Cerro Aconcagua (22,841 ft/ 6,962 m)

Aconcagua

Climbing Aconcagua Expedition
Dec. 27 – Jan. 12, 2009

On January 9, 2009 I summited Aconcagua just after 3:00 pm with 5 other climbing partners in one of the worst years for tragedy in a decade. Located in the Andes mountain range on the border of Argentina and Chile, Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside Asia and the second highest of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, second only to Mount Everest). During the climb in the 2008/2009 climbing season, six climbers perished on Aconcagua, double the usual annual fatality rate.
Climbing Aconcagua

Aconcagua Climbing Prices
2008/2009 Price: USD dollars

Guide: $4,000 Park Permit: 1500 pesos ($450 USD) Round-Trip Flight from Atlanta to Mendoza: $1,500

Interactive Satellite / Terrain Map of Aconcagua

Facts about Aconcagua

– aka “Stone Sentinel”

– Height: 22,841ft / 6,962 m

– Location: Province of Mendoza, western Argentina

– 1st Ascent: 1897 Matthias Zurbriggen

– Atmospheric Pressure is 40% of sea-level at Summit

– 4,500 people registered in 07/08 season, approximately 30% Summit

– Highest peak outside the Himalayas

– 2-3 people typically are killed every year

– One of the “7 Summits”

Aconcagua Gear iconaconcagua journal icon
aconcagua mule crossing
Click Here for Videos of climbing Aconcagua
Aconcagua Provincial Park Regulations (Decret. N# 1332/05)

It shall be punished with a fine up to $500 those who: Do not use the toilets provided by the park or appointed by the Park Rangers. Gather or burned native wood or start a fire outside places appointed by the Park Rangers. Burn garbage. Pollute rivers, streams or waterfalls. Enter either with exotic or domestic animals or plants

It shall be punished with a fine up to $1000 those who: Throw garbage along the park, forget or lose the numbered plastic bags provided by the park. Cross country driving. Camp elsewhere but the appointed places. Carve inscriptions in the stones. Damage wildlife, plants and natural, cultural or archeological features.

It shall be punished with the equivalent of a 2nd permit those who: Go beyond the limits on length or stay allowed in the permit (Short Trekking: 3 days, Long Trekking: 7 days, Ascent: 20 days)

It shall be punished with the equivalent of 2 Ascent permits those who: Go higher than 4300m with either Short or Long Trekking Permit


Please Note – Park Ranger Stations in Horcones and Pampa de Lena are opened between 8 am and 6 pm. It’s suggested to those camping in Confluencia or Case de Piedra to enter the park before 4 pm. Visitors must check in when they enter the park and check out when they leave it. (Horcones and Pampa de Lenas Park Ranger Stations) Ticket fee shall not be refunded under any circumstance and the permit is not transferable.* Rules/Regulations found on the back of the Aconcagua Permit


Photos of Climbing Aconcagua
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GEAR LIST FOR ACONCAGUA

ACONCAGUA EXPEDITION EQUIPMENT LIST

Aconcagua Gear icon
 

Aconcagua Gear / Aconcagua Equipment

———— * Items I took, but did not end up using on Aconcagua ————
26 GoLite Breeze (Daypack) 27 OR Wind Resistant Jacket w/ hood & Sierra Designs Wind Resistant Pant 28 Frogg Toggs Jacket/Pants (Wind / Water proof) 29 Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon & OR Gorilla Balaclava*
30 polypropylene long underwear 31 Feathered Friends Volant Down Jacket w/ hood* 32 OR Exped Down Mat 33 Sierra Designs Down Booties*
1
Sierra Designs Gore-tex Shell w/ hood
2
Head Ski Pant with full side-zips*
3
OR Crocodile Gaiters*
4
Mountain Hardwear T-shirt
5
Mountain Hardwear Midweight Long Sleeve
6
Running Shorts
7
Expedition Socks
8
Running Socks
9
Patagonia Liner Gloves, Mountain Hardwear Liner Gloves
10
Towel*
11
Handkerchiefs (2)
12
Oakley Ski Goggles
13
Oakley Sunglasses
14
Toothbrush, paste, sunscreen, etc.
15
Bowl, spoon
16
Foldable bowl*
17
Hand warmers
18
Aqua Mira
19
MSR H2O Filter*, Black Diamond Ski Poles
20
Gregory Lassen
21
Nalgene Bottles w/ OR Insulators
22
Snacks
23
1.5 Liter Foldable Pee Bottle*
24
2 Liter Bladder
25
OR Pro Mitt w/ Fleece Liner
ACONCAGUA EXPEDITION EQUIPMENT LIST (Not for POLISH GLACIER)
Suggested Gear for Aconcagua
What I took to Aconcagua
FEET
3 pair outer socks, thick wool or polypropylene
3 pair inner socks, thin silk or polypropylene
1 pair Vapor Barrier Liner (VBL) socks, (optional)
2 pair cotton socks (for approach)
1 Plastic or leather DOUBLE mountaineering boots
1 Lightweight hiking boots or sturdy tennis shoes
1 Booties, down or polarguard
1 Gaiters

UPPER BODY
2 Lightweight polypropylene or capilene turtleneck
1 Expedition weight polypropylene or capilene shirt
1 Fleece jacket
1 Breathable windproof outer jacket, such as gore tex, with hood
1 Heavy weight down or Polarguard Expedition Parka with heavyweight expedition hood (-20 F)
1 Cotton T-shirts – 2

LOWER BODY
3 Polypropylene or nylon briefs (optional)
1 Lightweight polypropylene / capilene long underwear bottoms pair
1 Expedition weight polypropylene / capilene long underwear
1 Fleece pants (full length side zippers recommended)
1 Breathable windproof pants or bibs such as Goretex (full length side zippers recommended)
1 Shorts
1 Lightweight cotton pants (hike in, base camp – optional)

HANDS
1 Mittens, thick fleece, down or thick wool
1 Gloves, polypropylene or capilene
1 Insulated finger gloves
1 Goretex wind shells for mittens

HEAD
1 Ski hat, wool or fleece
1 Balaclava, wool, polypropylene or capilene to cover neck, chin/face
1 Baseball cap

SLEEPING GEAR
1 Down or polarguard sleeping bag comfortable to -20F
1 foam pad or 1 Thermares pad (full length recommended)

