On the morning of January 27th, we left Refúgio Laguna Blanca, base of Cerro Mercedário , and left for Barreal.
On this day I was “desperate” for a wi-fi signal. But it wasn’t for giving the good news from the summit to friends or posting the photos on social networks. He had taken the ENEM 2018, a form of admission to the Federal University of Santa Maria. During the entire period of Sisu’s application and ranking process, I was on the mountain. And on that 27th, the classification should have already come out. Before leaving to travel, I gave all the instructions to my mother and left her as a “guinea pig” to do all this procedure and follow up Sisu. I also left four powers of attorney with a copy of the necessary documentation for a possible enrollment for four different people.
The first stop in Barreal was at a gas station, where there is a cafeteria and restaurant with internet. Each asked for a cup of espresso and the Wi-Fi password. My phone crashed with so many updates and messages on Whatsapp . Finally, I was able to view the screenshots my mother had sent from Sisu’s rating process page. Until that moment, surprisingly, I was in first place in Physical Education Bachelor of the Federal University of Santa Maria. I learned that the list had been extended to 01/28.
After coffee and news exchanges, we went to a supermarket where there was a butcher’s shop. Our greatest desire was to make a roasted chorizo steak, which we dreamed of all those days at the Mercedario. We ordered “modest” 3 kg of chorizo steak, plus 1 kg of a homemade sausage (I noticed that several people in front of me asked for it, so I deduced that it was very good) and some peppers (Argentina peppers are “another five hundred”). We took our little ranch to the Barreal municipal campsite, which was packed with families enjoying their Sunday roasting. We chose a corner with a spare barbecue and settled there. We scrambled to make a fire as we were hungry after several days on the mountain. Ediceu Pereira, who said that he only ate well-done meat and for a small amount, fiercely devoured that absurdly tender and underdone chorizo steak. It was the eighth wonder of the world.
As we were ahead of schedule, and we wanted to take the low season at Aconcagua, which starts on February 1st, to pay less for the permit (cheaper doesn’t match here), we spent three days at that campsite.
Twice a day, we visited the gas station to drink espresso and connect the wi-fi. And then, on the 28th, I had the happy news that I actually had a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education from the Federal University of Santa Maria. More reasons to celebrate.
On our last night at the campsite, we made another roast. This time there were no more chorizo steaks in the butcher shop, so I asked the butcher what other cut he would recommend for a good roast. He indicated us “palette”. Right away I thought about Brazilian meat. Even with suspicion, I accepted the indication. And, in fact, a wonderful meat to be roasted, which didn’t even resemble the one you have here in Brazil.
On the 30th, in the morning, we left for Mendoza, where we arrived around 13:00. We had rented an apartment through Airbnb to facilitate the organization of equipment for Aconcagua. That same day, André arrived from Florianópolis, a friend of Ediceu from other mountains.
Day 31 “marathon” after the permits . Glad we woke up early and were driving. We walked to an address, close to the apartment, which was on the page of Parque Provincial do Aconcagua. Arriving there, we were informed that that place was for Argentinean guides, and that our permission should be carried out in an office located inside Parque San Martin. Far away. We walked back to the apartment, took the car and went to the square. We forward the permission, but André and Ediceu wanted to share a mule. So for that, they needed to go to an agency in the city center. We went to the office, which had not yet opened. We waited for half an hour for the secretary to arrive carelessly late. We “mofa” for more than an hour inside the agency’s office and melting with heat “thanks” to the bureaucratic and inexplicably long procedure. But it was thanks to the kids’ mule that I ( Luciana Moro ) and Tiago Korb also got a US$ 100.00 discount each on our permits (even without using the service) . After that, we left in search of a specific kind of lottery to pay the permission slips.At the end of the marathon, we returned to the office located in Plaza San Martin to finally have them in our hands in the early afternoon. Dear reader, if you intend to go to Aconcagua, you already know: organize yourself to do this permission well in advance and have a day for it.
We woke up at 3 am on February 1st and at 4 am we were already leaving the apartment. We left everything organized the day before so as not to run the risk of forgetting an important item. André took a transfer to Punta de Vacas, as our Tracker accommodated three people plus the equipment with a lot of suffocation.
