by Frederic Crampe, Pedro Gonzalez and Eric Wintenberger
PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4
After a trip to the south of Chile to discover volcanoes, lakes and forests for about 10 days, Frederic, his fiancée Laetitia, Pedro and I went back to Santiago. From there, direction Mendoza, Argentina by overnight bus. The international road linking these cities goes along the boundary of the National Park of Aconcagua. So, by an early morning we had our first sight of Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. Its impressive south face capped with snow brought some excitement among us. But we continued to Mendoza to get the permits for the ascent. We were at this time going only for an acclimatization trekking of 6 days with Laetitia. Once the trekking over, she was supposed to fly back to France on the 25th of December. Once the permits obtained, we did our shopping for the trekking part since we already had our food for the expedition but not for the trekking. Au menu, dry food in the evenings but saucisson and chorizo for lunches? Finally, that was it, we were ready to go and we took another bus on the 18th towards Puente del Inca, the starting point for the Horcones Valley that leads to the Normal Route of Aconcagua. We slept at the hosteria in Puente del Inca and left on the 19th morning to enter the park.
December 19: Puente del Inca - Confluencia
The goal of this trekking was to get acclimatized, so we decided to gain altitude very slowly. From Puente del Inca (2720m), we hiked up to Confluencia (3370m), which is located at the confluence of two valleys, the Horcones Valley leading to Plaza de Mulas, base camp for the Normal Route, and the valley leading to Plaza Francia, base camp for the South Face. The hike was easy and short (3 hours) and provided us with nice views on the top part of the South Face of Aconcagua. However, instead of going to the main camp site at Confluencia, we started going up the valley towards Plaza Francia to a nice and isolated campsite that somebody had indicated to us, far from the numerous tents of the crowded regular campsite. Plaza Francia was our objective for the next day.
December 20: Confluencia - Plaza Francia - Confluencia
We woke up early and prepared our backpacks. We left the tent, the sleeping bags etc behind us since we were coming back to sleep there tonight. So we left with light backpacks towards Plaza Francia (4200m). We reached it after 5 hours of effort and enjoyed the views all along the way. The South Face is massive and very impressive. It is a vertical wall of rock and ice of almost 3000m height, and at least as wide as high. It was first climbed in 1954 by a French party under the leadership of René Ferlet. The climbers needed one month to overcome the major difficulties of the climb. They gathered at their fifth climb at 6400m for the final assault. However, technical difficulties forced them to aid-climb and make a bivouac high on the face. But finally Poulet, Paragot, Denis, Lasueur, Bernardini and Dagory reached the top on February 24, all suffering from deep frostbite. Watching this wall of cold rock and ice did not really attract us for climbing it. We observed a couple of gullies which you could start a climb from; however, these were perpetually swept by avalanches. We stayed there maybe 2 hours and observed at least half a dozen avalanches. That?s why nobody was at Plaza Francia when we were there and no party was to be seen on the face. This South Face is not only extremely difficult, but it is also very exposed to falls of seracs and avalanches.
December 21: Confluencia - Campo Ibanez
It was my birthday ! I turned 23 and those guys offered me some presents when we woke up. Thanks to them for having carried them up there ! They offered me a mate and a game of truco. The mate is the traditional Argentinian recipient in which you pour a special herb (yerba) and hot water and you drink it. Truco is a typical Argentinian card game where you can communicate with your partner by signs: it made us laugh a lot ! Today?s program was initially to start going up to Cerro Mirador (5500m). However, we thought there was a trail, but we had to start going up steep scree slopes. It was quite unpleasant and Laetitia, who is not used to this kind of thing, had some trouble. So we decided wisely to go down and back up instead in direction of Plaza de Mulas. However, we could not make it in time and had to sleep in Campo Ibanez, 3 hours before Plaza de Mulas, after a tiring 10-hour hike in the desert valleys leading to the base camp.
December 22: Campo Ibanez - Plaza de Mulas
The valleys leading to Plaza de Mulas are desert, wide in some places and full of different colors. We were amazed every morning of all the colors of the mountains around us. A river goes down the valley, and we had to cross it several times before reaching Plaza de Mulas (4260m). We started feeling this altitude: we were easily getting out of breath but had no headache. It took us about 3 hours to reach Plaza de Mulas. When we arrived there, we were surprised by the number of tents there. Between the common tents for the big expeditions, the tents of the mules companies and the individual tents of the smaller expeditions, there were several dozens of them ! You could eat fresh food there, get a beer of a Coke, but of course for a substantial amount of money? We pitched our tent while admiring the scenery of the Horcones Glacier above us, dominated by the Cerro Cuerno (5400m). We observed the nice ice routes that could be climbed up to the top of this mountain. The next day we would see two parties climbing the ice wall leading to the east ridge. Close to the civilization present in base camp, the hotel Refugio stood in the shadows of the mountains, far away from the zones exposed to avalanches in winter. We went to visit it and found with pleasure the T-shirt hanged the year before by our friends Javier, Manu and Olivier who had climbed the Normal Route.
December 23: Plaza de Mulas - Cambio de Pendientes - Confluencia
This day was a long day. We started very early to go up the Normal Route to Cambio de Pendientes (5200m), a campsite used by expeditions on their way to the summit. The trail was easy to follow, but we were careful not to go too fast because of the altitude. Laetitia led all the way at a very good pace. No one of us suffered from altitude sickness, although Pedro admitted later that he was pretty tired when we went up. We enjoyed the magnificent landscapes around us, with Cerro Cuerno in front of us on the other side of the valley. The summit of Aconcagua was difficult to distinguish since the top of the mountain was hidden by some lower rock cliffs. But we could more or less guess the way the Normal Route was taking to the summit. This route had seen the first assaults on the mountain more than a century ago, and had been the way taken during the first ascent of Aconcagua, in 1897, by Matthias Zurbriggen, guide of an expedition led by Edward Fitzgerald. When we reached 5200m, we decided to turn back down because we wanted to be back in Confluencia this night to have time to take the bus to Santiago the next day. Fred and I asked Pedro and Laetitia to step on a big rock at 5200m and we took a picture of them, since it was their highest ever. Of course, we were expecting the fulfillment of the mountaineering traditions in Santiago with a bottle of champaign?
December 24-25: back to Santiago
In the morning of the 24th, we went down from Confluencia to Puente del Inca. We arrived there tired and eager to take a shower. Pedro and Laetitia managed to take one before taking the bus to Santiago de Chile. We arrived there late and barely managed to find a restaurant before closing time. However, we celebrated Christmas and the great ascent of Laetita "Chiquita Climber" above 5000m ! The next day we went to the airport, said goodbye to Laetitia and started focusing on the expedition. We were planning to use mules to carry some of our gear to the base camp of the Polish Glacier. We had left one bag there with the technical gear but went back there after taking a bus from Santiago de Chile. We left all the things we could except what we needed for the 3-day approach to Plaza Argentina, the base camp of the Polish Glacier.