Tuesday, December 27

Mt. Aconcagua Climb Expedition 2011

climb permit
I really do not know how to start my post about the expedition. Of the 15 days that we are up in the mountain including the day we travel from Mendoza to Penitentes, there are so many things that run in my mind,  so many topics that I am thinking of writing about: the trek, the food, different campsites, the challenges encountered along the way, the little successes and difficulties each day. I was thinking how I will narrate it in such a way that I will vividly remember  the experience when I will be reading  it someday or may be my friends who will read it will at least have a clear picture of what I went through.
my dear diary
But now that I am back in the fast-paced streets  of  Manila,  I cannot even think of  a best way to describe what I went through up in the mountain. I thank God I brought with me a notebook and a pen and pencil  (up in the high camps my pen did not work anymore) which I religiously update as the day goes by, so I thought of following what I write each day of it. (Warning: This is going to be long,  really long.)

d only group pic at Plaza Argentina, tnx Lito
Climb Members
Group of  six members,  four climbers & two guides, 3 Filipinos & 3 Argentineans, five male, one female

Lito Sanchez- our lead guide from Aconcagua Trek, he has been to the summit of Aconcagua 56 times and has done many major climbs not just within Argentina but to other climbing destinations of the world. All About Lito
Cesar Quiroz - our energetic second guide who takes time to heat water and cook food for us on the higher camps and patiently sweep me on long  treks. He has been to the summit of Aconcagua 16 times and still counting. Passionate Cesar
Tito Morero - is a local from Sta. Fe who has climb Aconcagua before but only made it to Camp 2 and forced to go down due to high alti sickness. Determined Tito
Ramon Dysangco is from the Philippines Funny Ramon
Zenon Villongco is from the Philippines as well My Partner in Crime Zenon
and Me - Cheryl Bihag (the only female)
Route: False Polish Traverse 
Exclusive Dates: December 2 to 16, 2011
Outfitter: Aconcagua Trek

on the way to Penitentes
Dec. 2  Day 1 Travel from Mendoza (800M) to Penitentes (2,400M)
Left Hotel Balbi in Mendoza 10:00am. This is going to be a 3 hour mini bus ride to Penitentes. As we leave the city, we slowly see the beauty of the outskirts of the town, less establishments, there are still houses, more vineyards, less trees. Until both sides of the highway is just the vast scenery of the Plata mountain range and the famous Topungato, the mountain volcano. Mendoza has a good road system that leads to Chile. After two hours we stop by the gasoline station that is also the last place that has trees. I am amazed looking the beautiful tall mountains around. Our guide Lito said mountains on this area has an  elevation of around 3,000M and more, not even the highest in our place. Arrive at Los Puquitos office 1:00PM and finally meet Emmanuel.

At Los Puquitos, the place of Emmanuel
We leave all our gears that will be carried by the mules and  those that we will leave in the office, then head back to Ayelen Hotel to eat lunch and check in.  Penitentes is a ski place in Mendoza and Ayelen is a ski hotel. On winter, this place is full of snow and full of skiers. But because it's summer, the entire place is like a ghost town with no activities at all, only alive with few climbers like us who will stop over for the night before the start of the trek. I can only imagine how busy and alive this place will be with all the skiers around on a winter.  But despite it's being summer, this place is cold, not just cold but very cold. Ayelen Hotel is also the very last place that we have a  hot shower  prior to the 15 day expedition. Our lunch is an adventure in itself, greeted by beautiful Janina, with the menu card at her hand, we are not sure what food to order. We  cannot remember  if our food will be paid by the outfitter, so we ordered the less expensive one. I am happy with the entree of green salad,  but the ravioli that the 3 of us ordered is not so good. I did not even finish what I got.

Yummy Steak with Malbic Wine
After lunch , we settled on our rooms then proceed back to Los Puquitos to fix our things for the mules. It needs to be weighed  and securely packed, mine weighs 21kilos. At around 7:30pm, as every gear, food and all those needed for the climb has been tagged and ready for the mule ride,  we go back to the hotel and eat dinner. Now that we confirmed with Lito that everything that we will eat from then on will be shouldered by the outfitter,  the 3 of us look forward for dinner, beef with malbic wine. And true enough, it was really a great dinner with super delicious beef.  This day also starts a daily interview of our physical condition and recorded by our dear lead guide Lito. Mine: 97 oxygen saturation, 82 heart rate
Pictures:  Penitentes

