Acon-Part II, Valley and Base Camp
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025-horcones.jpg (189785 bytes)01/09/04
Right from the Ranger Station at the foot of the Horcones Valley we had great views of the South Face of Aconcagua looming way in the distance. It was a beautiful day and it was nice being one step closer to the summit. Trails and roads wove towards the peak with a gentle rise in elevation, there were tall peaks all around and lush green hillsides. We eventually climbed out of the green and hit the dusty trails that followed the muddy river. This day we had to hike about 4 miles to Confluencia Camp at031-confluencia.jpg (198566 bytes) ~11,500ft. It wasn't long before we popped around a corner and saw the sea of tents below. Just had to find tent spots and chill for the rest of the day. First night on the mountain, three of us shared a Mountain Hardware Trango-4 and it was great. A huge tent that was easy to setup and as big as a palace. It was hard to believe that our first summit day was still 9 days away!

We soon found out that the breakfasts supplied by the outfitter on the mountain wouldn't be more than toast, cereal and cookies. Better then cooking our own every morning though! As we were packing up to head to 033-confluencia.jpg (198015 bytes) Base Camp the mules worked their way into camp and it was amazing how much these guys strapped to them. They were about $100 each and could carry up to 70kgs.....worth every single penny too. Our hike continued across the river and further up the Horcones Valley. After a short036-pierda grande.jpg (153234 bytes) uphill the valley widened to easily one mile across, it was awesome. There were high peaks all around again and Aconcagua slowly disappeared as we worked our way north then west towards the backside. Piedra Grande came up soon, it's a freakin huge boulder dropped in the middle of the valley out of nowhere. It was getting obvious that we would have a much longer day today slowly gaining elevation and negotiating several streams. Without finding just the right spot or taking a good leap, you were doomed to get a wet foot. Mules came flying by every couple hours piled high with stuff for Base Camp, occasionally you would see a stray mule rolling around in the dirt regardless of the duffels on its back. The last couple miles were the steepest and seemed to be the headwall of a disappearing glacier. Knowing we were close we motored on 041-base camp.jpg (172405 bytes) talking smack and trying to get used to the 14K air. We've all been on top of several of Colorado's 14ers, but this would be different living on top of and above 14K for several days. Before long Base Camp042-base camp.jpg (189792 bytes) appeared, the best way to sum it up is that it's a bustling international metropolis of climbers. Tents of every shape, size, and color were there! We headed up "main street" after checking in with the ranger to find Aymara and where we should camp, it was nice to be here after 6.5hrs of hiking.
While at Base Camp Aymara was supplying up meals, that was quite interesting. They ranged from mule meat and potatoes to lasagna with corn and ham in it. Gotta eat though.

Scheduled rest day at Base Camp. Despite it being warm and sunny, it was in our best interest to stay covered in clothes or sunscreen. The nights were filled with stars including Orion (upside down), the Magellanic cloud, 043-base camp.jpg (192122 bytes) and the Southern Cross. Huge temperature change too once the sun ducked behind the valley walls. We had a great view of the glaciated Cerro Cuerno behind us, saddled to our route up to the high camps and the west side of Aconcagua. Beautiful alpenglow each night. The sun058-base camp.jpg (206570 bytes) wouldn't hit the tents till about 9:15am so no one started moving until then and the sun wouldn't set until 9pm or so. Took this day as a chance to walk the mile over to the Refugio to check it out and stroll around Base Camp. The only other thing we had to do was keep drinking tons of liquids, eating tons of fat and carbs, and packing for the next day.

049-carry to nido.jpg (152715 bytes) Today we were going to carry and cache up to Nido de Condores at 18,300ft. Our caches consisted of crampons, ice axes, extra food, clothes, and fuel. Not too heavy of a load and great acclimatization. The first obstacle was working through a field of penitentes, basically upside052-carry to nido.jpg (194228 bytes) down icicles taller then each of us! After that it was just switch-backing up and up on the dry trail. Some of us were making great time and feeling great the higher we got. Once up above 18K it was a bit chillier but we just hung out up high waiting for the others. Bob and I 056-carry to nido.jpg (148780 bytes) dropped down about 400 vertical feet at one point to help carry up the packs of some folks, good mountain karma we were hoping! It took about 4hrs to tackle the 4000ft and less than an hour to get down.

Another scheduled rest day consisting of lounging, laughing, and packing for a move to a higher camp the057-base camp.jpg (136533 bytes) following day. As luck would have it the clouds that would typically roll in each afternoon came earlier and decided to start dropping snow that evening! I was so anxious to get moving up the mountain and this had to happen. My first lesson in patience and just roll with what happens! To help pass time in the tent we hung up a picture of bacon, eggs, and hash browns to drool over. On to the High Camps.......


132-nido.jpg (170045 bytes) The day after summitting. From Nido we had to somehow pack all of our stuff into one backpack and get it down 4,000 vertical feet to Base Camp. This is when I was really thankful for packing light! Our packs looked like something out of "The Beverly Hillbillies", but had to be done. Alex and Bob bought wine at the Refugio for dinner, but wine doesn't go too well with a sunburnt tongue! Man, that sucked. There are a few tents that sold $3 beers, a few of us went to one but actually had 3 different types of beer cause they run out quickly and have to bum beers from the other tents! Leaving we all forgot our headlamps and stumbled back towards our tents and a simultaneous pee after we found them.
131-nido.jpg (136062 bytes) For the past few afternoons and nights a huge lenticular cloud and "viento blanco" (stands for white wind) would form over the summit. They are really spectacular to look at, but is a good indication of adverse weather up at the summit.

137-horcones.jpg (154420 bytes) After night 12 in a tent we packed up and gave the mules our duffels and had ~14 miles separating the mountain and our ticket to beers, showers, and a real bed. We had to check out with the Base Camp Ranger and according to his list, not many people had been on the summit recently. The hike out was easy going and nice to see the Horcones Valley heading the other direction. I sure was glad we were heading this way and not towards Base Camp! Somewhere below 14K ft your own stink and body odor defrosts and smacks ya right in the face. After 6 hrs we were back at the Ranger Station with Aymara's van on the way to take us out to Puente del Inca. What a great feeling and accomplishment........

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026-horcones.jpg (198203 bytes) Sides of Horcones Valley; Hiking up Horcones Valley, Aconcagua in background 027-horcones.jpg (205545 bytes)

029-horcones.jpg (178944 bytes) Bob eyeing up the surrounding peaks; mules at Confluencia 032-confluencia.jpg (225034 bytes)

035-horcones.jpg (178524 bytes) One of the many stream crossings; Mule coming up the valley 034-horcones.jpg (180442 bytes)

039-horcones.jpg (208139 bytes) Looking back down the valley; One of many many many breaks 040-horcones.jpg (206565 bytes)

045-base camp.jpg (164356 bytes) Cerro Cuerno; 046-base camp.jpg (130547 bytes) West face through Penitentes; View from the tent 047-base camp.jpg (126969 bytes)

054-carry to nido.jpg (221256 bytes) Chillin' at Nido after a carry; Caching stuff at Nido 055-carry to nido.jpg (202437 bytes)

059-base camp.jpg (174672 bytes) Great views all around from Base Camp; Sunrise at Base Camp 060-base camp.jpg (173822 bytes)

139-horcones.jpg (208303 bytes) Roger about halfway through the hike back to Puente del Inca; Me 138-horcones.jpg (177266 bytes)

141-Horcones.jpg (194613 bytes) The last views of the Horcones Valley before civilization once again 142-Horcones.jpg (204345 bytes)

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