Ascent of Aconcagua on 2005-01-23

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Others in Party:Gabriel
Date:Sunday, January 23, 2005
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Elevation:21800 ft / 6644 m

Ascent Trip Report

Aconagua is one of those mountains you think about and plan for years. The name itself and the country that it's in, Argentina, has sort of a romantic ring to my hear.

DAY #1 & #2 - JAN 4/5 - TRIP TO MENDOZA, ARGENTINA - (elev 2,500').
Here I was staring out the window of the airplane on my flight to Mendoza, for the first time seeing this majestic mountain, with it's head proudly above the oceananic clouds. Awesome sight, put a smile on my face.I booked my EXPEDITION WITH GABRIEL ALBERTO CABRERA, MENDOZA, ARGENTINA.
I left on Jan 4/05 at 17h30 hours, flying Montreal/Toronto/Sao Paolo/Buenos Aires/Mendoza, ARRIVING MENDOZA (elev 2500') on Jan 5 at 20h40 hours, after a 27 hour trip. Leticia, wife of Gabriel, was there waiting for my transfer to the downtown "Hotel Puerta de Sol". After taking care of some business with Leticia I went to bed, tired but happy and looking forward to tomorrow.

I had breakfast with Leticia and Adriana, our guide for the hike in to base camp, Plaza de Mulas. Adriana and I took a taxi to the "Parque Aconcagua" headquarters to get MY CLIMBING PERMIT. We walked back thru town center, having a huge lunch on the way.
Back at the Hotel, Leticia reviewed our itinerary for next week. I will be transfered by taxi to Los Penitentes this PM, Adriana will stay back to wait for 2 other clients and will be at Los Penitentes tomorrow evening. I had requested this in order to get to altitude asap.
In the PM Leticia's driver TRANSFERED ME, 160 km, to the AYELEN HOTEL IN LOS PENITENTES(8500'), about 6km below Puenta de Inca. A ski resort area with a number of other Hotels.
After dinner I walked around the area trying to get orientated. Chatted with a bunch of other foreigners, one "JJ" a guide with RMI who guided me on the Mount Rainer last year. He's down here with 3 different groups, leading climbs on Aconcagua.

After breakfast I left alone for a local hike to higher altitude. I crossed the Rio behind the Hotel on a bridge and hiked West, following the rr track up the Valley. After about 2 km I picked up a trail South (left) up a Valley, CLIMBING TO ABOUT 10,000'. A beautifull grazing area, met a rider herding his animals. After lunch I descended the same way for a nice confortable day.
This whole ski area is a very arrid, rough looking area. High mountains on both sides of the Valley, it felt like I had been here before. Windy all the time, especially in the PM.
In late PM ADRIANA ARRIVED with one client, DOMINIQUE a young Frenchman. The other, a Japoneese, had travel problems and will arrive in a few days. I shared a room with Dominique, he'd end up being my partner for the trip.
We had dinner together. Adriana started taking daily oxy/pulse readings, gave us a briefing for tomorrow's 1st day and went out to check on the mules. Our GEAR WILL BE CARRIED BY MULES, we will hike in with day packs only. We prepared our gear for the mules and went to bed.

We will use the Horcones Valley and the normal Northwest route (the freeway) approach to the summit of Aconcagua.
We were transfered to Puente de Inca, where we dropped off our gear for the mules, and then to the TH at the PARKS MAIN RANGER STATION (9,300'), at the Lower end of the Horcones Valley. The Park Ranger checked our permit and issued litter bags to everyone. A number of people on their way up.
Adriana led us up the Horcones Valley, crossing the river, for the 7km, 1600' uneventfull ascent up to CONFLUENCIA CAMPAMENTO (10,900'). We checked in with the Ranger. A very huge impressive campsite, sort of a Small Village with hundreds of multicoloured, different shaped tents. Some tents were permanent Hotel businesses. Water is piped down from the Lower Horcones Glacier in the Plaza Francia area. We stayed here for 2 nights with room and board, we slept on bunks. The 2 women running our Hotel/Kitchen were very friendly and looked after all of our needs.