PACK
1 Pack with 5,500 – 6000 cubic inches capacity
1 Large day pack for approach
1 Extra Large strong duffel bag (at least 7000 cubic inches) w/strong zipper and a lock, large enough for pack to fit in, for mules to carry and for storage of gear.
1 Extra large stuff sack for gear storage in camp

TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT
1 Ice axe 70 cm. approx. Standing with your arm relaxed at your side, the ice axe should reach from the palm of your hand to the ground.
1 Crampons, 12 points non-rigid recommended.
1 Ski poles – adjustable preferred

PERSONALS
1 Head lamp and extra batteries
2 Sun glasses two pair (one as a spare)
1 Ski goggles
1/2 Sun screen lotion
1 Sun screen lip protection
1 Skin moisturizer
Mole skin, bandaids, tape, throat lozenges
1 Pocket knife
Plastic bowl, large cup (insulated), spoon
2 water bottles -1 quart capacity wide mouth (nalgene recommended) w/ water bottle insulator
1 Toothbrush and toothpaste
1/2 Toilet paper rolls
Antibiotics 1 cycle broad spectrum
Aspirin or Ibuprofen – 30
1 Disposable lighter
Stuff sacks 2-3, assorted sizes
2 Iodine pill bottles (for water purification)
$100 US dollars in small bills ($1 s, $5 s, & $10 s) for meals, drinks, etc.

OPTIONALS
Take most of these items to Base Camp only.
Camera and film
Journal, pen/pencil, book, games, walkman
1 Thermos 1 quart capacity (useful up high)
Small towel and soap, baby wipes, foot powder
Swimsuit
Teva sandals
Cotton bandana
1 Portable water filtration system
Earplugs (for windy nights)
1 Pee bottle 1 qt. capacity, wide mouth, nalgene bottle (useful at higher camps)
2 lbs. Favorite lunch treat & energy bars
1 oz. Favorite spice
1 Hydrating system, (Approach only) 2 quart capacity (i.e. camel bags, will freeze)
Disposable hand warmers (for summit day)

FEET
2 Expedition Socks
2 Liner Socks
2 Running Socks
1 La Sportiva Spantik Double Mountaineer Boots
1 Tennis Shoes (Used for River Crossings and Approach)
1 Sierra Designs Down Booties
1 OR Crocodile Gaiters

UPPER BODY
1 Mountain Hardwear T-shirt
1 Mountain Hardwear Midweight Long Sleeve
1 Sierra Designs Wind Resistant Jacket w/ hood
1 Feathered Friends Volant Down Jacket w/ hood
1 Frogg Toggs Jacket w/ hood (Wind / Water proof)
1 Sierra Designs Gore-tex Shell w/ hood

LOWER BODY
1 Running Shorts
1 polypropylene long underwear
1 Sierra Designs Wind Resistant Pant
1 Head Ski Pant with full side-zips
1 Frogg Toggs Pant (Wind / Water proof)

HANDS
1 Patagonia Liner Gloves
1 Mountain Hardwear Liner Gloves
1 OR Pro Mitt (I have Older Version)
1 OR Pro Mitt Fleece Liner

HEAD
1 Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon
1 OR Gorilla Balaclava
1 Mountain Hardwear Cap

SLEEPING GEAR
1 Mountain Hardwear -20 Sleeping Bag
1 OR Down Exped Mat

PACK
1 Gregory Lassen
1 Golite Breeze (Day Pack)
1 Mountain Hardwear Duffel Bag (Large)

TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT
Ice Axe (Black Diamond)
Crampons (Black Diamond)
Adjustable Ski Poles (Black Diamond)

Consequences of Climbing can easily be ignored and forgotten.

Aconcagua Patagonicas Climbing Team 2009

Aconcagua Jacob Schmitz
Jacob Schmitz

Lead Guide

California, USA

aconcagua carlos
Carlos

Secondary Guide

Santiago, Chile

Aconcagua Dr. Greg Nolan
Dr. Greg Nolan

Queensland, Australia

Aconcagua Mark Russell
Mark Russell

Cheshire, England

Aconcagua Roger Woolett
Roger Woolett

California, USA

Aconcagua Brent Schoeb
Brent Schoeb

Colorado, USA

Aconcagua Mark O'Neill
Mark O’Neill

Colorado, USA

Aconcagua Billy Blohm
Billy Blohm

Georgia, USA

Aconcagua Mark Capstick
Mark Capstick

London, England

Aconcagua Simon James
Simon James

London, England

Aconcagua Maxim Bouev
Maxim Bouev

St. Petersburg, Russia


Climbing Aconcagua Expedition Journal
Dec. 26 – Jan. 12, 2009

A journal about climbing Cerro Aconcagua (22,841 ft / 2,692 m). Aconcagua, located in the Andes mountain range on the border of Argentina and Chile, is the highest mountain outside Asia and the second highest of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, second only to Mount Everest). During the climb in the 2008/2009 climbing season, six climbers perished on Aconcagua, double the usual annual fatality rate. On January 9, 2009 I summited Aconcagua just after 3:00 pm with 5 other climbing partners in one of the worst years for tragedy in a decade. Below is my account.

ARRIVAL: DAY 1 – December 26, 2008
Stayed up all last night to catch a 9:10 am departure. I was in South Carolina and left around 4:30 am to arrive at the Atlanta airport around 7:00 am. After saying goodbye to Ashley, I went inside to check in at a Delta kiosk. After inputting my conformation number into the machine, the screen kept displaying: “Earliest check-in is 3:00 pm”. What!? My flight is at 9:10 am, less than 2 hours away. I panic for a second and head over to Delta’s international flights line to talk to a human representative from Delta, with 30 people already standing in the line. I waited for an attendant to tell me my flight wasn’t until 9:10pm tonight. Disheveled, I sat down from carrying my duffle bag (loaded with 45 lbs of gear) and thought what would be the best use of my time for 14 hours. I tried to call Ashley, but no answer on her cell phone. I headed out to the taxis and took a taxi back to Smyrna to stay at my home. I got dropped off at Ashley’s house, and I ended up walking the 1 mile between our homes to find her at mine. I almost scared her into a heart attack as I pounded on the front door. I grabbed breakfast and slept until 4:00 pm. Ashley took me back to the Atlanta Airport around 6:00pm. It’s 7:00 pm now, and my flight to Santiago, Chile has changed gates, but the change is not official right now.12:30am – Plane was delayed; and we end up leaving just before 11:00pm. The plane is layed out in a 2-3-2 seating arrangement. I’m in a window seat half-way between the rear of the plane and the wing. I’ve lucked out. I got an empty seat beside me.DAY 2 – December 27, 2008
Had a very hard time putting away five hours of sleep on the plane. The plane touched down with 50 minutes to my next flight. Made it on the Mendoza flight, and ended up sitting with a mother and daughter from Puerto Rico. The flight is only 35 minutes across the Andes which is spectacular (3 hour bus ride). I think the Andes may top all mountain ranges I’ve seen (Alps, Cascades, Whites). Each mountain is an individual, they are not ranges, but each one is its own castle starting over and over again, and stacked next to one another.Made it through Argentina customs and learned my first Spanish: “EXTRANJEROS” meaning foreigner. That’s the line I had to stand in through customs and it was 3 times as long.

