In December 2000/January 2001, I spent three days acclimatizing in the Vallecitos area, and then eleven days attempting Aconcagua (6962m, 22,841ft). Three days were too few to climb a major peak in the Vallecitos. I approached Aconcagua via the Vacas valley to its east, and spent three days at the foot of the Polish glacier at 5900m waiting for the winds to drop so that I could climb the difficult Polish direct route, but they only grew worse. Eventually, on the last available day, I attempted Aconcagua by the standard route, but was turned back by violent winds just above the Cresta del Viento (windy crest) at about 6600m, and descended back to the road via the Horcones valley to the west. It was a great trip, but it was disappointing not to get up any mountains.
This year, I planned to spend six days in the Vallecitos area and twelve days attempting Aconcagua. Moreover, I would approach Aconcagua via the Horcones valley, and climb the standard route before considering the difficult Polish direct route.
The highest point of Pico Franke. By 11:15, the clouds were already beginning to boil upward.
After reaching the highest point, I noticed that there was a cross on different "summit" block.
The "summit" block on Pico Franke. Reaching the top of it was an easy scramble (easier than it looks!)
View towards Plata from near the campsite. The visible peak is "Pico Plata", which is about 200m lower than Co. Plata behind it. The route climbs the snowy basin, and then follows the easy slope on the right to the summit. The final slopes have been largely swept free of snow by the wind.
In the morning, the wind was sufficiently strong to turn back five Argentine climbers, but it was not nearly as powerful as the winds had been the year before on Aconcagua. Once I crossed the ridge, the wind dropped somewhat. When I stopped for lunch, I seemed to be higher than a neighbouring peak, Vallecitos, which the map lists as 5700m, and only about 200m below the summit. Since my GPS gave the altitude as 5600m, I expected the guidebook would be correct. However, as usual, the summit was further than it looked, and my GPS, placed a couple of metres below the summit, locked on rapidly to 6 satellites, and gave a reading of 5976m/19607ft. Close to 6000m! [I don't know how accurate the altitudes given by GPSs are. The geometry suggests they should be much less accurate than the horizontal readings, so Plata may in fact be 6000m.]
The summit of Plata. The clouds were flying past in the wind just above me, but it was fairly calm on top.
Left 5:30; top 12:00; 1680m; (260m/hr).
The mules carrying 20kg of my food and gear passed me on the way to base camp
At the base camp, I met two Canadians who had spent five days sitting at the 5900m camp at the foot of the Polish direct route. They said it was all hard ice. No one had climbed it except for two Koreans who had bivouac (spend the night) on the route. One Korean reached the summit; the other retreated. Both had frostbite to the hands, feet, and face.
That just about eliminated any thought I still had of doing the Polish direct route after the standard route.
I planned to go to Nido de Condores (condors' nest) 5380m tomorrow and attempt the summit the following day. The Canadians' plans were the same, except they intended to go the Berlin camp 5780m.
Aconcagua from Horcones Peak (taken after the snowstorm of 23.12.01). Plaza de Mulas (base camp) is at lower right; Nido de Condores is the flat area at centre-left; the route above Nido roughly follows the ridge at left but cuts across below the black summit block to reach the ridge just to the right of it.
Rocks and clouds, from my tent at Nido.
At Nido de Condores, I met a friendly Chilean party. They were moving up to Camp Berlin and planned to attempt the summit tomorrow.
About 3pm a snow storm blew in, and it continued to snow and blow most of the night.
A nearby tent after the storm.
My tent was in a slightly sheltered spot, which was bad, because in addition to the wind I was almost buried by drifting snow.
My tent after the storm --- when I camped, there had been no snow nearby.
I walked up to the Berlin camp (5870m/19260ft). Despite the storm, the Canadians attempted the summit --- one turned back at 6400m with cold hands and the other reached the summit.
