Day 1 - Dec 15
Flight Zurich - Madrid - Buenos Aires - Mendoza
Overnight: nh Hotel Mendoza
Get up at 0545 take last warm shower at home, have nice coffee and finalize packing - only 24.5 + 8kg after all. Drive with Janice to airport. Beautiful sunrise and a very peaceful ambiance, no traffic at all. Quick check in and no problem with luggage :-). Have a goodbye coffee with Janice. We part with peace and warmth.
Long journey begins as usual: one hour delay and wait in the plane as staff is searching and unloading bags of two missing passengers. Uneventful flight to Madrid.
Crossing airport is more than 7‘000 steps... ;-) 4h to have some food, install and initiate my new GoPro 8 and JBL noise canceling headphones. They work well. Feels a bit funny /strange to speak to the GoPro but works well.
The 12:50h flight to Buenos Aires is totally packed and people have lots of excess hand-luggage - all a bit chaotic and the seats in eco are tiny.
With a sleeping pill and three movies the flight was quite bearable although woke up a bit cramped. The noise canceling headphone really are great and helpful :-)
Day 2 - Dec 16
Flight Buenos Aires - Mendoza - Transfer Hotel
Transfer in Buenos Aires was easy. Well organized and less people than one would have thought given the size of the city. Had a very good coffee at the gate watching a wonderfully breaking morning - blue skies, warm colors, 12C. Very peaceful and enjoyable. Great start :-)
Easy short flight to Mendoza, where I get my luggage quickly (what a relief to have all my gear) and am awaited by the driver who takes me to the hotel in F1 Monaco style. My room is ready and I can take a shower and rest a bit.
Mendoza is very beautiful with nice buildings, wide roads, alleys with trees forming tunnels, easygoing people and warm friendly weather.
Charged all batteries, and go to lunch with a hungry stomach. The others will arrive later in the afternoon.
Met the guides Nikolas and Andrea in the lobby. Friendly and nice. Walked around the city a bit. Warm, stinging sun and windy. Unfortunately I sense the beginning of a cold - need to ‚kill‘ it before it gets fully blown.
Meet at 19:00 to distribute materials and go for joint team dinner afterwards.
My roommate Stephan will arrive only later in the evening from Santiago de Chile.
Day 3 - Dec 17
Mendoza - Los Penitentes 2‘580
Took some Advil against the cold. Slept well and woke feeling good. Took shower (thinking of it might be the last one for a while). Had a generous breakfast and chatted with other teammates. Then long procedure checking insurance, signing forms, changing money, going for the permits, checking insurance again etc. Finally all settled we check out and load the bus around noon. Driving through very nice gated communities with beautiful individual homes in the suburbs of Mendoza we go for Lunch after 30 min ride in a nice patio restaurant. Then we hit the road into the mountains. Scenery getting dryer and wild. Empty spaces and reddish rocky mountains with steep scree slopes.
After a pit stop in a nice and green village we arrive at Los Penitentes late afternoon and check into a simple hotel - our last comfort and warm shower for the next 2 weeks. Gale force winds outside and even inside the hotel room you hear the constant whistle of the wind.
Repacked for tomorrow when we embark on a three day hike to base camp at 4’200m.
Easy evening reading, chatting and then go to briefing before dinner. Dinner is excellent but takes 90 min to be delivered. Not hungry any more by the time they serve my juicy ribeye steak - 400g was the smallest I could get. Only manage to eat half of it. Good chatting with the teammates - interesting and well educated people :-)
Day 4 - Dec 18
Los Penitentes 2’580 - Punta de Vacas 2’450 - Pampa de Leñas 2’850
14 km / 6:00 h / elevation + 630m / - 230m
Sleep really well despite the howling wind and the relentless trucks on the highway. Get up easy and finish packing, take a nice last shower. At 0800 we eat a very generous breakfast. We take a small truck which brings us to Punta de Vacas, the start of our trek. It’s hot and the sun is blazing down on us.
Suddenly we see a mighty Condor sitting on a large rock and soon thereafter two and even a third circling mightily in the deep blue sky. Great birds with a wingspan over 2m.
Temperature varies between 28 and 35C. The wind soon picks up what makes it more bearable. The path is very rocky and sandy at the same time, difficult to walk and we have to watch our steps. Very slippery and easy to make a wrong step, what happens to me after 90 min. Falling I strain my ankle and bruise my arm, but nothing serious.
