So here we are again. We are just back down after our last adventure on Argentina’s and south america’s biggest sand pile - Aconcagua. It was a great experience on a lonely mountain where we walked some gravel, skied some ice, ripped the tent in the high winds, froze our toes of and at last met some great people.
Aconcagua 6962 m - The highest mountain outside of Asia
The adventure started in Mendoza just after we got back from Mercedario. On the 15th of november in the morning we went to the tourist office and sorted the permits out. Later on in the afternoon we jumped on a bus to the sleepy town of Los Penitentes, close to the Chilean border. There we met up with Fernando Grajales, the owner of Fernando Grajales Expeditions. He talked us trough the procedures on the mountain before we, the next day, took of once again in to the mountains.
We walked the fairly long approach to the Plaza Argentina base camp in two easy days only carrying light day packs. Arriving in BC we where the first people there for the season. Not even the workers or rangers had yet started the season and it was a great feeling putting up the the only tent in the otherwise so busy camp.
On the third day of the journey we kept on gaining altitude and walked up to Camp 1 at 5000 m. It was really windy but we decided anyhow to continue the next day even higher and got within 50 m from high camp at 5900 m before we decided we had enough, left all our climbing and ski equipment, and walked back down.
We used day five as a well earned rest-day eating falafels, Pringles and candy in the tent. I love the expedition rest days more than anything else, especially if we got lots of goodies to eat.
The following day we had a difficult choice; go up or down. Well acclimatized as we where the altitude was not a problem it was more about which strategy to take. Its easy to become eager in the mountains and feel the urge to get it all done with, but waiting is usually the wise choice - as long as it’s not fueled by fear.
So down we went. To stock up with loads of more food to be able to wait out what ever weather that could come in high camp. If we would not have gone done we would only have had two more days of food for high camp. Now, after an easy stroll day we had eleven days worth of food up high.
I like Mark Twight’s saying: “Strategy is beyond technique, technique is beyond the tools”. That’s an easy reminder on what comes when, in the decision making and where the importance shall be put. No matter how good you are, its always the strategy that will save the day and keep you out of trouble. And of course, for all the whining skiers out there, it’s not the skis, its your technique that keeps you out of trouble.
In Camp 1 we met some Germans and Austrians that lacked time. They went for the top the same day we descended to get more food. I think around three out of fifteen made it to the top. For us, with all the time in the world, that was unthinkable. With time, competence and strength Aconcagua’s easier routes are not something you can fail to ascend.
After coming back to Camp 1 we continued the next day to high camp below the Polish Glacier. It was the seventh day of the adventure and the most beautiful day so far. It was a joy to walk up the gravel with the heavy packs with good tunes in the sun.
But after the calm there is always some rock n roll coming in. On the eight day we tried for the summit, but we literary got blown down the mountain. We made it to around 6400 m before we just couldn’t get any higher. With my skis on the pack I got thrown back and forth on the trail and in the end I didn’t know if I where to laugh or cry. I could not walk with poles on the trail and we reasoned it would be really dangerous trying to ski something when the only thing we could do with control was to crawl.
The following day was a well earned rest day in the wait for good summit-push weather. It was blowing harder than I ever have experienced that night. The doors of the tent blew open and I had to move as close to the middle of the tent as possible to not get hit by the tent moving in the wind. I just love these situations, they bring a spice to the everyday adventure life.
On the tenth day it was calmer and the pressure was extremely high so we went for the summit early in the morning. But at around 6400 m again we had to turn around. There were just no way to keep warm. We walked as fast as we could and had all the clothes on, but could still not be close to warm. But we saw the sun had gained ground about hundred meters below us and walked down to huddle up behind a rock. By feet under Bjarne’s jacket and his under mine.
After nearly two hours in the relatively warm sun we continued up, and from here on there were no stopping. Everything went perfect and easy.
Bjarne realized his big goal of the trip and made it all the way to the top, breaking his last altitude record with almost a thousand meters. It was a great feeling to share the summit moment together for the first time. The weather was perfect with no wind and maybe twenty degrees in the sun. We took a nap and enjoyed the moment.
For me this was also a great experience. One of my biggest goals with the south america adventure has been to see how I would work on relatively high altitudes. Aconcagua gave me the receipt that I can, when alright acclimatized, hang out on 7000 m without even the slightest trace of AMS. Thats exactly what I wanted for future projects and dreams.
My big hope had been to ski the south face, one of the most amazing lines in the world. And on my recognizance trip on day three it looked like it where in very good conditions. But as it went on Denali, so did it here. A week of hard winds had ruined the snow and what had been totally white was now grayish and my gut feeling told me it would put me in to a situation I would regret - doing to much down climbing and exposing myself too long to objective dangers.
I just leave the line saying that it looks like a great ski for future generations of rock n rollers to enjoy.
Instead I dropped down on the ultra classic Polish Glacier in some sketchy conditions arguing its much more fun than walking down some gravel. Its probably one of the harder easy runs I have done in my life. After 300 vertical meters of easy ridge skiing the snow got thinner as it got steeper. But I managed to find a good way down to Piedra Bandera, did two raps with my 5 mm line and then traversed the face on foot and kept on skiing the direct line in good snow conditions. It all meant i skied around 900 m out of 1050 m. I was very pleased with that when I thought how bad the face had looked.
After a good sleep-in Bjarne walked down to BC while I managed to ski most of the way in perfect corn. That was one of the most enjoyable ski moments of the trip!
At last down in BC the camp was nearly built up, but there where no other gringos. We hang out with fellow climbers Matoco, Cleo, Ariel and Pablo as well as the staff from the camp. It was a great time with a good dinner and a opening party for the upcoming season.
We had a great time enjoying the presence of great people and good food. A day later we compressed the three day return in to one long day, slept another good night in Los Penitentes and then continued to Santiago, Chile.
At this moment we are waiting to go north again to the high Chilean volcanos! The adventure continues...
And yes, the shithead tournament is over. I took home the grand price of a pizza dinner with the score of 100 to 71!
As well as Fernando Grajales expeditions, the number one name in expeditions to Aconcagua: www.grajales.net
On the go from Mendoza to Los Penitentes
The sleepy ski resort of Los Penitentes
Fernando Grajales wonderful staff. If interested in going to Aconcagua, check their services out at www.grajales.net
Fernando and Bjarne trying to find Aconcagua through the clouds
Bjarne starting the long walk in
The first camp that we passed
The first glimpse
Bjarne keeping warm at camp the first night
My skis, a mule and the mountain
Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
Peluche loves to eat candy and pasta at altitude
Camp 1 at 5000m
The view from camp 2 at 5900m.
Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
The Polish traverse. We took the easy alternative as the glacier looked so shitty.
Bjarne with the south face in the backdrop
Bjarne and myself on the summit of Aconcagua. Photo: Bjarne Salén
Bjarne napping on the summit
Lets have some fun at last
Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
The life of a filmer, part 1
The life of a filmer, part 2
The life of a skier, part 1
The life of a skier, part 2. Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
Myself and the hyper friendly Grajales crew
Bjarne starting the walk out
Finally back in civilization! Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
The last glimpse
Portillo ski area from the bus...