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A Mighty Wind

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Words by Alpenglow Expeditions guide Chad Peele

With winter in full effect in the U.S. I packed up my climbing kit along with shorts and flip flops and headed to the airport for the long flight into Mendoza Argentina. Aconcagua at 22,841 ft. was our goal and our team had been preparing themselves for a Rapid Ascent of South America’s highest summit by pre acclimatizing in Hypoxico Tents. After sleeping at gradually higher altitudes in the comfort of our homes, we were ready to tackle this “seven summits” mountain at an accelerated pace.

After a humid night of exploring the town and dining on Mendoza’s best steak and wine, we woke early and drove the three hours to Penitentes where we were hoping to fly by helicopter into base camp. Unfortunately the poor weather reports were already coming in and the pilot decided it was best to wait until the following morning. We took advantage of this extra “city” night and caught up with other mountain guides, climbers and enjoyed one last restaurant meal before heading to bed. The next morning brought clear skies and low winds and we headed to the Heli pad at the Park entrance.

The flight into Base camp was beautiful and with only 7-10 minutes of flight time we made quick work in getting our team and equipment into Plaza Argentinas at 13,800 ft. Warmly greeted by the staff of Grajales Expeditions, we settled into our new home and organized gear and food for the upcoming ascent. As weather reports streamed in by satellite and descending climbers, we knew that conditions were not ideal but all we could do was hope that the winds would shift in our favor. Utilizing Grajales’s porters (some of the nicest and strongest men I’ve met!) we started the scenic hike up to Camp one at 16,000 ft. The meandering trail slowly made its way through the terminal moraine and lingering penitentes (tall thin blades of hardened snow and ice) formations to a large bench where we shared our camp with numerous other expeditions. Although camp was comfortable, it is quite exposed if the winds are ripping through and that night was an exception! Our tents flapped and whipped in the winds and we knew this would be a very different season on this peak. The next morning brought increased winds and snow and we spent the day watching teams attempt and fail at carrying loads to Camp 2. We spent a second night at 16,000 ft hoping that weather would decrease and allow for a safe push higher but as the forecast only deteriorated we decided it was best for our team and our equipment to descend back to BC where it was safer and calmer to wait for a better window.

Given the fact that our team was already acclimatized with the Hypoxico tents, we could afford the wait followed by a speedy push to our high camp followed by the summit. Unfortunately after several nights, the forecast was extremely clear in that no window would come. Our “best” summit window would be in 35 mph winds with very low wind chill temperatures and we would have had to survive several nights of 40-65 mph winds just to attempt this less than ideal push. Knowing how hard it was at camp one and after much internal and team dialogue, we determined that a safe ascent was unrealistic given these conditions.

With sad hearts we said goodbye to this amazing mountain knowing that we had done all we could in our short amount of time but also knowing that this unmovable rock would be here for another attempt in safer conditions another time. At the time of this writing no other teams have summited from Plaza Argentinas and we are keeping our fingers crossed for better weather for Alpenglow Expedition’s next program starting in the following week.

Be safe and climb smart my friends!