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Aconcagua

Summit of South America, 6962m

                 

 

On the new 7summits site we will place trip reports to the 7summits, so send them in and we will add them!

Below is the report of 7summits' Harry Kikstra climbing the Falso de los Polaccos route.

Happy reading :-)

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Click the pictures below to enlarge: 

28/12/2000 

In the morning the winds are still blowing like crazy and Erik does not want to move up. Normally it is fun for a man to pee when the wind is blowing (as long as you do it in the sensible direction of course), but when the wind is literally blowing you over the fun turns into embarrassment and annoyance... But the skies are a lot clearer, the winds, although strong, are more constant and I suspect that this is the last part of the storm and use my power of leadership to decide to go. 

We pack our tent and the rest of our gear and head into the wind. We have to wear our windstopper gorilla facemasks and ski goggles today, so no part of our skin is exposed to the freezing wind. Last night has adjusted our bodies a bit more and until the col we make good time. I am happy to see that the skies are getting clearer and clearer, but the winds only seem to be getting stronger. The moment we get close to the col it is blowing so hard that we have to wait for it to calm down a bit, take a few steps and then quickly use our poles for stability, head and upper body leaning forward against the wind, trying not to get blown off our feet. As there is not that much calming down around it takes us quite a while to round the exposed corner of the col and I begin to understand the stories of our friend Robert who climbed the mountain a few years ago. He already warned us that the wind sound more like a freight train that is driving an inch from your face and totally out of control... 

After making the turn left on the col to continue up the ridge towards camp II the wind alternates between blowing straight from the side and blowing from behind. Even though it's extremely hard work getting up here, I feel a lot better than yesterday though and make some nice shots of Erik fighting his way up the mountain as well. I notice that if I time the switchbacks right, the wind will actually blow me up the mountain, which takes the load off the actual ascending. On the other hand it costs energy just to keep my balance, but I guess that is my distorted idea of fun...

Polish glacier from camp II (5900m)

 

Keep hydrated! Harry getting water after chopping a hole in the frozen pond...

We see some other climbers ahead but they seem to be looking for Camp II as well and we decide to go for the GPS waypoint straight away. This takes us past the bags we have cached, but I don't take anything out except my plastic boots, crampons and camera. The waypoint leads us straight up one of the scree faces beneath a few large rocks that are too steep to scramble up to. After a hundred meters the scree is covered by a large ice and snowfield that runs all the way from the big rocks until way below the col camp, many hundreds of meters down. As Erik has no real experience with crampons, I put on mine, take my ice axe and check out the route. Although steep, there seem to be no nasty surprises and I decide to give Erik the 2-minute crash course about crampon walking. (Some useful advice: "Just don't slip here, cause you will end up way below!" and some other practical info as well.) I don't want him to walk with his heavy backpack though to avoid risking losing his balance and after we both crossed the largest part of the field together, I return to get his pack as well. I like to walk through snow and Ice, but at 5800m the ascending of this little part 3 times, of which 2 times with a heavy pack makes me loose my breath for a while. 

But the GPS indicates that the camp is only about 80 meters up and I try to find out the most sensible way to get past the rocks. I notice some piles of trash, so unfortunately humans will not be far away; the rock leading towards the spot is totally covered by an inch of ice and although fun and exciting, not really safe and I tell Erik to pass the rock on the other side. He moves well on his crampons, even on this mixed terrain and soon I see him appear on the other side. Now it really should be close, but where is it? I scramble a few meters up, look all around and spot the 3 TNF VE-25 tents of Willy's group. Seems we have found what we have been looking for! 

The campsite is at the moraine-covered end of the Polish Glacier and there are some nice spots available as we are the only people here besides the AAI group. Some ice chopping has to be done, but then our tent is neatly behind a firm stonewall and close to one of the nicest views imaginable. Although the wind has continued to cease, it's still cold: even with the sun still up the temperature inside the tent drops quickly below -5 and while cooking the outside temperature falls beneath -20 degrees centigrade. Time to get in! 

Our dehydrating trick with the camelback hanging inside the tent that worked out nicely in the first week is no use as you can see the contents freeze. So we fill up our thermoses and go to sleep, feeling good about today’s accomplishments. 

 

29-12-2000 

Today is a relatively rest day, the only thing that needs to be done is to pick up our cached luggage. The weather is really nice, it's almost warm and we decide to take the long detour route on top of the rocks back to our cache so we don't need to take our crampons. It takes us less than half an hour to get to our bags and after loading everything in our packs we slowly start our way back. We still haven't seen the official camp II so when another climber asks us for it we can only tell him the direction in which we suspect it to be... 