I slept the entire way and when I woke up, the first thing I saw was a sign that said “Parque Provincial Aconcagua”. We arrived in Punta de Vacas. Ediceu and I went down with our backpacks and waited for Tiago, who left his car at the Horcones gate (and then returned by hitchhiking), where we would finish route 360.
It was 8:30 and André didn’t show up. We were worried. The Ediceu even more, because the mule would be there at 9 am for them to dispatch the equipment. Tiago hitchhiked back to Punta de Vacas with a couple of high-end Chileans, even before 9 am. And still no sign of André. The ranger had mobilized to help find him and was trying to call the taxi driver who transferred him. After many calls and guesses, they found that André was on the other side of the highway (asleep). Ediceus crossed it, snorting with fury.
Anyway, at 9:45 we actually started the 360º route from Aconcagua. Tiago and I were carrying everything, and each backpack weighed more than 30 kg (yes, including mine). Because of that, we were slower. There were several other groups also starting the route and mostly European. With the exception of one guy from Estonia, an experienced mountaineer who had already climbed three mountains above 7,000 meters, who was also carrying all his gear, everyone else was using mule service to load the gear.
The intense heat, the very few hours of sleep and the weight of the backpack added to sour Tiago’s mood, who was constantly muttering. After 13.357 km under scorching sun, we arrive at Camp Pampas de Las Leñas (2860 m). André and Ediceu were waiting for us. They had reserved a pirca for our tent next to where they had set up the four season tent they rented in Mendoza.
Once the camp was set up, we tried to hydrate and eat well. With that, Tiago’s mood improved a lot. It was necessary to be well and recovered, as the next day promised to be as heavy as the first.
There in Pampas de Las Leñas I watched the landscape and especially the movement of other people. The difference between Aconcagua and the other mountains I climbed was striking. With the exception of Plata, they were wilder and didn’t have all that people. Aconcagua is an explosion of people, agencies and mules. During my observation, I was looking for some place protected from the eyes of those people where it could serve as a “bathroom”. But I soon found out that some metal cabins were the toilets. Yes! Bathrooms structured on the mountain, with toilet, flush and even a “Good Air” tube available.
During the night, we woke up with the rain hitting the roof of the tent . It seemed surreal to me to rain in Aconcagua. In addition to the sound of the rain, there was the rush of people to collect their belongings that they had left out in the open.
We woke up at 7 am and there were already people dismantling the tents. Some already leaving. Tiago and I started walking at 8:45.
The sky was partially overcast and it wasn’t the same terrible heat as the day before, which helped the performance. When we stopped for lunch at noon, we had already covered ⅔ of that day’s route. As soon as we started walking again, it started to rain. We stopped again, protected the backpack, and the double boots we took outside to keep from getting wet, we put clothes and electronics in waterproof bags and took our anoraks . We started walking again and the rain stopped and the sky cleared. I was outraged, thinking it was just to waste time! But almost arriving at the Casa de Piedra camp (3240 m) the rain fell again, but with more intensity. And it’s good that the equipment was already protected.
After traveling the 15 km, we arrive at Casa de Piedra . Despite the 30 kg backpack, we were one of the first to arrive there. We entered the ranger’s house and asked to wait there until the rain eased so that we could set up the tent. We presented our permissions and spent a lot of time talking to them. As soon as the rain stopped, we ran to choose the space to set up camp. It was just time to finish assembling it, when it rained again. And this rain continued and stopped for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
We sat on our folding chairs inside the Mountain 25 tent drinking tea and we watched the movement outside the door and “drooled” with the smell of the barbecue that the Argentine gauchos were preparing for the clients of one of the branches.
We agreed to get up again at 7 am the next day, but my sleep was interrupted before 5 am by intense movement and conversation around the tent. It was a group breaking camp in the rain to leave. And it didn’t take long for the other groups to start doing the same. It seemed like everyone was desperately fleeing the apocalypse.
