8 months in review.....
Posts from the ‘Argentina’ Category
I crossed over the border to Bolivia today.
I was behind a few other tourists in line, but they were part of the list of countries that is able to get into Bolivia easily.
I, on the other hand, come from a country that is listed in a secondary group — along with Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and other similar countries. And the good ol´US of A. So, I had lots of fun paperwork to fill out and a hefty entrance fee (though good for 5 years) in order to get my visa.
But, here I am – in Bolivia.
I left the border town and headed for Tupiza where I am now. It is the SW of Bolivia…. so think SW… supposedly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their demise here.
There are all sorts of tourist options around here – including day trips by horse, jeep trips, etc. This is also a possible jumping off point for a 4 day trip to Salar de Uyuni — the one tour I definitely want to spend the money on (anyone have suggestions?).
I have some great pictures from the past few days, but wifi might be hard to come by in the next few days…. I will post when I get a chance.
I´m off to walk around, buy food at the market (always an exciting adventure when you can´t really understand what they are saying to you), and enjoy the sun.
hope you are all well.
I get scared each time I do something new.
I get scared when I change countries or take a bus for the first time in a country or when I have to communicate with people and we don’t share the same language or sometimes even when I change towns.
But once I do that new thing, once I take that first bus ride or figure out directions on my own, it as all ok again. Until the next new adventure, of course.
So, the other day when I left Mike and Beth and took a 21 hour bus ride north to Jujuy, I was really nervous. This was my first solo experience in Argentina. My first solo bus trip. My first foray into Spanish. I had been hiding behind Beth big time, on the Spanish front — having her do all my communicating! But now, it was all up to me….
It is the little things – the little steps that feel like big accomplishments. For instance, I had to make a transfer on my bus to get here (Jujuy). I was not sure of what the bus guy said (they speak so damn fast) and so I asked my bus neighbor. I found out I had to transfer buses at that moment.
Another accomplishment: I took the public bus to Lagunas de Yala — these three lakes that I hiked up to. I found the bus, took the bus, asked for directions and caught the bus back. All by myself.
I have gotten food in the market, ordered coffee and translated a whole newspaper article (that took me a long time and had to look up a lot of the words!).
These might not sound like a big deal, but with each success I feel more comfortable and confident. Sometimes traveling by myself, I spend a lot of time by myself and in my own head (especially with the language barrier). It is hard to not psyche myself out sometimes.
So — now I am feeling like I can make it on my own again (of course I knew that I could but…. like I said, sometimes I get scared….).
Tomorrow, I head north to Tilcara which is on the way to Bolivia. It is suppose to be a beautiful area that is just an hour and a halj north of here. I am not sure how long I will stay there, though I imagine that I will make my way into Bolivia around the first of the month. And I am sure that I will get scared once again. But until then, I think I am ready to tackle the challenges in front of me.
Oh, and did I mention that I am here during rainy season?
We choose to go in the Vacas Valley Route as this is less populated and would allow us to get a full view of the mountain as we would essential come in from the south, travel up the west side and then down the NE side (which is the normal route). About 75% of the people go up the normal route, so we expected it to be less crowded. Another difference between th Vacas Valley and the Horcones Valley (normal route) is that the approach is longer on the Vacas Valley side — it takes 3 days to get to base camp (versus two).
The walk in was up the valley, through the grasslands along a stream/river. It was quite hot during the day, but much cooler at night and at times we got a sense of how fierce the winds would be and we learned early to stake down our tents well.
Each day, we would pack up our two duffles (each weighing about 30 kilos) with food and some hard gear (double plastic boots, ice axes, crampons) and leave them for the muleteer, who would then strap them to the mules and take off. The muleteers camped where we did, so we could count on getting into our food bags each day.
