Norfolk NR14 6N
January 20th 2004
Aconcagua Challenge Christmas 2003
Aconcagua lies on the Argentinian / Chile border at a height of 22850 feet
and is attractive to climbers ands serious hill walkers the world over and
perhaps it is the latter attraction that it can be conquered by a non technical
ascent that makes it so dangerous, indeed it has the highest death rate of the
worlds high peaks!
At 22,850 feet Aconcagua is the highest peak outside Asia and for people like
me seems a natural follow on to Kilimanjaro in Africa but the two mountains are
totally different with Aconcagua presenting a much greater challenge - so do
read on .
My trip to Aconcagua has been organised for the 2nd year running by Adventure
Peaks, based in Cumbria and run by David Pritt & Jill Pinkerton - David is a
much experienced mountaineer and in 2002 climbed Everest!
Our party this year numbered 16 including Adventure Peaks team leaders Andy
& Helen Teasdale, 2 other couples, a lady from the Foreign Office and 9
single lads ranging in age from 17 to me at 21+ ! Worryingly there were 7
vegetarians in the party!
We arrive at Gatwick as total strangers yet within 3weeks some of us will
have made life long friends as we share peaks (no pun intended) and trough of
human emotions in our quest to summit that bloody mountain!
My first trough is at security as they discover my nail clippers in my hand
luggage and they confiscate them - I do have the option of paying £5.00 to have
them forwarded to my home address but decline the offer as they only cost £1.50
- I have this image of a hijacker threatening cabin staff with the clippers -
asking them to take their socks off and then tickling their feet - OK so I'm
The flight from Gatwick to Mendoza in Argentina is long and boring with stops
at Madrid, Sao Paulo in Brazil (only because our aged aircraft cannot carry
sufficient fuel!) Buenos Aires, Cordoba and finally Mendoza, a journey of some
Mendoza I love - it is the same size as Manchester but that thankfully is the
only similarity - at this time of year it enjoys endless blue skies,
temperatures in the 90's, tree lined boulevards with endless street cafes and
thanks to the weakness of the Argentinian currency shopping is a delight!
Our hotel in Mendoza is no more than a backpackers meeting place so the rooms
are basic and the showers hit everything else except you and the air
conditioning has died may years previously so that when we arrive with our 64
kgs of luggage to discover our rooms are on the 4th floor , there is no lift due
to a power cut we are soon reduced to a sweaty , smelly crew !
All trips to Aconcagua are expeditions, by that I mean you take everything,
you carry everything, clothing, tents and food so after a fitful nights rest in
our individual saunas ( bedrooms ) we all visit the giant Carrefour supermarket
to buy provisions for our trip - I remember well my own task , to buy 148 tins
of tuna , 30 kilos of cheese 10 kgs Salami and 40 doz: eggs ! All 16 of us have
items to buy and about 2 hours later we are all lined up at the checkouts with
15 trolleys laden with goods, which we hope, will not perish too quickly - the
bill? - Just under $2000 !
Back at the hotel all the food has to be split up between that which we will
need to the journey into base camp and that which can go direct to base camp -
it's a thankless task as you may well imagine so I am pleased to hear that Helen
has volunteered to sort it all out for us………..yippee !
At the hotel we all pair off for rooms ( and tents on the trek ) and I am to
share with a guy called Alex - amazingly he turns out to be a member of a
milling family from Cheshire and we have many mutual friends - small world !
The rest of the day is spent sorting clothing into 2 piles , that which you
need on the journey to base camp ( minimal and light weight ) and that which can
go direct to base camp - heavy climbing year etc - it sounds simple but you can
spend hours agonising over what you should take relative to the expected weather
conditions - I've been before so its 1 T-shirt , 1 pr shorts , boots , a fleece
and lots of sun cream + my trilby !
The afternoon calm is shattered when we learn that a member of the party
travelling from the States has missed his plane and will be 24 hours late and
that our 17 year old member is too young to travel to Aconcagua without a letter
signed by his parents - he doesn't have one!
A quickly convened meeting is held for all and we vote that the Yank will
just have to catch us up (we cant afford to waste a day) and we hear that Mum
& Dad have been contacted in the UK and a faxed letter will suffice - oh and
the Argentine Park Authorities have just increased the Aconcagua Park fees by
$100 per head ……great!
The Yank (called Bo , he just has to be an American with a name like that ! )
appears ahead of schedule so we leave Rees ( the 17 year old ) and Helen behind
to await the faxed permission from Mum & Dad - they catch up with us early
the next day .
Finally 36 hours after arriving we are off, the bus arrives, far too small so
they send for a 2nd one and after a 5 hour journey we are at the hostel (approx:
9000 feet) at the entrance to the Aconcagua Park - this is where we are
introduced to the mules and muleteers who will take our equipment to base camp.
The mule is of course a cross twixt a horse and a donkey, immensely strong, sure
footed to negotiate narrow mountain passes and not surprisingly well fed and
watered by their muleteer owners.
Again I am reminded that are now at altitude as breathing becomes a little
laboured so drink more water is the order of the day - I feel a sense of déjà
vu as I felt exactly the same way last year and it is slightly uncomfortable
-the night at the hostel will be our last touch with civilisation for nearly 3
weeks so we eat a big meal before retiring.
The whole trip is split into 2 distinct sections - the " walk - in
" -, which starts at the hostel and finishes hopefully at the summit and
the " walk - out " from the summit to the hostel.
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