Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica


I crawled out of the opening in the tarp, with sweat dripping down my back, face, chest, I slowly stood up. The sweat covering everyone’s bodies was glistening in the light of the almost full moon. Underneath a clear sky my students and I silently walked into the ocean. We looked up at the stars as we relished in the cool salty water. Fully present in the moment my students surprised me with their seriousness, commitment to silence, and openness to new experiences. As we rinsed the sand and sweat off our bodies, we cleansed them, physically from a weeks worth of sweat and salt, and mentally from 60 days on course. One by one we left the water walking slowing through the whitewash, heads looking star-ward, and sauntered up the beach. We crawled in the sand through under the flap in the tarp, and repositioned ourselves, as our surf instructor Carlos brought in the second round of hot rocks. First we cleansed our bodies, next we would cleanse our souls.

Sweat Lodge Building

 

In the afternoon we had walked down the beach and while eating much appreciated ice cream. After our final surf session we had gathered shovels, traps, water bottles, and everything we needed to build and participate in a sweat lodge. We arrived hot and sweaty on a quiet and beautiful stretch of beach and chose a spot nestled behind a line of mangroves. Some gathered fire wood, lava rocks, and fallen branches large enough to create supports. Students dug holes in the sand with impressive effort to insert posts. Jorge chopped them to length with his machete as students admired his accuracy and skill. As the fire was being tended and the rocks were heating up, the sweat lodge was finished. A large blue tarp was supported by one center pole and pulled snugly over 8 side posts arranged in a circle. The sides of the tarp were buried in the sand to trap the heat.

Carlos poured water over the new hot rocks, releasing a now welcomed cloud of steam. Everyone glowed with an eerie blue as the moon light dimly lit our hand-built structure. Looking around the circle, I smiled appreciative of my students, my co-instructors, this opportunity, and this place. This was a special moment and I knew the students could feel it too. As more sea water turned to steam and was trapped under the tarp, everyone was breathing deeply, slowly. I could feel the sweat dripping, the sand between my toes, the steam entering my lungs and just as I thought round two would end, Carlos poured more water, sucking the heat from the black lava rocks. I looked at my students. What does it mean to cleanse the soul? For them? For me?

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We emerged again for the second time. This felt more methodical and natural. Silently we rinsed our souls in the ocean. We re-entered the sweat lodge for the third and final time. We sat silently, focused, present. We stretched tall, bowed our heads, wiped sweat from our foreheads. We were cleansing our minds. I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. Carlos broke the silence and poignantly questioned the students. Why are you here? What are taking from this experience? Are you challenging yourself? What are going to do with the rest of your Outward Bound Semester? What about your life? He poured the remaining water over the rocks, we all breathed in deeply, relishing the final moments. We crawled through the door, and cleansed our minds in the ocean. We walked through the breaking waves, heads turned star-ward, and slowly walked up the beach. The silence was broken with laughs, smiles, thank yous, and the all important question, what are we making for dinner. The moment was over. We dissembled the lodge, scattered the rocks, smothered the fire. For most of us we felt a subtle underlying sense of magic, in that place, in our community, and our shared experience. We walked back to camp happy, hungry, clean, ready to enter the final month of our semester.

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Leaving

I went to Argentina to go to the mountains, to catch fish, to speak Spanish, to see a different part of the world. I had 82 days.   I spent 35 nights in my tent, and 40 days hiking. I caught 20 fish, and ate two of them. I visited 3 countries, and 9 cities. I saw penguins, Guanacos, and 45 new species of birds. I spent 149 hours on buses and 2 hours on ferries. I ate countless empanadas. I only finished three classic novels. Emma, Treasure Island, and the Adventures of Pinocchio (which was terrible). I saw huge glaciers, walk next to them, and on them. I climbed to 21,000 feet. I found mountains different and more wild than any I had previously seen. I spoke Spanish well, understood the argentine accent, and can speak with an argentine accent. I meet a lot of great people and will keep on touch with some of them. I accomplished almost everything I set out to do. I didn’t reach the summit of Aconcagua, but that gives me a good excuse to come back.

I’m sad to be heading home today, and I wish I had more time to spend. I think though that I took advantage of the time I had, and I defiantly found the adventure I was looking for. The problem though, now I want more. Time to save money for my return to Aconcagua, for Peru. Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Nepal, and Mount Reiner.

I’m going home, but I’ll be back. Back to the mountains, to catch sea run brown trout, to speak more Spanish, to eat more empanadas, and explore more cultures.

