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  • 8

    ACONCAGUA ASCENT

    This is a tough climb. I found it tougher than summiting Mt Kilimanjaro.  It is governed primarily by the weather - no matter how fit you are, or how well you cope with the altitude, it the weather is against you, that is that.  But it is a great challenge, with stunning vistas, for a range of ages (our group ranged from early 20s to late 50s).  We did not make the top, through no failing of our own, due to the weather, and so changed our focus from "summiting Aconcagua" to "trekking in the Andes".  My advice - be flexible in that regard.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Summiting Mt Bonete on a glorious day, with some great views. Surviving Camp 2 (Nico de Condores) with -16C inside the tents and 50kph winds - the hardest conditions I've experienced. 

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Ilan, our primary guide, was brilliant.  He worked so hard, from beginning to end, in an environment of trying to meet the different desires of the 13 members of our group, adverse weather, some sickness amoung our number, etc.  We enjoyed the company and assistance of the other guides too - Tendi (a Sherpa, no less), Tomas and Mauricio.  Carlos met us on the way out with a truck and a 6-pack - bliss!  Ilan contacted us at the hotel on our arrival; Ilan & Mauricio helped us in assessing our gear and hiring additional gear; they organised dinners in Mendoza for the group before and after, and helped us with porters, suggestions as to the amount to tip camp staff (how would we know?), etc.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The hiring of gear in Mendoza works well - it's plentiful and functional.  But it can be an expensive exercise.  We spent US$1500 or so for 4 of us, but we hired quite a bit.  For instance - US$5 a day for an item is not bad, say, for a sleeping bag.  But over 20 days, that works out to $100.  And that's just 1 item.  Plus there was a 10% surcharge for using any form of credit card (aside from bank fees).  Take lots of $US on the mountain.  You can use Argentinian Pesos.  We didn't appreciate just how much you might need.  It is better to take more than you think you might need.  You probably will use porters from base camp, even if it's a shared carry for the entire group (say 20kg of food from base camp to camp 1).  You might have every intention of carrying your own gear all the way, and thinking you won't need the money.  But you might get up there and find you need a porter from say camp 2 to camp 3.  If you haven't brought money with you for that unexpected contingency, you can't use a credit card or access an ATM.  So hang on to your intention to carry all your own gear, but take additional cash (say - seriously - upwards of US$1,000.00) in case it doesn't work out.  You don't want to not make the summit because you needed a porter, didn't have the cash to cover it, and wore yourself out.  Focus on the final objective and be flexible with contingencies.   Another example, if you get up to base camp, things screw up, and you want to chopper out - that's say US$1,500.00, cash, in advance.  Also, you might might like a hot shower after all, use the internet or sat phone, or buy goods there - it's all cash based.  Due to the weather, we unexpectedly went on a pub crawl up at base camp (there are 3 different bars).  You might think (as we did) - "I'll never do that"; but if you haven't got enough cash, you can't go and buy a hamburger from the restaurant at base camp if the desire arises (eg, others from the group decide to). Take tha cash, and if you don't use it, big deal.  If you need it and didn't bring it with you, you're screwed.  With hindsight, I'd take at least US$1,750.00 cash with me to base camp, for porters and other contingencies (another example - buying gear from someone coming back down who doesn't want to carry it), and hope I don't need it.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Will I do it again - to try to summit?  Yeah, maybe. But not for a year or two! I compliment the people on the ground in Mendoza.  The Exodus Trip Notes could do with a revamp - eg, the hotel at Base Camp was abandoned a couple of years ago, and looks like something out of "The Shining"! Cheers! 

  • 6

    ACONCAGUA ASCENT

    Overall, a tough and challenging trip, both mentally and physically.  And I am dissapointed we didn't summit:  - Due to snow storms prior and high winds after our summit, (leaving and attempting),  days - meaning we spent an extra couple of days at base camp and back in Mendoza!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    My most inspirational moment was when I was told, ' I'd be hiking as far as the first high base camp, in my track shoes..........., ' which is over 5000m.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Our group leader' (s), were a truley inspirational part of the trip.  Without them I doubt, I would have left the second base camp, after the snow storms! 