At Vacas Valley
Dec. 3  Day 2 Trek from Vacas Valley (2,400M) to Pampa de Lenas (2,850M) Camp Site
Bringing my approach pack containing an outer shell jacket, 2 liters of water in my hydration bladder for the entire day, packed lunch from the hotel (milanesa bun with tomato and apple)  first aid kit, sunscreen lotion and lip balm,  my documents like passport and money, with my two trekking pole, we left Ayelen Hotel 10:15am. We check in at the entrance of Vacas Valley Park Ranger Station, our permit is checked one by one, given back to us together with a plastic where we should keep all our trash for the entire climb and supposedly surrender it at the end of trek. Start our trek 10:40am  along the Vacas Valley following the Vacas River. It's an easy trek but it's sunny, windy and dusty. We are surrounded by tall barren mountains, with minimal plants around, there are  few trees beside the river at the first few kilometers of the trek. 
Our Lunch
We stop at around 12:15 noon beside a flowing stream from the melted snow above the mountain slope to eat our lunch. The group from Australia is also resting on the same place, they just finish eating. After lunch we resume our trek, the first batch of mules pass by us some of them are bringing our gears. We have one last rest stop and eat trail food before arriving the camp site, Pampa de Lenas at around 3:30pm. The campsite is dusty and windy but beautifully surrounded by mountains.  Upon arrival of our gear, we have to pitch our tent.  With Ramon as my tent mate, Cesar and Lito show us how to pitch the tent especially when the wind gets strong and gusty and how to peg the guy lines. It is here I know how to pitch a four season tent without any peg, just gather and use any rock big enough that I can carry and tie the guy line...hhmmm, probably this is how it is in the big mountains. After setting up our tent, I get my big duffel carried by  the mule, it's a carry your own thing here and I cannot forget how Heidi helped me when I pass by her tent carrying my big bag. She thought  my bag is even much bigger than I am. So kind of her, she is a lady from New York State who is the only female from the Aymara team. I begin to like her for she become close to our team.  There are already few climbers around, several tents are already pitched. I get excited, with tent pitched I settled inside our tent, arranging whatever gear I will be needing for the night.
Our dinner is with the Areros (Muleteers) and I can say it's the BEST. It's asado....a mix of grilled beef (the best), chicken, chorizo (with black chorizo), green salad, bread, soda and red wine. It's an eat til you drop thing. Sitting on a file of rocks, we are gathered on a side of the wall of the small hut, around the live charcoal with all the meat being cooked by  the areros. They are many, more than ten of them with us and other climb guides. As soon as the meat is cooked, sliced and we will just get as many as we can. I eat with so much gusto until I just can't take anymore, as much as I wanted to eat more, I am so full already. I just watch all of them with so much amazement and awe. I am glad I am given the chance to be with them, to mingle with them this close. After more than an hour,  I decided to rest on my tent, it's getting cold and getting late. Sleep 9:30pm without using our sleeping bags, we feel it's warm enough not to use one.
Facts of the day:
5 hour trek in a distance of 12 Kilometer
2 liters load of trail water
91 oxygen saturation, 95 heart rate

Dec. 4  Day 3 Trek To Casa De Piedra (3,200M)
crossing the bridge
Wake up 4:30am, need to go to the latrine, it's a few meters walk from where our tent is being pitched and went back to sleep. It's cold outside but bearable. By 6:00am I finally decided to wake up and start fixing my things. Before 8:00am we are called for breakfast, option of hot tea, coffee or instant soup, biscuits and cake. I thought of the chicken last night, had I know that our breakfast will be this light I should have get one slice of chicken for breakfast. After breaking our camp, I just wait for the signal to start the trek, we finally leave 9:25am. It's a trek along the Vacas Valley again, beside the river, just a continuation of what we did yesterday. Along the way, we see 5 guanacos, an animal native to the arid mountains of South America. They are up far in the inclined slopes of the mountain away from the people. Today is more windy  than yesterday still sunny and dusty. The trail is more rocky.  We stop thrice, when we eat snacks, then lunch along the side of the dry river bed under the heat of the sun.
our lunch from day 2 onwards
Our lunch: cheese, tomato, salami, ham, can of sardines and tuna, mayonesa, biscuits and olives.  Our last stop is on the approach to Casa de Piedra campsite, when we see for the first time the view of Aconcagua. It's cloudy when we arrive though but we still watch her beauty from afar. It excites me seeing the huge fang from afar. Casa de Piedra  is a windy and cold campsite,  the latrine is located on the upper part away from the campsite. On our light snacks after pitching our tent I asked Lito when will they serve rice to us. As early as second day of the climb I already think of eating rice, since I arrive Argentina 6 days ago, I haven't eaten any yet. So Cesar cook for us, it's his first time to cook one. Having an MSR stove with only on and off control, that makes cooking rice a challenging one but he managed to cook it, not so good but good enough.
Casa de Piedra (Stone House)
Dinner is pasta with chicken as sauce, so it's a good viand for the rice that they cook for us. I enjoy every grain of it. That makes me so happy. After dinner we rest on our tents for the night, I have my  hot water on my nalgene bottle, one thing that I insist from Lito of having every night. He was hesitant of giving one at first but after I explained to him why I needed it every night, he give me one every single night since then. And this night also starts of my adventure on being able to pee  on my pee bottle at the middle of the night.  I wake up twice, I need to pee. And since it's dark and freezing cold outside and the latrine is an uphill walk, I decided to use the vestibule of our tent that served as our luggage storage area.  Getting the right comfortable position is difficult but I have to.  At first I feel shy doing it while I know my tent mate Ramon hears it. It feels weird hearing my pee or his pee going to the bottle, hearing the bottle almost full, but I got used to it as we continue with the expedition.
Facts for the day:
Drink 3 liters of water
17 kilometer trek in 6 hours
88 oxygen saturation, 111 heart rate