I going to miss glaciers, sunsets, big mountains, meeting people on the streets, Milanese, empanadas, media lunas, meeting travelers, Spanish, cheap wine, walking through new towns, sitting in plazas, ice cream, doing whatever I want, and going where ever I want. I’ll miss traveling.

Until next time.

Sacramento del Colonia, Uruguay

I said goodbye to Mike and Aurora in Mendoza and we all headed separate ways. Mike back to the US, Aurora north toward Bolivia, and me to Buenos Aires.

I spent one night in the city, and  took an early morning ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia. The ferry was small and the crossing was rough, and I was happy to get off the boat.

The small historic part of Colonia is old, with stone buildings and all cobblestone streets. It’s coastal, but located where the Rio Plata reaches the ocean. The river is large enough that it can take 3 hours the cross it by ferry, and it is effected by the tides.

I spent the first day walking everywhere. I sat by the water, climbed up on the light house, and wandered through the artesian market. The were lots of tourists, but the town still felt laid back, calm, and quiet. It was nice to be traveling on my own again.

The next day headed out to walk 6km to the beach. I got there around noon, and there weren’t many people. The beach front was long, lots of space. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was nice to be by the water. I spent 5 hours laying in the sand listening to my new favorite podcast, the Dirtbag Diaries. It’s all stories about people who live out of their cars and do crazy things outside.

Later once I was sufficiently sunburned, I walked to an old bull fighting ring, which hasn’t been in use in a long time. It was interesting, but fenced, So it was hard to see inside. I eventually got some food, and wondered back to town. After a grande sized raspberry and coconut ice cream cone, I made it back to the hostel around 7:30pm. It was a great day. Just what I was looking for, good food, and quiet.

My stay in Uruguay was short, but great, and I’m returning to Buenos Aires to spend my last two days exploring different parts of the city.

Aconcagua, One Day at a Time: The Polish Traverse

Aconcagua: One Day at a Time
The Polish Traverse

Day 1 Mendoza to Los Puquios
After a busy morning and a few last phone calls, we sadly packed away our chacos and put on our hiking shoes. Our feet wouldn’t be free for 17 days. Our taxi arrived and we crammed two duffel bags, three expedition backpacks, and the three of us inside. For only 11 pesos we were safely delivered to the bus terminal. At the terminal we were promptly labelled as climbers and meet two Indians and a Polish guy who were also heading to the mountain. We all boarded the bus for the three and a half hour trip to the park. Mike, Aurora, and I were lucky enough to get front row seats on the second level of the double-decked bus, meaning we had a birds eye windshield view.

Waiting for the bus in Mendoza

We were dropped off at Los Puquios, a ski hill in the winter and a mule rental place in the summer. Our bags were weighed and thankfully they were light enough that we could add our plastic boots to the mules load. With bags organized, weighing 61kilos total, we were led to our campsite, which was really a small, sort of flat parking area. We made dinner, and I went to sleep thinking about what might happen the next two weeks. I’m planning to take this mountain one day at a time.

Day 2 Los Puquios to Pampa de Leñas, 2800m
Up and packed early, we were taken to Punta de Vacas, the entrance to the Parque National de Aconcagua and the Vacas Valley. Our permits were officially stamped, and our adventure began.

Vacas Valley

The hike was an easy one, gradual elevation gain, and we arrived to Pampa de Leñas around lunch. I didn’t feel great, it was super hot, and I was dehydrated. We checked in with the rangers, and got our permits signed. I spent the rest of the afternoon laying in the shade under a large rock. Aurora and Mike tried to hide from the sun in the tents, but they were similar to ovens.

Valle de Vacas isn’t spectacular, but for a wide desert valley with green grass, bushes, and a large river, it’s beautiful in its own right.

Our mules arrived around 5pm along with several guided groups we would get to know more. The guided groups hiked with only small day packs, as they had more mules than us, while envious of their light packs, we named them team day pack and refereed to them as such for the rest of the trip.

Seeing what others have I feared we had brought to much stuff. Mostly to much food. I began to worry about carrying it all over the traverse. Can’t do anything about it now. Taking this mountain one day at a time.

Day 3 Pampa de Leñas to Casa de Piedra, 3200m
Today we got or first glimpse of Aconcagua, just before arriving to camp. We got a good, clear view of the summit. I wonder if anyone is on the summit, and if we will be there in 11 days.

Another easy day. We left camp at 7am, meaning we spent most of the morning hiking in the shade of the valley. Again we arrived to camp around lunch, got our permits signed, and spent the afternoon baking in the sun. It’s hard to believe that I had an ice axe on my bag and that my down parka would even be remote useful in the coming days.

