Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List

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by Matt and Agnes Hage | 2010-08-17 12:08:00-06

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List

Lightweight at 7,000 Meters

After fine tuning our lightweight techniques for big mountains on two ascents of Denali (6,194 meters) in the Alaska Range, we thought it time to take our show on the road. Cerro Aconcagua has been on our ‘to do’ list for many years. At 6,962 meters, Aconcagua is the highest peak in the Andes, and thus South America. It is also a great mountain to test yourself camping at 6,000 meters. The mountain is an enormous stratovolcano at 32 degrees below the equator. We expected much milder conditions high in the central Andes than we are used to in our home sub-arctic ranges. During the peak climbing season of January/February, normal low temperatures are slightly below freezing and permanent snow on the route is rare. The mountain has a trail system that allows climbers to quickly move between camps solo, unroped and often in trail running shoes. Aconcagua seemed like the perfect test for going light on our first 7,000-meter peak.

The only similarity between an ascent of Denali’s West Buttress and one of the standard routes on Aconcagua is that you are moving a camp up mountain. Going big in the Andes was a completely different experience. First off, Aconcagua lacks the deep, glacial snow pack of the Alaska Range. This drastically affects the way you move and camp on route. Without the need to use floatation and with an extensive trail network, we wore old trail runners for most of the route. The shoes were originally just for the approach hike into the mountain and then for around camp. But warm temps and dry trail conditions allowed us to hike in shoes all the way to our high camp at 5,980 meters. Plastic mountain boots were worn on days we moved camp so as to keep them out of our packs.

Taking Shelter

Along with how we traveled between camps, the lack of snow forced us to think differently about how we would make camps. The flanks of Aconcagua are a fantastic wonderland of volcanic rock and rubble. There is little natural protection from any weather events that may arise off the Pacific Ocean just to the west. Tales of El Viento Blanco, The White Wind, smashing camps on the upper mountain are the stuff of legend. Snow is a great construction material, allowing Alaska climbers to ‘dig in’ and surround their camps with thick walls of quarried blocks, which is key to using an ultralight shelter on big mountains. On the volcanic slopes of the Andes, not so much. Another consideration is the speed that volcanic rock eats through sil-nylon, a lesson learned from using our 2.5-pound sil-nylon tent on a previous volcanic trek. For this adventure, we finally decided on a more traditional double-wall mountaineering tent with bomber guylines that attached to the tent body.

Cache and Carry

We embarked on our just-over-two-week (seventeen days) trek in mid-January, peak season for ascents of Aconcagua. Our route would take us on a three-day hike up the Vacas Valley into Plaza Argentina (4,100 meters), basecamp for routes on the north side of the mountain. We enjoyed mule support to this point with most of our food, gas, and mountain gear packed into two barrels. We spent three days for acclimatization and made a carry to our next camp at 5,000 meters. Snow storms kept us tent-bound for one day at each camp, but they never left any accumulation. Our next carry was to our high camp at Colera (5,980 meters) where we cached four days of food and fuel. The next day we moved to Guanacos Camp at 5,500 meters for a couple more nights to acclimatize. This officially began our traverse of the mountain as we moved to the western side.

A building weather front kept us at camp two for three days, as we preferred to wait out storm events at lower, more protected camps. With what looked to be a sign that the storm was abating, we moved to our high camp just in time to catch the front's full fury. Four days of wind and snow ensued. Our camp at Colera was positioned above the normal area and protected by wild volcanic formations; a Godsend for the strong winds. We emerged on January 26 to a winter wonderland. After a long morning of digging out and preparations, we headed out for the summit at a leisurely ten o’clock in the morning. Turned out the snowstorm was pure luck, as it was much easier to kick steps in the foot of fresh snow than it would have been to hike scree in plastic boots. Our hike landed us on the summit of Aconcagua five hours after leaving camp. The top was an international scene like we’ve never encountered in the mountains. Several different languages filled the air and a cross-cultural camera exchange took place (take my picture?). After a couple oxygen-starved hours on top, we descended back to high camp. Thanks to the new snow, we were having our first round of dinner two hours later.