Just up from our Campamento, the Confluencia, the drainage of the Lower Horcones Glacier meets the Main Horcones River from Plaza de Mulas area. We climbed with Adriana leading, up the Lower Horcones Valley (Northerly direction) towards Aconcagua and Plaza Francia at 12,800'. The SOUTH FACE OF ACONCAGUA IS A VERY IMPRESSIVE VERTICAL WALL, one of the most dangerous in the world. Only a few attempt this face on a yearly basis. Walked around the top of the glacier before descending. We had full sun and no wind. No altitude symptoms, feel good.

DAY #7, JAN 10 - HIKE UP TO PLAZA DE MULAS (14,300')
we set out w day packs, the mules will carry our gear. The trail crosses the confluencia, goes thru a short wet meadow section before it enters a long flat stretch. You loose the defined trail when you reach the wide rocky horcones river bed, crossing the river back and forth numerous of times. Everyone following their prefered line and looking for the easiest place to cross.
The last section undulates upgrade before the final kicker, a steep climb up to plaza de mulas and hotel refugio, refered to as THE SUBIDA BRAVA "THE HARDY CLIMB". Huffing and puffing in the altitude w every step, hot and tired. Dominique was stronger than Adriana and I.
HOTEL REFUGIO (14,300')is a real hotel w all the basic services, 5 star+ compared to tenting. Adriana checked us into a 3RD FLOOR BUNK ROOM, reserved for gabriel's clients. Not many outfitters are able to get in here. Gabriel is known and respected in the local climbing community.
Didn't feel like doing anything, slight headache, hot w a high pulse rate, slow to recover, I gasped for air w the slightest of movement, like bending over to take off my boots or climb a few steps.
All sorts of countries were represented at the dining room table. This is a very popular international destination, evidenced by the many flags and banners, company stickers and logos all over the place. A friendly happy atmosphere. Everyone here for the same challenge. I'm glad I am not in a tent because there you wouldn't experience this flavour.
I called my wife before retiring. I got my pee bottle but I dont like the idea of being so far away from the toilet ( the basement floor).

DAY #8, JAN 11 - REST DAY (14,300')
Had a hard time sleeping, filled my pee bottle and had to go all the way to the ground floor to pee.
Tried to rest as much as possible, organized my gear, had 3 meals and good apetite.
Gabriel's 2 clients came down after summitting yesterday, he is still up there w 2 other clients and will come down tomorrow. They recounted their experience to all of us.

I slept ok, again the full pee bottle and the trip down to the banos.
Real poor weather, heavy clouds, strong wind w poor visibility. Dominique and I decided to stay in. I have a hard time going up and down the 3 floors of the hotel without breathing heavy. Had 3 meals and lots of water, all I did was eat drink and piss, walked around the vicinity of the hotel trying to get to know the place. Interacted with people all day long.
GABRIEL CAME DOWN w 2 italians after 4 days on the mountain. They didn't want to go for the summit cause of the wind/no visibility. Adriana will lead the italians down the valley in the morning, Gabriel will rest while Dom and I will climb "bonete", a peak just behind the hotel.
The weather cleared in the PM, sat outside in a sheltered area updating my diary. The awesome task ahead right before my eyes, people coming down looked like ants. Aconcagua is an amazing sight, I'm loving it here.

Hard time sleeping, unable to breath/gasping for air in the horizontal position, up numerous of times. Beautifull day,sun, warm and low wind. Had breakfast w Dominique and Adriana.
Adriana descended down the valley w the Italians while Dom and I climbed BONETE (16,500') just behind the hotel, a short 3km, 3 1/4 hr climb. A steep trail, at places mostly loose scree, nice easy pace. Dom was stronger and summitted before me, numerous others on top (swiss,american,german). Dom had told them of my age, so when I arrived they all clapped and congratulated me. Spectacular view of Aconcagua's NW face and the horcones valley. Ate lunch, a very slippery dangerous descent, at a few spots.
Gabriel's other clients arrived in late PM, led by another of his guides, Eliana. ARGENTINIANS - Rafael (government physician), Luis (owner of mfg plant) and Jorge (ear & throat doc) plus JAPONEESE - Fumio. Our group will consist of 6 climbers and 2 guides, from 4 different continents.
Fumio a writer for a climbing magazine is a very accomplished climber having summitted everest, cholomango, elbrus, denali, among others. He, and the other japoneese I saw, always wore a mask over their face, apparently cause of the dryness. Weirdest of walking style - very slow 6 inch steps, never stopped. Spoke no other language ! ! used an electronic dictionary to translate.
I gave my personal papers and money to Gabriel to store in his safety box. I am feeling ok but still huff and puff w slighest of activity. Had my 3 meals today. Went to the camp Doctor for my breathing problem. He said its altitude, suggested I sleep w my head as high as possible.