We walk quietly and mostly joyfully for 6h with ever stronger winds. Finally arrived at Pampa de Lenas, our stuff is already there, brought up by the mules. We immediately set up the tents which I not easy with the strong and gusty wind. But great exercise for later when we might have to do this after more strenuous hikes in worse weather or even snow.
We sit down to drink (today well over 4l) and have some ‘Zvieri’ before we put the rest of our stuff in the tents.
Then clean and relax before we have BBQ dinner at 20:00.
Feel good and strong despite the torn ankle. Look forward to cooler days though. Think I’ll sleep well.
Day 5 - Dec 19
Pampa de Leñas 2’850 - Casa de Piedra 3’250m
16.2 km / 6:40 h / elevation + 630m / - 230m
At the beginning the night was hot in the tent, -40C sleeping back made me sweat and my ankle hurt. Nevertheless I slept well and only woke quickly two or three times. A bit cramped but well rested. We take our time to quietly pack our stuff and prepare backpacks and duffel bags. Cold at breakfast at 0700 but we warm up packing the tents.
Once we are ready to hike off, the sun comes out and it becomes very hot again. Today long sleeved shirt against sun. Gale force gusts make walking on a river-rockbed-like path very slow and strenuous. The scenery is a bit boring : a wide very dry valley with naked rocky steep slopes on both sides. Lunch is a very nice Picknick. Shortly before we arrive at Casa de Piedra we get a first glimpse of mighty Aconcagua. Impressive and respect demanding. Tall, rocky, icy and towering - even as we are still pretty far away and on 3250m ourselves already.
Arrived in the camp we put up our tens quickly and efficiently, complimenting each other about our progress. We even put up a big group tent. Washing in ice cold water is painful, uneasy but mightily refreshing.
We again have ‘Zvieri’: watermelon and panettone and lots of hot water. Feels good.
The daily chores are eating up our free time quickly and we are wondering how it will get once we hit higher camps and colder / worse weather.
We go to bed quite early after dinner as we have to have fully packed and torn down the tents by 0700 already.
Day 6 - Friday Dec 20
Casa de Piedra 3’250m - Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) 4’200m
12.6km / 7:30 h / elevation + 1’050m / - 50m
Some people were speaking loudly last night, but as I was tired enough so I just slept in well. Get up at 0545 to pack after a really good sleep. Our stuff is packed quickly and the tent folded as well - this time ‘Sherpa-style’ = not nicely rolled, just stuffed into the bag. Quick breakfast and folding the community tent. Outside water is frozen - first icy morning. I sweated anyway in my sleeping bag.
At 0800 we take off and cross the ice cold river on mules. Fun. Then we start a very slow paced climb which at times is quite steep, sandy and slippery. No falls but a few slips. The scenery is getting much more impressive and beautiful with every step and we see Aconcagua in many nice views at the end of the valley towering above us. It’s name is ‘The Stone Sentinel’ in Quechua language and it’s well earned. Hope to be up there in a few days :-) The walk is meditative and I am really happy - it’s so nice to have this feeling back - reminds me a lot of Nepal. We again have a wonderful Picknick between huge rocks: Salami, ham, cheese and bread. After that the wind picks up and it becomes cold at times.
After 7:30h of hiking we arrive at Plaza Argentina, the base camp at 4’200m. Huge and comfortable tents. It seems outlandish. Water from the tab to wash hands and face, a toilet to sit on and a large dining area where we are welcomed by pizza and orange juice. We cane even have a shower.
This will be our base for the next three days :-) - incredible luxury (actually I shouldn’t report this - bad for our ‘hardcore expedition image’ ;-))
Day 7 - Saturday Dec 21
Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) 4’200m - Cerro Colorado 4’669m - back: acclimatization hike
4.5 km / 4:00 h / elevation + 475m / - 475m
Slept mostly well with no signs of any altitude issues, no headaches, no snap breathing but also lying awake for some time. Feel very relaxed and full of energy. Really look forward to the day’s hike. The first view out of the tent is beautiful with crisp clean air and and incredible serenity and peace. No wind and thus rather warm in the first rays of the sun.
The weather news this morning are good for a summit day between Dec 28 and 29 - so far :-) So let’s see and hope for the best.