The Chileans at the Berlin camp had decided to wait a day also. They will leave tomorrow for the summit at 5am. A large Norwegian party will leave for the summit from Nido de Condores at 2am. I will leave from Nido at 5am. [Because the weather generally deteriorates after midday, even on good days, everyone tries to reach the summit by midday.]
From time to time, a single climber or a pair of climbers would pass me going down. Were conditions impossibly bad (like last year) above the Cresta del Viento? I asked one of the descending climbers --- No, he was only descending to accompany his sick companion; conditions were good higher up.
I reached Independencia 6400m/21000ft at 8:30am --- 1020m in 3 1/2 hour --- almost 300m/hr. By now, the sun was beginning to warm me, and things were looking really good.
I crossed the Cresta del Viento, and this year the wind dropped somewhat. Above me, there were about 15 climbers, all of whom had left before me or had started from higher camps (except for the man in the yellow suit).
The route became icy, and I put on lightweight trekking crampons (I was wearing winter hiking boots --- virtually everyone else was wearing plastic double climbing boots and alpine crampons).
For the last 300m to the summit ridge, the route was buried in deep powder snow. I began to pass other climbers. I admired their tenacity: many had started three hours before me, and, because they were going much slower than me, they must have been feeling much worse than me, but, nevertheless, they continued to force their way up. The soft snow, the altitude, and fatigue were affecting everyone.
Looking back at the route, only about 50m below the summit. Two climbers inch their way up.
The friendly Chileans arrived on top shortly before me, and one took a photo of me.
On the summit of Aconcagua 6962m/22842ft
Arrived at 12:30 (7 1/2 hours for 1580m/5200ft; 210m/hr).
The Chileans beginning their descent
After the Chileans left, two Italians arrived, and thrust a video camera into my hands (the first time I'd touched one). As I "pressed the red button" and pointed it at them, they re-enacted their arrival on the summit, pulled out a very faded pennant, and made an emotional speech about how, in the long history of their royal and ancient climbing club, this was the first time the pennant had been carried to the summit of the Americas (or something like that, my Italian being nonexistent).
By 4:20, I was back at my tent.
View from my tent at base camp (Plaza de Mulas). Horcones Peak is the distant snow peak behind the "Aconcagua Express".
Climbed Horcones Peak. It was a very pleasant climb, with beautiful views, and no real difficulty except that one has to be careful not to fall down any of the monster crevasses.
View down the Horcones from on Horcones Pk. The distant snow peak at top-right is Tupungato 6570m (which I plan to attempt next year).
At this point, I still had a few days left, and no desire at all to go back up to 5900m to see if the Polish direct route was in as difficult a condition as the Canadians claimed. Instead, I decided to take a look at the south face of Aconcagua. This is one the most famous mountain faces in the world. Its first ascent by the French in 1954 was a major event in mountaineering history (I probably read the book of the expedition at the time it first appeared).
In the morning the Horcones is a frozen trickle; by late afternoon, with the melting snow, it is a raging torrent.
Walked to the French base camp in the afternoon. Met some friendly Brazilians there. They were a party of six: 2 climbers had been on the wall for 6 days; the rest were a film crew of 2, a base-camp manager, and a "sherpa".
The valley leading into the French base camp is very dry; only the different shades of brown and grey in the rock relieve the tedium.
The south face of Aconcagua is 3000 vertical metres of rotten rock and unstable ice cliffs.
Walked to the road, and my driver arrived at 4:30. By 7pm, I was in Mendoza.
I asked my driver whether anything important had happened while I was in the mountains. No, he said. It was only later that I learned that while I had been the mountains, 27 people had been killed in riots in Buenos Aires, there had been five presidents, and the Argentine economy had finally imploded.
There is a brief description of the Vallecitos area in
Biggar, John, The High Andes, A guide for climbers.
Rudy Parra can arrange everything (transport from the Mendoza airport, mules,
For equipment purchase and rental (including butane/propane) in Mendoza,
contact Casa Orviz