Straight from a high altitude stay on Mercedario I hoped to reach the summit of Aconcagua (6962m) in just a few days, solo and unsupported. Well, success at last, things didn´t go as smooth as planned on the highest mountain in South-America.
Day 0 (Jan 3):
I joined a Norwegian team on the bus from Mendoza to Penitentes. We had barbeque and redwine at Lanko´s (their service provider) location in Penitentes.
Day 1 (Jan 4):
After a short jeep trip from Penitentes, it was an excited boy who stood at the entrance of Aconcagua National Park in Horcones (2900m), where the south face of Aconcagua looms high above. I checked in with the rangers and showed the permit I purchased in Mendoza a few days earlier for 1000 pesos (approx 330 USD). They also gave me a trash-bag labelled with a number. This bag I would have to return, in order to avvoid the heavy fine for littering.
Because I was self-supported, and thus had no mules, I had to carry a load of 35 kilos on my back. Still the 8 km long hike to Confluencia (3300m) felt ok, and I checked in with the rangers at Confluencia 3 hours later.
Day 2 (Jan 5):
The 18 km long hike from Confluencia (3300m) to Plaza de Mulas (4300m) was a terrible day with 35 kg on my back. The valley seemed endless, and the pains increased every hour. It was first after 9-10 hours I reached base camp (Plaza de Mulas).
Day 3 (Jan 6):
A rest day in BC (4300m). I went to the doctors to take a medical examination, which includes blood pressure, pulse oxygen levels and listening to the lungs. I passed the tests and was allowed to go higher. The medical exam is mandatory on Aconcagua now and a good idea.
Day 4 (Jan 7):
Bringing with me 3-4 days of food, I hiked from BC (4300m), via Canada (5000m) and all the way to Nido de Cóndores (5500m). The wind at Nido was constantly blowing, and it was not easy to pitch a tent.
Day 5 (Jan 8):
It was a cold and windy day as I moved from Nido (5500m) to the Colera camp (5950m). I had mistakenly passed the Berlin camp (5900m), which is the common place to camp on Aconcagua normal route. The Colera camp is more spacious, but also more exposed to strong winds, which I would painfully learn the next day.
Day 6 (Jan 9):
It had been an awful night with extremely high winds. I did not start for the summit before 7 o´clock. It went reasonably fine the first few hours, but when I started on the traverse just beyond the Independencia Refugio, the wind became intolerable. Soon my fingers became cold and then numb in the not-so-good mittens. Half an hour into the traverse I decided to turn around and go down again.
Back in Colera camp my Bibler tent was flat. The wind had simply blown it over. Luckily somebody had put some big rocks on it, so the tent would not blow away. The damage to the tent was minor. I packed my stuff and descended all the way to BC, disappointed not to have reached the summit. Anyway there would be time for at least one more attempt.
Day 7 (Jan 10):
Rest-day in BC, waiting for less wind on the mountain.
Day 8 (Jan 11):
For the second time I moved up to Nido, and I hoped for better weather. My backpack was less heavy this time, because I had a cache of food and equipment in Nido from last time.
Day 9 (Jan 12):
According to the last weather forecast, I had to wait one day extra for ideal conditions (less winds). This delay would also put me on the summit exactly the same day as my new friends in the Norwegian 3 Summits Marathon. So the choice was not difficult, I decided to take a rest-day in Nido.
Day 10 (Jan 13):
I moved from Nido (5500m) to Berlin (5900m). It smelled like shit everywhere in Berlin. As agreed with the Norwegian team, I reserved 3-4 tent sites in Berlin. When they arrived, we pitched our tents and started on the chores (melting water).
Day 11 (Jan 14):
I started for the summit at the same time as the Norwegian team (6 am). But I soon figured out that their pace was too slow, and that I would start to freeze on my hands and feets if I waited or kept the same pace. Thus I left them behind. At the Independencia Refugio I put on my crampons and shortly after I started on the cold traverse ahead of a huge army team of almost 30 climbers. During the traverse I noticed a couple of numb toes in my Scarpa Vega plastic boots (without the special high-altitude liner), but I continued for half an hour before I took off the boots and warmed my toes. After many minutes of intensive massage the feelings in my toes were finally back, and I could continue on the traverse and the Canaleta.
The Canaleta scree-slopes was surprisingly easy work, because it now had a hard surface of snow. I reached the summit at noon, and spent ten minutes entirely alone on the summit before I was joined by another solo-climber from France. At that moment we were probably standing higher on earth than anyone else of its 5 billion people, unless there were a winter expedition in Himalaya which were higher (not likely).
The summit plateau was pleasantly warm and almost without wind, contrary to the Canalate which was cold and windy. I stayed on the summit for half an hour before I left. I met the Norwegian team in the lower part of the Canaleta, and most of them were going strong (albeit slow) for the summit.
Back in Berlin I took a 1-2 hour rest, before I packed my gear and then descended all the way to BC.
Day 12 (Jan 15):
An easy day hike to Bonete peak (5060m)
Day 13 (Jan 16):
The 25 km long hike out of the park (from BC to Horcones) was not a pleasant walk with my 30+ kilos backpack. Seven painful hours. But the beers and barbeque in Penitentes together with the Norwegian 3 Summits Marathon team was a happy ending on the day.
Day 14 (Jan 17):
A minibus took us from Penitentes to Santiago. From now on I was a member of the Norwegian 3 Summits Marathon, who would continue to climb the second and third highest summit in South-America (Ojos del Salado and Monte Pissis).