Tiago woke up at our agreed time and it was still raining. The external movement continued. Ediceu and André left with the others, as they even had a certain time to deliver the equipment to the muleteers. And Tiago and I waited for the rain to pass and just the two of us stayed at Casa de Piedra .
We started to dismantle the tent as soon as the rain stopped. At that, a muleteer appeared who looked angry and told us something we couldn’t understand. He disappeared and then reappeared with the ranger, who translated the gaucho’s Spanish into Spanish. He was rushing us to pack up our tent to put it on the mule right away. But we explained that we were carrying everything without the help of the mules, with Tiago laughing and ending with the following sentence: “ La mula soy yo” .
We left the Casa de Piedra camp after 9 am towards Plaza Argentina (4,200 m). We left wearing crocs and with our boots hanging from our backpacks, as there was the river to cross. And how very cold the water was. Along the trail, there were another three river crossings. Probably the people left early to make the passages when the waters were lower, because, during the day, these glacier rivers gain greater volume and currents. As Tiago and I are used to walking on rivers on our trekkings, this was not a problem for us. The only catch was the function of taking off the boots and putting them back on.
Despite the altitude of a thousand meters for that day, it is well diluted over the 12 km. This stretch between Casa de Piedra and Plaza Argentina , for me, is one of the most beautiful on Route 360, with stretches of the trail that go around gorges and from a point onwards there is a spectacular view of the Aconcagua.
We arrived in Plaza Argentina (4,200 m) around 4 pm. First we set up the camp and then present the permits , deliver the full garbage bags that we received at the Punta de Vacas gatehouse and in exchange we received another bag numbered “waste”. At the end, in Plaza de Mulas , this should be delivered with content (content = nº 2). By park rules, if this case is lost or delivered empty, the person must pay a hefty fine.
On the way to the ranger’s house we met the boys. The four of us intended to take the mandatory medical exam as soon as possible, to gain the go-ahead to climb to the highest camps. This exam is also required in Plaza de Mulas for those who take the normal route. The park ranger informed that the examination would only be possible the following day, as the on-duty doctor’s schedule had already ended, and the other would only arrive by helicopter the next morning.
Near the ranger’s house, there was a sign with the weather forecast for the next few days. In our planning, the summit day was scheduled to be February 7th, but the weather forecast for that day was very windy. The best window was on the 6th. So it was necessary to speed up the medical clearance.
We woke up at 7:00 am the next day, had our breakfast and broke camp to get everything ready to start climbing right after the medical exam. Without medical approval, no one could go up. And at 8:20 the four of us were again outside the ranger’s house to get the permits . It was 8:30 and no helicopter with the other doctor. The doctor who was present there in Plaza Argentina did not want to see us, justifying it was not his shift. We were extremely disappointed. Another half hour passed and there was no sign of a helicopter. He was too late. With great insistence, André managed to convince this doctor to see us even after his shift ended. Ufa!
We were going straight up with a full load and no gates, as we had done the acclimatization on another mountain, which was Cerro Mercedario (6720 m) . As everyone was in very good health, the doctor released us, but asked us to report our situation by radio in the upper camps. Even being acclimated, this does not exempt the risk of developing pulmonary or cerebral edema resulting from great efforts above 5400 meters.
We started to climb to Field 3 (5,400 m) past 10 am and there were 7 km with 1,200 meters of unevenness to win that day. From the Punta de Vacas gate to Plaza Argentina there are no technical difficulties in trekking . The distances between camps are long, but the altitude and incline are smooth. But from Plaza Argentina onwards, the terrain gets steeper and with many acarreos , in addition to the higher altitude.
We passed to Field 1 (5,000 meters) at 2 pm, then followed a few kilometers to overcome the last 400 meters of a continuous drive, arriving at Field 3 (Acampamento Guanacos) at around 5 pm. We set up our Mountain 25 tent in a well protected pirca and chose another one where we left some equipment inside to reserve for the kids who hadn’t arrived yet. It was a day well “pulled” and as soon as he mounted the camp in Pure pampering well and feed .
