MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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February 25, 2013

Aconcagua Expedition Trip Report - Part 1

Here is the first in a series of blogs from Ian Nicholson about our February 2 Aconcagua Normal Route expedition. Many of you followed the progress on our Facebook page and probably had many questions. How far did the team make it? What happens if your bags don't make it to Mendoza? What was the weather like? Did our clients have fun? What did they do when they got down from the mountain? Follow our blog for the next three days and all of your questions will be answered!

Aconcagua in all its glory. Ian Nicholson photo

The team trickled into Mendoza, the wine capital of South America, starting on Feb 2. Maria and Paul were the first to arrive, then were soon joined by Kevin, Mike, Tony, Norman, Jane and Rohit. The group dynamic couldn't have been better, we were all very excited to start this journey together. 

There was only one problem: Mike's bag was lost! His sleeping bag, most of his warm cloths and much of his climbing gear never made it off the plane with him. The group was slated to leave for Los Penitentes the following morning. After various phone calls to the airlines and returning to the airport to search, we returned to the hotel empty handed. 

By the next morning, Mike's bag was still nowhere to be found. So Mike, Tony and I stayed behind in Mendoza while the rest of the group went to Los Penitentes (2651 meters or around 8750 feet) where they were going to spend one night and then drive to the trailhead the following morning. The plan was, if the bag didn't show up we would buy or rent everything Mike needed in Mendoza and try to catch up with the group somewhere between Los Penitentes and Confluencia!

Ian Nicholson photo

We helped the group load up the van and told them "hasta mañana" or until tomorrow ......we hoped. 

Mike, Tony and I began the hurry up and wait game. He went around to various gear shops in Mendoza to reserve rentals and buy odds and ends that Mike wouldn't mind doubling up on even if his bags showed up. After several stressful hours of worrying about his bag, the front desk of the Hotel Executive called and told us that they had found the bags! Apparently, they had gone to Buenos Aires and maybe Lima but were destined to arrive back in Mendoza the following morning. We couldn't believe it! Mike, Tony and I were smiling ear to ear. When I initially heard from the front desk I was so excited I ran through the hotel in my socks.

Once back at the hotel a local driver picked us up and we went speeding toward the mountains with the drivers choice of music, Metallica blaring all the way.

The group reunited for the acclimatization hike. Ian Nicholson photo

We met Tino and his group in Los Penitentes, we hadn't missed much other than some good food and an apparently heated ping pong tournament. From the park entrance we hiked 3 hours to Confluencia (3440m or 11,286ft) Sabrina the cook greated us, she was very nice and excellent at her profession. We dinned on Steak that was even better than we had had in city of Mendoza.

Confluencia is a small camp deep in a valley surrounded by grassy hillsides topped with snowy peaks. After spending a night in a rain storm mixed with snow, we spent the next day making an acclimatization hike to a Mirador (4084 meters or 13,400 feet) overlooking then South Face of Aconcagua the largest "Wall" in South America and in the top 20 largest alpine walls in the world. It is an incredible sight with steep rock and frightening, gigantic seracs hanging with menacing despair. The South Face of Aconcagua was easily as impressive as its near-larger-than-life reputation. The swirling clouds only added to the wall's mystique.

The team hiking up to Mirador. Ian Nicholson photo

We ate while admiring it, but just as we were finishing lunch it began to snow and hail, so we hurried back to camp with the snow turning to rain as we lost elevation. That whole night it rained huge and heavy drops, more like a tropical rain forest than the high arid landscape where we were reported to be. The following day, we made the 8+ hour walk up to Plaza de Mulas (4250 meters or 14,000 feet) and our base camp for the trip. It was a rainy, snowy and windy hike, but we pulled our hoods up and kept our faces down, yet our spirits remained steadily high as we trekked toward base camp.  The final climb up to Plaza de Mulas is called Cuesta Brava or "Angry Hill" and is named similarly to Denali's heartbreak hill because at the end of a long day you have the longest steepest climb to go. What more appropriate name for a hill could you have? 

Tune in tomorrow for the stories of our approach and battles with weather!

~ MM Guide Ian Nicholson