Ascent of Aconcagua on 2011-01-20

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Adam Walker -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Rob Woodall -- 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

Introduction: We pre-acclimatized for Aconcagua by spending two weeks in Bolivia and northern Chile, culminating with an ascent of Ojos del Salado on January 12th. We hoped that this would enable us to have a very quick trip on this big mountain.

Day 0 - Wed, Jan 12 - Prep We flew from Santiago to Mendoza and were picked up by Luz from Mallku Expeditions, our logistics outfitter. We had no guide on the mountain, but Mallku provided mule services, bathrooms at basecamp, and transportation in Mendoza and to the trailhead. Luz helped us get our climbing permits (US$800 each), food and supplies, and, finally, an extremely hearty meal at a buffet restaurant. Then she drove us a couple hours uphill to a cramped hostel at Puente del Inca, where we sorted gear for the next day, including getting our sacks for mule transport all ready.

Day 1- Thurs, Jan 13: We hiked from Puente del Inca all the way to Plaza de Mulas, a long day that is generally not recommended--we hiked from 5:30 AM to 5:45 PM, a 12+ hour hike. We did it since we were pre-acclimatized and wanted to get back up to high elevation as quickly as possible. Mulas was a bustling and busy encampment, and we located the Mallku area, got our mule bags, and pitched our tent nearby.

Day 2 - Fri, Jan 14: Today we hung out at Plaza de Mulas, tired from yesterday. So doing the big push really didn't save us much time. It was a nice day and we did a few short hikes.

Day 3 - Sat, Jan 15: We hiked up to Nido de Condores and made a cache of climbing gear and food. With bad weather forecasted, we did not spend the night there, and returned to Mulas.

Day 4 - Sun, Jan 16: A nice day down at Plaza de Mulas but very windy high up, we saw spindrift clouds and a lenticular cap above. So we hung out at Mulas all day, doing short hikes in the area.

Day 5 - Mon, Jan 17: We moved up to our high camp at Nido de Condores--we left Mulas at 8:30 AM and arrived at 1 PM. We pitched my sturdy REI "Mountain 3" tent and got settled in. Our plan was to avoid camping at Berlin Camp, since we felt that the advantage of less gain on summit day was offset by its windy location and poor high-altitude sleeping conditions. It was very windy this night.

Day 6 - Tue, Jan 18: It was too windy in the morning to make a summit attempt so we just rolled over and slept in. A lazy day in camp, reading and doing other chores. We played what was quite possibly the highest-up poker game in the world at that time.

Day 7 - Wed, Jan 19: Another day of strong wind, forcing us to again postpone our summit day and remain mostly tentbound. We were low on supplies, especially gas cannisters, so Rob generously hiked back down to Mulas to buy some at the hotel and return. This act really saved the trip for Adam and me.

Day 8: - Thurs, Jan. 20 - Summit Day: Finally a morning without wind, so we started for the summit in the bitter cold of 4 AM. The route is a well-trodden path, so we agreed to hike separately if our speeds did not match. I soon stopped to add chemical warmers into my boots, and for the rest of the day I hiked solo (among the many other parties). The path was, strangely, a ribbon of icy snow created by countless hikers compacting snow, and it remained even though the rest of the slope was just rock. So I used crampons and a ski pole as my only gear.

The altitude really affected me, despite 3 nights at 5600m. If I had been in a guided party, I would have most likely been turned around. But I chugged on upwards, taking rests and requiring up to 5 breaths per step. I was OK on the traverse to the Canaleta, but really started running out of gas going up that miserable, steep gully of loose rock. I met Rob heading down at about 1:30 PM--he was the first person of the day to summit. An hour later Adam came by me, too, also having reached the summit. Finally, at about 3 PM, wheezing and panting, I reached the apex of the Americas.

I was emotional, mainly overjoyed that I had not failed and would not have to come back to this rockpile. The weather was nice for my summit stay--warm and not windy--but sadly a benign cloud had just settled on top and blocked all views. I stayed for an hour on the large flat rocky area, rested, took photos, and chatted with the 50 or so other climbers on top. I left at 4 PM and it was amazing what a difference going downhill made--I cruised back to our tent at Nido in 2 hours (vs. 11 up) and arrived at 6 PM, catching up to Adam as I arrived.

Rob had been back at camp for over 3 hours and could have been down at Mulas, so we appreciated his waiting for us and spending another night up high--Adam and I were too tired to pack up and head down, and it was late by the time we got back and had rested.

Day 9 - Fri, Jan 21: We slept in, and were glad we had summited yesterday, since the weather above did not look great. We took our time and left Nido at 2 PM and got back to Mulas a couple hours later. My tent poles somehow fell off Rob's pack, so we rented a tent from our outfitter Mallku for the night. We splurged on expensive burgers and 15 minutes of satellite internet to let our families and friends know of our success.

Day 10 - Sat, Jan 22: We hiked from Plaza de Mulas all the way back to Puente del Inca, from 9:45 AM to 4:30 PM. It was a long, dusty, and hot hike, and we were a bit tired. The bar owner at Puente del Inca told us a bus for Santiago came at 5:30 PM, so we hung out at his establishment with some South Africans, including a wealthy seven-summiter who told outrageious stories. The bus never came, so we needed lodging for the night, and we scored a free room at a fancy hotel when the South African dude gave us his key--he had rented a room just do he could shower and was leaving soon. We definitely enjoyed our hot showers and another large meal in the hotel's fancy restaurant.

Epilogue: On Sunday Jan. 23 we had to kill time in Puente del Inca until 2 PM, waiting for the bus to Santiago. There was not much to do, but we toured the local climber's cemetery and otherwise hung out. The bus came on time, and barely had enough room for us and our gear. After crossing the border and descending an amazingly steep "spaghetti road" we cruised into Santiago and got a hotel room. The next day we did touristy stuff in Santiago and in the evening got to the airport for our flights home.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:17149 ft / 5227 m
    Total Elevation Loss:17149 ft / 5226 m
    Round-Trip Distance:52.2 mi / 84 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Crampons, Ski Poles, Animal/Pet, Hut Camp, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:9 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cold, Calm, Low Clouds
Very Light Snow
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:17149 ft / 5227 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 13179 ft / 4017 m; Extra: 3970 ft / 1210m
    Loss on way in:3970 ft / 1210 m
    Distance:30.6 mi / 49.2 km
    Start Trailhead:Horcones  9662 ft / 2944 m
    Time:7 Days 11 Hours 15 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:13179 ft / 4016 m
    Distance:21.6 mi / 34.8 km
    End Trailhead:Horcones  9662 ft / 2944 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
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.

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