Once all the mules came we ate and went to bed early, anticipating a hard climb and a big increase in elevation to reach base camp the following day. Taking this mountain one day at a time.

Day 4 Casa de Piedra to Plaza Argentina, 4200m
Remember when I wrote about crossing a glacial river in southern Patagonia? Well here we found one that was colder. At 6:45 am we were taking off our shores preparing to cross the Vacas River. You can walk across, or hire a mule. It didn’t seem like a bad idea to walk. We only had hiking shoes and plastic boots, so we opted to go barefoot. The mud was frozen on the banks, and there was a bit of ice in the river. We had to cross both branches. It was so cold it hurt and made my eyes water. When I got out I through my pack down, jumped onto of it, and began to desperately warm up my toes. This was painful and took a little while. For us the warming up process was full of obscenities, teary eyes, and someone muttered, “I’m gonna die” multiple times. Once we recovered we headed up. Ascending 1000 meters to base camp. We made in 7 1/2 hours arriving to base camp at 2, giving us plenty of time to bake in the sun.

Sunset from Plaza Argentina, full moon, and the shadow from Aconcagua

Base camp covers a big area with lots of big tents. Each of the three main companies had mess tents, sleeping tents, and bathrooms. There is a ranger station and a doctor’s office, and climbers tents scattered all around. At this point we were high enough that there is no vegetation. The camp is nestled next to a large glacier moraine, along which the trail continues to camp 1.

We got settled in, planned to spend 4 nights acclimating before moving to camp one.

We found our bags, wished our mule well, and decided to start eating our heavy food now that we would be carrying it. Than meant putting a box of cubed tuna packed in oil in our pasta. It was gross. We decided we had to come up with another way to eat the tuna. We had 6 boxes left. Even though dinner was gross, we had lots of positive energy and were glad to be at base camp. It felt like we were getting somewhere, and the summit was clear and tall above us. Taking this mountain one day at a time.

Day 5 Rest Day Plaza Argentina, 4200meters
We were chased out of our tents by the sun at 10am. It’s much hotter than we planned and hiding from the sun is a priority. At 14000 feet and far south it is intense.

Today I wonder If I should be on the mountain. Do I really have enough experience to climb this thing? A lot of the people on the guided expeditions have more experience than me.

In the afternoon we talk to Daniel Lopez, our base camp and mule service company. They advised us to change our route a bit, using a lower camp two, and a different camp three. They say it’s better for the traverse. The camp 2 we were planning to go to is used mostly by climbers who are climbing the Polish Glacier. We got a second opinion and changed our route.

After a lot of hour in the sun we ate a good dinner and organized our food to carry to camp 1 in the morning. Taking the mountain one day at a time.

Day 6 Carry to Camp 1, 5000m
Today was a tough carry. We were moving all our food, plastic boots, crampons, and ice axes to camp 1, and then descended back to base camp. Camp 1 was 800m higher (2640feet) and our packs were heavy.

We were up at 5:30am. After a not so delicious breakfast of cream of wheat, and mate coca tea, we started up at 7:15.

We began by following a scree field along a ridge next to a glacier moraine. At times the trail is very narrow, and later we heard there are sections that are prone to rock slides. At the top of the first section we crossed what is called the minefield. It’s flattish, covered with large piles of rock. At this point we were on the glacier, but it was buried under all the rock. The minefield ended and we were looking up at a steep climb. We switched back up the slope occasionally sliding back in the loose scree.

Walking up the mountain is mostly maintaining a slow, steady, pace. I’m good at walking slow, so it was easy for me to maintain a nice pace. I found it much like lap swimming and long distance running. It starts hard, but after a while you settle into a rhythm, both with movement and breathing. I liked this about climbing. When in a rhythm the hours would by quickly, and things wouldn’t take as long as I expected.

The steepest part of the trail was just before camp, and when I came over the crest of the trail, I was happy to see tents. We all made it to camp in 4 hours, a climb that can take 6. Even though our packs were heavy, and we were at 5000m, we moved fast.

We ate lunch and all fell asleep. Later after caching our food, we returned to base camp. The return trip only took an hour and forty minutes. We had plenty of time in the afternoon to bake in the sun.

This day I was happy to be on the mountain. I felt good and was acclimating well. But I also knew that everything ahead was going to be tougher, higher, and colder. I was praying that the weather would hold for summit day. Taking the mountain a day at a time.

Camp 1

Day 7 Rest Day Plaza Argentina
Lots of sitting around in the expedition tent, looking at books, and drinking water. Aurora and I washed some clothes in the river. We cooked our tuna balls out of a box for lunch. It was too hot to sleep in the tents. Acclimating can be super boring. I wished I had a magic book that didn’t weigh anything. Taking the mountain a day at a time.