Dec. 5  Day 4 To Plaza Argentina (4,200M)
River Crossing
Wake up 5:00am, needs to pee then fix my things that will go to Plaza Argentina that will be carried by the mule. Breakfast by 6:30am, rice is served again, but since there is no viand, I made an instant soup and mix my rice with it, there it goes just like arroz caldo. Start the trek 7:30am with riding the mule as we cross the freezing cold small river. It's not even a knee deep and not so wide river but having to cross it by foot on a freezing cold temperature at this time of  the day is not a very good idea. I thank Carlitos, our arero, he patiently bring each one  of us to the other side to the river. Each of us give him a tip of 10.00AR. It's freezing cold on this campsite, the water that flows from the water source becomes ice, the dew on the tent had frozen. After crossing the river, it's a long uphill trek for us. We now leave the Vacas River and start the ascend to Relinchos Valley, this also starts the challenge of a steep ascend. But I am happy I cope up with the pace of the guys.
Relinchos Valley
The towering figure of Mt Aconcagua is right in front of us now as we go on with our trek. We rest for lunch, the food, same as the other day's lunch,  then take a rest, enjoying the beautiful view and the heat of the sun. As we start the ascend again, I already join with Ramon and Cesar, I myself already feel the thinning air as we move higher. The group reach  Plaza Argentina around 2:20pm, I am  really tired and hungry.  I just hope my body will adopt to the altitude as we stay longer on this camp. Plaza Argentina  is the base camp for all those taking the traverse route and this will be our home for the next 3 days. It's a huge campsite full of tents  from several outfitters. The place is beautiful surrounded  with  tall mountain ranges including Mt. Aconcagua. I thank God that I reach this far and see this beautiful place.
on the approach to Plaza Argentina
Aconcagua Trek used the place of Daniel Lopez and his place becomes our home for the next three days. He has his own mess hall with  the luxury of phone for 4.00USD per minute,  internet for 10.00USD per 15 minutes  and a hot shower for 25.00USD. We only use the internet to update our loved ones. The welcome hot tea and biscuits served by Valerie is refreshing. The guys with the help of Turco pitch our tent, so when I go out from the mess hall after eating,  I am glad our tent is already  pitched and standing and my duffel is already beside our tent. As we rest on our tents, the snow starts to fall at first slow until it covers the entire place into white. What used to be rocks when we arrive is now all covered with snow. So now it becomes a challenge to even go to the latrine.
Facts for the day:
Drink 5 liters of water
6 hours and 25 minute trek on a distance of 14 kilometer
85 Oxygen Saturation, 118 heart rate

Dec. 6 Day 5 Rest at Plaza Argentina
Base Camp
It's rest and relax day for us today, wake up a bit late feeling great but has to deal with  the cold temperature even on going to the toilet, there is still snow. Breakfast is served at around 9:00am, it's crepe with not so cooked rice. I am really grateful and thankful that Valerie take time to cook rice for me, but eating it alone is also a challenge. I really wish I brought my supply of pork and beans and  sachet of corned beef, it could have been a good partner to the rice that Val prepared. Just before lunch, we need to visit the Camp Doctor, this is a practice and protocol on this mountain, each climber should go through and pass the medical check up before all can be cleared to ascend on the higher camps. With Lito and Cesar assisting us while being examined by the doctor, Tito go first followed by Ramon. Both of them are asked to take a walk few meters from the clinic and then proceed back before finally cleared and can leave.
time for medical check up
My turn, check my blood pressure, lungs, oxygen saturation and heart rate, all fine. She also asked me to walk the same direction as the two. When I returned Zenon is just resting. I asked, going for a walk? he replied not because bp is high. The Doctor cleared me but not Zean. He needs to take a medication and visit her again. As we get back to our camp it started to snow again, and the wind pick up, now its getting cold again. As we wait for our lunch we answer a Spanish written questionnaire which Cesar patiently interpret for us in English, crazy questions, just what he said. Lunch is great, soup still with not so cooked rice, lasagna and dessert. I am advised to take 5 liters of fluid again.  It is also today that a climber from South Africa who descend from higher camp is evacuated by chopper. Scary.
Drink 5 liters of fluid
130/80 BP
86 oxygen saturation, 120 heart rate

Dec 7 Day 6 First Carry to Camp 1 (4,960MASL)
Beautiful penitentes
Wake up 6:00 am, 8:00 am breakfast and 9:00am start our trek to carry food supply to Camp 1. This day starts the using of my 7 pound Scarpa Inverno  double plastic boots, a super good luck to me.  Doing the carry is part of our acclimatization process and practice the timing of our breathing and to be familiar of using the double plastic boots (in my case). Even  having only food supply and water in my pack, it weighs more than 10 kilos already.  Above Plaza Argentina is an uphill scree and since it snowed the past days, some parts of the trail is not so loose though there are some areas that I just can't help but use my two hands  to make sure that I won't fall on the ravine.  With double plastic boots on, I just really cannot get a sure footholds. As we go higher the trail becomes more secure still an open scree but not steep.
Me infront of Zea using two  hands going up on this terrain
 On the rocky part it makes more challenging for me having my double plastic boots on. As we go higher, some penitentes are now visible on the side. On the rest stop, as I look where we come from, it's a mountain range all covered with snow....the penitentes are beautiful. With tearful eyes I watched this beautiful place,   I just thank God He allowed me to reach this far and make me see the beauty of nature, it's really beautiful. But we are far to our destination yet. After the scree is a long uphill slope all covered with snow. Surprisingly, as we enter the area all covered with snow, I just love the sound  as Cesar chop the snow with his plastic boots.  As we go higher I am beginning to love the sound of our boots. When  the wind stop blowing it gets so hot in the snow part but once the wind starts blowing again, it gets really very cold. It's  still a long trek up and I know I get slower in my pace. When we reach the flat part I am already tired, the guys already went ahead of me. I just push myself up until we finally reach the campsite where we are going to leave the food that we carry for the day. After I pull out my load from my pack, I just sit on the ground, while bringing out my food and water. I really have to force myself to eat, I need whatever energy that I will regain for I will still go down that  same slope. After Cesar and Lito fixed the food that we leave by  hiding it on rocks, we leave.
Finally reach Camp 1, me just sitting on the ground
Going down without a load is much easier but  with my double plastic boots on, on an 85 degree slope of scree is really scary, promise,  finding my balance on this loose soil and rocks is just a real challenge, I get scared. Then after the scree is a snow of the same slope. I am left on the last of the group with Lito while the rest run like lightning. They are far ahead of me. I can't go any faster, I just have to deal with my boots. I arrive last at Plaza Argentina feeling tired and having headache. I want to hydrate but I was just too tired. I went to my tent and take a nap for a while until I hear Lito calling my name, I need to hydrate.  Today is really a long and tiring day for me. As I always said to myself from the very first day of this expedition, I will take things one day at a time. But thinking of what we've been through today, I really do not know how to carry my full pack the following day. Having to go through that slope again made me think. I thank God tomorrow is the team's rest day, I will have the time to rest and recover, and I just hope my body will recover and adjust to the altitude in the coming days.
Facts for the day:
7 hour carry and back to PA
76 -OS, 105 HR
Picture: Carry To Camp 1