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be prepared, to wait, .  And it dosen't really matter, how fit you are, ?  Altitude and the weather plays a big role in deciding what you can and can't do throughout the trip!    ( and there's a good chance, you won't be making the summit, if the weather turns ) 

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Although the trip is / was really expensive,  (and the banking system'(s) in Argen... isn't that good),   make sure you've money in your bank account!!  As without a doubt you'll be tapping into it, on or / after you've arrive, for one thing or another? And make sure all your equipment is suitable for the trip....i.e  Wind and the chill factors are important things to consider?  

  • 10

    ACONCAGUA ASCENT

    A challenging trip ,  but in the end a very rewarding one if you prepare for it well in advance.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Summiting on Aconcagua

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Ilan was an exellent group leader who was always willing to provide good advice and listen to clients at all stages of the trip. The other guides were exellent as well and provided a fun attitude and very professional service to clients 

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The trip is very physically and mentally demanding. Please make sure that you are in good shape before signing up for this trip to improve your overall chances of sucess on it. Be prepared for Bad weather and constantly changing conditions during the trip. This all adds to the overall feel of adventure on the trip as a whole Take each day on the trip as it comes. There is only some much that you can do to change things so grab each opportunity presented to you.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    My fellow travellers were a very diverse group from across the world and they provided an interesting mixture of personalities and opinions throughout my time with them on the trip. I would not hesitate to travel with any of them again. The guides were also an interesting bunch of people to live and work with and would recommend them to anyone taking this trip in the future. 

  • 10

    ACONCAGUA ASCENT

    A great trip - hesitate to use the word "holiday" as it was quite a gruelling trek - but such an achievement to summit the highest mountain outside the Himalayas.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Apart from summiting of course, special mention must go to our guide, Ilan, who had the gift of encouraging and supporting us all.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Not sure - a bit of an abrasive character, but loyal to his Exodus clients and helpful on the mountain.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Take loads of money (dollars).  You might not think you will be using porters when you set out, but by the time you reach basecamp, you'll definitely have changed your mind.  Also, at the start of the trip the guides check your gear to see if it's up to standard - you'll almost definitely have to buy or hire stuff when yours doesnt come up to the mark.  Take a neck buff and loads of sun block for your lips.  The combination of wind, sun and snow burns the skin and breaks the lips - pain !!  Take Diamox - only 33% success rate to summit for those who can cope with the altitude, so the other 67% need all the help they can get.  Make sure you have experience of using crampons - you will almost definitely have to wear them and good technique prevents the legs from getting exhausted.  Take disposable heated handwarmers (the kind you shake and theyre warm for 8 hours).  It's freezing up there and they keep you cosy when it's windy and when the sun goes down ...!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Aconcagua is a fabulous peak to achieve, but the extreme camping and weather combined with the physically gruelling trekking at high altitude can take its toll (hence the low success rate).  It's in a completely different league from Kilimanjaro and, although a fabulous experience, isnt a mountain I would recommend lightly.

  • 10

    ACONCAGUA ASCENT

    A great trip.  Better than the photos.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Going out at night at Camp Three.  The stars were once in a life time.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Wonderful.  Entertaining.  Very physically fit. An Argentinian! Perfect. 