DAY #11,JAN 14 - REST DAY (14,300')
Hard time sleeping is a norm these days, as is the gasping for air in the horizontal position.
Cold w some sun and very windy. The weather puts a different face and atmosphere in the hotel. Gabriel gave us a talk on the acclimatization process, one needs 2 to 3 weeks at this altitude to properly acclimatize, I'll have 9 days.
Really cold in the hotel, bundled up all the time. Gabriel got the whole group together for dinner. Called Rose.

Again not able to sleep, tried adding blankets to the pillows to make a thicker pillow, slept sleeping sitting up resting against the wall, slept 3-4 hrs for the last 4 days. My concern is what will happen up high.
Gabriel led the group on an easy hike on top part of the horcones glacier, among the penitentes, river, rock, ice, etc. The idea being to get us moving. Interesting ice formations.

After the usual AM routine Gabriel and Eliana led the group, except for Jorge who wasn't feeling well, up to camp alaska. We carried gear for caching.
Fairly steep trail, easy pace, lunch break at about 16,500'. Rafael wanted to go back down, so Gabriel descended w him while Eliana looked after the rest.
At camp alaska Fumio kept going to nino de condores, didn't listen to Eliana ! ! She had a hard time finding the camp location, once found we cached the gear. Had to wait an hr for Fumio ! ! Eliana and the rest pissed. We descended, glissading, cutting off switchbacks. I hate this rushing crap and told Eliana ! !. I felt good, no altitude symptoms.
Gabriel had dinner w the group. I told Gabriel that I wanted to use a porter to alaska and berlin.

DAY #14, JAN 17 - REST DAY (14,300')
The 3 Argetinians decided to abord the climb, so Eliana led them down the horcones valley to puente de inca. I rested and interacted w a number of other climbers during the day. We will start for the summit attempt in the AM.
Gabriel had the porter Marco come over to discuss the details of his carry to alaska and berlin. He'll come in the AM to pick up my gear. I worked to get my gear ready for tomorrow.
I called Rose to inform her of tomrrow's start. I was feeling great, ready to get started.

One of the worst nights of sleeping, had about 1 hr of sleep due to my sleeping problem and the anxiety of tomorrows start. As usual I was the first one up, cleaned the table, got the water going. Huge snow fall, about 2 inches on the ground, 100 meter visibility, continued till mid-day. Gabriel decided not to start, will rest.
I went to see another doctor today for my sleeping problem - same comments and recommendations. A day of the usual routine, eating, resting, drinking, pissing, chatting w others. Called Rose to inform her of the delay.

DAY #16, JAN 19 - ALASKA CAMP (17,000'), summit attempt day #1
As usual the first one up, clear skies, cool w odd cloud, it's a go! Marco the porter came by to pick up my gear.
The group LEAVES HOTEL REFUGIO AT MID-DAY - Gabriel, Fumio, Dominique and I. We climbed the same route as jan 16 "the normal route on the NW side of aconcagua". Lunch break on way up, the weather starting to change for the worse, light snow flurries. Nice slow climb w lot of granny stops.
We arrived ALASKA CAMP (17,000') in late PM, light snow falling, cold. Only one other group in camp. Marco, a very hard worker, retrieved the cached gear and was settting up the 3 tents (1 is a toilet tent). We all chipped in to help although I must say that Dominique did very little.
We settled in our tents, I was paired w Dominique cause of language. A tight equeeze w all of the gear. We melted snow for water and dinner, all the equipment supplied by Gabriel, long slow process. Gabriel has a large pot, so he told us that he'd provide the water for the morning. Tried to eat & drink as much as possible.
We got to bed late in the evening, snow still falling, winds light,cold. I'll use my pee bottle!!
Gabriel is in constant radio contact with base camp headquarters.