Dec 8 - Day 7 Practice Day at Plaza Argentina
my daily routine
Wake up 7:00am feeling great. It's Immaculate Conception,  I started the day praying the rosary and thanking  God for another good sleep despite the freezing temperature even inside the tent and another good sunny day ahead. I already get used to the hassle of waking up in the middle of the night and having to pee in the vestibule of our tent using my pee bottle and emptying it on the morning.  And today, is the start of my monthly period as well, a very good luck to me while on this big expedition. All the more things becomes really challenging and complicated.  Today is also our last rest  day in Plaza Argentina. It snowed again but not as thick as the first day we arrive here.We need to decide and segregate which of our gears we will bring to the high camps and which we are going to leave and be carried by the mules back the Penitentes. And today is also our practice day of using crampons and ice axe on the snow. Just before lunch, Cesar called us.
We need to put on our double plastic boots, carry our crampons and ice axe, he lead us to the trail going to the area before reaching the campsite but all the snow has melted, we transferred to the other slope of the valley on the spot that has penitentes, big enough for us to practice on. I am really glad there is practice session, having to use this technical gear is really complicated. Two hours after, it's time for lunch, I am already hungry. I love the beef, yummy lunch, happy. After lunch, Tito discuss to us about the team hiring a personal porter. Lito personally suggests of getting one for the entire team, but before I leave for this expedition, getting a personal porter to carry our things was not an option.
If the four of us will avail, having 5 kilos each to be carried, we will only pay 187.50AR each. Mondy and Zean don't want to, it's too much for them. So that leave  for me and Tito to avail of the porter, that will cost me 372.00AR. Shoot, it's too much but as I think of it I have almost 3,000.00AR left just for this climb. I can use it. My thoughts, I am here for the climb, every single penny that I bring on this climb is really a hard earned money, but if getting a porter will at least ease what ever difficulty that I will encounter going to the higher camps, I will do it. At least what ever happens I can say I tried and did all the possibilities that will bring success to this climb.
Facts for the day:
drink 5 liters of water
90-OS, 100-HR
Picture: Practice Day

Dec 9 Day 8 Move to Camp 1 (4,960MASL)
with Daniel Lopez
We said our goodbye to Valerie and Daniel for  accommodating us in Plaza Argentina. All of them had been very kind and helpful. We will now move to Camp 1. We've done this two days ago, the only difference now  is I am carrying a 16 kilo pack despite the 5 kilo load that has to be carried by Turko (our porter). Carrying such load on my back on such kind of terrain is not a  joke at all.....it is difficult. I just really thank my teammates who patiently follow my pace. I am slow, really slow. But they said it's okey. So many things run through my mind while trekking. I just hope I'd be able to carry on until the last steep slope of this trail until the flat area despite my load. The campsite is so near yet it's so far. I have difficulty with my boots. I just really take it so slow. What make things more complicated I have my monthly period as expected.
amazingly strong
Upon our arrival in the campsite Lito prepared our usual lunch on our supposedly campsite. We are not done with our lunch yet when it starts to snow and not just that, the wind starts blowing as well. With the snow starting to fall and windy without our tent being pitched yet, it  is really cold, our things that are just on the rocks are now slowly covered with snow. Thanks to the help of Cesar and Lito, they help us pitch the tent fast and I throw our things inside. After that rush, feeling cold Zean and myself settle inside our tent. I need to change, and not just change some layers of clothes but also my sanitary napkin and doing that on the vestibule of the tent with so many layers on is also a challenge. It is beginning today I have to say goodbye to my tent mate for 7 nights Ramon and welcome Zean. Tito requests to change tent mate, it's either I will transfer to the tent of Tito or Ramon, we decided it will be Ramon, I will be with Zean. How is that? Because Tito cannot sleep with Zean's snore.
Facts for the day:
4 hours and 30 minutes of trek
16 kilos of load
Pictures: Move to Camp 1

Dec 10 - Day 9 It's Bizzy's Bday, Carry to Camp 2 (Guanacos - 5,415M) 
a long way to go
As I said climbing this mountain is not really for a faint of heart. I wake up cold, I need to pee, I need to change sanitary napkin and I need to poo (kaka). I cannot pee anymore on my bottle, it's more than 3/4's full already from my several times of waking up on the freezing night. I need to do the three  in just one time. The trip to the uphill rock where the designated toilet while it's freezing cold with the wind blowing is not a good thing to do on this early part of the day. But I have no choice but to go, upon reaching the spot, I need to think of a strategy. Sit on the small flat rock, open the plastic bag for the poo, prepare my sanitary napkin and the tissue and wet ones. With the wind blowing while my butt is exposed is a not so good thing as well, it's just really cold. Doing all this thing at this time take me a while to finish. I just enjoy the view despite my condition, that's the best that I can do. Then upon return to my tent, all the while I thought we will rest but not, we will carry things to camp 2, the usual thing, our food supply.
freezingly cold
Today is just really very cold and windy, I already put on my outer shell and gloves but it's still very cold. I trek right next to Lito, but I am really having difficulty going faster, I can feel the air less of oxygen now, I am dragging the entire team. Until Lito decided to stop and carry some of my load. We need to go faster for all of the other climbers in front of us are already up and we are already far behind. I feel this carry is forever, the trek just to reach the rock on the end of the slope is just taking so long. Upon reaching the rock, the wind blow so hard, that we cannot even open our packs, the right gloves of Zean and Ramon both  are blown away because of strong wind.  Few minutes after we decided to go. The trail up is already rolling but long until it goes up again....it's a  never ending going up. At the back of my mind I thought, what's so ironic about this is that back home with this kind of load I can always trek fast, on the lead, right next to the guide or even the first on the trail with so much ease and speed.
But here, I just cannot make it. I cannot trek the uphill trail fast. It's frustrating but I just have to be patient with myself as well. Until we reach the last bend of the mountain and see tents, finally we reach the campsite. It's 2:00pm. We reach the campsite in 4 hours and 30 minutes, the towering summit of Aconcagua is just right above us. It's very cold, it's full of snow anywhere. We have to unload our packs and leave the food and even our ice axe and crampons. Then eat  trail food. I need to replenish energy again, we will be going back where we come from. And as usual, all the guys are ahead, I just follow behind them. Until the last slope where the campsite is already visible Zean and and Mondy wait for me.
Facts for the day:
84 - OS, 105 - HR
Pictures: Carry to Camp 2