As it’s a relaxing and recovery day, some of the group decide stay down and enjoy the camp and some strolls around BC. Others again take off with a very slow and nice pace up to Cerro Colorado. Funnily nobody really knows it’s elevation - with GPS it will turn out to be 4’669m. The hike is on a steep scree slope. One needs to concentrate on every single step, sometimes even to hack a little wedge with your boot in order not to slip downwards or tumble in the gravel. First easily chatting and later walking more quietly we get to the top in ca. 2h. The views up there are breathtaking - it really opens your heart and you could embrace the whole world. Wish you could all feel this! We take some scenic pics with Aconcagua or the BC in the background and some wild rock formations on the top; enjoy a log rest to chat, pick a bite and acclimatize. After that we run down the scree slope with big steps so we’re at BC again in a little under 40 min.
In our luxury community tent we are received with another generous and tasty lunch. The only problem is that we get portions that would easily feed a whole family ;-)
In the afternoon we prepare the next days, discuss packing options and who carries what on which leg and what we can give to some commercial porters, to alleviate our load. Funny calculations and people speaking all at the same time - kind of a gentle southern parliament.
At 17:30 we have a new briefing with lots of details of the porter service and how we have to pack. All a bit complicated as there will be another group arriving sharing infrastructure with us. Then we all go and prep our packs in detail. The feeling that the real adventure is beginning sets in.
Day 8 - Sunday Dec 22
Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) 4’200m - Camp I 5’040m - back: materials transport and acclimatization hike
9.5 km / 7:20 h / elevation + 850m / - 850m
Breakfast at 07:30 and the porters have taken our food for the summit campaign and are already hauling it up to Camp I. We get ready with our own gear. Some take a backpack up to 18kg to bring part or all of their gear up to the next camp. I decide to take an easy hike today with only 8kg and then take more in two days when we go up for good, but also leave some to the porters.
At 08:45 we set off up the mountain. We walk on a rocky and narrow single trail path with good grip at the start. Soon it becomes a steep scramble up a slope of rocks, gravel, scree and sand, sometimes even over ice underneath it. A very slippery proposition and at every single step you slip a bit back, you just don’t know whether one third of the step or two thirds or sometimes even a whole step. This is a bit unnerving but as you can’t change it we just put up with it. We hike slowly, steadily, sometimes chatting but mostly enjoying the incredibly beautiful scenery around us - fairytale castle like rock structures, ‘penitentes’ ice formations on the few glacier patches and often a changing and always impressive view of Aconcagua with the vertical and towering south wall. Sometimes patches of the slope start to slide altogether, even including some lager rocks and the person standing on the patch just goes with it. But gladly no one gets hurt. After ca 4h we reach Camp I at 5’040m in high spirts, congratulate each other and have a sandwich before laying in the warm sun. The way down we run on the slippery scree and enjoy sliding down. Obviously much faster so we’re back in BC after 1:30h. Just ready to ... get a huge pizza - I think this will be my only expedition where I gain weight rather than losing some.
Now people are taking showers in our luxury BC and relax. Tomorrow we’ll have a rest and recovery day. :-)
The group has really come together as a friendly and caring team, helping each other out and sticking together. We have loads of fun. Surely also due to our guides who take really well care of us and every aspect of the trip. Niklaus was also voted unanimously as the best heater technician globally (above 4’200m) as he was the one who could somehow magically ‘convince’ the heater in the community tent to work.
Day 9 - Monday Dec 23
Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) 4’200m Relaxation & recovery day
Get up early to skip line at the loo - successfully, the line starts building when I come out - and catch a great pic of the sun coming up behind the kitchen tent. Just wonderful - makes me think of Christmas.
It’s quiet in the community tent before breakfast when business picks up.
At 10:00 we have to fill in some forms (once again?!) and go to see the doctor at 11:00 for a health check and get the ‘ok’ to go and attempt a summit push. Medical check done , very professional. All values in the green zone. Good feeling confirmed, which is great :-) All teammates pass the test - fantastic.
We hang around the community tent chatting, discussing, reading and ... eating. Finally the cooks have some mercy with us and reduced the portion size from ‘dinosaur-serving’ to just ‘large’. Some great discussions and the team gets ever closer knit. Really nice folks we are together with here. Over lunch we take a minute to officially thank our guides Niklaus, Andrea and Ariel for their great professional and caring work so far. They make us feel god and safe.
