Today, we went for a walk around Parque General San Martin. Now we know where everyone exercises! Even though it was sunny and 30 degrees, we saw tons of runners and cyclists working hard. Josh & I could barely stand walking in the sun and hugged the shade as much as possible. The park is huge and has a football stadium, a large lagoon, a velodrome, a zoo as well as “Cerro de la Gloria”, a small hill with views of the city. Of course, we had to climb it. Here are a few pictures from our day.
Here’s our summary of our adventure up Cerro (Mount) Aconcagua in Argentina.
Here we are in Mendoza after some long delays in Santiago. We had an 8 hour layover which stretched into 12. Our flight changed gates 3 times (never seen airports do that before!) but it looks very common in Santiago where all of a sudden 100 waiting people get up and run to a nearby gate. Somehow we kept our cool & finally landed in Mendoza at 10 PM. This morning Josh & I did our own version of the amazing race, scurrying all over downtown to get our mule service, pay for climbing permits, obtain signed permits, get trekking poles, white gas that we couldn’t bring on the plane and a last few food items at the Argentinian version of Superstore. All located at different places of course. Now we’re ready and heading to the bus this afternoon for Penitentes. The climb starts tomorrow!
Josie talks about Aconcagua on the eve of our departure.
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Yesterday was my last training day. I was able to do Prairie Mountain, a local mountain west of Bragg Creek, in the morning. It is close enough to the city that you can see the skyline of downtown and yet, looking to the west, you get to see the wonderful Canadian Rockies.
Going up solo (it is a popular hike, so you run into people now and again) I got to do a lot of thinking. It was exciting to imagine in one week we’d be at the gate of the Horcones Valley departing on our three-day trek to the base camp of Mt. Aconcagua. Supposedly, it is the second largest base camp, behind Everest, and is referred to as “Tent City”. In one week, we will lose the luxury of water from a tap, showers, flush toilets, electricity, fridges and lattes! Oh, how we’ll be so hard done by. Joking. On the flip side, we will gain time. As long as we stay healthy, we will have lots and lots of relaxing time. Most of the hikes are 4-5 hours long, with a few days including summit day being the exception. This means there will be plenty of time to read, nap, cook, talk and read some more.
Ha, I just thought of this as I am typing. I will not sit in a chair the whole time we are on the mountain. I suppose there are rocks to sit on or lean up against, but (butt) most of the time will be sitting on the ground, laying down, standing or hiking.
Josie and I finished packing last night. We have 3 checked bags of 40-45 pounds, a carry on with our boots and socks, mitts, toques stuffed in them and another carry on bag for our off-the-mountain clothes. I had no idea that 20 days of breakfasts and suppers took so much room. I hope our appetite stays healthy!
I posted some photos here. Many of them are the same location, different day. Click the image to see a bigger gallery!
John Wooden: Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.
We have to thank our families. Without the help from our families, this trip would not be possible. Aconcagua is not a young-kid friendly place. Our families have stepped up to look after our children for the 3 1/2 – 4 weeks we will be away. We are very thankful for this! So, if family is reading this, THANK YOU!
Pretty soon there will be less thinking of climbing Aconcagua and actual ‘doing’! I’ll keep you posted!
Do you have some questions about the climb? Ask them below! Comments? I’d love to hear them!
I get asked, “What are you doing for training?” for the Aconcagua climb. I don’t think I am doing a lot compared to some of my ‘ultra’ friends. I mean, I would like to use work, family, kids and life balance as an excuse, but there are no excuses when I see the training schedules of others. Either wake up earlier and train or train at night… and that is what I have been doing!
Josie and I have been alternating weekend days for training. Saturday morning, she gets up early and does her training. Meanwhile, I take the kids to their Saturday activities (gymnastics and skating). On Sunday, it is my turn. I wake up early and go do my training. During the week, Josie gets up early and swims a couple of times in the morning. I have done the opposite and swim at night, after my kids go to bed. We fit running in here and there.