Dec 11, Day 10 Move to Camp 2 (Guanacos - 5,415M) 
windy and cloudy
The team decided to move up to Camp 2 today. I do not know if I will be happy or not. Thinking what I went through yesterday is already a big ordeal. But as I said, I will take things one day at a time. I decided to take a 10 kilo porter service compare to 5 kilos that I had on our move to Camp 1. I know it will be a great help having to carry a lesser load on that same terrain. But despite my lesser load I am still slow especially on the first part of the uphill slope. I just take it one slow step at a time. The rest stops are of great help, it gives me the chance to recover a bit. It's a never ending turn on the mountain, I just wish I will reach that last turn and see the tents. I am really slow. But truly I am feeling better, I did not feel any headache though I am really tired.
my dinner....can't understand the taste
On Food: Having to eat a food that I do not understand at high altitude is really a challenge. I am not complaining, Lito and especially Cesar really tried their best to give us the best that they can. The altitude is just really hitting me. I just have to swallow whatever is there, I need the food to give me energy on the coming days. Food Expedition
On Camp 2 (Guanacos): Camp 2 is beautiful, the peak of Aconcagua is just looking down at us. But as close as it seems, we still have 1 campsite to go before the summit push. The campsite is full of snow that we need to shovel and dig, clear the area from deep snow before pitching the tent. And having to do that on high altitude on an extreme cold temperature is a real challenge.
Thanks to the help of Lito and Cesar, they efficiently help us shovel the snow and set up our home for the next two days. This place is really cold, super cold. I don't even enjoy the place for it is extremely cold. I just hope that every thing will turn out fine on the coming days. Mondy is not feeling too well today, his oxygen saturation drops to 57 which is really very low. He decided to take diamox.
at Camp 2 as the sun sets...beautiful
My thoughts while on this camp: I salute so much PS Sim (my Singaporean friend) and other female who did this  mountain in the past. Doing this is not an easy ordeal. I said the same line when I did Kilimanjaro summit before and I still hold that same thoughts in my heart and in my mind. Aconcagua is a different ordeal as well. It's a very very physical demanding  thing while dealing with the extreme altitude, the intense cold and the gusty wind. On this batch of climbers that comes from the traverse route, majority of them are big strong men, including our men in the group. We are only three female, one from New Zealand, Heidi from New York State and me, the smallest among the 3.
Facts for the day:
537.50AR - porter fee
81-OS, 97- HR
Pictures: Move to Camp 2

Dec 12, Day 11 - It's my sister's birthday, Rest Day at Camp 2
breakfast at camp 2 
I am out of communication now, I am at high camp of Aconcagua, Camp 2 to be exact. This place is extremely cold. The wind is blowing the entire night. I can imagine if we are not inside the tent probably it has already blown far away on the mountain slopes. And it's cold, -11 degrees inside the tent. I wish the wind will stop blowing and the vestibule of our tent will not be to noisy. But I just have to deal with it, that's what Lito told me the following day.  We have our usual breakfast at around 10:00am, tea, biscuits, dulce de leche, nuts. All I can wish while having breakfast on the campsite full of snow is BEEF TAPA. How come this beef producing country  doesn't have beef tapa especially on long expeditions like this. After breakfast, we had a short pictorial around. The view of Mercidario and Amihigos with the Andes Mountain range is just beautiful. The group agreed to go on acclimatization walk after lunch.
Acclimatization day
But when Lito went out of his tent  bringing his trekking pole and said he will take a short walk, I said I will follow him. Mondy did the same and Zean until Tito follow us as well. Now the 5 of us on the higher slopes of camp 2 on the way to Camp 3, Colera. It's all an uphill trek so as usual I am catching up with the guys again. What we thought will just be a short walk becomes a 173 meters elevation gain. On our way down we are already hungry. I wonder what could be for lunch and it turn out it's the same food: salami, ham, biscuits, nuts, tea and instant soup. Now I am imagining beef tapa again. And the rest of the afternoon becomes our rest day. But my thermoflasc spilled on my tent and my precious thick socks are wet. I wonder how I will dry this now on the high altitude, the sun is bright and sunny but cold. The team is about to have dinner, if I am hoping for beef tapa on breakfast and lunch, now I am hoping I brought dried fish, instant noodles, sardines. These are simple food that we brought up in the mountain on a simple climb back home. After 11 days of eating the food that is being prepared, I just can't help but crave those familiar food. Just a wish. I only brought two packs of pork and beans which I thought of reserving it for the summit day. My packs of corned beef are left in Los Puquitos. Now how I wish I brought beef or squid jerky.