15:00: Briefing and discussing summit strategy and camp logistics. We’ll stay another day in BC and will attempt summit on Dec 29 or even 30, depending of latest weather updates in a few days. It seems we’ll be lucky with weather and an additional acclim day here also helps the few from our team who have a little headache.
Hold our thumbs that our plan works - we’ll modulate as needed with things developing on the mountain.
Day 10 - Monday Dec 24
Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) 4’200m Relaxation & recovery day / waiting for good weather conditions to go up
Had a pretty good night with a sore throat setting in. Treating with ... Ricola ;-)!!! Hopefully getting under control during this additional relax day.
The expected two days of strong winds have started around midnight, rattling our tents even down at BC. But the tents are good and we feel cozy inside sleeping and reading. Wouldn’t want to be up in one of the high camps now with winds over 100 km/h.
Fantastic crisp and clear morning view with steel blue skies when opening our tent. Really worthy of Christmas eve.
By breakfast my sore throat is in full blossom and obviously dampens enthusiasm a bit. Take some medication but little effect.
All hanging around in the community tent, reading, chatting, checking the fit of the crampons to the big boots we’ll walk in starting tomorrow.
I have short but wonderful call with my wife - how sweet to hear her voice :-)
Day 11 - Wednesday Dec 25 Christmas
Plaza Argentina (Base Camp) 4’200m - Camp I 5’040m Summit bid starts
4.9 km / 5:00 h / elevation + 850m
Get up at 06:00 and start packing: backpack with all gear going up to summit and down to Plaza de Mulas BC on the other side (6 to 8 days); duffle bag with all the rest that will be transported down the Vacas valley and up the Horcones valley to the Plaza de Mulas BC and the tents which will be brought up our way by porters. Weighing the extra gear we give to porters individually, given my cold I decide to give as much as I can and carry myself as little as possible: still ends up being 12 kg on my back.
Unfortunately my sore throat developed into a full blown cold. The morning is still kind of ok, but I feel it rummaging inside me.
We gather for breakfast and last instructions at 09:00, enjoy our luxury BC community tent for a last time before making the first steps on our summit bid at 10:00. Same strenuous, rocky and slippery gravel path as three days ago, just with more weight and the big summit boots. We set off very slowly and I walk pretty ok, despite my cold. Sometimes it feels like someone puts a knife in my throat when I breathe through my nose. The hike is slow and strenuous but essentially ok. The winds are strong and gusty and I’m almost blown back over the final ridge when I come out of the last tricky part along a moraine and the glacier creek. Soon thereafter we arrive at Camp I where the tents are already mounted by the porters. We have a quick bite and then rest. I start to feel really bad and my nose is running like a river and completely clogged at the same time. Soon I’m running out auf paper tissues and have to take paper napkins. After dinner - pasta with veggies - I take some meds and go to bed. Hope for a relaxing night with not too much trouble. Breakfast will be at 09:00 tomorrow and then I’ll have to decide to either take a rest day or try go go for Camp II with the others.
Day 12 - Thursday Dec 26
Camp I 5’040m - Camp II 5’500m - back: materials transport and acclimatization hike
4.9 km / 5:00 h / elevation + 500m / - 500m
What a (bad) night! My flu and running nose were in full blossom and is had to clear my running every few minutes until about 03:00 when I took additional meds which helped a bit. I only could lie on my back as when I turned to any side the nose started to run almost instantly. Which means I didn’t sleep at all. Towards morning nose got better but a slight cough started to develop. This not being enough there was a strong storm outside that constantly rattled on our tent.
Admittedly one of the worst nights in my life. I will surely stay in Camp I today but need to discuss what my options are in case I would no go further up or had to turn around higher up for any reason - would I be alone? Who could help me? Who would carry my stuff? How would I get back down the long route we already came? Probably best would be if I was fit enough to go at least to Camp III at 6’000m and then go down on the other side to Plaza de Mulas. From there I potentially could ride out on a mule. Let’s see what the day brings.
I stay down at Camp I as the others take off with heavy packs to Camp II. The wind sudden cuts out and I’m almost cooked in the tent. My nose is still running and I reach the low point around 13:30 / 14:00 when I go to make some tea and open the tent completely. With some wind coming back and my nose stopping to run all a sudden I feel much better. Incredible the swing of one hour I think of how to get out of here and then timidly think of going up further.
