Trip Journal: Aconcagua in January 2017 – One of the Seven Summits
Successfully completed the Polish Traverse (360) Route including the summit of 6,962 meters – ‘the Roof of the Americas’. Total distance walked: app. 100 km.
The hike and adventure up the mountain officially started on the 6th of January, 2017.
The Polish Traverse Route starts from the Aconcagua Park at Punta de Vacas (2,360 meters). It took us 5 hours across the Vacas Valley to Pampa de Leñas (2,960 m). We used mules initially to carry our personal loads up the valley, every night we would get our gear back including our tents. From this point, we set up our own tents, eat meals prepared by the Gauchos (the local equivalent of a cowboy), and our guides and water was collected by us from the stream and sterilized using Steripen – a handheld water purifier. We used mules as ways to carry our personal load across the valley, from camp to camp, up to the base camp. The days were hot and as soon as the sun hid behind the mountains, it would get really cold.
Next day the 7th of January, I remember it being very cold early morning, we get up, have something to eat, then take off the tents, we start our hike by continuing to follow the valley and its rivers to reach Casa de Piedra at 3,250 m. It took us about 7 hours. It was a longer day than the first.
8th of January: This day was a bit colder and windier and took us about 6 to 7 hours to reach Base Camp “Plaza Argentina” at (4,200 m), but the start of this day was different and fun, we rode the mules for about 2 minutes just to cross the first river “River Vacas” right after we left the camp, there was a second river later on on the day which we crossed by taking off our shoes and wearing sandals. Some of us didn’t have sandals, so we had our team members throw theirs over the river, the water was extremely cold and we had to dry our feet right after them getting wet! As soon as we reached the Base Camp, we were greeted warmly by the camp managers and staff. We set up our tents and had pizza for lunch once, they also had wi-fi and showers.
The 9th of January was a Rest Day, necessary as part of our acclimatization plan after a continuous 3-day hike. We also had to visit the Base Camp doctor for a medical checkup.
– Why follow such an acclimatization plan? As we climb higher into higher altitudes, there is less atmospheric pressure making oxygen molecules fewer and further away from each other, making it harder for our bodies to absorb. An acclimatization plan of climbing higher every day and going back to lower elevations helps our bodies adapt to this and get a sufficient amount of oxygen by producing more red blood cells and making these oxygen molecules denser in our blood. The atmospheric pressure at the summit of Aconcagua is about 37% oxygen proportion of that in sea-level.
Along the route to the summit, there are three camps that we stop by in order to acclimatize successfully and rest. Importance in acclimating was vital, we had to go slow, drink lots of fluids, and not carry so much load. The plan would include going up a camp and back down, which would help our bodies get used to the high-altitude changes and their effects on our bodies. Risks of not acclimatizing properly include Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema.
10th of January, we had a carry/ acclimatization day to camp 1 (4,900m) which took us about 4 hours. and went back down to Base Camp. This was the first time we see the ‘Penitentes’ which are ice structures that can reach 3 meters, formed from the extreme wind and sun rays, and are found only in this region of the world. We also walked on covered glaciers full of soil and debris.
11th of January: Rest Day in Base Camp, it was sunny, so great opportunity to shower, wash clothes, rest, and prepare for the following day hikes.
12th of January: Climb and stay a night at Camp 1
We dismantle our tents in Base Camp, say goodbye to the camp staff and take off to Camp 1 where we spent a night. Personal belongings that we didn’t need in the following camps were sent to the Base Camp on the other side of the mountain for us to pick up once we come back down. Once we reached Camp 1, our tents were already set up by the porters and luckily, we found an unfrozen stream of water where we collected water from to drink. This day was noticeably easier than the 10th, which can be attributed to the successful acclimatization plan.
13th of January: Carry and acclimatize to Guanacos Camp, (our Camp 2) at 5,500m and return to camp 1. It took us about 6 hours. Longer day but easier than the previous day hike.
14th of January: Climb and stay a night at Guanacos Camp. Again, a noticeably easier climb than the previous day, plus the water was also found unfrozen. It was a smaller camp area and so lots of tents from other companies closer to each other. Great views though, no clouds.
15th January: We have a Rest Day in Camp 2, with a half-way hike to camp 3 and back, took about 2 and a half hours. At a higher altitude, it’s recommended to stay active and not stay still.
16th of January: Climb for 4 to 5 hours to Camp Colera (Our Camp 3) located at app. 5,900 meters, and stay a night. Slept early and had lots of food and water to be well hydrated and prepared all of our gear, water, and snacks for the summit the next day.
17th of January: First and successful summit to 6,962 meters. Started at 4:30 am, reached the summit by 2:30pm. I took about 4 hours to get back down to Camp Colera.
It was challenging with noticeable different sections of the route where we had stopped to rest and hydrate including ‘Piedras Blancas’ for a quick breather, ‘Refugio Independencia’ by sunrise where we put on our crampons, the ‘Travesia’ – this was the windiest and coldest section of them all, the ‘Cave’ and the ‘Cannatella’ and of course the summit where we took photos by the famous cross which is placed on the highest point of South America.
We had our helmets on and carried our crampons and ice axes throughout. Crampons were specifically useful for coming down the mountain. The last 300 meters were the hardest, especially because what looked like a very short distance to the summit, seemed to take ages as we had to walk very slowly due to the high altitude and even lower atmospheric pressure, the higher we seemed to go, the harder it got to breathe.
January 18th: We woke up late and descended to Plaza de Mulas Base camp at 4,365 m. Took us about 4 hours and once we arrived we had pizza, connected to wi-fi and showered, after weeks in the mountain, this was a great treat!
January 19th: We left Plaza de Mulas Base Camp and walked through the valley down to the exit of the Aconcagua Park through Horcones (2,950 meters). This took about 6 hours.
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