Porters, Porters Everywhere

There is another aspect of trekking on Aconcagua that caught us by surprise. This was our first head on collision with serious commercial mountaineering. There are no reliable figures kept for climbing Aconcagua, but the number of non-guided people on the mountain could be counted on both hands. Given that we do also see more guided climbers than independent on Denali’s Washburn Route, the flavor of these groups differed greatly from what we’ve experienced in Alaska. Aconcagua guided trips are more expensive. Support by mule teams and porters (yes, people do hire porters on Aconcagua) make it possible to trek to the summit carrying only a water bottle. Many people around us happily paid full price to have their packs carried for them. And the porters were only too happy to oblige. How this affects being on the mountain as a non-guided party is that the talk around camp follows two genres: Ed Viesturs (the famous mountaineer) and CEO/CFO jargon. As always, making sure you have a compatible partner is the best piece of gear you can bring.

Matt's Gear List
Function Item Worn
(oz)
Packed
(oz)
Clothing Worn      
Trekking Shorts MontBell Stretch Light Shorts 10  
Trekking Shirt MontBell Wickron T-Shirt 5.1  
Trekking Socks SmartWool PhD Running Ultra Socks 1.6  
Trekking Shoes Salomon XT Wings 2 Trail 27.2  
Sun Hat Patagonia Velocity Cap 2  
Eye Protection Julbo Nomad 1.4  
Top Layers      
Top Shell Layer MontBell Peak Shell   11.2
Top Insulating Layer Patagonia Micro Puff Pullover   12
Top Mid Layer Patagonia R1 Pullover   11.6
Top Mid Layer SmartWool Crew   8.4
Top Base Layer Patagonia Biostretch Crew   5.6
Bottom Layers      
Trekking Pants Patagonia Alpine Guide Pants   20.7
Bottom Mid Layer SmartWool Bottoms   7.4
Bottom Base Layer Patagonia Biostretch Tights   4.4
*Bottom Insulating Layer MontBell UL Inner Down Pants   7.2
*Bottom Shell Layer MontBell Alpine Pants   15.4
Footwear      
*Shell Boots Lowa Denali Plastic Boots   65.2
*Insulating Boots Intuition Denali Liners   10.8
*Socks (2) SmartWool Socks   6.4
*Sock Liners (2) Under Armour Liner Socks   5.2
Other Clothing      
Warm Hat Patagonia Stocking Hat   2.6
Shell Gloves BD Shell Gloves   3.4
Liner Gloves (2) Patagonia Liner Gloves   2.4
*Insulating Gloves BD Gloves   11.6
*Face Protection MH Balaclava   1.4
*Face Protection Columbia Neck Gaiter   1.5
Sleeping System      
Sleeping Bag Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0   42
Sleeping Pad Therm-a-Rest NeoAir (S)   9
Insulating Pad Blue Foam Pad   8.4
Shelter      
Tent MontBell StellaRidge 2   72.7
Cooking System      
Bowls 32oz Nalgene Container   8.3
Water Bottle Insulation (1) OR Bottle Parka   9.2
Water Bottle (1) Nalgene   7.8
Hydration Bladder MSR Cloudliner Hydration (3L)   5
Fuel Bottle 33 oz MSR   15.6
Eating Utensil Lite My Fire All Purpose Utensil   2.5
Water Bladders (2) Platypus Platy Bottle (2L)   2.6
Packing System      
Backpack GoLite Gust Pack (M) 20  
Pack Liner Sea to Summit 35L   2.4
Pack Cover Sea to Summit Rain Cover (S)   3.2
Technical Gear      
Trekking Poles Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles 18  
*Ice Axe 70cm Camp USA XLA 210   10
*Crampons BD Sabretooth   33.8
Other Essentials      
Repair Kit Duct Tape, Nylon Patches, Sewing Kit,
Therm-a-Rest Repair Kit, Clamps
  5.8
Pee Bottle Nalgene Canteen   2.2
Reading Material Reading Book   5.8
Camera Canon G10 w/ battery and cards   14.2
Pack Towel MSR Nano Towel (S)   0.4
Consumables      
Food (2) days   59.8
Water (1) liter   32
*Food (14) days   418.6
*Fuel (1) Gallon Container   128
Total Weight   oz lbs
Total Weight (Worn/Carried)   85.3 5.3
Total Base Pack Weight   292.6 18.3
Total Weight Consumables   91.8 5.7
Total Initial Weight (Base + Consumable)   384.4 24.0
Total Weight Carried by Mules   715.1 44.7
Full Skin Out Weight   469.7 29.4
* Carried by mules to Plaza Argentina (basecamp) at 4,100 meters   