At 15:00 the others are comping back with high spirits, we have Zvieri and discuss the options. We’ll need to decide tomorrow at 07:00 whether Niklaus brings me down to Plaza Argentina from where I will be flown out by helicopter or I try to start up hill with the others at 10:00. In case I cannot hike up, there would be a possibility to go down with a porter / certified guide. If it woks, I can potentially go to Colera at 6’000 m and then either try summit or go down to Plaza de Mulas.
So I go back to my tent and try to relax, sleep and recover. Unfortunately nose is running again. They say no coughing is important as that might be dangerous. Let’s see.
The doctor just passed through the camp and Ariel told him to come to see and check me out: blood oxygen is good, Other values in the ok range for 5’000m, vital signs ok. Good to go further up. I was so relieved I had to cry a bit.
Now dinner an I’m looking forward to a good nights sleep (with sleeping med)
Day 13 - Friday Dec 27
Camp I 5’040m - Camp II 5’500m
2.7 km / 3:45 h / elevation + 450m
Wake up feeling well after a long night 20:00 - 06:15 and we still have time until breakfast at 09:00. Took sleeping med and slept through to after midnight in one go. No sneezing no coughing. Then still good sleep with some dreams. Some wind rattling the tents but less than last nights. Hungry now. Biding my time reading and rummaging my pack for the day. Should start slowly and early with Andrea at 10:00 and the others to follow at 11:00 which allows us to climb very slow and preserve my energy. Seems to be like a strenuous 3:45 h hike up to Camp II. By that time the tents should be there so we can relax.
Weather predictions are good with the winds dying down and expected -15C / 15 to 20 km/h winds on the top of Aconcagua on summit day which we still plan Dec 29. Sounds good.
At 10:00 I start with Andrea ahead of the rest of the team. We walk extremely slowly, step by step by step. She has a really good rhythm and so we manage the first steep and a bit frightening scree ascent and make a break after an hour. I drink a lot and that helps. We walk slowly but I couldn’t go faster anyway. I feel like on 50% or less of my usual energy. But otherwise I’m spared of flu symptoms. Suckling Ricola helps (until I make a misstep and almost swallow the drop ;-)). We make regular hourly breaks and cross fantastic landscape. 30 min before Camp II we cross a glacier. Wonderful. We are overtaken by many porters who carry incredible weights up the mountain - usually 25kg and they are fast.
Arrived in Camp II (Guanaco) the tents are already up and Andrea is installing my mattress and sleeping bag. I can’t convince her otherwise. (Thanks anyway:-))
Soon the others arrive and we have our usual Picknick.
I feel better and better and think Camp III is surely doable, maybe I can even attempt the summit. Andrea and Ariel organize and additional Personal Guide for me for the summit day (for and additional, but quite acceptable fee). So the plan is to set off together on summit day and if I get slower or have to turn back, I won’t be alone, but with a professional local guide.
Installed in the tent I realize I lost or misplaced my meds. Look everywhere but can’t find. Hope the have something in the team medical kit. ... So I took some flu meds from a teammate and Andrea gave me a homeopathic sleeping aid.
I rested 90 min the tent, then we had a delicious dinner and good discussions. Camp II is just gorgeous. I made some pics and started to enjoy much more and I’m feeling also much better. Overall energy is still I’d say below 50% of normal, but nose stopped running and I didn’t get a cough. Now in my sleeping bag hoping to sleep quite well and recover for tomorrow. We’ll have breakfast at 09:00 and by then need to have packed and folded the tent. I guess it will be very cold und the morning.