Found my driver from Patagonicas and met another hiker from California. We were driven to the 5-Star Park Hyatt just outside Independencia Park in Mendoza. I checked-in and ended up with a letter waiting at the front desk, and a single room. There was a message waiting for me at the front desk that stated someone would come by my room at 4:00pm to check my expedition gear and that I needed to have 1500 pesos for the park fee. After standing in awe of the amenities at the 5-star hotel, I tried to go get my US dollars turned into pesos, but banks, and the town are closed from 1:00pm – 4:30pm for their daily siesta. I ended up taking a shower and walking around town trying to find a restaurant that would take USD. No luck, so I came back to the hotel and ate some of my snacks that were meant for the mountain. I received another phone call stating the gear check would be closer to 5:00pm. I fell asleep waiting. A knock on the door, an I am introduced to my lead guide. All my gear seems to check out. Following the gear check, I went down to the casino in the Park Hyatt and got a 3.3:1 ratio on my money. I cashed in $700 USD for 2310 pesos. Dinner with everyone from the group is at 8:00pm tonight. It’s 6:00pm now and I have to be packed for the mules and our 3 day hike into Base Camp by tonight.

We had a team meeting outside in the front of the hotel from 8:00pm – 9:30pm about things we should expect on the way into base camp. A group dinner was held at Francescos, an Italian restaurant. Everything here so far seems a bit expensive. Tomorrow we are leaving the hotel at 9:00am to walk 5 blocks to claim our park permits (1500 pesos). Then it’s a 3 hour mini-bus ride to Penitentes (an old ski resort where we will have our last hot shower and a bed for two weeks).

DAY 3 – December 28, 2009
I head down to the lobby at 9:00am to walk to the permit office with the group. Permission to climb Aconcagua has two steps in the city of Mendoza. To complete the first step, a group leader was sent with the $1500 pesos per person ahead while all the climbers went to fill out Expedition Forms in the Tourism office. The Expedition forms required medical info, personal info, expedition info, and emergency info. Uniquely the government tourist office is run in a rundown, decrepit, dingy building with 3 attractive young ladies in a round room with no air conditioner on the second floor. I never saw one person fail to get a permit, though I made-up my blood type and insurance company (this problem could have been solved had the Guide company asked us to fill out the permit prior to our arrival, or at least let us know what info will be required). There is a copy of the Expedition Form posted on the Aconcagua page.

Checked out of the Park Hyatt just before noon. We packed up the trailer on one of the mini-buses and headed toward Penitentes. The bus ride featured great scenery on the way here. The drive reminds me a lot of the drive from Nevada, through Donner Pass, to California where the Mendoza River runs a lot like the Truckee River along Interstate 80. We were told of a story about why we kept seeing piles of plastic 2-liter bottles along the Highway. The story of a mother with her month old baby went searching in the hills for her husband who was hiding from the police. The mother ended up dying, but the baby survived living off the mother, and the people heard the story and began to leave caches of filled drinkable bottles of water along the highways for anyone in need.

We stopped for a rather large steak for lunch at La Estancia de Elias. We arrived to Penitentes around 4:00pm where we unloaded the gear from the trailer and stored it in a basement bunker outside Ayelen’s Hotel. After checking in, and spliting to two climbers a room, we had free time until dinner; while our guides were in the gear room weighing the bags for the mule transport. After dropping off my bag, I decided to head down and see what goes on behind the scenes, and ended up being able to offer a hand with the labeling and weighing of the groups’ gear.

I assisted with the gear as much as I thought I could, and went to check out some of the slopes across the street from the Ayelen Ski Resort. After hiking for two hours up the ski slopes, it was time to come down for dinner at the hotel. The Ayelen Resort gets a 1.5 star rating in comparison to the Park Hyatt in Mendoza. The TVs in the rooms will only display one channel, no air conditioner, but the views are great out of your balcony window.

Dinner tonight is the first time we didn’t have to pay for our meal. We still had to pay for our drinks and waiter’s tip. So for $4000 USD, – you don’t get free food from Mendoza to Penitentes, that’s at least 2 days worth of money you will need to provide. Plans for tomorrow have us eating breakfast at 8:00am, then heading out for a 15 minute drive where we begin our 3 day (40 mile) hike to Base Camp (13,800’) through the Ameghino Valley & Upper Guanacos Traverse where the first two days is a walk in the Vacas Valley along the Vacas River.