Ags' Gear List
Function Item Worn
(oz)
Pack
(oz)
Clothing Worn      
Top Base Layer MontBell Wickron T-Shirt 3.7  
Trekking Shorts ExOfficio Nio Amphi Shorts 4.2  
Trekking Socks SmartWool PhD Running Ultra Socks 1.2  
Trekking Shoes Salomon XT Wings 2 Trail 26  
Sun Hat Patagonia Velocity Cap 2  
Eye Protection Julbo Nomad 1.4  
Top Layers      
Top Shell Layer MontBell Peak Shell   9.8
Top Insulating Layer U.L.Thermawrap Jacket   7.5
Top Insulating Layer Patagonia R1 Pullover   9.1
Top Mid Layer Patagonia Capilene 3 Zip Neck   6.4
Top Mid Layer SmartWool Crew   6.2
Top Base Layer Patagonia Biostretch Crew   4.2
Bottom Layers      
Trekking Pants MontBell Trail Pants   8.6
Bottom Mid Layer Patagonia R1 Bottoms   7
Bottom Base Layer Patagonia Biostretch Bottoms   4
*Bottom Insulating Layer MontBelll UL Inner Down Pants   5.8
*Bottom Shell Pants MontBell Alpine Pants   15.4
Footwear      
*Shell Boots Koflach Degres Boots   60.6
*Insulating Boots Intuition Denali Liners   7.6
*Socks (2) SmartWool Socks   6.4
*Sock Liners (2) SmartWool Liner Socks   5.2
Other Clothing      
Warm Hat SmartWool Hat   2.9
Shell Gloves BD Shell Gloves   3.4
Liner Gloves (2) Patagonia Liner Gloves   2.4
*Insulating Gloves MH Subzero Down Mittens   11
*Face Protection Seirus Balaclava   2.6
*Face Protection Comfort Skins Neck Gaiter   1.2
Sleeping System      
Sleeping Bag U.L.Super Spiral Down Hugger #0   40
Sleeping Pad Therm-a-Rest NeoAir (S)   9
Insulating Pad Blue Foam Pad   7.8
Shelter      
Stakes (8) Snow Stacks   9.6
Cooking System      
Stove MSR XGK w/ Kit   20
Bowl 32oz Nalgene Container   8.3
Water Bottle Insulation (1) OR Bottle Parka   9.2
Water Bottle (1) Nalgene   7.8
Hydration Bladder Platypus Big Zip SL (2L)   5.5
Fuel Bottle 33 oz MSR   15.6
Cooking Pot Open Country 4L   11.4
Eating Utensil Lite My Fire All Purpose Utensil   2.5
Packing System      
Backpack GoLite Gust w/ straps (S) 20  
Dry Bag Sea to Summit S   2.8
Pack Liner Sea to Summit 20L   1.8
Pack Cover Sea to Summit Rain Cover (S)   3.2
Technical Gear      
Self Arrest Ski Poles (1) BD Whippet Pole and BD Ski Pole 20.6  
*Ice Axe 60cm Camp USA XLA 210   8.8
*Crampons BD Sabretooth   36.2
Other Essentials      
First Aid Kit Homemade Kit   6.2
Toiletries Dr Bronner Soap, Toothbrushes, Toothpaste   10
Pee Funnel Freshette   1
Reading Material Reading Book   5
GPS Garmin Foretrex 410 3  
Consumables      
Food (2) days   59.8
Water (1) liter   32
*Food (14) days   418.6
*Fuel (1) Gallon Container   128
Total Weight   oz lbs
Total Weight (Worn/Carried)   82.1 5.1
Total Base Pack Weight   248.6 15.5
Total Weight Consumables   91.8 5.7
Total Initial Weight (Base + Consumable)   340.4 21.3
Total Weight Carried by Mules   707.4 44.2
Full Skin Out Weight   422.5 26.4
*Carried by mules to Plaza Argentina (basecamp) at 4,100 meters  