Day 14 - Saturday Dec 28
Camp II 5’500m - Camp III Colera 6’000m
1.3 km / 4:00 h / elevation + 500m
What a night! :-( Unfortunately I couldn’t sleep at all and had a lot of apnea / snap breathing which became frightening after a while. In these waking / half sleep hours I permutated all sorts of scenarios in my head like going down back to Plaza Argentina first thing in the morning as I at times believed the I couldn’t make it to Camp III , not to think of a summit attempt. Etc. Etc. Lots of weird thoughts or fragments thereof spun around in my head. Hen I had to go outside once, I saw an unbelievably beautiful starry sky with the Milky Way. Didn’t have the nerve to get back in to take my camera and come out once again. So I agonized in my sleeping bag probably from 19:30 to 06:00-ish in the morning when my buddy got up. He didn’t have a too good night either. We rummaged until about 07:30, packed and got out into a very windy and cold morning, everything totally frozen outside. Was difficult to tear down and pack the tents in the strong wind. Breakfast was less than basic sitting outside and even the tea got cold instantly in our cups. Although I was very hungry I had to force myself eating an bit, almost got nauseous doing so. Then the uneasy stint in our toilet tent ... what a ‘pleasure’ every morning. Finally the porters came, we weighed our gear and then set off to Camp III around 09:30 in a super slow pace up the very narrow and steep scree path, pebbled with larger rocks and ice patches. The rock formations above us and the views over to other mountains and valleys were breathtaking (only there was no breath left to take any more). I had a hard time to get into the rhythm and felt powerless and empty, although my cold had lost most symptoms. Only a few sneezes left, but power gone as well. Glad to have Goretex and down jacket with hood and warm Nepal cap, as the cold wind was punishing. Nevertheless we made quite a good pace of ca 150m elevation per h. We took two breaks and after the second one Niklaus took my backpack - a first for me in my life. But it made it so much easier, maybe combined with the glucose tablet. The last stretch was easiest and we reached Camp III within a setting that could be from Mars or a science fiction movie. Our tents had already been set up be the porters and we had our usual Picknick and a briefing for tomorrow. We’ll start at 05:00 with headlights and full warm gear. We plan for 09:00h to the summit. And ‘we’ means if I get a half way decent night I’ll go with our group and go a far as I can without slowing them down. Then I’ll rely on my own guide who should also carry the heavy part of my gear like drinks bottles, crampons etc. We can go up as far as I can and then turn back.
At dinner - quite good spaghetti with vegetable sauce - two others of the group felt sick we were a bit concerned about them. I also met my personal guide Caccio - a wild looking guy, but very friendly. I gave him some of my gear for tomorrow.
I’m very glad that I reached Camp III in much better spirits and physical shape that I thought during the night and can even contemplate making a summit attempt. Weather should be cold but relatively good. And in any case I can stay with the group, even if I abort. This case relax in the Camp III and go down with them next day to Plaza de Mulas.
Now: let’s try get some sleep as the alarm will sound at 03:45 tomorrow.
Day 15 - Sunday Dec 29
Camp III 6’000m Colera - Cerro Aconcagua 6’962m - back (Plan)
Camp III 6’000m - middle of Traverse 6’500m - back (effective)
3.0 km / 7:00 h / elevation + 500m / - 500m
After a mediocre night with little sleep but no panic attacks we get up at 03:45 to get ready for breakfast at 04:30 and a direct start thereafter at 05:00. It’s pitch dark and quite cold outside. In the light of our headlamps we take the path that immediately climbs very steep, as today’s proposition varies only between steep and very steep. Soon one of us who has high altitude sickness needs to vomit but carries on for another hour nevertheless. Though cookie! But then she returns down. I walk behind Andrea first, then behind my private guide Caccio. For several hours in the night and the dawn I’m keeping well up with the group, but then gradually start falling slightly behind. Already at the start I had heavy and hurting thighs and I’m just running out of energy by the time we are in Independencia at 6’360m. We take a break and I stay behind with Caccio as the rest takes off. Mentally it’s hard to be left behind. We follow the main group with maybe 5 min delay onto the long traverse. Every single step has become a mixture of pain, exhausted and willpower to engage taking the next one. At 6’500m I decide to stop, take rest, enjoy the incredible scenery and view over wide valleys and far away mountains and turn around. This is the highest point I’ve ever been. I’m happy that I pushed myself so far - remember: two days ago I and our teammate doctor were pondering of me having to be flown out by medical helicopter evacuation. With Caccio I take an ‘easy & slow’ hike down, taking quite some pics and chatting gently. After 7, at times excruciatingly difficult hours I’m back in Camp III, where I have s nice chat with the teammate who came down first with HAS. Gladly, she is doing better.
Then I start feeling the set-in of the fatigue and when I go to the loo I start stumbling from exhaustion, as I also slipped on the path 250m from Camp III and tore a hole the backside of my insulation pant. Started writing my blog but then fell asleep for a couple of hours - really good. Relaxing after the mental and physical demands of the past days and this morning is like balm on body and soul. Going up, counting steps and breath, trying to synchronize them in a rhythm that works and repeating like a Mantra how lucky I am with my wonderful wife, children, family and friends while experiencing this incredible landscape and mountain challenge is truly rewarding and spiritual.