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Get ready for really cold weather.  Recommend the Dec or Jan departure I've posted my trip journal.  The good, The bad, The ugly!!!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Aconcagua Trip Journal 2008 Day 1 – 02Feb – Fly to Santiago Day 2 – 03 Feb – Fly to Mendoza.  Walk all over city, incur hotspots on feet.  Luggage arrives eve.  It’s summer here, light late, until about 10 pm in the evening.  Very warm – 90F/30C. Day 3 – 04 Feb – Group arrives late aft.  Meet "Mike" my roommate.  On internet much of the day.  Gear check late eve. Day 4 – 05 Feb – We go to the gear store to iron out deficiencies and then downtown to get our permits.  We leave Mendoza 2:45.  Arrive at Penitentes, a ski area, late.  A four way gear sort to different locations.  We stay the night in the ski lodge, a simple place.  We see people who come down and know we will look like that soon.  I have more stuff than anyone in the group.  I dump some of it in the bag that stays here. Day 5 – 06 Feb – We hang around Penitentes overlong.  We load up and it starts!!  About a 3.5 hour hike to Confluenza.  We will be here three nights acclimatizing.  The sun is bright.  I lose my sunblock to follow the toothbrush I must’ve left in the hotel.  I’ve got back ups of both but am disturbed to be resorting to them so early.  We pitch our tents in the windy dusty area.  I’m going on Argentine hours now.  It gets light around 8 am and dark between 10 and 11.  They’re on a later schedule and I can’t pay attention to the clock but regulate myself by the sun.  We have single person tents rocked down completely for the wind.  The weather, thus far, is pleasant.  We are at 3300 m.  There are a few violent gusts.  Some background:  There are there Argentinean mountain guides from FERNANDO GRAJALES EXPEDITIONS – Damion, Esteban, and Luciano, our Exodus Tour Leader – Alejandro (Alec) and the cook at this camp – Veronica.  There may be a couple of hundred people in this campsite now which is very transient as all the camps will be.  My gear marker is very popular now as we write our names on our gear.  The landscape is reminiscent of Southern Utah and more beautiful than I’d thought it would be by the photos I’d seen. Day 6 – 07 Feb – Gong Hay Fa Choy!  Chinese New Year and my year, Year of the Rat.  We get up to 1 -2 inches of snow.  I’ve also lost my headtorch.  We have a fabulous 7 hour hike to a glacier reminiscent of the one in Nepal.  A training run.  We come down fast.  It is snowing most of the hike.  We go up to Plaza Francia, 4100 m and down   with a net 800 m elevation change. Day 7 – 08 Feb – Our “Day Off”.  We were awakened at 5:30 am by another group departing.  This, after another rainy night.  Below freezing for about 16 hours a day.  In spite of this, I’ve had the best nights sleep of the trip.  So far, it’s been a night on a plane, 2 in a good hotel, 1 in a gite, 2 in a tent with more of those to come.  The tents are not good, mine shed rain though the door, the zipper is broken and I hold it down with stones. They bring new tents up today.  I’m spending my time today reading about the French Revolution and thereafter.  We had a wonderful three hour hike up to a spring.  The precipitation has been bringing out the plants of the high altitude desert and coating the peaks with snow.  The area of the Horcones Valley is spectacular.  The weather is both raining and snowing and the guides say this is unusual.  I read this aloud to the group since they assume I’m writing about them. Day 8 – 09 Feb – Yesterday evening, we’d had our first doctor exam.  Of the ten of us, one was sent down and eight of us were put on medication for high blood pressure.  I registered an unbelievable 155/90.  We got up before light to go to Base Camp.  A nine hour hike through :Seven Years in Tibet”.  It’s lovely but grueling, 26 km with a 1000 m elevation gain.  We arrived at the Plaza de las Mulas just in time.  The weather turned, the wind howled, the temperature drops to minus 12. Day 9 – 10 Feb – I’m in a two man tent with "Mike" now.  It was very cold last night.  With my piss bottles, I fortunately don’t need to make the long hike over the stones to the outhouse.  “A rest day”.  The weather is lovely.  So much to do.  I shaved and washed and hung the frozen laundry out.  We can see people ascending to the upper camps.  Base camp “culture”.  