island Rail Road into New York City, find a tourist map then spend an interesting day ticking off New York landmarks... in a snowstorm. My GPS tells me I hiked 27.6km – my longest day's hiking of the trip (not much height gain though!)

Wed 26 Arrive London Heathrow, early morning.

Summary stats:
Trailhead 0527, Confluencia 0804, Plaza de Mulas base camp 1545, total 24.6km, 1450m ascent.
Base camp 0840, Nido 1300, 4.8km, 1200m ascent.
Nido 0400, Aconcagua 1130-1230, Nido 1450. 5+5km, 1380m ascent & descent.
Nido 1400, base camp 1500, 4.8km. 1200m descent.
Base camp 0945, trailhead 1630, 24.6km, 1450m descent.

Allowing for a few ups and downs on the walk-in, the minimum effort required via the Horcones route is 68.8km, 4100m.
My Camp Alaska recce and the extra ascent to Nido added 18km, 2100m; Bonete added a further 8km, 670m, bringing my total to 95km, 6900m (roughly equal to the peak's elevation). Parties arriving without prior acclimatisation will probably cover significantly more than this, with additional camps, caches and carries.

NOTE: the GPX has been "shortcut" from the summit back to Camp Alaska: we reversed the ascent route.

Trip photos

Adam Walker's trip report
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:13703 ft / 4175 m
    Extra Gain:262 ft / 79 m
    Round-Trip Distance:42.8 mi / 68.8 km
    Route:Ruta Normale (Horcones)
    Trailhead:Puente del Inca trailhead  9662 ft / 2944 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 2
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Crampons, Tent Camp
    Weather:Frigid, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:7 Days 6 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Days 4 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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