Eventually, we reached base camp. Now…. imagine the pictures you have seen of mountain base camps – yep, looks the same. Some structures that are there all season long and then all the hopeful climbers and their tents. Base camp seems exciting — but really it is boring as hell. You are sitting around waiting to climb. We got there fairly early on the 3rd day (keeping true to my desire to hike early in the morning before it gets too hot!), had a rest day the next day, then a carry day and then a rest day. So – we got there on the 3rd day and we would not be leaving again, really, until 8th day. Yep, that’s a long time.
There are 4 types of days in mountaineering. Here are my definitions:
- Carry days — you take as much stuff as you can – that you don’t need – and bring it up to your next camp. You have to be strategic though in case someone gets hurt or sick or weather comes in. For instance, you cannot bring up your tent, as you still need it down low. These days can be tough as you are still acclimating to the new elevation. But they also involved staying up the new elevation for a few hours (which for me, almost always involved a nap up high in the sun).
- Move days — the days you take all the rest of your stuff up to the next camp. These are usually permanent moves, such as from base camp to camp 1. Usually pretty exciting and usually faster than the carry day.
- Rest days — these are the most boring days in the world. you do….. literally…. nothing. I napped a whole lot on this expedition — like almost every day. But rest days, I pretty much spend the entire day in the tent, trying to nap, trying to stay out of the sun but getting way too hot in the tent. They would have been great days for a book…. if i had brought one….
- Summit days — these are the days you get up at some ungodly hour, like 2 in the morning, freezing, trying to boil water and keep yourself warm and then start walking slowly uphill for something like 7 hours. All for a summit. And then come back downhill for a few hours before passing out.
In any case, basecamp for us was a mix of rest days and carrys. It was good to get our systems figured out and eat, drink and acclimate. Here was where it was clear the difference between the classes. There were some people like us – going independently, without a guide. we were the ones with the big duffles, with bags that always looked full and did not have the most amazing meals on the mountain (tuna in a box, anyone?).
And then there were the guided groups. They were the ones who had people cook for them, went into the tents for dinner, had hot water delivered to their tents, and did not have to carry quite as much stuff up the mountain.
In any case, eventually it was time to move up to camp one. We were all mostly feeling well (Mike had some digestive stuff going on — though the tuna in the box seemed to be the culprit — it was pretty gross), so up we went from 4200m up to 5000m. All along, the weather was gorgeous — blue, clear skies every day. Not a cloud in sight and barely any wind.
Camp 1 definitely had a different feel — no services, people in transit or resting, no more real differences between people (unless your guide brought you hot water in the tent in the morning — but we tried to ignore that! :). Things just felt a bit more exciting.
After arriving at camp 1 – we had a carry day and then a move day. Camp 2 wasn’t too far — just another 450m (though of course 5450m is about 18,000 feet). Both our carry and moves went well – and we had amazing views of the mountain along the way. We also started our traverse from the west side of the mountain across to the north side where we would join up with the normal route. We also had some amazing views of the Polish Glacier which is suppose to be a pretty gnarly route up the mountain.
So – there we were at camp 2. We meet a guy, Grey, who was the only American in a group of Swiss. We spoke a bunch (we think he was lonely for english speakers!) and he let us borrow his sat phone (which I used to call Cody). We also asked him for weather information – as we figured the beautiful weather was not there to stay for long.
We carried up to camp 3, our high camp at 6000m (~20,000 feet) which went well for the most part. I was climbing really strong — made it from 5450 to 6000 in under 2.5 hours. Beth and Michael who had never been to such high elevations were struggling a bit more – plus Beth was coming down with a cold.
And then…. decision time. Basically, several groups decided to head up a day early (on the 12th) to try and summit on the 13th (even though the original plan was for the 14th like us). It was rumored that the weather on the 13th was going to be the best for awhile — clear skies and low winds. Our team discussed this and at first decided to go for it (which would mean missing a rest day at camp 2 and moving straight up to camp 3 the day after our carry day), but eventually it was decided that a rest day would be important to help Beth and Michael acclimate a bit better – so we stayed (along with just one other group).
