After spending so long training, planning, and plotting, it felt a little surreal to finally board my flight to Mendoza, Argentina— the first stop on the way to Aconcagua. Upon landing, we checked into our hotel and had a little time to enjoy the comforts of civilization before our first team meeting. Our group was incredibly diverse, with professions ranging from spacecraft engineers to San Francisco venture capitalists. It was incredible to see people from such different backgrounds come together for a common purpose. I enjoyed every moment with this group, and can’t wait to climb with them again.
Our overnight in Mendoza gave us a chance to unwind from the long flight and get to know our climbing group and guides.
The journey to Aconcagua began at Los Penitentes
The next day we were up early to get our climbing permits and hit the road. The drive to Los Penitentes, the 9,000’ center for climbing activity, winds through wine country and on up into the mountains. The route offered us some dramatic views of the mountains and the Mendoza River Valley.
After all of the hustle that got us to Los Penitentes, we finalized our preparations and finally set our sights on Aconcagua. Our group was buzzing that last night before the real expedition began. Though we come from vastly different backgrounds, our group was like-minded when it came to having drive and determination. We were goal-oriented and had a singular focus: reach the summit. I can honestly say I’ve only met this caliber of people on the substantial expeditions; the ones that require you to dig deep and push your limits.
Three days to Base Camp: Plaza Argentina
On day 4, we shouldered our 25 lb. packs and started ascending the winding trail through the Vacas Valley. Though we’d expected heat, climbing through the high 90s/low 100s temperatures were intense. Luckily, as the valley opened up and the mountains began to grow taller, the views served as a distraction from the heat. We took three days to get from Penitentes to the 13,800’ Base Camp, Plaza Argentina, stopping at two “Approach Camps” along the way.
Camping at Plaza Argentina felt like living on Mars. All of the infrastructure and tents looked out of place against Aconcagua’s red rocks. We felt a little like space pioneers as we relaxed, acclimated, and organized for our first carry of the expedition.
Everything went as planned until we hit Camp I (16,200’). Suddenly, we were contending with unseasonable snow and cold temps. Little did we know these blustery conditions would plague us all the way to Camp III (19,600’). Suddenly, we felt a little nostalgic for those 90 degree days back in the Vaca Valley.
Snow-driven peaks of South America’s highest mountain
Still, we pressed on to Camp II before the weather became inhibitive. At Camp II, we contended with a ~50MPH windstorm and blizzard conditions that kept us in our tents for two days. People had to shovel snow from their tents, and wind chill dropped the temperature to an unbelievable -40 degrees Fahrenheit. During our stay at Camp II, our guides had to make some strategic calls. The trip very well could have ended there for safety purposes.
After two days, the weather cleared enough for us to push on to the third and final Camp before the summit. From 19,600’ we saw the Andes stretching into the distance. And incredibly? A stray dog was running around the High Camp. This pup was as comfortable in the upper altitudes of Aconcagua as you or I would be on a city street.
On summit day, we made an early alpine start. The climb to the base of the Canaleta was steady and gradual. The Canaleta, a 1,000’ couloir leading to the summit, represented our final challenge. After getting to the top of the Canaleta, it was an easy hike to the top of the mountain. Standing at the summit was a feeling like no other. We were standing at the top of South America, celebrating above the clouds.
Overall, despite the challenging weather, extreme cold, and relentless winds, Aconcagua was an incredible journey. I was grateful for the 12 months of training that prepared me for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now, on to Denali!