Day 16. Acclimatization tour to the Cholera camp
We spent half a day pondering, talking with other groups about risks and plans, we even packed our gear for the highest camp. Many in the Nido de Condores camp were watching how those Canadians tried to traverse: a few dots, barely visible, were moving very slowly in the snow right in front of the so-called La Canaleta, where there is a rocky wall with a concave base known as “La Cueva”. Will they be able to get through this crucial part without getting caught in an avalanche? Can we follow their tracks tomorrow?
At the last minute, Chris decided to go light and make just an acclimatization trip to the Berlin and Cholera camps, which are situated at around 6,000 meters above sea level. When I asked him why we are going light. He replied: “My intuition tells me so”. As it turned out later, his intuition did not let us down.
Going up was difficult, even without all the luggage. I was often grasping air, and contrary to the doctor’s recommendations to wear a buff all the time to protect my throat and trachea from icy and dry air, I just took it off because I simply could not breathe enough.
Part of our group, except for one participant, was already climbing up and we met them right in front of the Cholera camp. There were several other groups ascendingwith all the equipment – apparently they will try to reach the summit tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. This is the last theoretical chance before a real hurricane come with strong winds under 100 km/h.
In the Cholera camp we also met those famous Canadian climbers: they made a knee-deep traverse in the snow to the so-called La Conoleta. They realized that it was dangerous to go further because of the huge amount of snow and the danger of an avalanche. It was their last day of the expedition: they used their last chance to climb to the top despite the difficult conditions.
At the very top, the views were amazing – it seemed to me that I was not on Aconcagua, but somewhere in the high mountains of the Tien Shan in Central Asia. There was so much dazzling snow all around! For some reason, I did not realize what an achievement it was – 6000 meters above sea level – I had not yet climbed so high. Chris reminded me that we are now higher than Mont Blanc, Elbrus, and Kilimanjaro.
We hiked down back to Nido de Condores camp probably a little more than half an hour. Surprisingly, many were going up with large backpacks, hoping for the last closing window before the snow storm. What will we do tomorrow?
Day 17. To go or not to go? That is the question.
Part of the group decided to go down, forever, without trying to climb to the very top. Only two expressed a desire to try another chance in the next window of weather – right before the end of our expedition. Chris and I had a dilemma: wait up here until the next weather window or go down to base camp?
Waiting several days at Nido de Condores means being even better acclimatized, understanding better what is happening on the mountain, but there are also many disadvantages: spending most of the day in a small tent, suffering from the cold, cooking by ourselves, getting water from snow, cleaning the tent from snow, etc. Down in the base camp we could even use the Internet and therefore have the latest weather forecast, we would have food cooked three times a day (which turned out not to be the case after all), we could enjoy beer or coffe and chitchat in a cafe-bar and even be able to take a shower! The only big disadvantage is that we will have to climb back to the Nido de Condores camp in a very short time. This climb was so hard for us!
We collected all the tents, left some equipment in Nido de Condores and moved down. Chris and I were the last ones, as we discussed plans and weather conditions with other groups. We saw how many were still going up with their gear, despite the unsuccessful attempts of the Canadians. Today, some professional mountaineer-guide from Argentina also tried to traverse and climb to the top, but he also had to turn back. He didn’t make it to the top.
We had only one option: to wait for the next weather window. We decided to return back to the base camp. On the way down, we dismantled the tent in the Canada camp and broght down some of the food. Unfortunately, I lost our poop bags somewhere. Without those bags, we will have to pay a fine. I don’t know exactly where it happened: at Camp Canada itself (Chris saw some sort of black plastic bag) or down the road where I had my backpack rearrangedto make it easier to carry food of the group. Or they just fell down somewhere earlier, as they were probably poorly fastened. Down in the base camp, the park rangers strictly ordered us to find those poop bags, otherwise there will be a fine of 100-200 dollars for each lost bag. Tomorrow I’ll have to climb up and look for that ill-fated crappy package. We can bring also the rest of the group equipment from Camp Canada that is no longer needed.
This time we were acommodated not in the eight-bed tents, but in two-bed tents. A common group dining tent was also not provided this time. For dinners, lunches and breakfasts, we were told that we now have to pay: it turns out that only a certain number of days were booked for our group. Breakfast here, for example, costs $50 each. We were a little shocked by the prices, but what can we do? After taking a shower (unfortunately it turned out to be more cold than warm), we then sat all evening in a cafe-bar with coffee, beer and playing cards (in the end of expedition we got sick of playing UNO). The bar cafe was full of people. One big team celebrated the last day of the expedition with champagne and loads of alcohol. It was wonderful to see people not celebrating the summit itself, but the whole journey and the adventures along the way. After all, the main thing is not the goal, but the road to it, as Chris always says.
Although this time he was so focused on the summit: even I was already satisfied with everything I saw and experienced. Even without climbing to the very top, I was super happy and grateful for this new experience. I was also ready to go down if necessary. But that wasn’t enough for Chris. Hopefully we can still get to the top at the end of the week. May good luck and most importantly good weather accompany us!
P.S. We went to bed quite late. For some reason my cough intensified and I could not fall asleep for a long time. I am writing these lines at one o’clock in the morning. Did I catch a cold again? Tomorrow I will need to go to the doctor