TRAIL: DAY 1 – December 29, 2009
Actually had a complimentary breakfast from the hotel this morning around 8:00am. Went back to the room to watch the 1 channel we get on the television. Last night that channel was Fox, this morning the channel is the W.B. Met with the group outside the front of the hotel to load our gear onto a 1980’s Ford pickup truck. Overloaded, the truck then goes to the mules at the start of the trail, where the mules are loaded down to begin their three day trek to Base Camp. We had arrangements to leave the hotel at 10:00am, but our mini-bus driver took a smaller group to a different trailhead for their 2 hour hike, and left us waiting to start our 4 to 6 hour hike. So a little animosity grew among some as the mini-bus driver leaves and we are stuck waiting. 15 minutes later a different mini-bus driver shows up to take us to the trailhead. We’re at the trailhead shortly after 11:00am. Allowing us to go at our own pace and split up, the group quickly started stretching over a quarter-mile, this led to us being reigned in after 5 miles or so. Lunch today was 2 sandwiches with mystery meat, mayo, mustard, and a very dry orange accompied with mules interrupting the meal and trampling right over where we were seated. The scenery along our path was a walk along the Vacas River (Photos are worth a look). The walk to tonight’s camp, Pampa de Lenas, was over slate rocks much like the volcanic rocks I walked over on the Pacific Crest Trail in the western United States of America. Lots of desert feeling sun burning my neck and face all day. Hopefully tomorrow I will wear a hat. A storm rolled in an hour before we arrived to camp and the storm produced light sprinkles along with large clashes of booming thunder as we sat down at our last break. Our secondary guide was sent ahead to Pampa de Lenas to start setting up tents in case of rain. On the last creek crossing, a quarter-mile before camp, the head guide allowed me to go on and help assist with setting up camp. Piled up over by the shower and bathroom on the edge of camp, lay our 30 bags of gear and equipment. Check photos to see how camp is set up: with working guard station; in front of the guard station is a pipe bringing water from the mountain; along with tons of people and tents. It did rain just as the tents were finished being set, all 6 of them. I ended up getting a tent to myself. Dinner tonight was a variety of meats (our meat that the muleteers offered to cook). Dinner was a fire pit BBQ with varied meats, vegetables, and bread, with everything heavily salted. I’ve chosen to sleep outside as this may be the only chance I ever have of sleeping outside in Argentina, and possibly the southern hemisphere. I am in a rented Mountain Hardwear -20F degree sleeping bag, but have worries of my inflatable Thermorest sleeping pad on all the rocks all night, so I’ve put my Mountain Hardwear duffle underneath me, as the mules have already put the brand new duffle bag through the paces leaving it looking as if it years old.

Today’s hike was only 10 miles, and tomorrow should be another 10 miles. We’re going to get woken up by 6:30am tomorrow to start packing and eating. The mules will head out by 8:00am, and we will leave shortly after. So far, so good, but for how long? They did say you can’t tell who will be able to summit, sometimes “the strong don’t and the weak do…you just can’t tell”.

I think I can actually see Orion in the sky, or at least his belt.

DAY 2 – December 30, 2008
Slept outside all night with no rain. The sky had more stars than I have ever seen. Around 1:00am, I awoke sweating, and had to remove my Frogg Toggs and go down to just my running shorts and t-shirt. Looked up to see the sky absolutely covered with stars. The sky was filled with more stars than I had ever imagined existed from the naked eye. I saw little or no room to squeeze even one more star. The rest of the night I woke every hour until 6:00am.

Breakfast for me is dry generic chocolate Krispies and canned peaches and pears. We left camp slightly after 8:00am after moving our 30 bags into a pile closer to the mules. The walk today is clear, and again scenic, continuing to walk along the Vacas River. I have a little sunburn on my arms and neck.

Lunch today was in a dry riverbed along the Vacas River. I went ahead of the group again with a quarter-mile to camp, and arrived to Casa de Piedra (camp) at 1:00 or 2:00pm. Camp is going to be overflowing tonight, so the secondary guide and I tried to claim spots early, but the mules weren’t here, and it’s hard to claim a spot without the tents. We were left waiting another hour for the mules to arrive. As we set up the 6 tents as a group, high winds arrived. It’s 4:00pm and I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep outside because of the relentless winds.

Dinner tonight was held outside, though a little cooler than last night with strong winds still blowing in. Dinner was ravioli, oreos, and hot chocolate. I have a tent-mate tonight; I’m sleeping with the “doctor” – he is an Australian surgeon.

DAY 3 – December 31, 2008
The morning was a brisk cold, but not as windy as yesterday afternoon. Breakfast was canned fruit on top of non-sugared dry corn flakes (no milk), eaten in last night’s bowl that wasn’t cleaned out. Leaving early, we make the turn left today from camp to head towards Aconcagua and into the Relinchos Valley. Camping at the river last night means we ask our muleteer, gaucho, to help us cross the knee/waist deep, freezing cold, Vacas River on mules. The muleteer in return is then tipped by our guide for the mule services from collected tips our guide asked from us the day before.

We soon begin to climb. Climbing our first real climb of the trip was up switchbacks. Reaching the top, our guide alerts the group not to follow too closely to him…the guide states he has different muscles and spends 11 months a year guiding. Me being one that followed right behind him, I back off and found it difficult not to catch up to the guide. From this point, we have unobstructed views of Aconcagua. The walk today was a 3000 ft. – 4000 ft. climb with increasing elevation.

I’m now getting made fun of about how I am not as impacted as others to the elevation gain, and hiking in general; It probably doesn’t help that I don’t talk much and don’t push myself to chat with others. Again the walk was extremely scenic and I finally got the Canon E-40 out out of my backpack and started carrying the camera on my front hips with my Gregory’s top pouch. Base Camp (13,800′) has “permanent” tents for each guiding service. Here at Plaza Argentina there are over 10 different guiding services. Each guiding service has 3-4 permanent tents housing everything from a mess hall, to an internet / telephone satellite connection tent, showers, etc. Outfitters at Base Camp include: Aconcagua Express, Fernanado Grajales, Daniel Lopez, Inka. Inka seems to have the largest collection of girls, though I’ve chatted with no one outside my group. Our mess hall has tables and chairs for 16, sliced fruit, hot water (tea, hot chocolate). At Base Camp there is a permanent staff of 3 girls who cook and clean strictly for us the entire time we stay at Base Camp. Generally there are two climb teams staying from our guide service, but we are the only team here for a few days. I stayed awake lounging in the mess hall until 11:30pm, just shy of New Years here. There is a party going on in the camp next door.

DAY 4 – January 1, 2009
Day of rest.
Had to go see the doctor at Base Camp and have our permits signed by the doctor. Blood pressure, lungs, heart rate are checked while being questioned about your previous climbing experience. The only climbing experience I had was Mount Whitney (14,500 ft) which I climbed very easily during my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike. If all check outs, you are given an okay, or if not given the okay, you must come back to see the doctor another time. I was given an okay to continue up the mountain. Most of our team was asked to come back before we move up to Camp 1. I sat around most of the day chatting in the mess hall. Packed gear away for our carry to Camp 1 tomorrow. Washed my same pair of socks I’ve been wearing since arrival in Mendoza. I also washed my hankerchief which I’ve been blowing out chunks of blood through my nose. The walk to base camp is very dusty and rocky.

Clouds and winds arrive in the late afternoon over Aconcagua around 3:00pm providing light snow with no accumulation here at Base Camp.