We have to decide which traverse route we will be taking tomorrow. We are now at 5900m altitude at the base of the Polish Glacier, but as we want to summit from the normal route we have to round the mountain. There are 2 possibilities: we can go straight up to a place below the Independencia shelter at around 6400m or make a longer but less steep traverse to the Piedras Blancas, the White rocks at 6000m. Even the first route has the advantage that summit day will be much shorter, we must think about all of our gear (we will have to do the traverse twice and prefer to do this on one day) and decide to go for White Rocks. 

Willy returns with his group from a little acclimatization walk and recommends us to go and see a place beneath the 'Piedra Bandera' the rock on the Glacier that resembles the Argentinean flag. Even though it's just an easy walk, I can feel my heart rate go wild and have to take it very easy. But it is worth it as we end up at an amazing view from a 1-kilometer high ice and rock cliff down the route between base camp and camp I. On Denali's 2nd base camp you have a place called 'the end of the world' and this is clearly the southern hemisphere counterpart of it. 

After a lot of picture taking we slowly return and I still don't feel too well; a few new guys we already met at camp I have arrived and I know that they have a little oxygen saturation meter. I check my oxygen saturation level and see my fears about the lack of acclimatization translated in cold hard numbers: although my level at base camp was between 80 and 90, it has dropped to 70 here. A rule of thumb says that below 75 you should no longer ascend and even though we only plan to ascend 100m tomorrow, I am worried. 

 

30-12-2000 

We wake up in another day of nice weather, make some extra chocolate and warm water and head for the White Rocks. First we have to go down and cross the icy part of the glacier; but this can be done without crampons in about 10 minutes by carefully picking out the rocky and soft snowy parts. Even after another night at this camp my body does not feel strong and I cannot get my famous diesel pace going. Erik feels better and warns me I am going to fast. We slow down a bit and enjoy the magnificent views over this side of the Andes mountain range while crossing large scree fields and some more snowy parts. 

Just when I am filming Erik crossing an icy patch he shouts: 

"He, check out how deep down this ice field goes!", so I reply: 

" You better watch out that you don't check it out yourself!" 

 

We go off track to see if there is a way to cache our gear at Berlin or a lower part of the normal route without having to go up to White Rocks first, but all I can see is a loose and very steep scree slope, so we decide to let that idea go. While Erik is still going strong I feel myself getting weaker while slowly stepping up the switchbacks to White Rocks and decide to return to camp. It's either on to White rocks now and too exhausted to do it again today, or cache my load here, so I can do it again this afternoon. Erik decides to continue the last part up and I will go down to start taking down our tent. The way up took a bit more than 2 hours and the slightly downhill return beat this with almost an hour. 

 

While I am busy making some more water and taking down the tent, Erik returns as well and tells me it was only about another half an hour to a perfect campsite. We finish our packing together, drink some more and leave for the Rocks again, taking everything we have. The second time goes a little faster as we both discovered some tracks on our way down and while the sun is slowly setting we arrive at White Rocks.

 

This is a very nice place Erik has found, quite sheltered and near a nice patch of really clean and packed snow, perfect for water. We put up our tent and enjoy the evening sun; after eating dinner we take a little walk to the edge of the plateau from which we can see Berlin camp: an exposed, crowded an polluted piece of rock, filled with tents. It makes me feel very glad that we ascended the other side of the mountain and makes me wonder why no one takes the extra 30 minutes of effort to get to this clean and safe site. Even the approach to the summit track is easier from White Rocks. 

Anyway, although very tired we decide to wake up at 2 to get up and make some water, around 3.30 we should be ready for our summit attempt. Although I feel far from optimized for a heavy summit attempt, I can see some changes in the weather patterns in the distance and think we should grab our chances while they're hot. And besides, wouldn't just be nice to summit on New Year’s Eve ;-} 

 

...and drinking the tea he made from it 

(camp II).

 

The traverse to White rocks as seen from the Glacier (camp II)...

...and as seen from below white rocks, looking back to camp II

Summit route as seen from White rocks camp (6000m)

Erik, just after joining normal route (6200m)

 

31/12/2000 

 

Although I never really sleep before a summit attempt (good old nerves combined with the fear to oversleep) I wake up because 2 minutes before the alarm goes off. 

It is freezing inside the tent and I start putting on some clothes and warming some others inside my sleeping bag. I try to wake up Erik, but he doesn’t want to give up his warm sleeping bag that easily. 

