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Friday, February 13, 2015

Aconcagua recap #5: The retreat to Mendoza and beyond

Life has been unusually hectic since my return.  I will post several updates over the next few days.  Here is the one I promised earlier...

Aconcagua Finale....

Thanks for following our journey.  I left you last time with the post-summit celebration at basecamp.  We were all overjoyed with the dream of getting off the mountain.  Patrick and Kathy summited an 18,000 foot peak nearby while Brendan and I summited Aconcagua.  It was a long day for us all and we were looking forward to steak and wine in Mendoza.  So, off we went...on the long, downhill slog.

The Retreat

We woke up early to get our bags weighed and sorted for the mule service down the hill.  These mules provide us with a huge weight offset so we can easily climb up to and down from basecamp without hauling a ton of gear.  Aconcagua is unique in this respect that animals are allowed to "operate" on the mountain; other hills like Denali do not allow animals so we climbers are forced to haul our loads up/down the mountain.  Below are some pictures of our trek down from PdM to the Horcones ranger station.  It was a long (5.5 hour) trek in the dusty valley.  Wish I could say it was picturesque but I would be lying.

Brendan and I left PdM at about 8:20am - a full hour or more after Patrick and Kathy shoved off.  It was a glorious morning with almost no wind and cool temperatures.  We were all smiles at first.
All smiles at first.  Yeah, more rock and scree but at least this will be the last of it for some time.
Here are more pictures of our retreat.  Not much more to say other than we were extremely happy to get away from this scree pile.


I'm smiling believe it or not.

Live action photo of Brendan crossing a very cold stream en route to the bottom.

YES!  Stuck the landing for at least a 9....judges?
Brendan and I caught up with Kathy and Patrick and then proceeded down the hill at a rapid pace.  My toes were beaten up from over 20 hours of descending over the past few days.  Blisters and purple toenails seemed to be the day's special.

Yep, still smiling.

The last bit of running water until we hit Penitentes.

Brendan coming up and bearing the heat and dry climate quite well.  He might have something different to report.
We passed by several ascending mule trains.  These guys hammer this trail.  Humans have nothing on them.  Go mules, go!

Mules...and more mules.

Brendan still chugging along...quite happy to be leaving this hill.
The trip out took us about 5.5 hours and seemed to last in our heads much longer.  If you look at the pictures of the terrain, you'll see nothing but loose rocks and fine dust.  The rocks provided no traction and the dust blew up in a nasty cough-inducing cloud with the slightest wisp of wind.  Good grief!  I signed up to climb a mountain not a giant dirt pile.  Unfortunately, I got the latter.  Oh well.  Good fun....(NB...fun ain't always fun).

I think we lost our smiles by this point.  We just wanted to be done.  At this point, we were about 3 hours into the descent.
Almost home.  One last uphill and then we are off for more toe busting downhill to the finish.  

The long dusty trail that lead us to....
Here we are!  Finally.  Ugh.
The ranger station!  We made it.
I got to the ranger station and immediately took off my shoes to reveal some nasty toes.  For the sake of all of you, I decided to omit those pictures.  They are not suitable for any age.

Hey, wait a second, where is Brendan?
Brendan followed close behind and I couldn't wait to see his expression.  Here, in these pictures, I tried to capture his last few steps on our expedition.  Above, he is in the distance....

Oh, there he is....

Looking relieved.
Made it.  I think I can see a smile.   Nah, it is probably a grimace.  Brendan...comments?
But not exactly happy.
We celebrated the accomplishment.  More accurately, we celebrated the end of the scree pile.  We had visions of beer, wine, and steak that filled us with enough energy to get down that hill.

Fake smiles...but we are done.
And then the beer came...when we arrived in Penitentes.  Brendan, note I am omitting our wait at the ranger station.  That was not exactly fun but the beer was worth the wait.  Check out the wild style hairdo Brendan was sporting in these last days.  

Real smiles followed with our first beer.  Ah beer.  Nectar of the gods.  Nice hair dude.
Patrick and Kathy followed close behind.  Well, actually, we waited at the ranger station for roughly 2 hours before our ride arrived to ferry us back to Penitentes.  I figured my family would be about 3-4 hours behind but they beat my guess and arrived about 2.5 hours after we set foot at the bottom.  They hammered the last part.  What troopers!  We managed to land another awesome ride from Eduardo and got back to our hotel in time to shower and eat.  Here I am post shower:
Very happy to be done.  Time for beer.
Our arrival back in Mendoza could not come soon enough.  We were all ready to eat real food and enjoy a nice, comfortable bed.  I managed to negotiate a one-night deal at the Huentala hotel - the same place I crashed for two days to shake off my sinus infection.  It was worth it just to have a place to spread out our gear and get re-established in civilization.  Below, Kathy is enjoying our first night out.  Great to see her smiling again.
A very happy Kat.
The next day, we found ourselves in a rather precarious spot.  It was new years eve and nothing was open.  We had to scrounge to find food and during the typical siesta time.  Our choices...slim.  Here is what remains of the most disgusting hot dog I ever ate.  It was something shaped like a hot dog but tasted like something I never ate before.  Pure hell.
Hot dog?  Don't ask.
After a few days rest, we opted for a wine tour and headed out to make the most of the few days left before my family left (and Brendan and I headed to Chile).  Patrick had a blast just being back in civilization.  Here he is trying on some new clothes.   No, the Oregon shirt was his but the hat added a nice new twist to school casual.
Very nice lid.
The wine tour was a hoot.  Two of us enjoyed each stop to the fullest and even purchased a few road bottles to enjoy between stops.  The bus driver did not take too kindly to us drinking during the long, hot tour but Brendan and I found that drinking eased our pain considerably.  Even Patrick had fun on the tour.  See, he is smiling (see picture below).  He was finally fully recovered from the AMS.
A happy kid.  

and who wouldn't be happy amongst all that wine?