DAY #17, JAN 20 - BERLIN CAMP (19,200'), summit attempt day #2.
All considered I slept ok, woke up to clear skies, odd cloud, cold. Very slow to eat breakfast and break camp, took all AM. The Argentinians are never in a hurry and always late movers (cause they eat dinner at 10-11 PM).
Marco came down from nido de condores to pick up the gear. We left alaska at mid-day, moderate trail, slow pace, to nido at 17,500', a large campsite spread over a large area. Had lunch, Gabriel seemed to know everyone.
Above nido the trail steepens all the way to berlin camp, tough, lot of granny stops for Dominique and I. Fumio moves at his usual snails pace, never stopping. Dominique complains of fatigue and said that he didn't expect it to be so hard. Light snow falling w wind as per yesterday.
We arrived berlin camp (19,200') at 17h00 hrs after a 5 1/4 hr climb. A rough site on a small ridge, 80% occupied. Snow had stopped falling however the wind was blowing snow really hard. Gabriel retrieved his gear cache, we all helped to erect the 3 tents. Lot more difficult and colder work than alaska. Exhaustive work, had to have frequent rests, all your movements are zombie-like. The scenery is awesome, but no time to enjoy it, besides the fact that the wind wouldn't allow it.
After settling in our tents, we started the slow process of getting dinner ready.
Gabriel gave us a briefing on tomorrow's summit day, we will get up at 2h00 hrs and leave at 5h00 hrs. The climb will be twice as tough and long as today's climb and I felt that we should be leaving a lot earlier. I told Gabriel but this is the Argentinians way of doing things.
We couldn't go out cause of the blowing wind, we ate, drank and pissed as much as possible. I emptied my pee bottle right outside the tents door flap, without actually going outside.
We laid down at 23h00 hrs, blowing very hard. Gabriel tells us that if windy we will leave an hour later !!. I dont like this.

DAY #18, JAN 21 - TOO WINDY FOR CLIMBING, SPARE DAY AT BERLIN CAMP (19,200'), summit attempt day #3
Slept a bit, the wind really rocked the tent, we peeked outside at 2h00 hrs and sat waiting for a word from Gabriel. I finally went to his tent at 3h15 hrs, much too windy for climbing, we will take an extra spare day today (this is the last extra day built in the contract, however Gabriel said "we'll see". It appeared to me that he wants the group to summit).
Back in bed, laid around all day, ate our meals, really bad out there !! tents blowing all over the place !! I kept thinking of the tie downs. Number of groups descended.
Out for the first time at 13h00 hrs. Toilet tent was down so I had to go in the wind. I've had numerous experiences of this type. I went as quick as possible, did a poor job of cleaning myself, washed my hands w the snow !! you have to love the beauty of these experiences !!
We were cozy in our tent w no heavy clothing, the sun heats the tent inspite of the wind, The weather improved in the late PM, went out for the 2nd time at 16h00 hrs, walked around enjoying the scenery, took photos. Helped Gabriel re-erect the toilet tent (not a good one), added tie downs. Your movements are zombie-like.
Dominique and I cooked dinner. He complained all day about and wasn't motivated for the summit. I kept telling him to look at me, he's a lot younger and stronger and will be much better on the climb. Most of my conversation w Dominique was in french, although his english was excellent. I liked this young man.
We hadn't seen much of Fumio, even when we did he didn't say much. I went to visit him in his tent, had his mask on !! I joked w him, I can count to 4 in japoneese, he's a nice guy.
Gabriel tells us "if the weather similar in the AM we will stay put, it looks good for the day after". He didn't say anything about costs and we didn't ask.
Lot of french heard in the camp, one descended today while another arrived. I over heard them say that they'll leave for the summit at 2h00 hrs. Gabriel thinks its not safe.
Gabriel informed us that yesterday 2 RESCUE GROUPS went up looking for 2 climbers, they couldn't find them so they descended cause of the strong winds on top. The climbers came down today, one of them with frozen fingers.
20h30 hrs - Laid down for the night, the tent rocking in the wind. 2nd night at 19,200'.