Now some successful teams are coming down and celebrating happily. Waiting for our successful ones coming back later and congratulate them on their achievement. Our team came back 18:30 and they did the summit: CONGRATULATIONS!! However, all of them had a big fight an suffered greatly, some fell. I’m in awe and admiration of their achievement. We have a small dinner and everybody got in their sleeping bags dirty, exhausted but pround of their achievement and happy.
Tomorrow we have late breakfast at 09:00 and plan a steep descent to Plaza den Mulas, the other base camp at 4’350m and then another very long and strenuous / hot day to the entry at Horcones Valley.
Day 16 - Monday Dec 30
Camp III 6’000m Colera - Plaza de Mulas BC 4’350m
5.7 km / 2:30 h / elevation + 0m / - 1’650m
Slept very well (given the circumstances at 6’000m) and only woke 2 or 3 times. It was really cold outside - even my p-bottle and the wet tissues were frozen inside. My sleeping bag was always good - I never was cold at all. Nevertheless getting out of a warm bag and into ice cold and really dirty clothes and put on high mountaineering double boots and down jacket even before getting out into crisp morning at -15C is quite an uneasy thing. At 09:00 we have a cramped breakfast and then start packing up wich is very strenuous at 6’000m. Just getting the sleeping bag into it’s pressure bag is exhausting. Once all managed we start a steep downhill run on the scree slopes and make it down to Plaza de Mulas BC in incredible 2.5h. It’s strange to see the people walking uphill almost crumbling under their backpacks. Arrived at BC we get pizzas and good fruit drinks and are back in some sort of civilization. At lunch we discuss our final trekking day and four of us decide to share a helicopter to get to Los Penitentes tomorrow morning instead of walking 28!km in dust, wind and lower down heat. I’m looking forward to the shower there!!!
The air carries much more oxygen here (still at 4’350m) which makes every move so much easier. Feels like see level after having been higher up for so much time. My cold is still following me every step but it’s impact has gone to a slight nuisance compared to going uphill with a backpack above 5’000 or even 6’000m.
Tonight we’ll have a nice team dinner, sitting on chairs ... one is happy with very little coming back down :-)
Day 17- Tuesday Dec 31
Plaza de Mulas BC 4’350m - Los Penitentes 2’650m
Slept feeling a bit like in a luxury hotel bed. Woke at 04:00 to find WiFi network working again and sent a message to my wife and chatting with her per WhatsApp. How nice. Then got up, finalized packing and got out of the cozy and warm (still below freezing point) tent to bring the luggage to the assembly point. At 07:00 finally a luxurious breakfast in the community tent, trying to put the heating on, which was eventually achieved with the help of the kitchen staff.
The four of us who bought a shared helicopter ride got off into a fantastic, but short flight through the at times wide and vast, at times narrow canyon of the Horcones valley. We reached the heliport after 7 min - the others will have to walk between 8 and 10 hours for this. We were picked up by a bus and driven to our hotel in Los Penitentes within 10 min. Easy. Check into hotel, got our stuff and waited with some coffee and drinks for our rooms getting ready. Very nice chat & discussions with the others who shared the flight. At 13:00 we got into the rooms and started cleaning ourselves to get back into civilization - fantastic even though only very little and lukewarm water. Feeling very different now in clean clothes and re-packed for our trip tomorrow back to Mendoza.
Eventually the rest of the team arrives full of dust and sweat but happy to have done it all. They take a quick shower and we assemble in the lounge area for drinks, chatting and exchange of stories of the past week. The team has come together as a tightly knit group of friends, buddies and colleagues who trust and help each other wherever or whenever needed. It’s wonderful, that during almost three weeks we did not have single dissonance or negative word of any kind. It’s a testimony of great people with similar mindsets building a community although they have very different backgrounds; but also a great achievement of our three team leaders Niklaus, Andrea and Ariel who have created the environment and care, where this could happen. With a great sense of satisfaction and gratitude we go for our Sylvester dinner, have a great meal and chat along until at midnight we can celebrate the New Year.
As tomorrow Jan 1 we will drive down to Mendoza to fade out the three weeks and then start traveling home, I’d like to thank all teammates and the guides for the fantastic time and experiences we had the pleasure sharing with each other, thank you all for you interest in this rather personal account of my experiences and perceptions on the mountain and last, but not least wish you all: A HAPPY NEW YEAR 2020!