I’m thawing the frozen water bottles. Day 10 – 11 Feb -  Another lovely day, warming quickly when the sun comes into the valley, after 10 am.  We have a carry day to Camp Canada.  A steep hike and I’m glad I elected to pay a porter to carry my share of the food.  I climb in my trekking pants, light capelines light sweat shirt and a windbreaker for the sun.  Camp Canada, at 4550 m is a barren place and we get a taste of what is to come.  We descend quickly to Base Camp for our third night. Day 11 – 12 Feb -  There is a grave 20 feet from our tent.  A sobering reminder to keep our wits about us.  A rest day.  I take a $15.00 shower and spend $62.00 on the internet.  The SAT phone is down. Day 12 – 13 Feb – We move up to Plaza Canada (Camp One).  The weather is fine though breezy.  We all carry more up the steep trail.  It feels more difficult than the carry day.  I sneeze hard that evening and blood sprays all over my pants and bag.  It’s much colder than Base Camp. Day 13 – 14 Feb – A Valentines Day shocker.  The lead guide, Damion. In the middle of the carry to Camp Two, announces he’s getting divorced and has to leave the expedition.  His wife, a porter, had been in camp talking to him earlier.  We only have cookies for breakfast and junky snacks for lunch.  Camp Two, Nido de Condores at 5450 m, is a wonderful place littered with Dinosaur Bones and looking down at the surrounding mountains.  A wonderful view of the summit.  We see many people on the trail with massive loads, clearly “Knackered”.   I feel tired today and reserve porterage for tomorrow. Day 14 – 15 Feb – It seems obvious, Damions soon-to-be-ex, is with another in the crew.  Can it really be Damions nephew?  Way closer age-wise. Can’t imagine. She carried my stuff up to Nido de Condores, where we will spend the night.  A windy breakfast, my utensils, cup and plate blew down the mountain and I have to climb down to retrieve them.  It gets progressively colder as we ascend and the patches of snow more frequent.  It’s snowing as I write this.  At the evening physical my numbers are still “fantastic” but it seems the physician of our party has numbers that are not good.  I have a headache.  We are notified that the weather is so bad, it will preclude our climbing tomorrow. Day 15 16 Feb – I get up in the night.  The wind and cold are overpowering.  The moon casts shadows over the broken stones making the landscape look as though from another planet.  The stars are beautiful as other nights this trip.  The milky way.  Shooting stars.  I get back in the tent short of breath at 5550Meters, the highest I’ve ever spent a night on land.  Chattering in the cold, I have to get fully dressed in the down bag.  The water freezes in the tent again.  The light comes and the tent is shaking in the high winds actually bringing up the floor and bouncing us around.  Haven’t slept.  I’ve had a shortness of breath which has panicked me several times.  My numbers are still good – 82% O2 saturation, heart rate 60, Blood Pressure 125/90 - and my lungs still clear. My confidence is impinged by my being out of breath during lunch.  It is a rest day due to weather.  This afternoon, I ascend a palisade about 200 – 300 meters high behind camp.  Once into the rhythm of the climb, no problems.  Two mule carcasses indicate they didn’t always terminate mules at the plaza. Day 16 – 17 Feb – Howling winds resume in the night and diminish around noon.  The influence of the wind cannot be minimized.  I simply find it impossible to eat outside and others wonder of my health.  I can’t eat, breathe and stand at the same time.  Eating and drinking at this altitude are major chores and the wind is sucking my breath away.  The tent bounces and flaps all night.  I’ve had my ear plugs in every night in the tent since the beginning. Alejandro, our Exodus rep, goes down with an infected eye.  I’ve never seen a staff member withdraw entrip and now there are two gone. Damion has been replaced by another high mountain guide, “Moto”.  We ascend to Camp Three – Camp Cholera, bypassing Camp Berlin.  It is at the height of Kilimanjaro, about 6,000 meters.  We plan, due to weather window, to summit tomorrow.  Seems impossible.  At this altitude, breathing is the only thing I can do.  Drinking, eating, speaking all render me out of breath.  We are eating lightly now and the tightening of my waist straps indicates I’m losing weight.Again, the stone formations about the campsite are fantastic.  