The view from Camp Guanacos is breathtaking. From there, you have views of other mountains such as Cerro Mercedario, Mesa, Ramada and Dos Hermanos. And to end the day with a golden key, as a reward for our effort, the sunset colored the sky in yellow and orange tones. As the temperature had dropped a lot, I admired this show from the tent door. But Tiago couldn’t resist and went outside to record the spectacle with his camera.
The next day we woke up a little later. It was still cold and the sun took a long time to light up the camp. It was 10:30 am when we started to climb to Cólera camp (5,970 m), which makes the intersection with the route coming from Punta de Vacas and the normal one. Until then there were only 2 km and 500 meters of unevenness.
Arriving at Camp Cólera, we chose the most protected location from the wind to set up our tents. We took great care to assemble them so that the overhead and dormitory would not fly off down the mountain. This same care was also taken with the “nº 2” bag. Losing him meant fine.
When Ediceu and André arrived, we notified the rangers of Plaza Argentina via radio that we had all arrived in Cólera and that we were all right. We also asked about the prognosis for the 6th, and was informed that there would be very little wind during the day. However, everything would change from the 7th. So the best window for the summit was the next day. And the four of us woke up from taking advantage of that window.
As usual, we have already separated the necessary equipment and clothing for the summit day. And during the rest of the day, Tiago and I took several cups of tea to hydrate and tried to eat well. One of the teas we took was lemon flavor, well, in the lower camps it was lemon flavor. At 5970 meters of altitude we only feel the acidity. So we mix it with juice.
We woke up at 3 am on February 6th and began our preparations. There was no wind and the sky was full of stars. The weather was perfect!
We dressed for war and at 5 o’clock we started the summit attack. We and the entire Cholera camp were climbing to attack the summit. Early on the climb, we were trapped behind a row of people from the branches, who were at a very leisurely pace. In this, we hear a strong and constant cough coming from the line of clients at one of the branches. In fact, we’ve heard this same cough all day since we arrived in Cholera. And this was a strong indication that this person was developing pulmonary edema. As we crossed the line, we stopped in front of their guide and alerted him to his client’s health status, but he didn’t seem to care or know what it was.
The night began to dissipate as we approached Independence (6,400 m). And in the first light of day, I could see three other people climbing ahead of us. At one point, they stopped in the middle of the trail and one of them was passed into the middle of the group. I soon noticed that this person who was between the three swayed back and forth a lot and seemed to have a lot of difficulty walking. Difficulty walking is one of the characteristics of cerebral edema.
We arrived in Independência, where there is the rest of a structure that was once a refuge, at 8 am. Me, Ediceu and Tiago stopped there for tea to warm up, have a snack, put away the lanterns and get our sunglasses. André was further back, as he was without a walking stick , which made it difficult for him to progress in the stretches of acarreos .
There, too, was that group that I saw coming up. One of them continued through the crossing, while the other went down with the woman who had the staggering gait. As for us, we were fine and we proceeded through the crossing, where there are several acarreos . Afterwards, the trail follows a good shaded stretch and, consequently, colder (-18 degrees in this location). We passed another group made up of three men. One of them was an Argentine from Mendoza and the other two I think were German. They were sitting on the edge of the path resting and trying to get warm. We greeted each other and I motivated them in my rusty English: “Come on, that’s close!” During the ascent, we passed several other people who were also attacking the summit, and many of them were doing so from Camp Berlin (5,800 m).
And then later on was “famous” channel, which had a acarreo the devil mixed with ice. Peak day is always tough, the important thing is to know your own body and be focused. With patience, we were covering the last meters. And always motivating each other.
Three years earlier, Ediceu made Aconcagua. It was his first high mountain. However, when he arrived at the channel, he did not feel well and went down. After years, he had prepared himself, studied, gained more experience, and now he was there again. But this time was different.
We arrived at the praiseworthy summit of the Giant of the Americas at 14:30. As I was at the head of our group, I saw the cross on the summit and announced “Summit!”. Tiago, Ediceu, the two Germans and the Argentine that we met right after the Crossing soon arrived. I’ve never seen so many men crying at once (I didn’t cry and neither did Tiago). It was the conquest of the summit of Cerro Aconcagua , the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest outside the Himalayas. Ediceu, in particular, was very emotional. That achievement of the summit had a special meaning for him, which I am obviously not able to describe in my account. But I think the reader will be able to understand, given the past history of our friend in relation to this mountain.