Types Of Training
I want to keep the training as functional as possible for the mountain that we are about to climb. For example, we are climbing a mountain, so let’s climb mountains for training. We need to go certain distances, so let’s train to those distances and more. There won’t be as much oxygen at the altitude that we are climbing at, so let’s try to mimic that. I think we have done all three. We have incorporated:
- running – Making sure we can go the distance!
- hiking – We have been using a local mountain that is close and steep, Prairie Mountain. It offers 700 meters of vertical gain and 7km round trip. Sometimes we would do this twice to get double the elevation and distance. Other times, we would put on the big backpack to mimic ‘hiking with a pack.”
- swimming – I am not a natural-born swimmer, so this type of exercise is very anaerobic for me. I have not seen any studies indicating this works, but my hypothesis is I am training my body to do work with limited amounts of oxygen. I can’t always take a breath when my body demands oxygen. At altitude it is the same. Many times it feels like you are not getting enough oxygen.
Frequency and Intensity
My frequency of training was 3 to 4 times per week. I would say the intensity was moderate to high. At almost every workout, I would be left breathless at least once to multiple times. Whether it was sprints in the pool or running up the mountain, I wanted to feel oxygen deprived… and I did!
My goal for training is to take out the fitness variable out of the hiking equation. I do not want my to feel sore or have to adapt physically to the climb. My goal is to go from camp to camp and have it feel like a walk and not hurt. The reason for this is, there are 2 other variables, which we will be focused on.
- Acclimatizing – Here, our bodies will adapt to the altitude. It will begin to produce more red blood cells for carrying oxygen. Also, body functions shut down or change as you go higher on the mountain. You begin to lose appetite. Others may experience diarrhea or constipation. We may even have to deal with headaches! Sleeping can also be a problem.
- Weather – Weather obviously can affect us physically with frostbite. Or, it can leave us dehydrated from being dry and windy on the mountain.
These 2 variables will be our biggest concern. How are we adapting to the altitude, are we physiologically capable of getting to the summit? When will mother nature give us a window to summit, if we even get a window?
Running, swimming and hiking!
Other training that I haven’t mentioned here is using the gear:
- Practicing putting up and taking down the tent.
- Practicing starting the stoves (we don’t camp much).
- Cooking with the pots and pans we will be using on the mountain. Do we use the big pot or little pot? We want to familiarize ourselves with our cooking gear.
- Packing and unpacking the backpack. Where does all the gear go? How much gear do we have?
- Pooping in a bag?? No, we haven’t practiced that, however, apparently, there is a fecal matter bag that they expect you to use and hike out.
Questions? Comments? Please leave them below! I would love to hear what you are thinking. Have I missed something?
Day 1: Mendoza to Penitentes – After we get our permits, mule service and supplies (fuel and food) we will take a bus from Mendoza to Los Penitentes. Los Penitentes is a ski resort in the winter and a place for climbers to travel through and hook up with mule service.
Day 2: Penitentes to Horcones to Confluencia – Today we will to the park ranger’s station at Horcones. Here, we show our permits and we get a numbered bag for trash and FM (fecal matter). Horcones (2950m) gate is higher than Lake Louise ski hill in Alberta for those that are familiar. The hike today is approximately 10km with an elevation gain of 440m to Confluencia (3390m). There is an estimated time of 4 hours for this hike.
Day 3: Confluencia (3390m) to Plaza Francia (4200m) and back – Today is an acclimatization hike up a different valley to see Mt. Aconcagua’s south face. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the ‘north face’ that doesn’t get the sun and is usually the hardest route up a mountain. The same is true in the Southern Hemisphere. It is all about the ‘south face’.
Day 4: Confluencia (3390m) to Plaza de Mulas (4300m) – Today is a long trek and I have seen some websites indicating it being 22km. It is fairly flat for most of the way and then gets steeper at the end to round out 910m of elevation gain. Plaza de Mulas is the base camp of Mt. Aconcagua. Resources say this is the second biggest base camp next to Everest’s. Internet, electricity, pizza and alcohol is available at this camp. However, it does come with a price. http://www.aconcaguanow.com has a webcam in real time. The webcam will start up in December.