DAY 5 – January 2, 2009
After breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, Today we took our cold weather gear, food, crampons, ice axe, fuel and other supplies to stash gear in rocks at the high camp of Camp 1 (16,300’). The route starts off as a slippery scree slope and leads to Nieve Penitentes through the Relinchos Glacier situated between Cerro Aconcagua and Cerro Ameghino. We headed out of Base Camp slightly after 9:00am to climb the miles with a 3,000 ft elevation increase. Besides taking our own personal gear for higher camps, we split the groups’ gear among one another. I carried 2 food bags, 2 gas cans, 1 duffel bag (which holds the food bags for storage). The walk to Camp 1 was straight up and through the famous ice castles (penitents). I was able to climb well ahead of the others, but felt extremely tired when I arrived at 16,000 feet. I wanted to take a nap and wasn’t very motivated to accomplish our tasks. I just wanted to sit and sleep. Stayed at Camp 1 for almost an hour and buried our gear into 3 different sites: ice axes/crampons in one pile, personal gear in one pile, and food in another pile, with each pile being covered in rocks. The walk down from Camp 1 to Base Camp took 2 hours. At Base Camp we find a second group from our guiding service. The group is being lead by the guide who guided Erik Weihenmayer (1st blind person) up Mount Everest. The group is a private group of friends and is using our guiding services’ gear and logistics. I had a rather annoying head as I descended from Camp 1 to Base Camp. The symptoms have now gone away, but I’m starting to doubt me actually wanting to continue mountaineering after Aconcagua.

Tomorrow is a rest day, and I’ll have time to wash and sit around and do really nothing; then the next day we’ll move to Camp 1 with our final load, where the real adventure begins.

DAY 6 – January 3, 2009
Breakfast was toast and fruit. Lunch was canned fruit cocktail heated up as a soup with pieces of beef. Dinner was Argentinian pizza (thin crust without pasta sauce, large cuts of meats (ham), vegetables, olives and cheese). Today was the worst snow from the afternoon clouds over Aconcagua. News today of a German climber falling to their death while descending the “bottle neck” section of the Polish Glacier came through. I overheard the rescue situation from a walkie talkie the girls had in the kitchen around Base Camp at 11:30am. Our guide soon informed us of the situation. People in my group don’t outwardly show the risk they are taking on the mountain. It seems that mountaineers seem to find excuses as to why it happened to the German, but not them. We are all a little crazy to be out here. No gold will be found at the top. There will always be another mountain to climb. I’m only here because I agreed to climb Aconcagua with a professor in college, but the trip didn’t happen, and I never even gave Aconcagua a try. I thought this year was the right time for me to attempt Aconcagua; but is that a real reason to climb a mountain? I just want to see if I can do what I agreed to do years ago.

This is the last night in a semi-civilized camp with pit toilets, glacier water, dining tents. Tomorrow we start carrying our pooh in a state-issued plastic bag with a serial number of our permit. We are required to turn the pooh-filled bag in at the ranger station at Base Camp before we leave the mountain. I went over to Inka’s internet/phone tent and arrived 2nd in line for the internet and waited over an hour and a half. Ten US dollars gets you 15 minutes, but the internet wasn’t working for me, so I ended up being the second and last in line. The satellite internet/phone tent closed as I left. On the internet I checked PureBound to see that the Spot messenger is tracking me and posting the locations to PureBound. At the Inka satellite phone/internet tent you can phone via SAT phone for $2 per minute.

Tomorrow may be one step closer to an accomplishment or failure. I worry about my hands freezing to the point where I’m unable to help myself. Also I’ve brought no hand sanitizer and worry about washing my hands at such atltitude. The helicopter flew in today to drop off 2 empty barrels and remove the barrel from our pit toilet that was filled with urine and pooh. The pilot flew over 30 minutes later and made a landing at the top of Base Camp. Several bags were dropped off for the park rangers. From a second source; my understanding is the German will be placed into a barrel and pulled down on a sled. We will most likely pass this expedition on their way down. A fellow climber asked that we not let him get stuffed into a barrel to be brought down from the mountain if he were to die up there.

Tomorrow we leave for Camp 1.

DAY 7 – January 04, 2009
We are now living at Camp 1. We arrived around 2:30pm and set up our 5 tents (we left one tent at base camp to save unnecessary weight and now we have a tent with 3 climbers sleeping together). It’s definitely colder here as I had to wear my Sierra Designs Parka as I sit around camp. Dinner is tortillas with mushroom sauce, and a cup of hot chocolate. I think we left Base Camp around 9:30am and the latest word on the German climber is the patrol will wait for good weather and helicopter him out. The assumption at camp is the body is still laying there waiting for recovery somewhere at the bottom of the Polish Glacier.

Had to jump into the tent by 8:30pm tonight because my hands were getting too cold.

We’ve also been issued our poop bags which we are required to carry off the mountain. Tomorrow is a trek to Camp 2 where we off-load gear and move the following day. The hike to Camp 1 left me less tired than the previous visit at Camp 1, though I did take more time taking photos in the Penitentes. Goodnite Everybody! It’s 10:00pm.

DAY 8 – January 5, 2009
Woke up slightly after 7:00am, packed for our cache at Camp 2. Breakfast at 8:00am was ½ Cup of dry wheat cereal and hot chocolate. Left my Canon e-40 camera, electronics, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and food for lunch tomorrow at Camp 1. Group food, fuel, equipment was split and we left for Camp 2 (17,500’) just after 9:00am. Arrived at Camp 2 just before 12:00 noon, we then crossed an ice field just before Camp 2. Sorted gear and packed items under rocks; ate snacks, grabbed water out of a dug hole in the ice to return to Camp 1. Within an hour of arriving to camp, a snow storm blew in, and we quickly headed back to Camp 1. Arrived at Camp 1 within an hour and the sun is shining. Winds started to pick up and there is a couple inches of snow here at Camp 1. Dinner was served out of the guides’ tent and we are called whenever hot water or dinner is ready. Tonight’s dinner was rice and tortillas with cheese. Everyone ran back into their tents. I slept/laid down for 3 hours this afternoon as it was too windy and my head was hurting. I feel much better now. Just back in from taking a piss and got some beautiful shots of the storm. I’ve stored a water bottle in the bottom of my sleeping bag along with my inner boots to keep those two things from freezing. It’s still windy outside and I’ve started thinking of home and how warm I could be.