move to camp 3
Dec 13 - Day 12, Move to Camp 3 Colera 
The group move to high camp 3, Colera. I  decided to get a share of 10 kilo porterage today, just to lessen my load going up. But because I still have to carry  my share of the group food load aside from what is left on my personal things,  my pack seemed light but really heavy when on the high altitude. I am really catching up with the group again going up. Though Lito doesn't want me to put on the last of the group,  towards the last stretch of the uphill slope I was left behind. I am really too slow that all of them  are already going ahead of me while Cesar  is left sweeping me. Lito signaled that we are already at the campsite, what a relief seeing the tents of the other climbers. Colera campsite is almost 6,000M now, it's cold, its windy and high above the slopes  of the Andes Mountain range. The group will bid for the summit tomorrow, but  with the wasted condition of my body from the move today I just really do not know how I will be able to cope with the physical ordeal of the climb. I am still weak from today's move. The 3 of us now wish to have other food aside from what we have been eating for more than 10 days now. Mondy tried to negotiate for a more substantial food but it turned out the same. This has been a cold campsite, my down sleeping bag is wet again from the condensation of our body heat inside the tent. Before we go for bed, I tried to prepare all those that I need for the early summit assault the following day.

Dec 14 - Day 13, Summit Assault (It's Auntie Arlyn and Rose's Bday)
summit bid
 I was awaken  from the cold temperature inside my tent even before our supposedly wake up call. It's very cold. I just hope the layering that I put on would be enough to keep me warm especially with the gusty wind blowing. The horizon is beautiful but I cannot appreciate its beauty that much. I had to concentrate on myself. It took me a while to go out of my tent. It's just really very  very cold. Lito give us food on the vestibule, the usual morning food and while I am eating at one end of the vestibule of our tent, Zean is doing his morning routine of poo on the other vestibule of the other end of  the tent. Unthinkable but true. After putting on my double plastic boots, I bring out my pack, getting ready when Cesar announce, put on your crampons. Oh my, a super good luck to me. On this cold high altitude condition, I cannot think of ways how to put on my crampons. After few minutes, Cesar come to the rescue of helping me put on my other crampon. And off we start the trek. The Koreans and other climbers started walking already on the upper slope ahead of us. God, without the sun yet with the wind blowing, it's just really freezing cold. Traversing the slope going up on a snow is really a challenge for me. I am trying to get my rhythm of my breathing while consciously making one step forward fighting the freezing temperature and grasping my breath until the horizon brightens up but still the sun is not out, it's still cold.
beautiful but very cold
I come to the point that I get scared that my hands and toes might get frostbite from the cold temperature. I tried to keep moving to fight the freezing cold that I feel on both my thumbs, but it just don't go away. I wish for a short water break but I do understand on this slope it's not possible. Lito repeatedly emphasize I cannot go on with my pace, otherwise I will be dragging the team. I know I drag the team slower as well. I push myself up to the end of the first slope where other climbers are resting including my team. Just before I even finish eating 1 bar of trail mix and making a first zip of water from my thermoflasc, Lito come and talk to me. This is a point where I have to decide,  either to go on but on a faster pace or go down. I  know it's quite impossible for me to go on a faster pace. I negotiated to be put last on the line but Lito will  not allow me, it will all the more drag the team slower and the tendency of the group to be divided into two, which they cannot afford it. Or I cannot go down alone on the event that along the way I will decide to stop, there is a big chance to be lost or a danger of  accident. That I have to consider, I don't have  much time to think on my situation at that moment,  I decided to try, I appreciate Mondy's encouragement to me, he thinks I still can push further. Few seconds after,  we started to resume the trek to the next uphill slope,  seeing Lito, Tito and  Zean already few meters away from us, there and then I decided okey I will go back to Camp 3.
me wasted
Mondy gave me a hug. I know to myself I haven't pushed  myself to the limit yet but with my physical condition and the fact that I will drag my team slower, I decided to turn back, I know deep inside me I wanted to reach the summit but having been able to reach that far on my condition  I think that has been my summit. I tried everything that I can and that's the best that I can give at that moment for that mountain. I thought I still want to tell my tale especially on this adventure to my loved ones and friends who are waiting for my safe return from this expedition.  Going down with Cesar breaks my heart, I have to concentrate on my steps going down, one wrong move will lead me to a fatal situation. But while doing that so many things run in my mind as well, did I made the right decision, what if I push it further, but I am now on my way down. Halfway the trail when the tents are already visible below, I am already left alone while Cesar has to trek back up and catch up with the rest of my team.
Camp colera on summit day
I arrive at Colera campsite with less climbers around, I am so tired and weak. I unload my pack almost near to the opening of the vestibule of my tent, struggling to take off my gaiters, crampons  and double plastic boots while dealing with the cold temperature at the campsite, it's already sunny but the wind is blowing. Leaving all my things scattered outside my tent I crawl inside, it's cold, so I keep the upper part of the vestibule and the tent door halfway open so that the  heat from the bright sun will penetrate inside. I lie down on a fetus position right next to the tent door. Without eating or drinking anything,  to my exhaustion I doze to sleep. After almost 2 hours of sleeping I wake up perspiring, it's so hot despite the wind blowing outside. I realized I haven't been eating anything yet. After that ordeal I need to hydrate and eat in order for my body to recover. But all my water and food are in my pack outside. It's a struggle going out, I am still weak. I have to crawl out of my tent and pull my pack inside. I need to eat. I just sit down inside my tent  while watching and hearing climbers coming from the lower camps every now and then. Most of them are big men with huge packs. Now that I have recovered,  while waiting for my  5 teammates, I cannot help but think again, did I made the right decision. I hope my teammates are all okey. Despite the wind, inside the tent is just really scorching  hot like sauna due to the sunny bright sun.   I keep on watching the climbers who pass by our tent others keep on trekking while others pitch their tents. Until one familiar face is coming, to my surprise it's Zean. My tent mate has come down as well. He reach as far as Plaza Independencia. Just in time when he arrive, I have some cake, biscuits and juice ready, I am still munching some. I offered him the food. He is more wasted that I thought. He just put off his crampons, boots, gaiters, backpack and went straight inside our tent. Despite the scorching heat from the  sun we manage to sleep inside. It's really hot, just like sauna inside  but we do not have other shelter. After more than 3 hours of sleeping, at around 6:00pm I cannot sleep anymore. I've been sleeping the entire day already. I eat again while waiting for our 4 teammates from the summit. We begin to worry about how Mondy will be after more than 12 hours expose on the open without proper food. The summit assault is suppose to be an 11 hour bid, but it's past more than that now and no one from our team has come back  yet to the camp. All the more I get worried when the Koreans are already back and resting on their tents. To ease my worries away when I saw one of them bringing a cook set, now I am imagining kimchi, I've been thinking of going out and ask some from them. At Camp Colera
the blue tent is the koreans' tent
And I wonder, what could they have  for their meal: maki, sushi, sashimi, then Zean joined my imagination of food, he said Korean beef stew. Now we are craving familiar food again, only in our dreams. We cannot even open our stove, one thing that Cesar reminded me on our way down, I can look for food inside their tent but never ever open the stove, it will be dangerous. I know how to operate an MSR stove  back home but with only an on and off control, I will never brave myself to do it. Until it's more than 14 hours has passed, the sun is almost down and our team mates are still not around. In less than an hour it will start to get dark. All the more we become worried hoping that nothing happens to them. Two climbers arrive with backpack opening the tent of our guides. I wonder, could they  be opening a wrong tent? I asked Zean to talk to them, making them aware that we know that the tent that they are opening is from our guides. It turn out they are park rangers helping our team mates up there. They said Ramon meet an accident on his way down from the summit falling 7 meters but he was being rescued and now safely going down. They are just really very slow. All the more we become worried. It is already 8:00 in the evening. The sun is still up but it's already very cold. Few minutes later we already see Tito coming, to my surprise a six footer as Tito in his down jacket a rope is tied on his waist then the other end tied to the wrist of Lito. He is wasted, disoriented and cannot even go straight to his tent. Oh my, there and then I said to myself, deep inside me I thank God I decided to go down, I cannot imagine how worst I will be if I proceed with the climb more than 11 hours ago. Because as tall and as stocky as Tito even reach this physical state. We asked about Ramon. Lito said they are still up there making their descend slow to make sure of their safety. After almost 30 minutes it starting to get dark, Cesar arrive, Mondy is still not behind him. He said Mondy is fine just taking his time to go down slow.
summit as taken by Mondy
Few minutes later we see Mondy coming, God as he approach to his tent he is already blow-ted, wasted, a bit dis-oriented and coughing.  He did make it to the summit but with the price he has to endure now. We are so proud of him making it through that difficult ordeal. He showed us the most surprise of all, the summit picture that all of us has been waiting for. I am so proud of Mondy and Tito for making it to the summit but most of all I am so proud and I salute to Lito and Cesar for doing a great job. Their dedication to their job is incomparable, bringing us up to this mountain safe, setting aside their personal needs and making sure that all our needs will be attended for. They are two fantastic people who love the outdoor so much, and we are lucky to have them as our guides.
Pictures: Summit Day

