Aconcagua approach

26 Apr 2001 - by Nels Johnson

"Ladies and Gentlemen, United flight #761, Chicago to Buenos Aires is experiencing mechanical problems and won't be flying today". And so started what was to become an all too familiar pattern of delays to our already marginal timetable. Our schedule of acclimatization for climbing the "Roof of the Americas", Aconcagua, started it's death spiral.

Chris Keller, a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and myself, Nels Johnson, had decided to embark upon a quest of the Seven Summits after a successful ascent of El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico. We debated whether to start with Kilimanjaro or Aconcagua until an airfare special to Buenos Aires made the decision for us. Chris had his spring break coming up soon but it wasn't enough time to mount a serious summit bid on Aconcagua. He made a special deal with his instructor to develop a technical and photographic report on the environmental impact of climbers on Aconcagua in order to secure additional time off from his studies. It still did not give us a deluxe time frame to secure our adventure but gave us a feasible shot at success if everything clicked perfectly.

After finally reaching Mendoza we put the rush on in order to secure our remaining supplies, obtain our climbing permit and try to get back on schedule. Well, of course, it was Sunday and so no ferreteria was open to sell us bencina blanca. Also, the sign on the door of the permit office in the Subsecreteria de Turismo said "we're suppose to be open" but the locked door and dark office told the truth. And another wasted day slipped off our calendar.

Bright and early Monday morning we returned to the permit office to find the door open and the lights on. Yes, we thought, we can get our permit and still catch the 10:15am bus to Puente del Inca. Hooray! Our faces must have been a sight when the lady at the counter refused to sell us a permit. The climbing season would be over in a few days and there would not be enough time to do a climb within the bounds of the permit, she explained. Also, the park would be closed within a few days and no entry would be permitted after that. However, if we so chose we could go to the park entrance and talk to the rangers there and explain our situation and perhaps they would allow us entry. Stunned and depressed we trudged off to the Terminal de Autobuses and caught the bus to Puente del Inca. On the ride there we discussed what we would present in our plea for entry and whether getting down on one or both knees would be best.

After reaching Puente del Inca we befriended Mario, an operator of one of the tourist oriented kiosks. He is an andinista himself and a genuinely nice guy. He drove us to the park entrance and explained our predicament to the rangers. As it turned out the lady at the permit office was only partially correct. Yes, it was true no more permits were being issued. However, the park is open to the public year round and one may attempt a summit bid at anytime of the year. We had just saved ourselves the $80.00 permit fees but it was explained to us the interior park rangers and rescue helicopter were all pulling out of the park in a few days and there would be no rescue services provided should the need arise. The interior park rangers and helicopter are available only during the permit season which runs November 15 to March 15.

Mario secured us a nights stay at the small border patrol post in Puente del Inca for $10.00 a night. A sign above the door says they are "open to all the mountaineers of the world". It is not well advertised but it is open to anyone wishing a nights lodging. The accommodations are in bunk rooms with the bathroom down the hall and they are spotlessly clean. The next morning Mario met us and took us to the only remaining muleteer that was still operating, Mr. Parras. However, this was to be the final nail in the coffin. Mr. Parras was also soon to shut down for the season and would only be available to take our gear in but not back out. There was no longer enough time to hike in, do an acclimatization schedule to reach the summit and shuttle our own gear back out.

We decided to take just a few days worth of food, leave the bulk of our equipment in Puente del Inca and hike in to base camp. On the way in we took a side trip up the beautiful Lower Horcones Valley to view the South Face of Aconcagua, one of the great mountain walls of the world. After reaching Plaza de Mulas and hanging out for a day, we day hiked up to Nido de Condores at 17,553 ft. Early next morning we broke camp and hike back out to Puente del Inca. We felt very frustrated at not having a good chance of summiting but very impressed with the tremendous beauty of the park.

Here's a few items of interest:

Bob Broeking adds:

I read yr report with interest and your pictures are very nice.

I would reserve the term "summit bid" for a true attempt at reaching the summit...dont know why it struck me and I probably should even bring it up, but your trip did not strike me a "summit bid". Sorry it did not work out, even from the start for you and yr friend. My 2 cents in response to yr post.

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