Decisions, Decisions, Decisions….
Sitting in Aconcagua Base Camp Sunday night enjoying a nice BBQ after our successful summit we faced a dilemma….we were over a week ahead of schedule, what should we do with our spare time?
With a speed record attempt you’d normally want to just keep pushing ahead as fast as possible, but unfortunately we can’t. There are two main reasons for that:
We have a fixed date planned for the Rotary Kosciusko Wheelchair Summit Challenge. A date we must keep. (And while on the topic of the Rotary Kosciusko Wheelchair Summit Challenge, if anyone is interested in joining in, here is the link to register: https://project7in4.com/giving-back/#mkws-challenge)
At the end there is only a narrow feasible window in May when Everest can be climbed (short of launching a full scale winter expedition). Even if we pushed ahead with all the other climbs we’d still end up waiting at the end for weather on Everest to open up.
It is funny, most people believed the schedule we laid out was completely unrealistic and yet here we are sitting around enjoying an Argentinian BBQ trying to figure out how to kill time.
In regards with what to do with the spare week, there were several options we tossed around:
Leave the itinerary as is and sit in Mendoza for a week eating steak and drinking wine. Could be worse things.
Trek straight out, bring Kilimanjaro forward, then have a week’s R&R in Bali before Carstensz Pyramid.
Trek straight out, bring Kilimanjaro and Carstensz forward and have a week’s R&R back in Sydney before Kosciuszko.
Stay in Aconcagua Base Camp and head back up for a 1 day ascent. That was very enticing. Our combined climbing time from the ascent we just did was just under 13hrs split over 2 days. Going fast and light and with more acclimatisation I think we could do it in well under 12hrs.
Go climb another mountain.
Option 2, a week’s R&R in Bali, was definitely considered, but I don’t own a Bintang singlet so I wouldn’t fit in with the rest of Aussie contingent on Kuta beach, plus I’d be bored within a day. So it really came down to hanging out in Aconcagua Base Camp and attempting a 1 day ascent or go climb another mountain. Since we’d already done Aconcagua we opted for new scenery. The next question was – what mountain to throw in? We had a bit of time to think about that. First thing we needed to do was trek out.
Too Much Food
All the food we’d taken in to Base Camp and carted up and down the hill we had to get rid of. There was no point taking it back to Mendoza. We tried giving it to other climbers but they all had enough of their own. I didn’t want to throw it out as that would have been a huge waste. Then one of the Base Camp support staff suggested giving it to the porters.
We weren’t using porters above Base Camp as we opted to carry our own gear and be self-sufficient but most people on the hill do use porters so there is a group of locals at Base Camp who provide the service. Handing over this large sack of food, they were delighted. I was annoyed at wasting so much money on food we ended up not needing, but I was pleased they could enjoy it.
The Trek Out and Back to Mendoza
I had pretty much reached my quota of tasteless soup so yesterday morning, the morning after summiting, we packed all our gear into our expedition duffles, handed them to the local mule drivers trusting we’d see them again and commenced the trek out. The trek out was 25km back to the road which on the way in we split over 2 days to acclimatise along the way but on the way out did in the day. It was a leisurely stroll back down the valley along the Horcones River and took about 5 hrs.
Video – my gear getting a lift out:
The most noticeable difference on the trek out compared to the trek in was the river. With more snow melt it had a larger volume of flow and the water had turned a thick chocolate brown colour, just like a chocolate milkshake. It looked positively delicious. And before you ask… No, I didn’t taste it. I may have tasted the dust substance out of the bottom of my bag a few days ago (which was actually chocolate powder!) but I was not going to drink the brown river water.
Back at the road we checked out with the National Parks officer and made our way back to Penitentes. Our duffles had already arrived from their ride on the mules, covered in dust and with a few extra scrapes and grazes. While it’s nice getting our gear ferried to and from Base Camp, saving us having to carry it, the mules are definitely very hard on the gear. My shiny new duffles had been well and truly christened.
We had a quick beverage in the hotel while waiting for our lift then drove the 3hrs back to Mendoza. The local driver elected to put our bags half in the boot and half in the front seat while the two of us sat in the back seat. Sitting in the cramped back seat with no leg room I was in agony. I find whenever I sit with my knees at 90 degrees for any extended period I get severe pain which builds up under the knee cap. And it is always worse after a period of walking / running. I sat there trying to stretch out my legs as best I could, all the time looking on with envy at my bags which had scored shotgun.
After about 45min I could handle it anymore so asked the driver if he could pull over and if I could swap seats with my bags. He was not impressed at the prospect of relocating my bags and scattering more dust throughout the car, but with a few floor mats and jackets we protected the seats the best we could and he was happy enough. With more leg room in the front my knees were also happy. I’ve been struggling with bad knees for a number of years now, doctors say it’s from too much wear and tear when I was younger. I just hope they’ll hold in there for a few more months.
It was about 22:00 by the time we got back to Mendoza. We checked in to the hotel and first point of call was a shower. It was the first shower I had had in over a week. It felt wonderful to wash all the dust, grime and sweat off. Freshened up we headed straight out for dinner. Back home if you head out for dinner at 22:00 most restaurants would be ceasing food service but here they were just getting started. It looks like finally we’ve made it on to local time!
It’s The People You Meet
I mentioned in one of my previous posts on Vinson that what really makes these trips is the people you meet along the way. Aconcagua was no different. I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people.
The local Inka staff at Base Camp were amazing. They stay there all season, about 3 months, working 7 days a week supporting all the climbers that come through. They deserve a lot of praise because without them these trips would be so much harder.
Another person I met who was truly inspirational was a Columbian man, Nelson Cardona. He had one leg amputated at the knee and was still out running around climbing these mountains. He had already completed the 7 Summits and I believe was actually the first Latin American to complete the mountaineering challenge, proving disability is no obstacle. So he had already climbed Aconcagua once as part of the 7 Summits challenge and this time was coming back to share the experience with his wife, Adriana Restrepo. He was an amazing, humble gentleman.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Hiroyuki Kuraoka. We first bumped in to Hiro at Confluencia Camp on the trek in, initially not recognizing who he was, and then ended up sharing a mess tent at Base Camp as well. He’s been high altitude climbing and guiding since before I was born and is a legend in his home country, Japan. He use to guide Everest with Russell Brice’s Himex team before branching out and doing his own thing. He’s a quietly spoken Japanese man 99% of the time but absolutely hilarious after a few glasses of red when he opens up and talks about some of what really happens behind the scenes on expeditions.
Aconcagua Wrap Up
We had a wonderful time on Aconcagua. It is non-technical and you can walk up without significant mountaineering experience but the ultra-high altitude catches a lot of people out hence it has a relatively low summit success rate. We went in with a 12 day itinerary but surprised ourselves how quickly we acclimatised and made it up and down and back out in 8 days. I particularly enjoyed climbing independently with my friend and going at our own pace. Just being 2 on the mountain allowed us to move around quickly with great flexibility.
Aconcagua is the second highest out of the 7 Summits so hopefully acclimatising well there has put us in good stead for the remainder of the climbs, until we get to Everest at least which is a different ball game.
Next Stop Kilimanjaro (after a short side trip).
“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.
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