Day 8 Move Plaza Argentina to Camp 1, 5000m
Today I couldn’t be happier. We left camp late, 8:45am, and got to camp 1 by 11:50. An hour faster than our carry day. The hike felt harder, and surprisingly our packs weren’t much lighter than the carry, but we were better acclimated. We were climbing strong.

It was another beautiful, calm, sunny day. I spent the afternoon checking out the penitentes. This is a snow formation that is from extremely sun cupped snow fields. Parts of the snow melt leaving towers, some a meter tall. The towers re shaped like flakes, thin but all different shapes. These usually form in rows and all have the same angle toward the sun. They are cool to look at, but not fun to cross.

Penitentes

Camp 1 is at the top of the valley just below the saddle between Aconcagua and Ameghino (5860m). It’s beautiful. My favorite of all the camps. Today I’m so happy to have the chance to be here, and that my body is capable of carrying to 5000m on foot.

We spent the evening organizing food to carry to camp 2, and eating mashed potatoes. Taking this mountain one day at a time.

Day 9 Carry, Camp 1 to Camp 2 (actually called camp 3 Guanacos Valle) 5440m
The trail switched back and forth up the steep scree field to the saddle. We passed several groups of people, and we’re only passed by a few, mostly porters.

The saddle between the mountains was beautiful. We could see out over the Hornocos Valley, and the mountains in between. These peaks were big and glaciated. One in particular had a steep, steep face, and looked intimidating.

We made it to the camp in 2 and a half hours. The camp was busy. Lots of groups and not many spaces. I had a lot of energy and decided to build a rock wall to protect where we would put our tent the following day. This is not a simple task at 18,000 feet. I spent two hours carrying rocks and eventually made a wall high enough to block some wind. Eventually we headed back to camp 1. One day at a time.

Day 10 Move to Camp 2 Guanacos, 5450m
The move went well. We all hiked at our own pace. It was finally chilly and I hiked in more layers.

On the Saddle between Aconcagua and Ameghino

The camp is small and there were 25 tents. Most were with three different guided expeditions. I spent the afternoon listening to music, since the guided expeditions have iPods and solar chargers. They also hire porters. Several people made sat phone calls, and the guides tried to get weather reports on the upcoming storm.

Arriving at our Camp 2

An older named Gray befriended us. He was on the mountain for the second time. His first try was 10 years earlier, and his attempt was cancelled after spending 4 days in a snow storm in camp 2. He worked as a lawyer and spends his retirement climbing mountains. He gave us chocolate, weather reports, and let Aurora and I make a call on his Satellite phone. This is so nice, since calls cost at least two dollars a minute. I called my dad. I knew he would answer a call from a weird number. It was so nice to talk to him, even for a minute. After that I knew he would call everyone else to let them know things were going well. This made my day. Kindness from strangers is amazing thing. We spent the evening preparing for our last carry. Taking the mountain one day at a time.

View from Camp 2

Day 11 Carry to Camp Cólera, 6000m
We could see Camp Cólera from camp 2. It was a 600m climb. We heard on the way up and down that weather was moving in. It sounded like we were going to get some snow overnight and the next day. A lot of people were speeding up there schedule, hoping for a clear weather day after the snow.

Mike, Aurora, Me, and the summit.

One the way the way down we decided we would skip or rest day and follow the other groups up, taking advantage of the clear weather morning. Once we returned from the carry, we heard another weather report and we decided not to move. This was such a hard decision to make. Mike wasn’t acclimating well, and I had a cough, but felt good. We thought a rest day would be good, and it sounded like descent weather would return in a couple of days. I didn’t feel great about this decision, and thought about it all evening. I went to bed feeling frustrated and worried we made the wrong decision. Taking the mountain one day at a time.

Day 12 Rest Day, 5450m
When I go up and other groups were packing, I wished we were leaving as well. We spent the day in the tent. It was cold and snowing. The snow didn’t accumulate, but the dusting made the mountains beautiful.

Our tents and Aconcagua in the clouds, after the snow storm.

In the evening the weather began to clear, making me again wish we had moved to the high camp.

As were we making dinner, we meet Alberto. He came up from base camp that day, and Italy only 4 days before. He was a character. An humble international mountain guide, who didn’t know how to use his stove. He quickly became friends with us, sharing food, good Italian cheese, hiking with us, and joined us for tent tea parties. He helped lighten the mood.

We went to bed under clear skies and little wind, knowing the groups who moved had a descent summit day in store. I was hoping the same would be true for us. One day at a time.

