[originally published 12-19-2012]
I recently visited Aconcagua in Argentina, which was a perfect opportunity to test out the Purificup Water Purifier in a real-world environment. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain outside the Himalaya, at almost 23,000' in elevation. The water here comes from glacial melt. So is typically very hard on water filters.
As the glacier ice descends from the mountain it grinds the rocks into silt. These minerals in the water clog a water purifier with microscopic pores. Like the ceramic filters. On Aconcagua most trekkers and climbers have their gear carried by mules. Park regulations prevent humans from leaving urine or feces, but it's hard to control the mules. The mules cross the river many times on the way to camp.
I carried my own water on the trek to Confluencia. This is the mid-way camp to Aconcagua base camp. I had used my Purificup Water Purifier at the lodge in Penitentes Ski Area the day before the hike. The water at Confluencia comes from snow melting up a narrow slot in the canyons. It comes into camp in a spider web of tubing that ends in spigots, hoses, and barrels.
When I got to my dome hut for the night I broke out the Purificup Water Purifier to make water for the rest of that day, that night, and the next day. About 5 liters total. I purified into my Platypus bottle screwed onto the bottom of the Purificup.
I noticed was a lot of white particles of minerals in the water purifier "dirty" chamber. The resulting purified water was clean and clear and pure though. It apparently did a good job on getting those out of the water. I imagine they originate at the snow melt source in a gravel pit.
I made water pretty quick. Ten minutes for the first three liters. I packed up my Purificup water purifier into a neoprene sleeve I brought to insulate it. I had been warned by the good folks at Purificup that water at 32 degrees equals ice and you can't purify ice. The water system at Confluencia did freeze up overnight. It was cold.
Milky Glacier Water in a Water Purifier
The next day I left Confluencia to finish my trek to Aconcagua base camp. This section of trail is almost 12 miles. The last 4 miles is very difficult steep trekking. I crossed a section of flood plain along the river. Here was obvious sign of the mineral salt concentration in the water. White dusty edges where the water had flooded the trail. It looked similar to the alkali stains you see in the Western USA deserts. This is the kind of water I've heard is hard on your water purifier.
Later I had to walk along the edge of the river over a rock slide bank. The milky water in the river was very obvious. More evidence of the mythical water purifier clogging Aconcagua water.
Plaza de Mulas, at 14,110' of elevation, is Aconcagua base camp. Here there is another community water system to tax your water purifier. Hygiene at base camp is even more lax than at Confluencia. The water runs through tubing from the edge of the melting snow and then forks into barrels. On cold nights the barrels freeze. The hut staff normally just beats the surface with hammers or rocks to break it up. They use cans, pans, or coffee pots to scoop the water out. I've seen climbers stick their hands in to splash water over their faces and drink. You must use some type of water purifier.
I used my Purificup at base camp, at altitude. I noticed a similar reduction in flow pressure as at Elbrus. If you make sure to unscrew the bottle from the bottom just enough to let the pressure equalize, it should flow fine. I kept my Purificup in the neoprene sleeve next to my cot on the floor, with the rest of my clean and dirty water containers. This worked fine for the first three days.
On the third night the temperature dropped drastically. All my water bottles froze. Even the 48 oz Platypus flexible water bottle froze. My Nalgene froze. Apparently my Purificup water purifier froze too. I had some water in a Nalgene that wasn't frozen, as I kept it in my sleeping bag overnight. Tip: put a Nalgene of very hot water between your feet. Heaven!
At this point I had already decided to descend for health reasons [more info]. If I were going to stay for longer, I would have gotten some hot water from the kitchen tent to soak the cartridge and thaw it. Next time I go on a cold climb I'll keep the Purificup water purifier in the sleeve inside my sleeping bag with me. The water barrels in camp were frozen to a depth between 8 and 12 inches. Very cold night. I've slept in Alaska at 10 below zero (F) with my water in insulated Nalgene bottles. They did not freeze even outside my sleeping bag. Amazing to me.
Purificup Water Purifier Summary
When I got down to Penitentes I was able to thaw out my Purificup water purifier. The water flowed fast and smooth, as expected at only 9,000' of elevation. It also showed no signs of being clogged up by the mineral silt in the water. I had purified several gallons of water. Approximately 6 liters per day for 6 days. I am very happy with the performance I've experienced.