The day everyone (else) moved up was cold, windy, and snowy. A few groups carried up to camp 2 and one solo person moved up to our camp – so now there were 3 parties in camp 2. That night, while we were cooking dinner — the 3rd solo party came over to ask for help with his stove which he could not get going. We let him use our stove that night and then next morning and we got to hear his story.
Turns out that Alberto (aka ‘the machine’) had come up to camp 2 from base camp. He is an Italian mountain guide — works in the Dolomites and Chamonix primarily. But, we called him the machine because four days after arriving in Argentina he was in camp 2 and on the 5th day he moved up to camp 3. Yep — that is pretty much no time for acclimating. In any case, Alberto pretty much adopted us and was with us for the rest of his time in Argentina.
But — back to the weather and camp 2. As I mentioned, we decided not to head up on the 12th to take advantage of the weather on the 13th. We had heard one report that said that the 14th would be clear (though all the other reports we heard said it would be windy). Unfortunately, the morning of the 13th, when we woke, it was clear with very low winds — which would have made for a great summit day.
In fact, when we arrived at the high camp later that day – we saw two Germans who had started the same day we had (but moved up their summit day to take advantage of the weather). They had just returned from the summit and gave us glowing reports of low winds and amazing views. We hoped our chance was next…..
On the evening of the 13th, we heard weather reports of clear mornings but high winds. But — it seemed to be our only chance. We could tell that our bodies were not doing well the longer we stayed at the high elevations (it is reported that the human body starts to deteriorate above 5000m). For instance, the 2 hours and 20 minutes it took me to climb the 450m up to high camp? The second time we did it for the move — it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes. The goal was to get faster, not slower…..
But — it was go time.
Beth and I woke up at 3 (Mike had opted not to join us as he was still struggling with the elevation) and we got dressed. Mike, amazingly, woke and helped us get hot water so we could hydrate and have something warm to drink. The icy winds were rattling the tent every couple of minutes and I was already shivering. We spent quite a bit of time looking for others who were awake (where the winds too high? we weren’t sure — but eventually we saw other headlamps).
Finally, just before 5, Beth and I started up the mountain. Alberto joined us for a bit – but not surprising, the elevation was affecting him and he had to head down. We were climbing strong and quickly caught up with a group in front of us. Within two hours we had climbed about 300m (your goal is to be traveling at least 80-100m per hour — so we were doing really well). But the winds…. the winds were fierce and biting and sometimes almost knocked us off our feet. Our faces were at risk of freezing. My toes and fingers were cold (and I was wearing 6 layers on top – but had my big puffy in my bag as a backup). At times, we could see the wind heading our way (as it picked up snow) and we would lower our heads, prepared for the onslaught, but still almost got knocked over. It was rough.
Though we were the first to turn around, many others came down later that morning. though the sun was coming up, we knew that the winds were suppose to get even worse later in the day. It took us about an hour or so in our bags to warm up. The rest of the day was spent in tents, staying warm and eating food. Alberto decided to try for the next day (he was ultimately successful) but at that point we had been above 5000 for about 5 or 6 days — our bodies were tired.
And so, on day 14 of being on the mountain (on Feb. 15th) we headed down the mountain. It was a long scree field — but with plastic boots on I could make it down in about 3 hours. We went from 6000m down to base camp at 4300m. It was strange to head down to so many people (on the normal route — which I would never recommend) but our trip was over. The following day, we hiked the 7 hours (16 miles) out to the road and then caught a bus back to Mendoza.
I love making lists. To do lists. Things to buy list. New gear. Places to go. Things to do.
But my favorite kind of lists? Bucket lists. Life lists. The lists of things that I hope to do in my life. They range from the practical (sort of) to the absurd. From building a cob house to trekking in Mongolia. From having a fantastic wedding weekend party with all my friends and family to climbing a 7000 meter peak. Yes, many of them are outdoor related. Many of them include mountains.
