Aconcagua Part 1: Trekking to Basecamp and Climbing to Campo Uno

Before I start telling you all about my fantastic trip to Argentina and successful summit of Aconcagua, I wanted to quickly thank everyone that has been following my adventure and supporting me throughout this endeavor.  Knowing I had so much support really helped propel me through some tough and arduous days on the mountain.  THANKS EVERYONE!!!!  I hope you enjoy my story of the climb and don't forget that there is still time to donate!! Visit is external)to donate!

After an extremely long trip down to Argentina, I arrived in Mendoza full of excitement and trepidation.  I'm always a little nervous about leaving home for these trips but this one a bit more than others.  It must have been because I was traveling alone because as soon as I ran into some of the other climbers in my group in Chile my nerves calmed.  All my gear arrived safely in Mendoza (another worry of mine) and our guide met us outside customs.  It was a strange sensation but as soon as we got in the cabs to go to the hotel my nervousness left me and I just became excited to get climbing!  We had a great night and morning at the hotel organizing gear, going over the game plan for the climb and getting to know our entire team.   We hit the town early the next day, bought our climbing permits and hit the road toward the mountains.

The drive up toward the trailhead took about two and a half hours but the scenery was incredible!  Most of the crew caught up on sleep for the drive but I wanted to take in as much of the scenery as possible.  The Andes Mountains are spectacular!  Now don't get me wrong, I love my Rocky Mountains here in Colorado, but the Andes are so dramatic and different.  The region in which Aconcagua is located is actually a desert so instead of the mountain roads being lined by pine trees the rocky lines of the mountains can be clearly seen with the low vegetation.  The drive seemed to fly by.  We unloaded all our bags at our local outfitters shop and made our final decisions about what gear we would be carrying on our backs and what gear we would be sending in our mule bags.  Over the next three days we would only have to carry a fraction of our gear, the rest would be strapped onto some mules and run up to each of our next few camps.  We had a great pizza dinner for our last meal before we set out on our climb and I sat down with our guides and talked a little bit more about my hemophilia.  I was a bit nervous that they would worry about me and my hemophilia but after I showed them how I mix my factor and infuse myself, they seemed unfazed and actually more interested in hemophilia then worried about it.  That made me even more comfortable and excited to start climbing.

In the morning I took the last shower I would take for the next two weeks, packed my back pack and was ready to rock!  I wasn't nervous at all despite a 5 mile day coming up.  I felt strong.  It was only a five minute drive from our hotel to the trailhead at Punta de Vacas and after checking in at the ranger station we were on our way!  The trail was easy and the views spectacular.  The first day of the trek was filled with casual conversations learning all about my new friends.  It took us a few hours to cover the distance to our first camp, Las Lenas, and despite my feet being a little sore I felt awesome.  The highlight of our first night on the mountain was dinner. Our mule herders brought up tons of fresh beef and cooked a traditional Argentinean asado! An asado is basically a style of barbecuing and the food was amazing!  I ate way too much but after a long day of hiking it was a great surprise.

I awoke on the second day of our trek to find out that I hadn't been diligent enough about putting on sunscreen the day before.  I didn't have a bad sunburn but my neck was definitely burnt a bit and a small spot on my hand was fried.  I wouldn't be making that mistake again.  We started hiking around 9 and had a 11 mile hike ahead of us to Casa de Piedra.  The day started with a river crossing over a sketchy looking but stable bridge, quite a bit of elevation gain, and our first view of the actual mountain.  We hiked a total of 6 hours that day and as soon as camp came into sight so did Aconcagua!  The snow capped summit was still far in the distance but actually seeing it boosted my excitement even more!  It really is a beautiful peak.

Throughout the day I was feeling good but I started noticing a dull pain near my hip.  When we stopped for breaks and took my pack off the pain subsided.  I really couldn't figure out what was going on and by the time we reached camp, I was starting to get a bit concerned.  While we were setting up our tent, I reached back and felt a swollen area around my hip and my heart sank.  Two days into this epic trip, on the easy part of the climb, I had a bleed.  I realized that the belt on my pants had been twisted under my pack. Something so simple as a twisted belt could put an end to my trip ... I knew I had to infuse and instead of letting myself get down about this, I felt that this could be a good opportunity to show the guides exactly how an infusion works.  I grabbed Ryan and Koky and told them what was going on and prepared to infuse.  I showed them all the steps and then nailed the infusion.  It was a huge confidence boost to me to succeed in front of them and hopefully gave them the confidence that I can take care of anything with my hemophilia.  Then all I had to do was hope my hip got better.  Laying in the tent was incredibly uncomfortable but after finally getting comfortable sleep came easily.

As soon as I woke up on the third day of our trek I checked my hip.  Although it was still a bit swollen and tender to the touch it wasn't worse, which was encouraging.  Today was going to be a long day.  We were trekking all the way to Plaza Argentina, our basecamp for the climb which was still 9.3 miles away with an elevation gain of 3,280 feet (1000 m).  Once we packed up camp I threw my backpack on which was NOT pleasant!  The hip belt on my pack dug right into my bleed but I knew it wasn't serious and I wasn't going to let it stop me.  After a few minutes of walking the pain dulled and after the hours and hours of trekking I didn't even notice anymore.  The trek today was definitely the most difficult of the three.  Some parts of the trail were very narrow and we gained a ton of elevation.  Having the summit in site all day was great motivation and after about 8 hours of trekking, our basecamp came into site.  This basecamp will be our home for the next four nights and despite it being an amazing campground, it is dwarfed by the immense size of Aconcagua looming over us.  The trek to the mountain was amazing and fun but now the real adventure starts!  