Please click on a thumbnail to view the full gallery.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 1
Agnes ready to roll at Casa de Piedra (3,200 meters), our second approach-camp in the Rio de las Vacas Valley. Here, muleteers prepare their loads for the final haul to the Plaza Argentina (4,200 meters), base camp on the north side of Aconcagua (6,962 meters) in the Andes of Argentina.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 2
Mule supported ultralight! Agnes gets a lift across the Rio de las Vacas enroute to Plaza Argentina.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 3
The start of our three-day approach hike up the Rio de Vacas Valley to our basecamp at Plaza Argentina.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 4
Plaza Argentina. This is the usual basecamp for climbers who approach the mountain from the east side. Our route took us on a traverse of the mountain from Plaza Argentina to Summit to Plaza de Mulas (4,230 meters).

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 5
Climbers gather in "the bar" at Plaza de Mulas. Plaza de Mulas is the basecamp for those climbers wishing to climb the Normal Route.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 6
Heading out of Plaza de Mulas for a two-day hike out the Horcones Valley.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 7
Agnes crosses the final bridge over the Horcones River with Aconcagua in the background.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 8
The Polish Glacier and East Face of Aconcagua (6,962 meters) on our move to Camp One (5,000 meters) on Aconcagua.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 9
Agnes navigates through a field of penitentes enroute to Camp One.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 10
Agnes crawls in the tent at Camp One during our two-week expedition. For this mountain trip, we used a more traditional double-wall tent.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 11
Camp One with the Rio de las Vacas valley below. The third day, our approach traveled the valley below.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 12
Snow and ice melt during the heat of the day provided flowing water at most of our camps. Agnes fills up from a field of penitentes at Camp One.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 13
Agnes moves our camp to what will be our high camp at Colera (5,980 meters) on Aconcagua.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 14
Gran Acarreo on Aconcagua in the Andes of Argentina.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 15
Climbers on the Cresta del Viento (Windy Crest) above Independencia Hut (6,400 meters).

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 16
Matt Hage makes his way up the Canaleta to the summit.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 17
Matt and Agnes Hage on the summit of Aconcagua in the Andes of Argentina. Our route took us on a traverse of the mountain from Plaza Argentina to Summit to Plaza de Mulas. Aconcagua is the highest peak in South America and is one of the Seven Summits.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 18
Our high camp at Colera. Agnes packs up camp for our descent the day after reaching the summit.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 19
Plaza de Mulas, base camp for the western side of Aconcagua, marks the end of our descent.

Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List - 20
One of the many restaurants at Plaza de Mulas that offer pizza and a soda after our descent.

Matt and Agnes Hage scheme up ultralight adventures from their home in Anchorage, Alaska.


Citation

"Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List," by Matt and Agnes Hage. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/aconcagua_photo_essay_gear_list.html, 2010-08-17 12:08:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List


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Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: thanks on 09/09/2010 14:21:09 MDT Print View

The people who seemed to have the most problems with the iron oxide warmers had them stuck on their socks, inside their boots. However, I don't use them, so I can't say.

I have found the sodium acetate phase change warmers to be pretty good, primarily because they are reusable.

--B.G.--

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: How light is light? on 09/09/2010 20:41:18 MDT Print View

"Acclimatization: Most of what we've heard is old wives tales; the science is different."

Buzz, I think there are many people who would like to see your references on this.

--B.G.--

Buzz Burrell
(BBolder) - F
re: How light is right? on 09/09/2010 21:08:59 MDT Print View

"... many people who would like to see your references."