DAY #19, JAN 22 - WINDY, AN EXTRA DAY AT BERLIN CAMP (19,200'), summit attempt day #4
Slept fairly well, winds not as strong, Gabriel gave us water. Dominique a lot more positive this morning and I told him so.
We went out for the 1st time at mid-day, used toilet tent, walked around, took photos, the fast moving clouds/panorama was awesome. Winds not bad, Gabriel tells us "a high pressure system is moving in", already visible. We will get up to get ready at 3h00 hours.
The people who left for the summit this AM came back down cause of the winds.
For the last 2 days all that we have done is laid in our tents and sort-of wasted-away the body, not fun, no interaction with others. I felt very weak and every movement an ordeal, a real zombie-like-state ..... lots of thoughts go through your mind, in particular "Will I make it", but one had to stay positive and at all times you answered "Yes".
There was little conversation between Dominique and I - he will be going to a job in Australia when he gets back and didn't know if his girl friend will go with him.
Hardly no winds at dinner time, camp was full of climbers, beautiful panorama, I just love the fast moving clouds way below in the valleys
I have brought up all the right gear, I've used everything except for my crew sweater.
Dominique and I got into our sleeping bags little after 20h00 hours, ready for the 3h00 hour rise and 5h00 hour departure. I arranged myself such that I have the least amount of preparation in the AM.

DAY #20, JAN23 - SUMMIT ATTEMPT (21,800'), summit day #5
Up to clear skies, no wind, all pumped for the challenge, everyone slow to get ready. I have a lousy glove system that require to be changed, the liners come out when I remove my hand, caused me a lot of delays. We wore our crampons. Gabriel informed us that the turn around time will be 15h00 hours, no matter where we are.
WE LEAVE CAMP AFTER 6H00 HOURS!!! already one hour behind. Gabriel led followed by Dominique, me and Fumio. Slow steady pace, I gasped for air with every step. Head down, concentrated on my work, after a while Gabriel and Dominique pulled ahead. I couldn't keep up, Fumio stayed with me, I took granny stops and a lot of heavy breathing, Fumio kept telling me "small steps, no stop" tried to give me encouragement.
At the REFUGIO INDEPENDENCIA (21,000') reportedly the highest Alpine Refuge in the world, we took a good snack break. I arrived here about 20 minutes behind Gabriel & Dominique. We took off our crampons. All my movements were exceptionally zombie-slow but I felt strong, the breathing was the cause of my slowness. A number of other groups were more or less in the same shape as our group.
Gabriel knew that I was a question mark so he changed partners, he told Dominique and Fumio to go ahead and try for the summit, we would follow behind. It didn't take long for the huffing and puffing to begin, I kept to my tempo trying to work on the rest step technique. Gabriel was very encouraging but kept pushing me !! telling me not to stop !! Getting enough air was a problem, 2 breaths with every step, granny stops. After the granny stops I felt strong and had no other altitude symptoms and I felt this slow approach (not to Gabriel's liking) would eventually get me to the top.
We continued to gain elevation with the same slow approach, crossing "the cresta del viento", Gabriel always pushing me, a few people passed us. We proceeded across the upper part of "the gran acarreo" very close to THE INFAMOUS "CANALETA" AT ABOUT 21,800'. Gabriel nicely tells me that its 1h30 hours and at this rate we will never make the summit for 15h00 hours. The "Canaleta" is the hardest part, a 33 degree chute filled with loose rock and scree. The weather was good , no wind. He told me that "it would be a waste of effort to go any further", I WILL HAVE TO TURN BACK.
I was disappointed and pissed, but didn't show him how I felt, he's been paid to make these decisions for my best interest, anyway this is not a negotiating situation. In spite of my slow pace I felt strong and no altitude symptoms and I felt I could make it , all I needed was time !!! which wasn't there. Racing thru my mind was the late scheduled start plus the fact that we left one hour late !!! We had been climbing less than 7 1/2 hours.
Gabriel asked me if I would be able to descend alone, he wanted to go up to check on the others. I said ok to that, the trail was well defined !!! proof to me that he agreed that I was physically ok !! Going down I had no problem with the breathing and I moved more or less non-stop, just a few granny stops.
I ARRIVED BACK AT CAMP AT 16H00 HOURS, after a ten hour day, settled in and started melting water for the others. About an hour later the weather turned for the worse, snow and wind.
THE GROUP GOT BACK AT 18H30 HOURS AFTER A SAFE SUMMIT and a 12 1/2 hour day. Gabriel caught up with them and they all summited together at 14h30 hrs. I congratulated them, gave them a big hug, I was especially happy for Dominique, I had tea ready. I must say however that there was disappointment within me, but I'm the type that doesn't live in the past "life was laid out this way". I loved my climb and my new companions, no regrets.
We all were not in an eating mood, just snacked, settled in our bags at 20h30 hours with a light snow still falling, 4TH NIGHT AT 19,200'.