As our stoves and the snow for melting water are out of reach and it is really cold, I have to get dressed completely before I can start the stoves. The cold (estimated –25/-30) hurts my body and makes my already uneasy stomach feel even worse. It also makes the melting of water a long task and after 1.5 hours I decide to eat no breakfast, take warm water only and propose to leave. 

Erik is dressed as well and we head off into the dark night. There are billions of stars but no moon and there is no visible trail. My stomach is starting to feel worse and I can also feel my heart rate go up to too fast. After only 5 minutes I decide that I will never make it under these conditions and I tell Erik that I need to return to the tent quickly. He is a bit disappointed as he is feeling all right, but together we crawl back into our warm sleeping bags. 

 

Inside I feel already a bit better and while Erik returns to sleep I keep on thinking about summit day. I don’t think that my situation will improve much while I am at 6000m but on the other hand I know that if we decide to go down for a night it will be very hard to get the (mental) strength to get up again the next day. Also the weather seems to be perfect today, but I am sure that it will change soon. 

While these thoughts are keeping me awake the first light enters the tent again and around 8am I wake up Erik. 

“ He Erik, this is plan 16b (we had changed our plans frequently the last week, adapting them to circumstances): let’s get up now, the weather is nice and the temperature is rising again. I want to cook some water without any time pressure, eat some breakfast and see how I feel afterwards. If I feel any better before 11.00am we should give it another try. It will mean a late summit, but the weather looks good and I think we should take our chances.” 

Erik agrees and together we slowly start our daily chores. I still do not feel good but at least my stomach has eased a bit and around 10am I tell Erik that I want to give it another try. 

 

We pack our bags again: down jacket, extra gloves and mittens, water, tea and some candy bars and of course my cameras. Around 10.30 we slowly start walking up the slope besides White Rocks. There is no real track at this point, but the slope has an easy gradient and we both make our separate switchbacks at the angle we are each most comfortable with until we reached the track coming from Berlin simultaneously. I feel that my body offers a very narrow margin in which I could probably push it for a long time but I have to take care no to cross the borders of that margin. This means: steady pace, not too much rests, plenty of fluids on a regular basis and no food as I was sure that my stomach would not like it. 

 

The track from Berlin is an easy walk and slowly we gain altitude. The moment we approach the slope beneath the ruins of the Independencia huts we see the second AAI group starting from their tents as well. We continue together, go past Independencia and across the little ridge towards the beginning of the infamous canaleta. 

The track splits up here and although the AAI group takes the left part, I hesitate, as it seems that they have to scramble up rocks and then cross a snowfield. But one climber that just comes down the other track smiles and says: 

“ you better follow them, this right track is only suitable for going downhill as it is the beginning of the Canaleta and the longer you can stay off that one, the better, trust me…” 

 

The Canaleta is the name of the narrowing part of the enormous screefield that in fact already starts at Plaza de Mulas, the base camp of the normal route. Although the route manages to avoid the largest part of this so-called ‘Gran Acarreo’ the last 500vertical meters to the summit you will have to use it. The Canaleta consists of a collection of rocks with their size varying between a few millimeters and over a meter in diameter. But they all have one thing in common: they are in complete balance on the steep slope, which means that whenever somebody touches them, they will slide down until they refound their delicate balance. In practice this mean that every step up in the Canaleta is immediately followed by a slide down, sometimes more than the original step takes you up. Combined with the altitude of nearly 7kms it means that you will have to use a lot of energy to climb up just a few meters. 

This is really as tough as it sounds and many climbers don’t make it up here as it is mentally and physically very demanding. We follow the group, cross the snowfield and start the struggle against gravity. 4steps up, 1step down, 2steps up, 3steps down etc etc… 

 

We can tell that we have started out late as many climbers are already on their way down. Some share their tips and advice with us: 

“From here it is another 2 hours” 

“The track on the right is the best” 

“From here it is another 4 hours” (10 meters further) 

“The track on the left is the best” 

“From here it is another ‘couple’ of hours” (same spot) 

“It is a fairy tale that the Canaleta ends…it does not, the moment your feet have stopped sliding down, it means you are on the summit.” 

“Going down is even tougher and takes about the same time” 

 

All very comforting, but the only way to find these facts out for ourselves is to continue walking and scrambling. I do find out that the right side, where some snow patches and larger rocks can be found is the easiest way, but Erik prefers the center track. Willy and his group come down and wish us luck for the last part. Slowly we continue but the rest stops have to come every few steps now as the altitude is working it’s way into our bodies. 

“Are you strong enough to get to the summit?” Erik asks. 

“No, but I’ll get there one way or the other” I reply, “how about yourself” 

“No, but if you can make it, then so can I!” 

