After a good night in Casa de Piedra, it was time to hike to Plaza Argentina. Plaza Argentina is base camp for those coming from the Vacas Valley and many tales were told of the base camp. Food was freshly made and of high quality, big mess tents and generally it contained anything you could desire! This was possible because of the people who live up there during the climbing season, catering to the many climbers who attempt Aconcagua.
A quick breakfast and off we went. Except for the rivers and streams in our way. We had to cross a large river to cross the valley and then ascend through a side valley. Since the rivers and streams changed every year, there wasn’t any bridge to take. People took off their shoes and socks and walked across in the shallow but wide streams. We were about to as well and prepared ourselves for the ice cold water when our guide told us that for a price we could get a horse ride across. We discussed it a bit until we learned the price. 1 US Dollar per person! So in the end we all went over by horse and got away with our feet warm and dry.
It was a narrow and steep trek for the first 2-3 hours and with the constant passing of mules, we had to be careful not to stand on the wrong side of a mule when it was overtaking. Aconcagua became clearer and clearer however and this added to the motivation to get forward. The rest of the trek was relatively flat in a much larger valley than the Vacas Valley and we again felt the difference between being acclimatized and having to acclimatize on the road as the other group started to fall behind.
Soon we reached Plaza Argentina which was huge. It was like a small village buzzing with activity compared to the camps we’ve been at. Here we were greeted with cookies and other sweets and we settled in. A quick trip to the doctor’s where we were all cleared to proceed and to the park ranger who handed us our waste bags to defecate in until we reached base camp again. We enjoyed the great meal, lamenting that we weren’t spending more than one night at Plaza Argentina.
We sorted out all the equipment we would need for the climb and left the rest to be picked up by mules and moved to the other side of the mountain where it would wait for us when we came down again.
We moved on to camp 1 the next day after yet another great meal at the Plaza Argentina. With our heavy bags (because we were not load-carrying but instead moving straight up to the next camp) we set off. The entire way to camp 1 was extremely hard compared to earlier treks. The terrain was steep and mostly scree and combined with our heavy bags, which I estimated to be around 17 kg, we struggled up in increasing winds. The last part was so steep that we had to do switchbacks on the scree and I almost got swept away by a huge rock that got displaced!
Camp 1 was a welcome sight and luckily the tents were set up already by another Adventure Peaks group which we joined. They were about 5 days ahead of the previous group and had been load carrying up to Camp 3, or Guanacos as it is also called, and would move up the next day with us. We gathered some water and then ate and slept. The weather at Camp 1 was probably some of the worst on the trip. Extremely windy and even with snowfall made it not very pleasant to stay there.
After eating some of the food we had brought up, we set off for Guanacos. The first half was a bit of a struggle with scree and steep slopes. The wind, in particular, was extremely tough to fight against. But we reached a small plateau which opened up and the wind became more manageable. Even though it felt like ages to trek up to Guanacos, in reality, it took about 4 hours. That wasn’t one of the longer days but the altitude started to be felt now as we came up well over 5000 meters.
Camp Guanacos was a beautiful camp. Views to the summit, a large ice field leading down to the campsite and a magnificient view of the Andes made it my favorite camp on the entire Aconcagua climb. At Guanacos, we had to decide to spend our only spare day to rest at Guanacos or push on immediately to the next camp and attempt summit. We consulted with the forecast which showed no winds and no clouds if we didn’t rest, no winds but clouds in the afternoon if we did rest. The three of us who went all the way without rest days were a bit tired so we decided to rest for a day to ensure that we were fully rested for summit and the other Adventure Peaks group decided the same.
The rest day was spent catching up on sleep. Not that I was lacking sleep, I slept probably 10 hours a day but sleeping with the sun baking and feeling fully warm was too nice an opportunity to let pass. I did have to move outside the tent at some point and got a chance to enjoy the view a bit more and talk with the others in the group. We also got some practice with walking with crampons and using our ice axe for self-arrest. After a relaxing day, we tucked in and prepared ourselves for a long 48 hours where we would go to Camp Colera and then attempt summit.
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