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Aconcagua Summit – Photos and Wrap-up!

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition

The Jones Family and crew gave us a fantastic first trip of the season on Aconcagua! The highlights were many, from the huge asados (barbeques) we had throughout the trip (in Mendoza before and after the climb, at the base camps, and on every night of the trek in), the beautiful route, quiet clean camps, and the stunning views. This season was especially beautiful on the mountain, due to the amount of snow on the route and the surrounding peaks. A big snowstorm in early December covered Aconcagua, and meant that we wore big mountain boots and crampons for much of the climb. This made the climbing more interesting and quicker, and gave the Jones’ lots of time to work on their big mountain climbing skills. 

After a perfect first week or so on the mountain, we actually had to make a significant change to our itinerary. We had originally hoped to summit the peak on the 23rd or 24th of December. But our daily weather forecasts (essential on a big peak like Aconcagua) started to predict a big wind event from the 20-26 of the month. Since our team was strong (and wanted to be in Buenos Aires to celebrate Christmas) we decided to make a quick push, and hope that our acclimatization and strength could keep up. In 10 days of trekking and climbing we took only one rest day! But the team, made up of Callum, Tristan, and Gary Jones, along with Kiwi mountain guides/photographers Tim O’leary and John Thomssen, and Alpenglow guides Jaime Avila and Adrian Ballinger, performed perfectly throughout the multiple load carries, tags of camps, and big moves. We set 3 camps above basecamp, the final camp at 5970 meters (19,580 feet). 

Our night at Camp 3 was not the most comfortable, but the wind held off and Tristan captured too many funny moments with JT’s camera (watch our Vimeo site for a video to follow). We rested and hydrated until 2 AM, and by 3 AM we were off. The wind was already building by the 19th, and we were constantly managing the cold in consistent 40 kilometer winds. The benefit: we had the route completely to ourselves and the night was incredibly clear with a big moon. 

Due to the cold and the fast ascent, two of our members along with their guides decided to turn around, one at 6500 meters, one at 6750 meters. Callum, along with Tim and Adrian continued pushing, and at 10:05 AM, after only 6 1/2 hours on the route, stood on the tallest point in the Americas, Aconcagua, 22,841 feet (6962 meters)! In the wind we only spent about 15 minutes on top, just enough for quick photos. And then we began the long descent. The Jones’ decided that the only way to descend was quickly – we stopped for less than an hour at Camp 3 and then continued our traverse of Aconcagua (we climbed and descended two different sides of the mountain, completing what many call the “360” route, by far the most scenic and enjoyable climbing route on Aconcagua). By 4 PM we were all in the Plaza de Mulas basecamp, drinking celebratory beers and eating another huge steak while we watched a big snowfall and thunderstorm rage outside our tent heralding the big pressure change that was going to cause 110 kilometer-plus winds for the next week. Our timing was perfect!

And our quick descent didn’t stop there. After a few hours of sleep, we hopped in helicopters for a wild flight along the river valley out of the mountains. This flight allowed us to skip a long 7 hour hike, and gave us incredible views of Aconcagua and the valley, with the pilot flying less than 100 feet off the deck for most of the flight. And it meant that 24 hours after submitting Aconcagua, we were already back in Mendoza, tasting the best Malbecs in the world and enjoying the perfect summer weather!

After this whirlwind trip (15 days USA to USA) I am completely taken with Aconcagua, Argentina, and Mendoza. If you have been considering climbing the tallest peak in the Americas (also one of the seven summits, and a perfect training ground for 8000 meter peaks), don’t wait! Alpenglow offers annual open-enrollment climbs to the mountain, as well as frequent private groups. Our logistics are unparalleled, and we often use extras that really add to the experience – on-mountain porters, helicopter transport, and the best food I’ve ever had on a trek or mountain anywhere! Join us on Aconcagua in 2012!

Thanks to the Jones Family, and the guide team for a great climb.

-Adrian Ballinger, Alpenglow Expeditions