Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aconcagua 2010 - Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas

We'd heard vague rumors that the night earthquake was in Chile and massive. And of course for what we felt, being about 80 miles from the epicenter as we'd heard, it had to be.

I prepared to hit the trail again. Breakfast was some stale rolls and a dish of various jams and butter spreads. I remember some kind of granola or oats and milk. Amazing. We were given sack lunches and parted ways.

In the spirit of various "failures" on this trip my REI softshell trail run gaiters tore out the front hook on one. I put it on anyway and hoped for the best. Today was a bit cooler, though I spent lots of time in the desert part of the trail.

I crossed the river on the wire grid bridge and got to a damp area with very soft trails that were very non-obvious. I realized this as the trail disappeared in the soft sandy mud and backtracked to the creek looking for an alternate path. The mules had obscured any footprints and I decided to cross the creek and follow them. I removed my shoes and waded in shin-deep fast water with the rocky bottom and found a rock to sit on to replace my shoes when a mule pack came by led by four horsemen. One was kind enough to stop and tell me my path was across the creek and that I should go back.

Good enough. I went back over and balanced on one foot at a time replacing my shoes. Guess a foot bath wasn't totally unwelcome with the serious red dust I'd accumulated from wearing trail runners. I recommend no one else do this. Wear goretex or leather boots. Really. It's not worth the minor speed difference. At least wear goretex trail runners with gaiters.

Anyway, I went back to the soft muddy wet area and got lost again, so I looked back and saw a trail fork off at the little hill above the creek crossing. Drat. So I went back and this trail ran along the edge of the bluff in a wet and rocky area, and was vague and indistinct as well. But it got me there.

Eventually I got lost again, and again. The trail isn't very obvious and I discovered some areas where landslides had covered the trail in places, that I had to pick my way over carefully lest it slide more and take me with it.

I passed the very obvious landmarks as listed in the various books and guides, and totally dug Ibanez, a large rock where the trail gets steep with skull totems and a warning sign "4 hours to Plaza de Mulas".

Osvaldo had told me there was no camping here, but that's a bit subjective, since there are definitely cleared camping spots for a few tents, but no obvious drinking water. The way up from there to Plaza de Mulas was very rugged and steep, but more obviously trails, so no more getting lost.

Ran across some mules that were either slow or careless or sick. Photo above of one. Near the end I crossed paths a few times with two guys who had camped at Ibanez and had drunk the muddy water. Having camped they had a very large load, compared to my < 20 lb pack (much of which was my -20 degree bag that I really didn't need in Confluencia). I loaned one some of my water, as he was out, and I had about 4 oz. left. Finally, after a good tough 7 hours, I made it into Plaza de Mulas, 14,100' base camp for the normal route on Aconcagua. I checked in the rangers who told me to report back at 6 PM the next night for my health check.

I went over to the Lanko Camp and reported in with Carlos, the camp manager who directed me to my bunk in one of the huts, showing me specifically which bunk was mine. There were several tents up in the tent yard, and a few bunk users in the other hut. He showed me the dining hut, available for cooking, and the outhouse and outhouse key.

The water was from one of two blue barrels, fed by a tube from some junction in the mad spider web of tubing snaking through the camp. It was obvious as the rest of the water everywhere that it was not safe to drink so I kept treating my water (I normally treat all water with a steripen, even if it might be safe).

Vanessa, his wife, was the cook, and dinner would be a fashionably early 7:30. I got my bags and headed to the hut to unpack and organize.

Dinner didn't actually arrive till 8:00 pm, but oh, well. It was good enough. More meat. There was a Hungarian team there, led by two girls who did not ascend, but managed logistics as part of their tour company. Charles on that team had good English. A couple of the Hungarians were up making a summit bid, the rest had bailed for weather and cold.

A Spanish team was there as well, just two guys, and Kiko on that team had good English. He gave me some Spanish lessons while I was there and was fun to talk to. I went to bed in my cot as an evening snow squall passed through.