 

The summit seems close and when the clouds blow away we can see people standing on it. But what would be a 5-minute scramble at the foot of the hill means another hour up here. We pass the last people on their way down 50 meters below the summit. I take another rest, but Erik manages to continue and starts filming me from just below the summit. Another 20 steps, 19, …10, …3,2,1 

Ruins of Independencia hut, 6400m

Erik on ridge above Independencia, 6450m

Erik on the traverse to the Canaleta (6500m)

Looking down into the canaleta (6800m)

Harry: 5down, 2 to Go!

Views from the summit:

Click above to see the video from the summit (17secs, 950kB)

 

Erik on the summit!

Salami for Charity

We made it! We start hugging and congratulating each other, but it takes me a minute before I can get enough breath back to say anything on camera. Erik has been bugging me since the beginning of the trip to ask me if of the hard parts are harder than climbing Denali and for the first time I must admit that it was: this summit day was for me tougher than my Denali summit day. Aconcagua is known as a ‘walk-on’ mountain, but clearly deserves a lot more respect. 

 

After a minute or two I notice that we are still not at the real summit and we scramble up the last two meters to get there. There is the famous little metal cross, covered with stickers and photographs. 6962m, the highest point of South America, the western and southern hemisphere! The weather is great, there are still a lot of clouds, but somehow they drift away really fast giving us enough opportunity to capture the beauty of the Andes. We also take some pictures of me depicting ‘5 down, 2 to go’, and of some of the stuff we brought up: a magazine I want me to sponsor my next trip, a salami, that will bring in $40 for charity if we serve it in Amsterdam, some stickers from 3FM radio station and the single of Eric Dikeb. We met him in the radio studio and he complained about the lack of high rankings of his singles. Well, this is the highest position it will reach ;-} 

DJ Fred's T-shirt

We keep it cool...

Reading...

Eric Dikeb's single!

Our sponsor Suunto! Their watches rule

 

Another climber has come up and we take some pix for him as well. As no one is coming up and it is 6.45pm on 31st December, we realize that we are in fact the last 3 climbers of this millennium! 

I shoot some more video and we get ready to descend, as we will have to hurry to get down before dark. I gesture to the other, Japanese, climber that he should be getting ready as well; he nods, but does not move. I try to make it clear that it is really time to get down, especially if he is going back down to Berlin camp, but he does not want to leave yet. 

Well, we do and slowly we start our descent. Down the canaleta does cost a lot of energy, but if you can work your poles well and you are not afraid to make some involuntary cool slides every now and then, then you can get down the canaleta within 1.5 hour. 

 

As we near the point where we now we must make a turn or we will go down the wrong way, (into the Gran Acarreo) we spot another Japanese man, bent over his poles with his back into the wind. He looks sick and confused and we walk up to him. 

 

“What’s up?” 

“ ehhhh?….” 

“Why are you standing like this? You have to go down right away as it is getting dark soon; where is your tent?”

 “I don’t know” he whines back. 

Don’t know? What’s happening here? Who is this guy and why is he on this mountain, by himself? 

“ You don’t know? But where is your campsite?”

“I camped at Berlin, but am lost and do not know where Berlin is….” 

 

Erik and I exchange amazed looks. What if we would not have stopped to ask this man some questions? Would he than still be standing here in the bottom part of the Canaleta until his memory came back? Even though he was wearing a down jacket, he would be frozen solid during the evening. 

“ Are you with that other Japanese man, who is still on the summit?” 

“ No I am alone”. 

Smart move… He is clearly suffering from acute mountain sickness and seems a few rocks short of a mountain. I tell him to stay close behind me and that we will take him down to his camp. He seems really relieved and slowly follows. We make the turn at the right spot, (something that this man never would have remembered on his own) and leave the scree for the better track. 

The Japanese guy keeps on lagging behind and we have to wait for him every few hundred meters. He keeps on telling us that we are strong guys, but I rather have him use his energy to hurry up a it as I don’t want to arrive in camp when it’s dark. We pass Independencia, wait for our Japanese and head down to the crossing of the normal path and the slope towards our White Rocks camp. 

We gesture to our follower what we have explained to him before: we go right here, you continue to Berlin on this track. It’s just another two hundred meters along a straight track and we are confident that he will be ok from here. We hurry down our slope and arrive at our tent just when the sun disappears behind the horizon. Time to sleep!

 

1/1/2001 

 

New Year’s day! We start off our day with a little new years video message for our friends and family, while lighting the little fireworks Erik’s sister has given him in his ‘survival’ package. 

