New day, new year and we were off to trek up to Base Camp. Since we were in South America, we didn’t rush but instead sat around and waited with our packed bags for the mules to pick them up. We waited at Penitentes, enjoying the sun and warmth.
Around noon, the mules came down from the other side of the mountain and picked up our bags so we drove to the entrance of the Vacas Valley.
There’s generally two routes to Aconcagua. Either you trek up the Horcones Valley which is what most expeditions do or you go up the Vacas Valley which is less traveled. Our route would take us up Vacas Valley to the Base Camp there, called Plaza Argentina. Then Camp 1, Camp 3 also known as Guanacos (Camp 2 is rarely used), Camp Colera (horrible name) where the summit attempt will be made from. We would then proceed down the Horcones Valley from Camp Colera, first down to Base Camp, called Plaza de Mulas and then all the way back to the entrance of the Horcones Valley.
At the entrance to the Vacas Valley we got our permits checked and got garbage bags. We had to return these garbage bags at the end to prove that we didn’t throw out trash on the way.
The trek to our first camp was really nice. It only took 3 hours and we had a good pace and everyone felt good because we were completely acclimatized. The landscape was especially dramatic as we walked down the valley, following the river that had created it. It was also a very narrow valley so on each side were these massive walls of rock going up maybe a 1000 meters from the bottom of the valley.
We reached the camp called Pampa de Lenas where we pitched our tents and then enjoyed the barbecue which the muleteers had prepared for us.
Next morning we had to trek to a camp called Casa de Piedra. Because the valley is so narrow, we only started to get sunshine once we started hiking. But breakfast and packing was done in the shadow which was cold still. Once you’re in altitude the absence of sunshine is really felt. Sunshine is the difference between wearing two layers or four layers sometimes and in tents it makes an even bigger difference. Luckily our trek was done in sunshine so t-shirts were enough to feel and be warm. The trek to Casa de Piedra was nice and steady. We outpaced the other unacclimatized group quite quickly as they started to feel the altitude. As came near Casa de Piedra, we saw Aconcagua for the first time. The summit was covered in clouds but we were quite excited and like everyone else, we got selfies with it in the background.
Casa de Piedra was the last camp in the Vacas Valley and to go to Plaza Argentina, we would leave the valley and go up a different valley which flowed into the river of Vacas Valley. We pitched tents and cooked dinner, enjoying the sunset and resting before the trek to Base Camp
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