our way down to Plaza de Mulas
Dec. 15 - Day 14, Going Down to Plaza de Mulas (4,200MASL)
The team will now go down to Plaza de Mulas. I feel more energetic today, having been able to recover from that ordeal yesterday after sleeping for more than 10 hours.  I take a 10 kilo porterage which costs me AR258.75. We leave Camp Colera 11:00am, it was a very long trek going down with almost 20 kilos of load. The first few meters from the camp site is really sketchy, with a slope a combination of boulder, snow and scree with my double plastic boots on, it's just really scary. Thanks to the help of Cesar, on each slope that is really dangerous he guides me where to step. After that it was already a combination of scree and snow, I already get the technique of stepping on a fresh snow so that it wont be slippery. I begin to love the trek going down but of course still with super extra care. One wrong step could be a few meters of fall. It's switch back trail of the mountain. As we move downward the peak of Aconcagua is now behind us. It's a beautiful sunny day but still very cold. As we descend further, the group made 2 stops, and I started to think of food, real one again. Despite the time that Plaza de Mulas is already visible from where we are, it's still more than 2 hour trek down up to the place. The going down seem to go forever, Plaza  De Mulas  seem to be near yet it is still very far. Until we finally cross small portion of penitentes before finally reaching Plaza de Mulas, our very last camp site and last night on the big mountain. We settle on the tent that is owned by Aconcagua Trek. We all made it to the last campsite safe.
We are called for late lunch prepared by Veronica. It's pizza and a choice of either soda or beer. I get the beer and give it to the guys and settle for juice. After many days of same food, the pizza is just really great. We are joined by big group of climbers from US and Europe. Until Veronica bring out sandia/watermelon. I am so surprised and glad they have such kind of food on this high elevation. It's my favorite. With salt, I can finish one whole of it in one sitting. Everyone are surprise seeing me eating watermelon with salt, but I don't care I just eat it with so much gusto. What a great way to end our late lunch.  This place is still cold even if it's already more than a thousand meters lower from our last camp. We have to choose where we will stay for the night, between the bed banks or a tent with 3 mattress which can accommodate the 3 of us. We decided to take the tent though we need to bring out again our gears for sleeping. I hate the feeling of being inside the sleeping bag, the feeling of being so warm inside but so cold on the outside of it but I have to deal with it even on the last night of our stay in the mountain. That is part of the adventure.
Dinner was great, onion salad and a flowing supply of asado and chorizo and ofcourse bread. I just love the juicy asado so much that I get 3 servings of it. Quite concern my cholesterol level might shoot up. Ended the cold night thinking about my gone pee bottle. I should hold my pee for the night for the 'character building latrine' is just quite a long walk from our tent.