Making the list is super fun. It allows me to dream and think about what I really want in life. It helps me narrow the focus (even if the list is as varied as having a garden to learning how to make a good loaf of bread to living in a foreign country for a year). When I read back over the list (and I have been adding and modifying it for years), I see patterns and it helps me to make decisions.
But, you know what is really fun? Checking things off the list! That is amazing.
#7. Trekking in the Himalayas. Check.
#15. Take a year off to travel. Check.
Incidentally, the other day when I told someone about what I was doing this year, he responded ‘living’ the dream, huh?’. Yup, yes I am, I responded, grinning. (and this was coming from a guy who is an athlete for sierra designs and runs his own guiding company).
Being able to actually do what is on my bucket list is a true gift. I know that. I am aware of that and feel blessed and lucky. I AM livin’ the dream. But what happens when you try for your bucket list and fail?
Aconcagua has been on my list for years. Ever since I first started climbing mountains in Oregon 10 years ago, Aconcagua has been on my list. I remember when I took my mountaineering course, hearing tales of Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, I thought… I want to do that. A large part of this year, the planning and scheduling of it, was based off of climbing Aconcagua. I wanted that summit. Maybe too much.
So, what happens when you try and you fail?
I have had my fair share of frustrations, missed opportunities, disappointments. Jobs, relationships, friends, students, men, plans, etc. The list can go on and on, right? We all have. But it is what we do with those disappointments, how close we hold on to them. How much we regret them. How much we second guess those ‘red-button’ decisions, those decisions that decide the fate of your dreams.
So, no. We did not make it to the summit. Aconcagua does not get to be checked off my bucket list. Today I am sitting with my disappointment, waiting for it to dissipate. Working on letting go and adding it back to the bucket list and letting that be ok.
Trip report is coming. I promise!
we are back.
all are safe and well.
trip report soon.
The last two days have been full of running around the city, gathering supplies, buying a shitload of food and spending an even bigger shitload of money.
Food? ~$500 (maybe? haven’t totalled yet)/group
Mule? $360/for one
Bus ? $53/person
And of course there is fuel and backpack repairs and water bottles and whatever else we have gathered the last few days. Yesterday we traveled to a huge grocery store and got the bulk of our supplies. Today was spent getting odds and ends and packing up all said food. At this point, we are just about done…. which I have to say, I am SO thankful for. If you have ever done food packout for more than a few days, you know how annoying it can be!
So…. we off tomorrow…. we will catch a bus to a camp that is run by the company we purchased our mule support from. There we will get bags ready for the mule and spend one last night organizing. And then on the 2nd, we will depart for base camp — eat and sleep and acclimate.
Here is our itin for you nerds out there who are interested in this stuff (starting on Feb. 1)
- Bus ride at 3:30; Camp at Los Puquios
- Start up Vacas Valley, camp at Pampade Lenas (2800m)
- Camp at Casa de Piedra (3200m)
- Plaza Argentina (4200m)
- Rest day
- Carry up to Camp 1 (5000m); stay at Plaza Argentina
- Rest at Plaza Argentina
- Travel up to Camp 1 to stay (5000m)
- Rest day
- Carry to Camp 2 (5850m); stay at Camp 1
- Go to Camp 2 (5850m) to stay
- Carry to White Rocks (Traverse — 6000m); stay at Camp 2
- Go to White Rocks to stay (6000m)
- Summit (with love and to celebrate Valentino)!; sleep at White Rocks
- Descend to Plaza de Mulas (4300m)
- Descend to Los Puquios
- Bus back to Mendoza, celebrate with much wine and steak
We also can build in two days into this schedule (for alternative summit days, for bad weather, for altitude acclimitization, etc.), but we must be back in Mendoza on the 19th. So, there you go….
So… why do it? Why climb uphill for 14 days in a row? Why put our bodies through the damage of high altitude climbing?