The German was brought down to Camp 1 today by 4-6 park guards and was left laying along stored in a zipped up body bag 300 yards to the left, below our camp across the stream. The German will be picked up tomorrow by helicopter.

Tomorrow we move to Camp 2.

DAY 9 – January 6, 2009
Heard the helicopter flying around Camp 1 before 7:00am. I’m told they used a cargo net to export the dead German climber. We left Camp 1 a little after 9:00am. After the 300′ climb out of Camp 1, the climb turns into an easy traverse over the Ameghino Saddle to the Guanacos. We had great views of the Polish Glacier. The last section of the move is over an ice field. We made it to Camp 2 by 12:30pm. Set up camp and I was in my sleeping bag by 1:30pm and stayed there until 10:30am the next morning. Snow, heavy winds, thunderstorms came around 3:00pm and the storm lasted, with winds, until the next morning. Over 1 foot of snow if not more has accumulated.
DAY 10 – January 7, 2009

The walls inside were iced over this morning, and snow dropping on my face made for a long night. The winds didn’t stop until close to 10:00am. The larger vestibule on our tent was packed with snow this morning. My backpacks were covered along with my outer boots in snow. Thankfully today was a rest day. Through my hours of being tent-bound, I’ve come to the conclusion even though the vestibule was zipped, not all the teeth were connected allowing over a foot of snow to pour into the vestibule last night. Last night drops of snow continued to fall on my face creating an endless torture that wouldn’t allow me to get much sleep, especially since I slept the entire afternoon before.

I finally got out of the tent at 10:30am to get water and get out of this stinking tent. I only stayed outside for an hour and I’m already back in the tent. A fellow climber doubted I’d be able to find the exact water source we had used yesterday. Even if I was able to find the hole somewhere in the field of ice, I’d need an ice axe to get to the water. I thought it was going to be a hide and seek game I could play for hours to pass the time. I took one trekking pole and found the 5″ round ice hole within the ice field within minutes, and redug the 2′ deep pit. My tent mate and I refilled our bottles and returned to the tent where I find out Aqua Mira does freeze. I had to warm up the Aqua Mira with my body to treat the frozen water, while the treatment mixed, the Aqua Mira froze again. So I ended up dropping the Aqua Mira mixing cap into the water. I got my hands wet and spent 20 minutes warming my hands from this mistake. I then proceeded to have lunch containing crackers, cheese, and assorted candies.

Wind continues to fall mixed in with a stagnant heat when the sun appears forcing you to ventilate outside for 5 to 10 minutes then jump back into the tent because of the cold. I started to worry that maybe we wouldn’t get a chance to summit Aconcagua. Worrying that my fate would be much like my professor’s who was stuck in a tent on Aconcagua for days and never had the opportunity to attempt a summit of Aconcagua.

I talked to our head guide about upcoming weather. Apparently we should have 15 – 30 mph winds until Sunday which means we should have a chance to summit. After Sunday a front moves in. It feels very lethargic here around Camp 2. It’s too cold and windy to go outside; when the weather looks nice, it quickly fades and within minutes you hunker back down in the tent. The guide is discouraging clients from taking the Polish Glacier route to the summit. The Polish Glacier route is a more extended hazardous, and technically difficult climb to the summit requiring ice climbing equipment (ice axe, helmet, carabiners, rope, etc.). Five out of nine clients paid extra with the intention of climbing the Polish Glacier. I am not sure exactly why the discouragement of ascending the Polish Glacier, whether it is because of the new snow, or the recent death of the German.

I took my first dump above Base Camp and had to use the assigned plastic bag. Pooh seems to fall out of your body semi-frozen. At 17,000ft the pooh freezes within seconds, where you can then bag up your own paper and pooh like you would in a dog park.

It’s 5:15pm and I’m still in the tent. Tomorrow we take a load to Camp 3 and will attempt to summit on Saturday. My smaller grey shuffle (Ipod) is dead, so I’m back to the original shuffle (Ipod) that has an accessory battery pack for extended life. My head, I think, has been peeling the last couple of days, because of the big chunks of half-dollar size peels that have been falling when I remove my fleece cap. I looked at my forearms and they are peeling as well.

7:30pm, I’ve finished my pasta dinner and have been laying in my sleeping bag listening to music and trying to stay awake until 9:00pm for my last piss. So far I haven’t had to use my pee bottle and I am trying to make it the rest of the trip without ever using the pee bottle. Before dinner the head guide came to our tent with an update on weather and being able to Summit. Our summiting options: 1) We could summit on Friday (1/09) in two days, meaning we’ll take a one-way trip with a heavy carry to Camp 3 (High Camp) with all of our gear, while the guide caches extra food for his next expedition in 15 days or so. 2) Summit on Monday (1/12) after a front has moved through on Saturday/Sunday. Meaning we would need to sit at Camp 2 through the weekend. Some guys fly out on January 15th and summiting January 12th would be a push to get off the mountain in two days. My vote was to do what is best. I’m pretty sure all the other climbers voted for an early summit. The guide said he was worried about several clients being able to summit early, but they have agreed to move to Camp 3 tomorrow, before our guide got to our tent to explain our options. To help with the one carry load to Camp 3, our 3 guides have agreed to carry our tents. Two of the guides went up to Camp 3 earlier today to cache ice axes and crampons for the group. It’s a 4 hour hike to Camp 3. We will leave 10:00am tomorrow for Camp 3. Summit day starts at 6:00am – 7:00am on Friday (1/09) and summit day should be a 12 to 14 hour round trip from Camp 3. It’s still cold and snowing at least every hour and is hard to regulate the temperature in the tent.

We’ve also been told that the Polish Glacier is closed and our entire team (9) will walk the traverse of the Normal Route.

DAY 11 – January 08, 2009
We make a move to Camp 3 (High Camp, Piedras Blancas (White Rocks), at 19,200’) carrying all our gear. If we don’t try and summit on Friday (1/09), we’ll have to wait until Monday. The guides carried 4 of the tents, I carried the 5th tent, and my tent-mate carried the poles for our tent. I’m feeling horrible, shaking, shivering, and can’t eat or drink. Any movement is too much effort. I start worrying about summiting Aconcagua. I was unable to eat my dinner last night; I didn’t eat my dinner tonight and I’m not drinking water. The guide has asked us to try out our crampons one more time before tomorrow. Somehow I finally found some energy to go outside before nightfall to try on my rented crampons before I will need them tomorrow for summit day. It’s snowing and I’m in a daze. My fatigue, and my first time with crampons, isn’t getting me sorted zout with them. Luckily a fellow climber took the initiative to sort my boots and crampons out for me while they were on me and gave some instructions as to how they should fit and how to tighten them down. Immediately after I go back to my sleeping bag.