We enjoyed the bus ride with our road pops (not pictured for fear that the bus driver would kick us off in the middle of nowhere).
After our trip, we walked about the following days and enjoyed the quiet comfort of our hotel room.
On a walkabout with the family.

Our luxurious sweet suite - courtesy of Hotels.com.  Thanks guys!

GS scooter...how fitting after I listened to Quadrophenia for most of my climb.  Patrick was just digging on the Doritos
I spent the majority of those rest days catching up on my climbing journal and drinking beer to regain some of my lost 18-20 lbs.  Yep, climbing is one very difficult way to lose weight but a dangerous way too.  Perhaps next time I will eat more butter.  Mmmmm....butter.
Beer, writing, reading, and beer.  Not always in that order.
We finished off our trip together with an outing to the huge park.  It was a nice day trip on one of the hottest days I can recall - post living in Tucson.  Man was it hot and I hate the heat.  We trudged around the city and walked through what amounted to a jungle in the middle of Mendoza.  It was an enjoyable day that ended soon enough.

Oh yeah, a hot day in the park.
Our trip lasted until January 5th together.  On that day, I headed off to Santiago, Chile to meet up with Brendan and party...er, sightsee through a new country.  I will post some pictures of that trip below.  The most memorable place we visited was Valparaiso.  If you ever get a chance to head down to Chile, I highly recommend that little city on the coast.  

OK, fini!  We are done with Aconcagua.  My next objective:  Everest.  Stay tuned for some posts related to my preparation for Everest.




For those interested in my further celebration, here are some pictures of Santiago (one day there) and Valparaiso, Chile.  

Bus ride down from the Andes toward Santiago.  See the switchbacks?  Crazy, huh?

Brendan and I decided to be tourists for a day.  Not sure what he is pointing at here....

We went to the farmer's market and found the worlds largest ear of corn. Who eats an ear like that?  Horses is my guess.

Tourism continued up some huge hill where we worked up a thirst for a great evening out on the town.

Nice view from the top of the hill.  Santiago is a huge sprawling city.  Time to leave after tonight.  Need more quiet.

So we grabbed a bus to Valparaiso.  Time for the beach!

One of us was a little tired.  Not much sleep Brendan?  Hmmmmm.  Well, you made up for it on this 2-hour ride.

and so it began all over again.  Here is the view from the roof of our lovely hostel.

Our hostel.  Great place....

where next door we could get a huge (1.2 liter) beer and some empanada for next to nothing.   Life is good.

and where the colors throughout the town were simply magnificent.

Our walkabout in town consisted of grabbing a beer, taking pictures, and chatting with the locals - at least the ones who spoke some English.  Neither Brendan nor I spoke Spanish...no, Brendan...you don't speak Spanish.

The coolest staircase in the world.  

We skipped the organized tour because it did not include stops for beer.

Instead, we just took pictures.  Check out these murals.  Cool, eh?

and some of them were huge!

or just downright silly.

and some signs were just too funny to pass up.  The funny thing is that this place had cold beer but no cups and no opener for the bottles.  What the heck?  Lure us in with your siren song you vile package store.

Well, it was a cute place.

We even got to see one mural in the making.

This mural was cute.  Long-since finished.

Hey, there I am with beer in hand.  

Here was the guy who was painting the mural.  Wait until you see what he painted (see below).

oh yes, Cristal, our beer of choice.

Happy guy on the rooftop.  

Another great stairway.

that lead to some cool little alley ways....

that twisted and turned throughout this part of the city.

And would you look at the colors?  How cool is this place?

Even the lesser murals were still quite colorful.

Some were just downright creepy.  

Speaking of creepy, this mural took the cake.  I wasn't sure what the heck was going on or whether the original artist meant for the guy to have a Hitler 'stache.

Uhmmmm.  No words to describe this one.  Colorful.  Yes.  Weird...yes.

Battling artists?

See the Hitler 'stache?

Whoa!  someone was taking some serious drugs when they painted this one.

This wall was at the end of a long alley.

and had this odd mural on one of the walls adjacent to that end piece.

The entrance had this bit.

and for some reason, I just really liked this mural.

OK, this is the mural the guys I photographed early painted.  This was to the far left on the wall....

and here is the full wall with that left part omitted....

and this is what the template was part of in the original picture.  Cool, eh?

More cool alleys.

and great murals.

A nice person took a shot of me.  I was running out of steam.

One last mural before I turned in for a pint.

Ah, a pint at last.

Thanks for following along.  Everest is my next stop.  See you soon.