Day 13 Move camp 2 to camp Cólera, 6000m.
Our move was slower than our carry, by almost an hour. We were wondering if we were spending too many days above 5000m. In theory, a rest day should have made us faster, not slower.

When we arrived to Cólera, many tents were empty, and by late afternoon people were returning from the summit. A few people had turned around because of cold, but most summited.

A new weather report suggested the following morning might be clear, with wind picking by noon. We made a tricky decision. What time should we try for the summit? Early could mean calm and less wind, if we could summit before noon. Too early, risks being too cold, too many hours in the dark, before the sun helps warm up fingers and toes. We decided we would get up at 3am.

Day 14 Summit Day
At 3 am it was windy. It wasn’t terrible, but not as clam as we would like. The camp was quiet, and we weren’t sure anyone was heading up. Eventually we saw some lights and began getting ready. By 4am I was out of the tent wearing most if my clothes, including my down parka, puffy pants, and plastic boots. It was cold.

Mike decided not come, as he still wasn’t feeling great. He did get up and spent an hour melting snow for Aurora and I to fill our water bottles. It was so helpful. At 5 am Aurora, Alberto, and I headed up.

We could see a line of head lamps on the mountain above us. We started with a slow pace and climbed up steeply over several snow fields. Alberto turned around after 80meters, as he wasn’t yet acclimated since he left base camp only two days prior.

I was thinking only about putting one foot in front of my other, and trying to keep my nose covered from the wind. The time went by fast. The sun began to rise, and the wind continued to pick up. We could see clouds of snow being blown toward us, causing us to stop, turn away, or put our heads down. The gusts were strong enough to knock us off balance. We caught up with a group who was moving slow. But the wind continued to stay strong.

We were climbing fast, 150 meters an hour. It’s recommended that one climbs 80-100 meters an hour, to make it the summit in a timely manner. Had it not be so windy and cold we would have made it. At 6400 meters (21,120 feet) just below The Refugio at Independencia, we decided to turn around. We knew the wind was supposed to continue to increase, up to 90km gusts. We were still cold, even in the sun. And we had 4 or 5 more hours of climbing just to reach the summit. We were the first team to turn around the morning, but many would follow later. We passed a group on their way up, and they looked miserable. We found out later they were one of the few groups who summited.

Sunrise on Summit day

Turning around on summit day. 21,120 feet.

When we got back to camp Aurora and I spent an hour shivering in our sleeping bags before we began to warm up. We had ice around our jackets, and everything I had tried to cover my nose with was still frozen.

Bundled in the tent

Later that day the realization that we weren’t going to reach the summit set in.

The weather forecast was wind for the next several days. We decided we would descend in the morning. Next I learned how important it is to plan only one day at a time.

Day 15 Cólera to Plaza de Mulas, 4300m
I woke up at 2am, and the wind was calm. All I could think about was the summit. At 3:30am, it was still calm. At 5am Alberto woke us up and said he was going to try again, since it was less windy.

I don’t what kept me in my sleeping bag that morning, but I will regret that decision for a while. I wish I would have gotten up to climb with Alberto. I still felt strong, dispute the three nights we had spent at 20,000 feet. But I didn’t go. I had made a commitment to my team to go down.

I got up before 8, melted snow for tea, and felt terrible because I wasn’t climbing. The sky was blue and the wind was significantly less than the day before. I drank my tea looking at the summit, and cried, feeling like I gave away my chance to stand on top on Aconcagua.

Later that morning I took the poems my brother Matthew has gave me to carry to the summit, I had to leave them at 20,000 feet, 3,000 feet below my goal.
The poems were dedicated to two people his grandfather, Lawrence, and our grandfather, Charles Alvin. I found a beautiful place to leave them, out of camp, but insight of the summit, and other glaciated peaks.

Poems for Grandpas

We left camp at 1 and descend the normal route all the way to base camp. It was one large scree field. I would never want to climb the mountain from this side. The weather was nice all day, the wind did pick up, but it seemed like a good day to climb.

Day 16 Plaza de Mulas to Mendoza.

At 10am we dropped or bags off for mules. We ran into Alberto who had summited the day before, and descended early in the morning. He achieved his insane goal by going from his house in Italy to the summit in 9 days.

Plaza de Mulas

A team of mules working hard.

We all hiked out together, 16 miles downhill. We did it in 6 1/2 hours, and didn’t stop for lunch. The hike was uneventful, quiet, and long. My calves were sore for three days afterward.

Alberto, Mike, Me, and Aurora. Arriving at the park office. Officially off the mountain.