Mountaineering is just really walking uphill day after day — trying to stay warm and eat enough calories. But, if you have ever stood on the summit of a mountain, no matter how high, but if you have worked hard to get there…. you know the amazing feeling of the wind and sun on your face and the feeling of accomplishment.
That is what we are hoping for.
So — keep us in your minds and hearts. send us as much go-juice-energy as you can muster!
We will be thinking of you all and doing our best staying safe out there on the mountain! We will be in touch as soon as can.
Much love — aurora
Aconcagua is a big mountain. You probably knew that already, but it is really big. There are so many factors that will impact our success out there — weather – wind, snow, temperatures; timing; our fitness levels; but most importantly – how we acclimate to the altitude.
In preparation for that, we headed to Cerro Plata for 5 days — a chance to get out, test our gear and try to acclimate to higher altitudes a little. We did not have grand aspirations for our adventure, which was good because it kept us realistic.
In order to get to the trail head, a bus dropped us off on the side of the road and we read that we had 12K to climb up the road to reach the trail head.
We walked for quite a ways, trying to hitchhike, until we got picked up and carried part of the way up the road as it switchbacked up into the mountains. We then got directions from a man out taking his dog and cat for a walk and eventually made it to a campsite for the night — glad for the rest. It seemed like a long day since we had left Mendoza that morning!
From that camp, we pushed on and hiked up to Salto de Aqua, a campsite at 4200m. It was a big jump in altitute for us, but we wanted to maximize our time up high. In getting there, we hiked along a glacial moraine and left the greenery below. People use this camp to climb to Cerro Plata or Cerro Vallecitos, both over 5500m. But, it turns out that you should not climb to 4200m (close to 14000 ft.) in two days. Mike and I suffered from headaches, we all suffered from insomnia. Fortunately, we all still had an appetitie. But, it pretty much ruled out any desire to summit Cerro Plata (which wasn’t our goal, really).
Instead, we got to test out our gear, test out some food (we discovered some meals we like and want to repeat and many meals that we know we will not bring on Aconcagua) and work together as a team. We also did some day hikes, up to our team high-point of 4750.
We are hoping the 3 nights spent at 4200m will help us on Aconcaagua.
On our way down, we hiked from the high camp down to the road (which took us two days to do on the way up). We were really hoping we could hitch our way down, seeing as road hiking is so much fun. However, the hitch-hiking gods were not on our side as only one car passed us for about an hour and a half as we made our way down the switch-backs. At that point, i had drifted behind the other two, complaining to myself about the sun, my sore knees and ankles, the heat, the weight of my pack. And then, a car! Perhaps he thought it was just me, but regardless, the three of us and our monster packs piled into his small car and we got a quick ride down to the end of the road. What took us 15 minutes in a car would have easily taken us a 2 hours. I was so super thankful to get the ride!
Once we got down, we had about 5 hours until our bus back to Mendoza, so we decided to hitch up to the nearest town, Las Vegas (where we could catch the bus). Fortunately for us, this road had lots of cars on it and we were quickly picked up by a woman. Once again a small car, monster packs. On the way up to Las Vegas, we told her about our trek and about catching the bus. She insisted that we come to her house (right near the bus stand) for lunch before our bus ride. So, of course we accepted and spent the afternoon talking about Argentina, travel, and politics. Plus eating a great meal! Gladys and her husband Alberto were kind and welcoming – even inviting us to stay with them when we get back to Mendoza after our climb! It was great to get a glimpse of ‘real’ Argentina through their eyes. Plus, their generosity was fantastic! What a fun surprise to our day.
Now, we are back in Mendoza — excited to sleep (because we are below a 1000m, meaning we will not have altitude-induced insomnia) and ready to take care of everything before we leave for Aconcagua on Wednesday.