The views – amazing.  We are at the highest point around.  I’ve left a lot of my things at Camp Two and am traveling lightly now.  ”. Damions soon-to-be-ex, seems to be my personal porter.  "Mike" has spoken to her in Italian.  "Mike" has fluent Spanish and I am the only other member of the group who speaks Spanish but much less fluently. Day 17 – 18 Feb – Summit Day, but not for me.  My gear misadventures had their genesis in the previous eve when "Mike" was sick and I hadn’t laid things out. We took a one hour delay due to the wind.  I had trouble getting on my boots in the dark at 5 am and other problems.  My rant on whether gear manufacturers test their products at 21,000 feet in a brutal wind in the dark, will occur elsewhere.  I made it to 6520 meters in the Canaletta after an interesting hike.  I couldn’t seem to get my hands into the mittens.  My goggles had fallen off.  All of my fingertips are frostbitten.  My right eye started to freeze and became blurry in the high wind.  I became unsteady and fell on the climber behind me.  I decided the summit wasn’t worth this kind of damage.  Yet, when all said and done, I may not have been physically ready for this challenge.  Exhausting.  I’ve been informed other members of the group have summited.  Three of us came down together.  Still, I’ve seen the Independencia saddle at 6400 meters, the canaletta, and some of the summit, though we were enveloped in a blinding blizzard much of the time. Day 18 – 19 Feb – We come down from Camp Three to Base Camp.  A long arduous descent.  I’m still gasping for breath but the temperature difference is huge.  We’d been in our bags with all our clothes on even to eat.  Here in Base, we see people in shorts etc – when the sun is up.  An important distinction.  A massive temperature plunge occurs when a cloud passes or when the sun sets.  I went on internet.  A dollar a minute.  A lot of money changing hands tonight.  I owe the high altitude porters $570.00.  The two phone and internet tents I had gone to previously, have closed for the season.  The signs of the lateness are everywhere.  Mules hauling down the group tents and furniture.  There are, nonetheless, people still going up.I think I will lose one toenail from the descent today.  In fact, I’m pretty beat up. Day 19 – 20 Feb – The mules are busy again, bringing down more of Base Camp.  A lovely but brutal walk out – 30 km 918 miles) a rough trail down the Horcones Valley.  We started at 11:30 after completing our Base Camp business and the sun being out.  Being in this huge valley, with the streams rushing by and without anyone in sight for miles is one of the great hiking experiences of my life.  Makes the trip worthwhile for this alone.  One of the worlds great treks.Damian and his soon-to-be-ex pick us up at the trailhead.  On to Penitentes.  I’ve sold my big ice climbing bag to “Moto”, Damian stand-in.  I realize I’m unlikely to ascend an ice cliff in the future with sleeping gear on my back and wish him and it well.  A price that makes it part of the tip.  He’s been endearing even through his brief stint.  Especially for the summiteers who indicate they’d needed his help dragging them up there on a rope.  Several say they wouldn’t have made it without him and Estebans help.  We go to a restaurant during the three hour drive to Mendoza.  An interesting meal given the temperature, altitude etc.  We walk in filthy, half starved, dressed completely inappropriately.  We eat huge meals and get into Mendoza 2am.  I’d slept on the bus and sleep seven hours straight to make the 9 am meeting. Day 20 – 21 Feb Alejandro confirms my flight I’d changed by SAT phone at Base Camp.  He is good at what he does and will go far.  He’d handled the ten thousand peso permit misstep well and his own medical problem well and I tip him best of all.  The group has two more days in Mendoza but I’m leaving today.  They’re making winery tour and other plans.  The stores are closed for some reason stuffing my shopping plans.   The departure lounge is obviously full of Aconcagua people.  Lots of American guides leaving for the season.  Heading to the States, get some things together and off to Katmandu for that season – soon to begin.   Day 21 – 22 Feb – A snowstorm in NYC strands me in Dallas twelve hours.  Get back 2 am 23rd, Transcribed March 01 2008 – fingertips still frostbitten   

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