I’m having doubts about my chance tomorrow. I am not sure why I’m cold and unable to eat. But I knew that I feel miserable sometimes when my stomach needs to be cleaned. So again I mustered up energy and went away from camp to find a private spot. Being at 19,000′, there isn’t much more to hide behind. I climb up the hill behind some rocks, hiding myself from camp, and try to relax in the snow while I use the restroom. Getting my stomach empty seemed to solve my problem instantly. Though I was rushed to finish because other climbers were coming to Camp 3 off the Polish Glacier and would walk past me within minutes. I scurried back to the tent, and had enough energy to pack my day-pack for tomorrows’ summit attempt.

SUMMIT DAY: DAY 12 – January 09, 2009
You’re not supposed to get much sleep at Camp 3 (a.k.a. High Camp), though I’d been getting sleep most of the trip. However, last night I woke up around 2:30am and had a hard time falling back to sleep. I kept anticipating the 6:00am wake-up call the rest of the morning. For breakfast I ate a small piece of fruit cake.

Leaving for the Summit:
One climber is staying in Camp 3 this morning because of vomiting last night. We are told to wear every article of clothing out of High Camp because we’re going to be in the shade for the first 1 to 2 hours. However, I didn’t wear my down parka, gaiters or my ski pants out of camp. Running a little behind the group in getting ready, I rushed to get my things together and in my day bag, not leaving me anytime to drink my liter of hot chocolate nor eat any more snacks. My hands were freezing underneath 4 layers of gloves as we departed Camp 3 just before 7:00am. My stomach was jumping as we climbed out of High Camp the first hour in the shadow of the mountain. As we topped the hill, the sun came pouring down and we took our first stop. I had to excuse myself to relieve my stomach behind a cliff of rocks. I think I finally got all the garbage out of my system. While wondering off to the edge of the cliff, 2 clients made the decision this was as far as they were going and turned around to head back to Camp 3.

The slog to 22,841′ is straight over snow. I tried to drink hot chocolate at this point while we finished warming in the sun, but was only able to take sips as I hadn’t added enough mix to my 1 liter bottle for fear of taking other people’s hot chocolate this morning. By this time my hot chocolate is cold, and now is a brown water that has a revolting taste. I am fairly sure the hot chocolate I’ve been drinking is cocoa without any sugar. Up to this point I never added sugar to the hot cocoa, so today wasn’t any different, but when the drink turned cold, I just couldn’t get it down my throat. We head off within minutes of me returning from the restroom.

After a 20-30 minute break in the sun, mine on a cliff, we headed on with 2 guides and 6 clients. The slopes seem to turn even steeper, and I now try to implement the “Rest Step” to help me reach the summit, but I just can’t get the technique. I equate the “Rest Step” to a swimming stroke that I just never did quite comprehend. The “Rest Step” saves you from the “Splash and Dash” – where you take several steps, then are forced to stop and rest with your heart and lungs pounding through your chest. The “Rest Step” is an all-in-one motion which controls your pace and reduces fatigue. In a Rest Step you’re locking your back leg each step and resting the weight on your bones instead of your muscles. I think most in the group get the “Rest Step” but I just continue to push my way through by putting one foot in front of the other. I am also in the back of the group, and pushing myself onward to keep up.

As we slog up Aconcagua, I think it novel to try and eat a cereal bar, but find the cereal bar extremely hard to chew, and swallow. Any portion I put into my throat, only left me waiting for it to come back up through my mouth. I tried to eat the bar and give myself something to do as we climbed up switchbacks, but eating, or slowly shoving the cereal bar down in small pieces into my mouth, turned into more work and more thirst. I had to convince myself to try and get the bar into my body. I took a task that takes less than 30 seconds on a normal day, and turned it into a 10 minute ordeal. I was scared to drink much water with the cereal bar because I only have 1 liter of water left. Though I was still carrying my cold liter of watery hot chocolate that I couldn’t ingest.

Other climbers are coming up behind us, in front of us. We play leap frog with a couple from Oregon as we climb. I remain second to last and third to last in our group of 8. People are coming down from the mountain as well. Just before we reach Independencia (Highest refuge in the world), another climber is being brought down, head first, in a half-barrel sled where it takes 5-6 park guards to drag his body down. We think the person is still alive as climbers talk to him and pat his body. We step off to the side of the trail and let the rescue team pass, but we continue onward with little hesitation. As we reach Independecia, we take a break to don our crampons. After having a fairly easy installment of my crampons, I pull out my 5 oz. tube of sunscreen to only find it frozen. I didn’t get the lotion thawed until half-way up to the summit.

For me summit day is so demanding, and group dynamics play a bigger role than they have anywhere else on the mountain. As an individual in a group setting, you are told when to stop, where to stop, and for how long to stop. You don’t have the option of stopping for long periods or slowing down without making an impact on the group. Not knowing how long, what’s next, how hard in comparison to what we’ve already accomplished seemed to leave me questioning my abilities more and more as I struggle in my mind to decide what I have left inside me each and every step I take forward. Time to think and struggle fill my thoughts wondering when this struggle might end. I think not knowing what lay in store left me in more agony. I look back on this struggle much differently today. Knowing what’s next makes all the difference.

An individual falling behind, or not staying at pace with the group causes a guide to fall behind and stay with that individual. The lead guide now must attend to more climbers which are behind him. An individual may need a break at one point, but as a group you won’t break until the lead guide pulls off to the side. This is where the guide must make the decision for the group and be able to assess climber’s ability accurately. Waiting for one climber can cause a group to fail. Climbers can get mad at guides for making a decision to push on without them, but it may be in best interest for the groups’ overall success. Reaching the summit requires you to continuously place one foot in front of the other for hours with a constant pace for at least 6 to 8 hours to make it to the summit. Waiting here for 5 minutes for one climber, and there for 5 minutes for another climber- adds up, and now the group won’t have time to make the summit. Then you must make it down the mountain as a group.