We stayed at the summit for over two hours. We took advantage of the perfect day without wind and with a temperature ranging from -5ºC to 5°C – to admire the landscape, take photos and celebrate the achievement with each one who reached the summit. We were also waiting for André. When we saw him near the last few meters of the summit, we ran to the edge and started shouting motivational words to our friend. When he finally appeared on the summit, he had an expression of “I can’t believe it! I achieved!” And stood for a while at the entrance just admiring, while we vibrated like crazy.
We started to descend only at 4:30 pm, when the people from the agency that we passed at dawn began to reach the summit. And each one expressed extreme joy at the achievement. In fact, this was one of the most beautiful things I saw in Aconcagua.
Passing through the Canaleta again, there were still more people climbing towards the summit. André, who spent a lot of trouble to go up without the poles, now on the descent full of acarreos was much worse. So, as he was at a slower pace, Ediceu wanted to accompany him, as he also had a Garmin GPS and he let Tiago and I go down ahead.
We arrived back in Cholera at 20 hours. The Camp was quiet. We should have been one of the first to arrive. We just heard that same old cough coming from some tent. We deduced that some guide from that agency came down with the sick client after our alert. It didn’t take long for another group to appear on the way down to Cólera. We recognized the climbers who were on the summit with us.
As the sun was already setting, Tiago contacted Nido de Condores by VHF radio, where there is a rescue patrol, to let him know that we had reached the summit and that we returned to the Camp and we were fine, but that there were still many people who had not yet had come down. Nido de Condores’ contact asked us to let us know as soon as everyone returned. We were worried, especially about Ediceu and André. Any accident on the mountain could limit the person’s locomotion and force him to spend the night outside at a temperature of -12°C or even less, which could be fatal. Tiago signaled the camp by placing the flashlight outside the tent in the strobo module, so that whoever was descending could easily spot him. Gradually, the people returned and filled the empty tents in Cholera. At a certain point, we saw two paired lanterns coming from Independência and a few others further back. But those two lights were the kids. They arrived at 10 pm tired but fine.
The day after the summit, we couldn’t extend our laziness much, as the weather forecast for the mountain was not very good. Then, just after midday, we started to descend the mountain by the normal route to Plaza de Mulas (4,300 m).
The normal route is extremely populated, much more than Punta de Vacas, and the predominance was that of gringos. But during the descent we had the pleasant surprise of finding a Brazilian who was climbing the mountain on the ground. We chatted with him briefly and wished him good luck and went on our way.
Right after the Canada Camp (5,100 m) it was already possible to see a small town: “ Plaza de Mulas ”, which is the second largest base camp in the world, second only to Everest. And then we were already circling its busy “streets” looking for a place to camp where it wasn’t the “territory” of some agency. The four of us set up our tents on the edge of a small lagoon, and then headed to the park ranger’s house to present our permits , to check out the park entrance and hand over the #2 bag.
Our service was relatively slow as there were many people arriving in Plaza de Mulas. But we weren’t in a hurry. I was the most relaxed person to hand over the bag of #2. Fortunately my gut works really well. The boys disputed the contents of my package to avoid receiving the salty fine, and Ediceus was the most desperate. He had used a drug so he didn’t need to go to the bathroom during summit day, and the drug’s effect lasted for more than a day. We found a solution and made a distribution. All “saved” from the fine.
Finally, the park ranger returned our permit ticket with the summit stamp. We took advantage of our free time to walk around Plaza de Mulas. And I wanted to visit the highest art gallery in the world, with works by artist Miguel Doura. For those who want to climb Aconcagua, I recommend visiting it. In fact he is a great artist, and most works are in oily pastel chalks, involving mountain themes and even nudes. Many of his works were for sale. I thought about buying a card, which was what would fit in my backpack and my “bol$o”, but everything was charged in dollars (practically everything in Plaza de Mulas is charged in dollars) and we only had a few Argentine pesos .