We got to the bottom, checked out of the park, picked up or bags, and took an evening bus back to Mendoza. By 2am we had all showered, eaten, and gone to bed. Our adventure was over.

The next day I talked a lot to Alberto, since he’s a seasoned climber and mountain guide, he had a lot of good things to say about the mountain. He couldn’t understand why we went down and thought I had made a mistake by not trying again. He said mountains will always be there, an yes while we can go back, we might now adjust to the altitude again, or have descent weather, or we might get sick. It’s important to take advantage of the weather when we get the chance. And as much as we say climbing a mountain isn’t about getting to the top, it is. Why else do we climb them? Sure we learn things along the way, and the journey can be great, but summiting is the goal. I didn’t focus on this enough. I should have tried again. Lesson learned. The next time I climb a big mountain, I won’t give up so quickly. I’ll be back Aconcagua.

Aconcagua: High Winds and Missed Opportunities

Aconcagua was a lot of things. Full of excitement. Hard work. Lazy days. Heavy backpacks. Poo bags. To much tent time, sun, and dried mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes. Lots and lots of soup. Incredible views.  Clear, calm, beautiful blue skies. Contemplation. Realizations. High winds and blowing snow. Missed opportunities. Tears. Lessons learned. Scree, scree, and more scree. Sore calves. New friends, new highs, and future ambitions.

It’s hard to spend two and a half  weeks on a big mountain and not make it to the summit. It’s a lesson learned, and an exercise in remembering to appreciate the journey. Sometimes the mountains have lessons in store for us in a way we least want to receive them.  This mountain taught me a lot. Things about people, myself, and the world of big mountain climbing.

Thanks to a quiet calm morning, a memorial to my grandfather, a new found friend, and talking with family, I’m working to be positive about what we accomplished on the mountain. We reached 21,120 feet (6400 meters). We turned around before we got any cold injuries. We carried all of stuff to 19,800 feet (6000meters) making two trips to each camp. We completed the traverse, entering the Vacas Valley and leaving via Hornacos Valley. I reached an elevation 8000 feet higher than I’d previously been. And I felt strong.

Despite all these things we missed a weather window, attempted to summit in the wind, and went down on a clear and mostly calm day. There were many factors to these decisions, but they are decisions I regret.

There were many awesome things about Aconcagua. It’s just hard to feel like we gave away a chance to reach the summit.

Usually, I don’t mind not reaching the top of the mountain. I prefer to wonder river valleys rather than scale rocky ridges. But this mountain was different. Walking uphill was exciting. Spent so much time looking at the peak and wondering if I was capable on standing on it’s summit. I learned that I am strong enough to get there, and I hope to return someday and try again.

A more detailed trip report, with pictures, will be posted soon.

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement over the last year as I thought about and planned taking on 22,481 foot peak!

Cordon Del Plata

We decided to go to another mountain range before Aconcagua. This would use up some of our time so we could enter the park in the midseason, instead of high season, and this would help our bodies begin to acclimate.

So we had a busy day buying food, some gear, and securing a mule for Aconcagua. We bought some bus tickets and finally finished packing around midnight.

The following morning our adventure began with a half an hour walk through Mendoza with our giant backpacks.  Because we were hoping to summit Cerro Plata, 6000m, we brought all our gear for Aconcagua. So our packs were big, and heavy with 5 days of food.

We got dropped off on aside road to the ski area, Vallecitos. Unfortunately we were 12km from the trail head. Turns out hitchhiking is tricky with 3 people and expedition backpacks. We walked up the road, which was steep and hot for an hour and a half before we finally got a ride from an older man with a truck. He took us up some steep switch backs, and dropped us off 4km from the trailhead.

Camp Salto del Agua 4200m. Camp above the clouds.

After more steep road walking, we finally made it to the first camp around 7:30 pm. The camp was located along a river in a big green, open valley, and was all socked in with low clouds.

Sunset at Salto del Agua

The next morning we got up and left camp early, knowing we were going to gain 3000feet of elevation. We arrived at camp to in the afternoon bit tired, and starting to feel the effects of the altitude. The second camp, Salto del Agua, was filled with climbers, and around 4200meters. We had gained almost 10,000 feet in two days. It will take us 6 to do this on Aconcagua.  We spent the rest of the day in camp drinking lots of water. It was fun to see so many climbers from all over the world, and see them role back into camp after successful summits.

Because we gained so much elevation so quickly, we decide to spend night three at the second camp. We were all having trouble sleeping and my teammates had headaches. Instead we day hiked up to 4500m to the high camp. The we hung out for a while and talked to some climbers from Estonia.

