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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Aconcagua recap #1: Travel to Argentina and beginning the climb


On December 8th, 2014 I took off from Dulles for Mendoza, Argentina via Miami, FL and Santiago, Chile.  There were not many memorable moments except for the fact that I neglected to pay the "reciprocity fee" to enter Argentina.  That oversight cost me very little but did produce a few new gray hairs on me head.  No journey is complete without a little intrigue.  So I paid the fee online, printed out the document and boarded the next flight that left one hour after my original flight.  Oh well.  No blood, no foul.

I got to Mendoza in one piece with all my bags.  Step 1 was to purchase my permit.  I posted previously about that step but let me recap for those who did not read those details.  The Argentinian monetary system is a wreck.  I had to get Argentinian pesos to purchase my permit and the best way to get that currency is on the street via the "black market."  My negotiated exchange rate on the street was 12.2 pesos per US dollar; the bank generously offered 8.5 pesos/dollar.  Thus, my permit was almost one third off if I used the black market so I willingly participated in this crazy economic scam.  Once I got the pesos, I could get my permit and pay for it at the Pago Facil (easy pay) located across the street from the Ministry of Tourism office.  With my permit in hand, I was then able to relax for the next few hours, eat a huge steak, and enjoy a bottle of vino before I had to wake up at 5am for my 6am bus to Penitentes - the location where all expeditions begin for Aconcagua.  The pictures posted here are of my gear sort in my hotel room, my permit, and my last meal before grabbing my morning bus. 

Penitentes provided me an opportunity to sort out my gear once again so I could ready my load for the mules.  You'll see plenty of those guys shortly so bear with me.  At the Refuggio Casa de Cana, I put all my heavy gear into my basecamp bag and expedition pack.  Those two bags would be loaded onto a mule after I took off for the trail head in Horcones.  The plan was to carry only the bare essentials up to basecamp (Plaza das Mulas or PdM for short via Confluencia camp).  As you can see from the pictures, I wore my favorite approach shoes - OSHA approved steel toed flip flops.  The trek to Confluencia took me one hour and 30 minutes and served as a nice warmup for the following day where I trekked to basecamp from Confluencia.  That second-day trek took 8 hours in the searing heat and incessant dust storms.  I'm keeping my description brief because I have little positive to say about the approach to PdM.  That trek is a beast; more on that trek later when I recount my trek in with my family.

Actually, there were a few positives from the day trek to PdM.  First, I ran into Kilian Jornet along the route.  He was beginning his record-breaking ascent of Aconcagua and I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with him several times over the next week.  He is quite an athlete!  Second, I met two fellow climbers - Ravi and Munye - and we decided to trek together.  It was really nice having company on that boring leg.  Thanks to those guys, we had plenty to chat about to reduce to monotony. 

At this point, I am now at basecamp and ready to climb this hill.  I felt great at this point and was geared up to get up and down quickly.  My next post documents the full climb in detail with pictures.  The climb did not go as planned for a variety reasons.  More later.....

Thanks for following along.