Hercones Valley
Dec. 16 - Day 15, to Laguna de Hercones, Last Day of Trek
We have to leave Plaza de Mulas, to the exit of this trail, Laguna de Hercones. We are told the night before that it's going to be an eight hour trek. To my mind I have done a longer trek and run than that in the past, so I guess it wouldn't be a problem. As we are still going to arrange all our things from our pack to the plast0ic sack, I am set to wake up early, which I did 6:00am, arrange my things inside the tent which I used for the night to keep me warm until around 7:00am I finally get out of my tent. I am hesitant of going to the mess hall where our things are stocked for the night, some of the guys might still be sleeping yet. Until I see Cesar coming out bringing mate, I thought most likely the others are already awake. I enter, though they are already awake, I can see on their eyes they don't expect a female will come to the mess hall that early. I just ignore it and proceed with my mission for the morning, arranging my things. As I started with the challenge of putting all my things in one pastic sack, we are called for breakfast, earlier than we expected. We need to eat first before the food gets cold. It was a good breakfast, after eating we continue with our packing. The place is cold, really cold. We finally said our goodbye to Veronica and Major, drop by the clinic for clearance and finally leave Plaza de Mulas at around 9:50am. It was a trail of a barren valley between two mountains following the Hercones River. I trek right next to Lito. He is fast.  I feel so much energetic today.

still at Hercones Valley, pic fr Zea's album
So after several minutes of following him I thought of entertaining myself. I put some distance between him and myself, after several meters, I will start to do trail running, not on a fast pace though but faster than walking on a trail that has less gravel and rocks. That at least give me some fun on going through the beautiful landscape. Until almost two hours of trekking, Lito decided to take a short cut, passing through the dry river bed of Hercones rather than passing through the ups and downs of the the slope of the mountain. It's almost noontime, the sun just shining like no other on a dry river bed with a trail of a combination of sand, gravel and stones. Things at first is fun, until I have to  entertain myself again on this long boring valley. Who ever climber that will pass by me, I will try to catch up to that person. I sometimes jog, sometimes walk or just a relax pace. It is truly a never ending trek for us. Until we leave the dry river bed, and goes to the slope of the mountain. We trek for almost 8 hours on the same landscape. It only varies as  we goes higher on the slope of the mountain.
meet gianni, a climber who visited Philippines before
We only have 2 rest stops, one is before 12:00noon when we take our early lunch, then after crossing the river on the way to Confluencia campsite. This trail used to be a 3 day trek on the approach to Plaza de Mulas, but on the exit, all climbers has to finish it in one day and in our case we need to finish it in 8 hours, have to be in the Laguna de Hercones by 5:00pm.  With a consistent pace of only 2 rest stops for an almost 8 hour of trek which I thought at first will be an easy one, but it turned out it's not. We arrive at the gate of Laguna de Hercones less then 30 minutes before 5:00pm. It's even a long walk without even breaks. Emmanuel of Los Puquitos is already waiting for us. We drive to the park entrance to check out before heading to Los Puquitos office. Get our things at the storage room then finally travel back to Mendoza. Having been trekking for almost 8 hours all I wanted is food and drinks. I made use of what I have on my pack, mix nuts and fruits and the soda that Tito offered to us. After a long tiring day I settled on one seat of the van on my own quiet  time while watching the places that we pass by. Despite my tiring day, I never sleep the entire 3 hour trip.  I just enjoy every moment that is left with us in this place, watching the barren arid mountainous place of Mendoza.  I just simply love its beauty. Until we finally arrive in Hotel Balbi at around 8:00pm. Been dying to take a bath, our most awaited thing to do. I already feel so stinking, yucky, dusty, and burned. After two hours now clean is a celebration dinner ,  again at the best Italian restaurant in town with our dear guides Lito and Cesar. Our climb certificates are handed to us and we dine until 1:00am with good food and good Mendoza wine. What a good way to end our memorable adventure on the big mountain.
My Total Porter Fee: AR 1,711.00  (PhP17, 110.00) 
Pictures:To Laguna de Hercones 
Actual Expedition Itinerary 
 My Expedition Gear List 

If  others will ask me how was it, I will say, it was REALLY difficult, I have to dig deep, dig into my core to face all the challenges encountered day by day on the mountain. But if you are going to ask me if I will recommend to others especially to women like me to do it? I would say, if it's really something that you want to do, if it's your passion to do the outdoors, DO IT. Prepare for it, do all the possible trainings that you can, build your physically endurance and mental toughness. It's not going to be easy but it's going to be worth all the effort.

As for me, it was worth an adventure. Great company, great experience, great mountain, all of it will forever leave  a mark in my heart and be cherished for the rest my life. That has been a tough ordeal , a very very difficult climb. I thank all the people who supported me on this adventure, my teammates who patiently encourage me, my friends , family and  loved ones who constantly pray for my safety. And most of all to God for giving me the courage,  the strength, determination, perseverance, patience,  attitude and the will  to endure and finish the expedition despite all the difficulties, and I also thank Him for giving me the opportunity to be on that beautiful mountain and still giving the attitude to appreciate and see its beauty despite what I went through, I am so lucky.  And my adventure continues......

No comments:

Post a Comment