The suffering continued and by “the Cave”, the start of the Canaletta, we left our final fellow climber behind to return to Camp 3. Now 5 out of 9 climbers remained, and 1 of the 3 guides are still climbing. The climb from “the Cave” will take 2 hours to continue to the summit of Aconcagua. I left Camp 3 with one liter of water and one liter of lukewarm hot chocolate. The hot chocolate turned cold within minutes, and I was unwilling to drink it; and ended up dumping it at the start of the Canaletta. We had a long break at the Cave, though I’m not exactly sure how long, as I fell asleep. I look back on me falling asleep at the Cave with a little hesitancy. We leave our packs at the Cave and only take what is necessary: an ice axe, jacket, gloves to the summit.

Leaving the Cave:
The climb to the summit has us zigzagging and forcing us to make every step up the Canaletta. The last steps become mind-numbing. It seems as thought inch by inch I slowly step forward. And little progress is being made. People are in immediately in front of me and immediately behind me where it feels I’m sandwiched in and not making progress. When will this end? Any break I get I joke to “stop on the way down and pick me up”. But the moment I reached the stairs to the summit, the guide turned around and welcomed me to 22,000′, all the pain and suffering seemed to lift out of my body. I felt no obstacle even existed at that instance. I thanked the guide for all the help in assisting me here. And I took those final few steps like they were the easiest steps I’d ever taken.

At the summit were crowds (10 people) standing around taking photos of one another. With only a cloudy top and no view from up here, I waited for the other climbers to arrive and pull out a set of hand-warmers. 20-30 minutes later, after taking individual photos and group shots, we agree to start heading down. My hand-warmers apparently are not working as my liner gloves are frozen stiff. My fingers are frozen in my liner gloves in straight position. Starting to worry about what my hands will become on the descent, I tell the head guide my hands are cold, and he allows me to wear his gloves for the descent. We were the last two to leave the summit. Again I took the rear, and our guide moved followed behind me to watch the group descend. As the guide follows me down, we get 5 minutes from the summit and start hearing noises behind us. Someone is yelling, but it’s inaudible, again we hear it. It finally becomes clear to me that someone is yelling “We need Help!” But it takes me a moment to put together that this is a real call for Help. Help didn’t seem like something we would hear after our recent triumph. Our guide immediately begins to ascend back to the summit and stops to tell me how to inform the others. At this moment, I am still lost as to what I should do to help. My guide tells me to go tell the others to wait, “You should put on warmer clothes and wait, it may be a while, or if you can find Elizabeth, she can lead you guys down (Elizabeth is an Alaskan guide/cook for two other men who are attempting Everest after Aconcagua).” I race down the mountain to inform the others, but as I descend as quickly as I can, I tire and eventually (regretfully) am forced to take breaks because I can’t physically move. As quickly as possible I resume my run and tire again. I decided to glissade the last section praying that I would not cause injury or an avalanche to myself or those below. I find the others sitting at the Cave with Elizabeth who has a walkie-talkie and has translated bits and pieces she can understand. We wait…

Twenty to thirty minutes later our guide comes down with those who called for our help. We are informed by our guide a person near the summit has died. His pack is brought down by his companions, though he remains, and his body will be removed in a few days by park guards. We collect our stashed gear at “the Cave” and head down to Camp 3. We are at Camp 3 within 1.5 hours.

I fell asleep in the tent for an hour or 2 before dinner. I actually ate a bowl and a half of potatoes with mixed vegetables tonight. I got hot water to drink, though I left it outside because it’s too hot to drink at dinner.

An hour after dinner I start regurgitating my dinner and jump out of the tent to throw up. Just liquid comes out of my mouth, then both my thighs lock up. I try my best to calm down.

I’m now feeling better and hope I’ll sleep thru the night. It’s 9:21pm.

DAY 13 – January 10, 2009
Today was the walk from High Camp to Base Camp (Plaza de Mulas) via the Normal Route and Horcones Valley. Three members of our group had headed down the previous day to Base Camp with our third guide. Our group now consisted of 6 climbers and 2 guides. The start of the descent from High Camp is a little scary descending down the steep slopes with so much weight on my back, but the descent became bearable. We are carrying the groups gear down in one carry. I stay in the back of the group because I do not descend as quickly. I try and catch every view I can for the last time, pausing every once in a while to take a look around, and behind, trying to comprehend what has been accomplished. Approximately 80% of climbers who attempt Aconcagua use the Normal Route. The Normal Route is considerably shorter and more direct, and therefore, we encounter many more people and are questioning their sanity under our breaths. As you descend down the Normal Route, you look back and see the 10,000 foot South Face of Aconcagua.

A fellow climber kept falling behind due to pack issues and fatigue. The secondary guide and I stay with the climber and try encouragement. The first break it was 10 minutes that we were behind the lead guide and other climbers. Then 20 minutes on the second break, and the time between the 3 of us and our group continuously kept increasing more drastically as time passed. As we reached the scree field and could see base camp, the group was well over 30 minutes ahead of us. We reached a field of penitentes and I pulled over to remove clothing. As the secondary guide and climber approached, the climber took a break. As we took a break, it was getting apparent that we were turning a half day descent into a full day if we didn’t change our ways; and the decision was made for the secondary guide and myself to share the load of our fellow climber. We took 10-15 pounds from the climber’s pack and began to proceed to Base Camp. Plaza de Mulas (Base Camp) looks like a legitimate city miles away, doubling the size of Plaza Argentina (our 1st Base Camp). As we slowly and carefully descend the last few switchbacks to Base Camp, I had a feeling of finality that I’m not sure I exactly wanted. Our team congratulated us on the success of returning to the most civilized and safest place around. After setting down our gear, removing shoes, and turning in our poop bags, Base Camp provided all the luxuries we could ever need and it felt so good to sit down in a plastic chair, at a table, and engulf hot pizza among friends.

Hanging around sitting in the mess tent for a couple of hours, I decided to take the one chance I had to visit Hotel Refugio Plaza de Mulas, a military base turned hotel 1km away from Base Camp where flags and paraphernalia are posted in the dining hall from past expeditions.

Tonight we are sleeping in the two mess halls in Base Camp on the dirt floor.

DAY 14 – January 11, 2009
18 mile trek from Plaza de Mulas (Base Camp) to Penitentes

 

Climbing Aconcagua

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