Day 4 we got up early and planned to hike as high as we could get. We put on our plastic boots and headed back to the high camp. It was hard to be motivated to go much higher, asthe summit was out of reach because it was to much elevation gain for us, and a 15 hour day. So we climbed up to wrists, at 4700meters and hung out for a while. At around 15,500 feet, this is as high as I have ever been.

Sunset at Camp Salto del Auga

 

Cerro Vallecitos

Pass at 4700m

We descended and spent the afternoon trying to sleeping. In the morning we were heading all the way down, so we left camp at 6:30am. It seemed like we walked down hill forever over steep scree fields. This is less fun than going up. After 5 hours of downhill walking we finally made it to the road. After a another hour or sows got a ride in a rink red car. It was a tight fit with our packs, and we were grateful the guy picked us up.

We made it to the of the road and worked to hitch another ride into town. Here we got picked up quickly by a woman, Gladis, with another tiny car. She told us our bus stopped in front of her house, and immediately invited us over for lunch. So we spent the afternoon hanging out with her and her husband. She made us a great meal of green beans, chicken, beef, and tomatoes. We had a lively conversation about all kinds of things. It was great for me to speak so much spanish and do all the translating. Gladis took pictures of us, and invited us to come stay with her in Mendoza after of climb. They were very nice people. She said that since our parents didn’t know where we were and since they weren’t here to take care of us, the she would do it.

After 3 hours at her cabin we took more picture exchanged information and shouldered our backpacks to catch our bus back to Mendoza. We arrived at the hostel tired and hungry, no summit, but a successful trip.

Even though we climbed only to 4700 meters, I was happy to do this trip first. It was nice to feel strong hiking with my backpack at 14,000 feet, and I was happily surprised that the symptoms I felt from the altitude were very mild. Granted I’ll be going much higher, but still nice to feel good.

And now, permits in hand for Aconcagua!!!!

Permit in hand. (I can´t get the direction to change)

Cerro Huemuel

While in Chile I learned that the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine was not complete reopened. Because of this Aurora and I decided to return to El Chalten a do a 5 day trek that goes out to the Patagonian icefield and then along a large lake before returning to town. I was happy to return to El Chalten, and the trek turned out to be quite the adventure. An adventure that would remind us of several basic principles of backcountry travel, which we should have considered.

Day 1
In the morning we finished buying food, got some pan dulce, and headed to Lago Torro around lunch. The hike in was fairly meow and took us 5 hours instead of the 7 we expected. We went up to the lake, made dinner and went to bed.

Day 2
We knew this day would be long and would include a big river crossing, a glacier crossing, and climbing a large pass. We left camp early, around 7 and walked around the lake. We wanted to cross the river early since glacier melt rivers grow larger throughout the day as the sun speeds up the melting.

We stopped to put on sandals so we would have dry socks and boots for the rest of the day. As we approaches the river, a guy who had just crossed ran back toward us, yelling, trying to tell us where to cross. Here we were reminded of two important principles; be careful of relying on others, and fully scout river crossings…especially when they come from giant ice cubes. Against of better judgment we headed downstream and tried several times to cross. Everywhere we tried we encountered waist deep, water with a very strong current. To strong to cross. Then we got cold. I don’t think my toes have ever been that cold in my life. The water couldnt have been much warmer that freezing, as we were less than a quarter mile from the glacier. Feeling a bit defeated and facing the prospect that we might have to turn around if we could figure out how to cross, we finally scouted up the river.

Around a the next bend we found a section where the river was splint in to channels, was wider and more shallow. Here the water was knee deep, swift but manageable. We crossed without incident, only having to warm up our toes. Lessons learned.

From the river we climbed up to where the Tunel Glacier runs into the mountains. It was pretty cool to get so up close and personal with a glacier but a bit nerve-racking to cross. We were assured this section of the glacier was safe with no crevasses but the small deep pools of icey water were a bit scary to walk around.

After an hour on the glacier, we headed up a scree field and began a long traverse to Paso del Viento (windy pass). Have I mentioned the wind in Patagonia? It was mild on the way up, but Paso del Viento is aptly named. When we reached the top of the pass we got our first view of the South Patagonian Icefield. It was awesome.

We descended a steep slope and wales the last to miles over lots of rocks to camp. On this walk I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face. It was mildly humorous and luckily not painful. Camp was on a small lake with a small Refugio nestled a bit out of the wind.

Day 3
We woke up at 5am am hiked up the ridge behind our tent to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful with lots or pink alpine glow.

We returned to camp ate breakfast and went back to bed. I slept for awhile and then spent most of the morning reading Adventures of Pinocchio, which is very weird.