In these wanderings I almost missed our tent. As I mentioned earlier, Plaza de Mulas is a mini city, taken over by large structures of large agencies that are set up there all season, such as cafeteria tents, dormitory tents with bunk beds, hot bath ($35.00!), delivery service. massage ($40.00!), toilets, Wi-fi and many other services. In short: an urban structure on the mountain. There were also as many Mountain 25 tents set up, which was quite easy to confuse which one was ours. All this overpopulation and superstructures on the mountain made us feel strange. Until that moment, the other mountains we climbed in the Andes were wilder, without urban structures and very few people.
After the tour, Tiago and I returned to our tent, where we had tea, which at 4,300 m it was already possible to taste the flavor again, and we savored what was left of our mountain snack dreaming of a chorizo steak . To further stoke our chronic hunger, the smell of fresh food prepared by the neighboring cafeteria stalls invaded ours.
It was 8 am when we woke up the next day to the sound of movement in the neighborhood. The sun still didn’t bathe the valley. The normal route from Aconcagua is more shaded than the one from Punta de Vacas. We opened the tent door, and Ediceu and André were finishing up breaking down their camp. They decided to go down the mountain that day to the Horcones Gate and had 25 km ahead of them. They gave us some food and the “wonderful Cabrales café”, they left soon.
My and Tiago’s plans were to camp in Confluencia (3,400 m). We were in no hurry and wanted to enjoy the mountain. We started going down at 11:30. The route to Confluencia is quite monotonous and devoid of much beauty. In fact, the normal route is pretty bland compared to the east face of Aconcagua (Route 360), and the other 6,000 we climbed.
During the afternoon, the weather started to get ugly. Gusts of wind blew earth against us, and the highest part of the mountain was filled with dark clouds. We arrived at Confluencia (3,600 m) and quickly set up our tent, fearing that a rain or even a blizzard would soon start. But none of that happened.
In Confluencia, in addition to people who were there to climb the mountain, there were also those who were doing short trekking there or to Plaza de Mulas and mountain runners.
That night I dreamed of a mountain running event, which I discovered was real when I woke up. The race was supported by a large mountaineering agency in Argentina and it had started very early.
While Tiago and I were having our coffee, we discussed a dilemma: do the trekking to Plaza Francia, where there is a viewpoint on the south face of Aconcagua, or go down the mountain? Decided down, it was the day of my birthday 34 years and we want to celebrate the day over the summit of achievement with a beautiful roast steak chorizo . Besides, our food was at the “rapa” and we didn’t want to stay one more day in that mess at Confluencia.
The descent was a real mess of people running, mules passing, trekkers and groups starting their ascent. In less than two hours we arrived at the Horcones gatehouse, named after the Horcones river. There, there was another crowd of people strolling around the entrance, visiting the Horcones lagoon. There were even school excursions. Suddenly, a man who was walking with his granddaughter came towards us. He asked asked some questions about how it was up there and wanted to know if we made the summit. Tiago took the camera and showed our photographic records. They were delighted and then asked to take a picture with us, with the Stone Watcher illustrating the background.
We arrived at the parking lot, where we changed clothes in a chemical bathroom to make ourselves more presentable in Uspallata, where we intended to camp. Then, we checked out at the Aconcagua Provincial Park Visitors Center. At the same time, I was disappointed because of the mountain’s urbanization, but at the same time happy for the feat. After all, it was done on its own merits. We set up all the planning ourselves, carried everything, set up our tent and ate our daily slop.
After 53 km, we arrived in Uspallata at the time of the sestia. The market was closed and would only open at 5 pm. So, we decided to go first to Camping Municipal, which was super crowded. There was a rodeo festival and at night there would be shows. We prefer to escape from muvuca and wheels another 100 km to our dearest Barreal.
In Barreal we bought another 1.5 kg of Chorizo steak and 1.5 kg of Paleta for the celebratory roast deservedness (there was nothing left).
We stayed at this campsite for two more days until we left for Mendoza, where we found clients to do Nevado San Francisco and Ojos del Salado in Puna do Atacama .
Author : Luciana Moro
Photos : Tiago Korb