Today was a flurry of activity as Mike, Beth and I shopped for a mule. Yes, a mule. You see when we head up Aconcagua in a week, we will be carrying over two weeks worth of food. Plus all our gear (two tents, two stoves, two pots, -20 degree bag, puffy jackets, long underwear, etc.). So, those packs will be heavy. So, we got ourselves a mule.
The mules bring in your gear (up to 60kg per mule) to the base camp. We are hoping to do what is called the 360 route — which takes us up one side and down the other – and that means our walk in is two days longer than the normal route. So, our mule price is much higher. We are hoping to keep our weight under 60kg and then we can hire just one mule (who comes with a muleteer – who obviously speaks mule). The mule (and muleteer) will walk in with us for the then first three days and then we will be on our own. And how much does one mule cost, you wonder? Well, it is certainly not cheap — it is about $290 for the one way. Then we will arrange for our other mule on our way out (giving us the freedom if we don’t make it up and over the mountain or if we come back earlier/later).
Since this is an expensive trip, we decided to wait until the high season ends for a cheaper permit, which means we decided to wait until Feb. 1 to start our climb. So, what to do in the mean time? Well, we read about another climb –Cerro Plata— that will help prepare us for Aconcagua. It will help because:
1. It is almost 6000m – which helps us acclimate to high altitudes
2. it could be cold – which will help us test our gear
3. we get to test our systems and our team
4. it is short, but not technical – allowing us to get in shape and again, acclimate
So — our plan is this:
head out tomorrow to Cerro Plata, climb and hike for 5 days. Then we will be back here on the evening of the 28th to eat a big meal (we are all about the protein right now!). Then we will have the 29th, 30th and 31st to pull together 16+ days of food, our permit, any gear we need, etc. And then, on to Aconcagua – which is 6962m tall — so it will be a good challenge!
Take care friends — hope to share with you a great summit shot when we get back!
… and motorcycles, buses, rickshaws.
Over the past 4.5 months, i have taken a wide variety of public transportation options. From auto-ricksaws to cycle-rickshaws to motorcycles. Trains are hands-down my favorite. There is nothing like watching the India countryside speed by while sipping a hot cup of chai. But, the buses have been the most varied.
From the first buses that Katherine and I took in Nepal — the microbuses that were hot and crowded. Then we found the public buses that were also hot and crowded, but these had a whole of people on the roofs. My first bus in India tooked like it was on its last wheel and people had to get out each time the bus stalled to push it to pop the clutch. And I could see the ground through the 4-speed gear shaft. And did I mention how comfortable the seats were? Ha. And that was the ‘express’ bus that I got scammed for.
But buses in argentina are a whole new world. I unfortunately do not have any pictures, but let me describe them to you. First off, they are double deckers. Secondly, there are a gazillion companies and various options for travel. Since Beth and I were traveling overnight, we took the ‘cama’ – which is not the most delux, but not the worst, either.
In cama, there are just 3 seats across (two, then aisle, then one). So, the seats are bigger, wider, plush. comfortable. they play movies (mostly american films with spanish subtitles). there is free coffee that you can drink all day. there is a bathroom. they serve you food. I got wine the other night. yeah, this ain’t no greyhound.
Though the buses are expensive, everyone takes them – there is a good mix of Argentines and tourists on the buses. The buses travel all over the country, though it takes awhile. For instance, we traveled from Southern Patagonia up to Mendoza and over the course of 3 days (left at 4 in the afternoon and got to Mendoza around 7:30 two days later) we were on a bus or in a bus station for close to 50 hours! Fairly insane.
Argentina is big, there are a lot of sheep and lots and lots of prickly plants.
A quick note about food….
I cane from the land of amazing food (that land would be india and thailand and vietnam) — so the food here had high expectations to live up to. I am so so so sorry to say that it failed miserably. Argentines eat an amazing amount of bread and meat. With not a whole lot of flavor. The other day, on the bus, we had a total of 5 different bread products. with meat. it definitely leaves a bit to be desired….
next post…. our so very exciting plans for the nest few days! 🙂