In the afternoon we climbed back up the ridge, descended into the next valley and began picking our way up a drainage in hopes of a good view of the icefield. We picked up a trail which lead us past some lakes and eventually out to a great view of the icefield. Here it was windy, like knock you down hard to hear windy.

The icefield is incredible. It’s huge, I couldn’t see across it. In the middle where several glaciers meet the ice is pure white. I could see many crevasses and seems. There were several mountain ranges rising above the ice and were covered with snow. I imagine this is what Antarctica would look like. We had fun taking pictures and playing in the wind, then headed back to camp.

Day 4
An interesting part about hiking down here has been reading a map with a fifty meter contour interval. That’s 150feet between contour lines. I’m used to 20. A lot can happen in 150 feet.

Again we left camp early and began heading toward a pass, Paso Huemel, named after an endangered deer. Most of the trails on this trek were difficult to follow and were only marked occasionally by small piles of rocks. We spent a while looking for a trail that was suppose to traverse up to the pass. Looking at the pass it seemed impossible steep to cross where the trail was marked. We eventually found it, and as a lot of rocky mountains seem impossible, it was fine to traverse. It was a long climb, but offered amazing views of the icefield.

We got to the top of the pass and has lot the trail. It was really windy so we continued over what seemed like the most logical place to go, and soon picked up a footpath.

The footpath lead to a drainage. Here we relearned another lesson. It’s often a terrible idea to descend a steep drainage as they are usually full of vegetation and it is likely to get cliffed out, meaning to steep to descend. Yet we continued to follow the path and it only got steeper. We remember that the park office told us some sections have ropes because they were so steep. So we kept descending slowly. Soon we could see the glacier where the icefield met the lake, and we got to a point where it was to steep to continue. We consulted the map and realized we were way closer to the glacier than we should have been. Another lesson relearned, always consult the map, even when there seems to be a trail. We had descended at least 1000 feet down the drainge, and had to turn around and climb up. Damn.

Went climbed up quickly and continued higher and to the left were the trail was marked. As it turned out, there were to small passes, separated by a mound less than 150 feet tall, so it wasn’t on the map. Damn contour interval. But had we looked at the map in the first place, we wouldn’t have ended up in a drainage. I always tell students not to get sucked into drainages, and I made the same mistake. Opps. Climbing up to the correct pass we had an incredibly dying headwind that actually made it difficult to walk forward. We were on a steep scree field and falling here would have been less than fun. However we found the trail, and began to descend the correct path. The descent was steep and took forever. We lost 3000 feet of elevation. I slipped a few times and still have a few thorns in my palms.

When we got down we couldn’t find the official camp site, so we camped in a small site tucked in the trees on a peninsula across from the end of glacier Vidmea, where the icefield meets the lake. The view was amazing. And I think I had my beat poo view ever, watching the sunset over the icefield.

Day 5
E
We woke up early to watch another sunrise, and headed out of camp before 8am, thinking we would have an easy shortish day hiking along the lake through the pampas (grassland). We couldn’t have been more wrong. Grasslands means cows which means a labyrinth of trails. It didn’t take long for us to lose the main trail and we began heading cross country were the trail was marked on the map. Which, yes, we remembered to consult. We were on an off of trails all day. Hiking through the grassland got old quickly as it was filled with grasses that had burs and thorns. We spent much of the day traversing steep hills above the lake, where the trail was marked, but we seemed to only find intermittent cow trails. Our goal was a port tucked back in a large bay which we could see most of the afternoon. We couldn’t descend the hills because if a cliffband that ran along the bottom. Twice we thought we saw a break in the cliffs and each time we descended, we had to climb back up. We were though entertained by a pair of Andian Condores.

We continued traversing for hours on steep steep slopes. It was hot, and we were past the point of having fun. Finally we reached a ridge we could descend , and of course meet the main trail. It must have been slightly above us the whole time.

Next we had to cross the same river we crossed a few days before. This time we fully scouted the crossing, and we crossed without incident. Still it was very cold, but being further from the glacier, it was a little more tolerable. We finally reached the port 9 hours after we started hiking.

Our next adventure was trying to get back to town. We hitchhiked down a long not busy gravel road. After about an hour a couple from Germany, I think, picked us up and took us back to town. The was much appreciated. It would have taken us forever to walk. We got back to the hostel took showers and went out for dinner and a beer.

The next day we hiked back in for two nights, to a few places I had already been. It was nice though because the days were shorter and I had gotten a cold. It meant lots of time to sleep.

Overall the week was quite fun, the mountains beautiful, a few lessons learned, and our last chance to get in shape for Aconcagua.