DAY #21, JAN 24 - WALK DOWN TO HOTEL REFUGIO (14,300'), summit day #6
Good weather, sun with light wind, packed up our gear and tents. Gabriel cached his toilet tent and carried the others down to his cache at Nido de Condores.
We left Berlin at mid-day and had a long break at Nido, followed by a descent to Plaza de Mulas, which to my liking was too fast, cutting off switchbacks and glissading!!! Why the hurry. We arrived at Hotel Refugio at 18h00 hours, after a 5 hour descent.
Showered, had dinner as group, called Rose. I was not sore or tired, felt strong except for the breathing, which was still tough. Gabriel gave us a briefing on tomorrow's walk down.

The gear was readied for the Mules to carry out. At mid-morning, Dominique,Fumio and I left for the walk down the Horcones Valley, Gabriel took a helicopter to Confluencia, he had business there.
The walk down was long and boring, we arrived Confluencia at 16h00 hours, Gabriel was waiting for us at the river. Had drinks and sandwiches.
Small world, I met up with Roberto Pena, a USA guide, and the same group of climbers that I met on Orizaba last year, on their way up. Nice chat, they are planning Denali next year and invited me along.
With Gabriel we walked down to "the Main Park Ranger station", transportation waiting for the ride to Los Penitentes. A 9 1/2 hour day. At the Hotel Ayelen, we showered and had dinner with wine, I called Rose to bring her up to date, she was happy for me.

I showered and shaved, I looked really awful, puffy face and eyes, swollen legs especially above the sock level, they mushroomed out..... nothing new, altitude always takes its toll.
We were transferred to Gabriel's farm in Mendoza arriving early PM. Leticia and her young daughter HAD LUNCH WITH WINE WAITING UNDER A HUGE OLIVE TREE, for the group plus his nephew and driver. A very nice touch. We walked around their vineyard, picked and ate grapes. As gifts to all his clients Gabriel handed out a bottle of his wine, a vest, calendar with photos of Aconcagua and a dvd on Aconcagua. Nice souvenirs.

I LOVED MY ACONCAGUA EXPERIENCE, AN AWESOME DESTINATION. I was pleased with Gabriel's service and would recommend him to all. He is well known and respected, sort of the Godfather of the Mountain. He told us that he is interested in buying the Hotel Refugio.

EPILOUGE - Dominique and Fumio left the following day while I spent a few days in MENDOZA flying out on the 29th for BUENOS AIRES, where I played tourist for 5 days. I left for home on February the 2nd, arriving in Montreal on the 3rd at 11h30 hours, 1 3/4 hours late. Rose was there waiting with a big kiss and hug. My trip was 31 days long.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2600 ft / 792 m
    Total Elevation Loss:2600 ft / 792 m
    Round-Trip Distance:3.7 mi / 6 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2600 ft / 792 m
    Distance:1.9 mi / 3 km
    Route:normal route up the NW face, summit day #5
    Start Trailhead:berlin camp  19200 ft / 5852 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2600 ft / 792 m
    Distance:1.9 mi / 3 km
    Route:normal route up the NW face
    End Trailhead:berlin camp  19200 ft / 5852 m

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