We are very glad we summited yesterday, but there is no time to really celebrate yet as today will be another hard day. We have to pick up the cache I left about 100 meters lower while traversing, take down our tent and get everything we have been carrying up in two parts down to Plaza de Mulas in one time. This means a fully loaded 80pound backpack all the way from 6000m to 4200m, just one day after summiting. 

 

We finish our packing, check for rubbish and leave camp around 14.00hr. The first part, down the shortcut to the track to Berlin is a bit tricky and we have to get used to the heavy weights on our backs. But then the track eases and we make good progress, although it costs a lot of energy and we have to take a lot of small rests. 

We take a little break at Nido de Condores (5600m camp on the normal route) and are very glad that we did the route we did. Although it means carrying up and over all our gear, it is so much more beautiful on the other side of the mountain. The normal route is really an exposed, polluted and overcrowded mess and I would not have like to spend 2 weeks here. 

 

Although very tired we manage to get down to the circus know as Plaza de Mulas around 18.00 and notice over a hundred mountaineering tents, lots of muleteer services, guide services a restaurant and more. Another half an hour of actually going up with our heavy packs finally brings us to the Plaza de Mulas ‘Hotel’, where, after some discussion about our reservation we get our room. Dinner will be served in an hour! That gives us time to sort out our gear for the mules that will take it down from here. Dinner is nice and afterwards we sleep like kings… 

eCash on top!

Berlin as seen from White rocks

Yes, Harry's pack was heavy...

...just like Erik's

Looking down the normal route, 5100m

'Circus' de Mulas, 4200m

Hotel Plaza de Mulas

1/2/2001 

 

When we wake up, it’s cold, but we go down to get our breakfast. It’s just a few cups of tea and some bread, but combined with the thick air it’s enough energy to get us started. 

Today is another heavy day, we have lost the weight of our backpacks, but we have to go down to Puente de Inca today, which is a walk of over 35km over the rocky sides of the Horcones valley. Although some of the views are nice and going down is not too bad, in general this valley is boring as well and we are again glad that we went up the other side of the mountain. 

Penitentes near the Hotel

Erik in front of Horcones valley

Going down the valley

Mules coming up the valley looking strong...

...Though some are broken

The mighty South Face from Horcones

Down boring Horcones valley

Erik on Confluencia bridge

Harry near Confluencia

Harry & Erik

Sign near park entrance, below you can see the south face

The Park guards and helicopter at the park entrance

 

 

 

 

 

Erik relaxing in Mendoza

Harry near the pool

Erik in Santiago

One of the nice squares in Santiago

Harry in Santiago

We walk almost non-stop, but we don’t reach the park gate until after 6pm. Another few kilometers bring us back to the Hosteria where we manage to arrange the final room available: showers and dinner! We each shower for at least half an hour, the first time in two weeks. 

Although my skin is sun burnt, it feels great and I have to pull myself out of the cabin to get ready for dinner. We celebrate with a little bottle of wine and enjoy our simple but nice food. 

 

On the large table next to us that is used by a large international group I discover the two guys I met while climbing Elbrus last year and we spend some time listening to each other’s stories. Erik is already sleeping and soon I head off to bed as well. 

 

I am very satisfied about the trip. It was a bummer that Don was taken out by a virus, but Erik and I have done well. We have not been in real danger at any time (relatively speaking) and have worked well as a team, even though it was Erik’s first time above 3000m. 

 

The next week we spent eating and drinking, relaxing at the pool of hotel Carollo, dancing with the beautiful Argentinean girls until the early morning in the Apeteco discotheque and sending out the first reports. We took the night bus to Santiago ($20 each, 7 hours) and spend another nice day in this enormous metropolis. 

 

I hope you have enjoyed these reports,  when the story will appear in a book they might have changed a bit, so hold on to these collector items ;-} Check this site regularly for new items & special offers.

You can let me know you have enjoyed the reports by sending me email (or just sign the guest book ) or by making a donation to SOS Children’s villages, check out the form and the info on the site or send an email(100% of proceeds go to the charity). 

 

Next trips will be Mt Vinson (Antarctica) and Everest, with maybe some practice climbs in between. As these trips are expensive I need corporate sponsors for this, so if you or your company can help, let me know. You will be repaid with lots of publicity, mentioning on the site, mailing list, exclusive pictures etc. 

 

Thanks, until next time (which might be sooner than you think) and keep climbing, 

 

Best regards, 

Harry 

 

http://7summits.com

This trip is sponsored by the North Face outdoor gear: http://www.thenorthface.com 

and Suunto wrist top computers: 

http://www.suunto.fi

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3