Day 5: Rest day at Plaza de Mulas (4300m) – Bumping up to 4300m in 4 days (arrived yesterday) can be a lot for the body to adapt to. I’ll be bringing a pulse oximeter and watching for hypoxia (less oxygen in the blood) and tachycardia (fast heart rate). The oximeter measures oxygen saturation in the blood on a percent scale. 95% – 99% is considered normal. My concern is not to drop below 80% and keep our blood oxygen saturation as high as we can. So, today is a rest day.
Day 6: Carry Forward day to Camp Canada (5050m) – This day, we will be taking up gear to Camp Canada that we will need at the high camps and summit day. It is a 750m elevation gain with an estimated 3-4 hours round trip.
Day 7: Move to Camp Canada from Plaza de Mulas – Packing up a camp takes time. It is amazing what comes out of that relatively little bag (backpack) and how long it takes to put it all back in their. Josie and I have 80L backpacks. They are not the biggest as there as some that are 110L! We’ll do what we can to strap and stuff gear into and onto our packs.
Day 8: Carry forward from Camp Canada (5050m) to Nido de Condores (5550m) – This is only 500m of elevation, but still is estimated to take 4-5 hours round trip. Nido de Condores means Condor’s Nest. Camps above Plaza de Mulas (base camp) you must use your FM (fecal matter) bag. At this altitude, there is no vegetation and things take along time to decompose. Reading other blogs, I’ve been warned to be careful picking up rocks to make a wind-break for your tent as, often, there may be little surprises under those rocks. Please use your FM bag, PEOPLE!
Day 9: Move from Camp Canada (5050m) to Nido de Condores (5550m) – Here, we start to prepare for the summit. Our next move is to take what we need to high camp, either Camp Berlin or Camp Cholera. We haven’t decided at this point which camp we are going to use.
Day 10: Move from Nido de Condores (5550m) to Camp Berlin (5930m) – With this move, we will have a new personal high. Previously, in 2008 Josie and I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro (5895m) and Mt. Elbrus (5642m) in 2010. At this camp, we probably won’t be hungry and most likely feeling a little drunk due to the hypoxia. Simple tasks such as setting up a tent will take a lot longer. It will be crucial to continue to self monitor and watch for altitude sickness.
Day 11: Summit Day! Leave Camp Berlin (5930m) and march or slowly walk up to the summit of Mt. Aconcagua (6962m). Elevation gain is just over 1 kilometer! The estimated time is 7-12 hours round trip back to high camp depending on who is estimating.
Day 12: Hike down to Plaza de Mulas from Camp Berlin.
Day 13: Hike from Plaza de Mulas to Horcones and stay at Penitentes.
Day 14: Catch the bus from Penitentes back to Mendoza, Argentina!
Ok, that is the bare minimum for climbing Mt. Aconcagua. You could knock another day off by coming down all the way summit day. However, this itinerary is a guideline. Acclimatization for some can be tricky and may take extra days. Weather is not always a friend and may make you wait in your tent until it decides to be nice. We will have 6 contingency days added to this itinerary to improve our success.
We are 2 weeks out until we leave for Aconcagua. Planning, training, buying gear… it never stops! This weekend I was researching food alternatives for the mountain. In the past, we have used those pre-packaged dehydrated foods. They are great and tasty at the beginning, but then they just don’t taste good later on. On Mt. Elbrus, I couldn’t eat more that two of those packets. I just stopped eating. However, good manners and smiling landed some meals from the Russian cooks from other expeditions. Borscht soup beat dehydrated curried noodles, easily! Especially since it was fresh! And the oatmeal, well, let’s say it gave us enough energy to summit Mt. Elbrus and get back down!
In the next 2 weeks, we will be:
- Packing and unpacking our backpack.
- Setting up and taking down the tent.
- Practice starting the stove (more for Josie).
You always want to practice using new gear, make sure old gear works and run possible scenarios that may occur in your adventure. This is going to minimize any ‘surprises’ you may have. We can’t be putting the tent up for the first time on Mt. Aconcagua and realize we forgot a piece or needed to buy an accessory.
The route we have planned is the normal route. I’ll post another blog describing this route. It is more of a hike up, but it is not to be taken lightly as weather and altitude can cause many problems.
Questions or comments? Please post them below!