After trekking for 3 days I was so excited to start moving up the mountain but ... I would have to wait one more day. We had a scheduled rest day at basecamp to let us recover from the trek and acclimate to the altitude of Plaza Argentina. Having a rest day at this point was probably perfect for me anyway. It gave me a chance to fully recover from my bleed, and since it was my scheduled prophylactic treatment day, I had no pressure getting my infusion done. The great thing about doing my infusions on these climbs is that I was always super hydrated! I was drinking at least 4 liters of water a day, sometimes even more. My veins were huge. So after an awesome breakfast, I headed down to my tent for the infusion. I couldn't have asked for it to go any better. Every time I have a successful infusion, especially in situations like this it really boosts my confidence. I was ready to rock!  

The last and only thing we had to do that day before we headed up the mountain was go see the doctor. As a precaution, every climber that heads to basecamp and wants to attempt to summit has to check in at the doctor. They check pulse-ox, blood pressure, and respiration rate. All of mine were good...I was cleared to head up the mountain!  We also went over what gear we should be carrying up. Since our route would take us up and over the mountain, and we would not be coming down the way we came up, we only wanted to take what was completely necessary. We couldn't leave excess gear at different camps because we wouldn't be going back down the same way. I went back to my tent and decided what gear would stay, what gear would go down with the mules, and what gear would be taken to and left at Camp 1 tomorrow. I was a little nervous about what to leave but felt pretty good overall about my decisions.

The fifth day of our expedition was our very first trip onto the mountain. We would be doing a carry of gear up to Camp 1 and stashing it there. In our stash bag would be a lot of our summit gear like big mittens, goggles, etc. It was a great feeling getting started on the climb that day. I was finally climbing Aconcagua! The first section of the day was fairly steep and rocky following next to the mountain stream. Several sections of the trail were narrow and the scree (small loose rock) that made up the trail washed out easily with a misstep. After this tricky section, the trail flattened out. We could see where Camp 1 was located and the massive face that awaited us. It didn't look bad at first but as we got closer, I could finally see the magnitude of the last face.  Fortunately, the weather had been nice up to that point, but as soon as we started up the last face, the wind really kicked up! A few of the gusts even knocked me off balance! It took us about 4.5 hours to reach Camp 1 but the view was totally worth it.

We dropped our gear when we stopped for lunch, then headed back down to base camp. This is where the exciting part of the day started. Going up the steep section was fun and tiring, but going down got a little hairy. Right off the bat Ryan asked if I wanted to hang near the back to avoid any rocks that may be kicked loose. I should've listened. We took a different route down, one that consisted of more loose rock. With every step you took, you basically slid down the hill and some rocks went flying. Being in the middle of the pack, sometimes the rocks from those climbers behind me came a little close. I felt like I was constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for a big one to come crashing down. I sped down the steepest section, trying desperately to stay in front of any wayward rocks. On the final section of the decent, one of our climbers did knock a big one loose ... right behind me. When I heard the rock come crashing I was terrified. Luckily it was about fifteen feet behind me but it taught me an extremely important lesson, listen to my guides! Thankfully we reached Plaza Argentina safely and had a wonderful dinner to cap of a great day. I headed to my tent and had no trouble sleeping that night.  I was exhausted.

The next day was another rest day. After finally getting on the mountain and still feeling energetic, I wasn’t excited to just be hanging around but I understood the purpose.  In climbing, one of the best techniques to acclimate well to the altitude is called “climb high, sleep low”.  So just like the day before we climbed up to an elevation of about 16,400ft (5000m) then came back down to Plaza Argentina to rest.  You shock your body by going to a higher elevation and hopefully trigger some of the necessary physiologic changes that will help your body react to the altitude better. We would be employing this technique at several points on the mountain and since we had a comfortable camp at Plaza Argentina with amazing food, spending another day there made sense. I spent the day reading, playing cards with the other climbers, and figuring what I needed to pack for the next day. Our move to Camp 1 was going to be a big day. Not only because we would be carrying much more gear but we would also be leaving the comfort of Plaza Argentina permanently. I spent much of the afternoon debating what was absolutely necessary to take up and what could be sent back to the hotel on a mule. I felt pretty comfortable with my decisions and went to bed, excited to finally move up the mountain!

Getting ready for our move was extremely exciting but as I started packing my backpack I realized it was going to weigh a ton! I had decided to send quite a bit of gear down the mountain and back to the hotel but as my pack got fuller and fuller, I questioned everything again. Were there other things that I didn’t need? I couldn’t think of anything in my pack that wasn’t completely necessary so as I stuffed the tent in and then some gear, I realized I just had to make it work. Since everyone's packs were huge, I felt like mine was acceptable. It probably weighed in around 40lb which seemed like a ton as I first put it on, but as we began our slow ascent to Camp 1, the weight disappeared into the back of my mind. Once again we trudged up the steep valley on loose rock but today felt completely different. There was so much more excitement today. We were finally making a huge step towards our goal. The sky was almost cloudless throughout our hike and no strong winds made for a pleasant climb. We completed the trip in about 4 hours, which, with our heavier loads seemed like a good sign. We found a great camping site, threw our tents up and moved in.  

We were finally sleeping on Aconcagua! As we hung around camp and ate dinner, Ryan pointed out the trail to Camp 2. We would be heading out the next day to take our first load there and then come back to Camp 1. All was well on the mountain but over the next few days that would change. One of my biggest fears for this trip was looming just around the corner. Bad weather. It began to roll in and our attempt at the summit was in jeopardy. Check back soon to hear about the climb from Camp 1 all the way to Camp 3! Also, I will try to upload a bunch of pictures to the site and facebook in the next few days! I hope you enjoy and remember to donate if you can!