OK. Here's one:

"It takes 19 days to make a red blood cell."
- Dr Tom Hornbein
First ascent Everest West Ridge, first traverse of 8,000M peak, highest bivouac ever; Professor University of Washington School of Medicine, leading authority on high-altitude physiology. Direct personal quote.

Your turn.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: re: How light is right? on 09/09/2010 21:21:40 MDT Print View

I thought it was an average of 21 days. However, that is not in dispute. Sure, red blood cells transport oxygen, and it takes 19 or 21 days to produce one, on the average. But, what is your point? Red blood cells do not a mountaineer make. Production of extra red blood cells is important only for long term acclimatization and has nothing at all to do with short term acclimatization (to altitude).

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I got the impression that you were suggesting that rushing up Aconcagua (like you apparently did) was a safer way to go than to climb it in a traditional fashion. I got the impression that your understanding of the science agreed with your way. By "safer," I meant less chance of a serious medical problem.

--B.G.--

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: re: How light is right? on 09/09/2010 23:57:22 MDT Print View

Buzz, let me see if I can crystalize my thought here. In reference to Aconcagua, you stated that the climbing is easy.

(Yes, relatively so, but surface conditions can change pretty rapidly up there.)

You stated that the danger on this mountain is the camping.

(That's a pretty silly statement, if you think about it.)

If spending nights up high is what makes you sick, tired, and dehydrated, then you are doing several things wrong.

What I think maybe you meant was that the danger on this mountain is in sleeping overnight. If you are going up so terribly fast as you were, then spending a night up very high would be dangerous. However, that kind of a stunt is done successfully by only a tiny percentage of people who go there. In other words, if you are a "Viesturs" kind of guy, then I say "more power to you." However, for the remaining 99% of us, doing the rush ascent like that is extremely risky, at least from a medical risk point of view.

It has often been said that most of the severe forms of high altitude illness take 12-24 hours to set in, and they take at least 24-36 hours to become fatal. I think your strategy was to run up and down the mountain and escape before the bad problems could set in. I've only done a little of that myself, but never this seriously, and never this high. I mean, the summit is approximately 80% the height of Everest, so it is a no-fooling-around mountain.

Despite all of this, there are some forms of high-altitude illness that can be fatal in single-digit hours (ex., HACE). If you had the bad luck to get hit with something like this when you were topping out on the Canaleta, rescue would be almost impossible, and fatal consequences follow. I've been up on high mountains before when climbers got sick like that, and I would personally strive to avoid those situations as much as possible.

So, I suspect that you ought to get tested by some physiology lab. Maybe you have the same genes as Ed Viesturs. If so, that would explain a few things. The rest of us mortals may have to continue to plod up the big peaks in the traditional fashion or else risk meeting our Maker.

--B.G.--

Buzz Burrell
(BBolder) - F
re: How Light is Right on 09/10/2010 07:47:18 MDT Print View

Again, no argument Bob, just offering another perspective, and suggesting people review newer medical knowledge of the acclimatization process, a full citation of which is beyond my scope in this discussion.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: re: How Light is Right on 09/10/2010 11:50:17 MDT Print View

Buzz, I was hoping that you had some references to share on this newer medical knowledge. We understand Houston and Hornbein and all of that, but newer stuff would be good.

--B.G.--

Kristin Tennessen
(ktenness) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevadas
RE: Aconcagua Photo Essay and Gear List on 09/23/2010 02:18:44 MDT Print View

I love love love reading about your summit excursions! What's next on your list- Elbrus? I had lunch at the base last week and it's a beautiful mountain.

Michael Richey
(beaverboymike) - M

Locale: Southern Utah
Re: How light is light? on 12/08/2010 10:10:05 MST Print View

2) It takes 19 days to make a red blood cell.


Real answer: Roughly 7 days to make a red blood cell.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_blood_cell#Artificially_grown_red_blood_cells

Robert Cowman
(rcowman) - F - M

Locale: Canadian Rockies
wkipedia on 12/08/2010 11:00:36 MST Print View

Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information, that why you cant use it for post secondary research. Anyone can put anything down and who can really dispute it then. also that's artificially grown in a lab from a stem cell. That's now how the human body creates red blood cells.