Thursday, December 1st, 2011
Aconcagua 6962 m – The Savage Version
So here we are again. We are just back down after our last adventure on Argentina’s and south america’s biggest sand pile – Aconcagua. It was a great experience on a lonely mountain where we walked some gravel, skied some ice, ripped the tent in the high winds, froze our toes of and at last met some great people.
Aconcagua 6962 m – The highest mountain outside of Asia
The adventure started in Mendoza just after we got back from Mercedario. On the 15th of november in the morning we went to the tourist office and sorted the permits out. Later on in the afternoon we jumped on a bus to the sleepy town of Los Penitentes, close to the Chilean border. There we met up with Fernando Grajales, the owner of Fernando Grajales Expeditions. He talked us trough the procedures on the mountain before we, the next day, took of once again in to the mountains.
We walked the fairly long approach to the Plaza Argentina base camp in two easy days only carrying light day packs. Arriving in BC we where the first people there for the season. Not even the workers or rangers had yet started the season and it was a great feeling putting up the the only tent in the otherwise so busy camp.
On the third day of the journey we kept on gaining altitude and walked up to Camp 1 at 5000 m. It was really windy but we decided anyhow to continue the next day even higher and got within 50 m from high camp at 5900 m before we decided we had enough, left all our climbing and ski equipment, and walked back down.
We used day five as a well earned rest-day eating falafels, Pringles and candy in the tent. I love the expedition rest days more than anything else, especially if we got lots of goodies to eat.
The following day we had a difficult choice; go up or down. Well acclimatized as we where the altitude was not a problem it was more about which strategy to take. Its easy to become eager in the mountains and feel the urge to get it all done with, but waiting is usually the wise choice – as long as it’s not fueled by fear.
So down we went. To stock up with loads of more food to be able to wait out what ever weather that could come in high camp. If we would not have gone done we would only have had two more days of food for high camp. Now, after an easy stroll day we had eleven days worth of food up high.
I like Mark Twight’s saying: “Strategy is beyond technique, technique is beyond the tools”. That’s an easy reminder on what comes when, in the decision making and where the importance shall be put. No matter how good you are, its always the strategy that will save the day and keep you out of trouble. And of course, for all the whining skiers out there, it’s not the skis, its your technique that keeps you out of trouble.
In Camp 1 we met some Germans and Austrians that lacked time. They went for the top the same day we descended to get more food. I think around three out of fifteen made it to the top. For us, with all the time in the world, that was unthinkable. With time, competence and strength Aconcagua’s easier routes are not something you can fail to ascend.
After coming back to Camp 1 we continued the next day to high camp below the Polish Glacier. It was the seventh day of the adventure and the most beautiful day so far. It was a joy to walk up the gravel with the heavy packs with good tunes in the sun.
But after the calm there is always some rock n roll coming in. On the eight day we tried for the summit, but we literary got blown down the mountain. We made it to around 6400 m before we just couldn’t get any higher. With my skis on the pack I got thrown back and forth on the trail and in the end I didn’t know if I where to laugh or cry. I could not walk with poles on the trail and we reasoned it would be really dangerous trying to ski something when the only thing we could do with control was to crawl.
The following day was a well earned rest day in the wait for good summit-push weather. It was blowing harder than I ever have experienced that night. The doors of the tent blew open and I had to move as close to the middle of the tent as possible to not get hit by the tent moving in the wind. I just love these situations, they bring a spice to the everyday adventure life.
On the tenth day it was calmer and the pressure was extremely high so we went for the summit early in the morning. But at around 6400 m again we had to turn around. There were just no way to keep warm. We walked as fast as we could and had all the clothes on, but could still not be close to warm. But we saw the sun had gained ground about hundred meters below us and walked down to huddle up behind a rock. By feet under Bjarne’s jacket and his under mine.
After nearly two hours in the relatively warm sun we continued up, and from here on there were no stopping. Everything went perfect and easy.
Bjarne realized his big goal of the trip and made it all the way to the top, breaking his last altitude record with almost a thousand meters. It was a great feeling to share the summit moment together for the first time. The weather was perfect with no wind and maybe twenty degrees in the sun. We took a nap and enjoyed the moment.
For me this was also a great experience. One of my biggest goals with the south america adventure has been to see how I would work on relatively high altitudes. Aconcagua gave me the receipt that I can, when alright acclimatized, hang out on 7000 m without even the slightest trace of AMS. Thats exactly what I wanted for future projects and dreams.
My big hope had been to ski the south face, one of the most amazing lines in the world. And on my recognizance trip on day three it looked like it where in very good conditions. But as it went on Denali, so did it here. A week of hard winds had ruined the snow and what had been totally white was now grayish and my gut feeling told me it would put me in to a situation I would regret – doing to much down climbing and exposing myself too long to objective dangers.
I just leave the line saying that it looks like a great ski for future generations of rock n rollers to enjoy.
Instead I dropped down on the ultra classic Polish Glacier in some sketchy conditions arguing its much more fun than walking down some gravel. Its probably one of the harder easy runs I have done in my life. After 300 vertical meters of easy ridge skiing the snow got thinner as it got steeper. But I managed to find a good way down to Piedra Bandera, did two raps with my 5 mm line and then traversed the face on foot and kept on skiing the direct line in good snow conditions. It all meant i skied around 900 m out of 1050 m. I was very pleased with that when I thought how bad the face had looked.
After a good sleep-in Bjarne walked down to BC while I managed to ski most of the way in perfect corn. That was one of the most enjoyable ski moments of the trip!
At last down in BC the camp was nearly built up, but there where no other gringos. We hang out with fellow climbers Matoco, Cleo, Ariel and Pablo as well as the staff from the camp. It was a great time with a good dinner and a opening party for the upcoming season.
We had a great time enjoying the presence of great people and good food. A day later we compressed the three day return in to one long day, slept another good night in Los Penitentes and then continued to Santiago, Chile.
At this moment we are waiting to go north again to the high Chilean volcanos! The adventure continues…
And yes, the shithead tournament is over. I took home the grand price of a pizza dinner with the score of 100 to 71!
As well as Fernando Grajales expeditions, the number one name in expeditions to Aconcagua: www.grajales.net
On the go from Mendoza to Los Penitentes
The sleepy ski resort of Los Penitentes
Fernando Grajales wonderful staff. If interested in going to Aconcagua, check their services out at www.grajales.net
Fernando and Bjarne trying to find Aconcagua through the clouds
Bjarne starting the long walk in
The first camp that we passed
The first glimpse
Bjarne keeping warm at camp the first night
My skis, a mule and the mountain
Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
Peluche loves to eat candy and pasta at altitude
Camp 1 at 5000m
The view from camp 2 at 5900m.
Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
The Polish traverse. We took the easy alternative as the glacier looked so shitty.
Bjarne with the south face in the backdrop
Bjarne and myself on the summit of Aconcagua. Photo: Bjarne Salén
Bjarne napping on the summit
Lets have some fun at last
Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
The life of a filmer, part 1
The life of a filmer, part 2
The life of a skier, part 1
The life of a skier, part 2. Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
Myself and the hyper friendly Grajales crew
Bjarne starting the walk out
Finally back in civilization! Photo: Bjarne Sahlén
The last glimpse
Portillo ski area from the bus…
Friday, November 11th, 2011
Mercedario 6768 – Skiing the legendary south face
A semi successful adventure of the 6th highest mountain in South America with a ski of the legendary south face but missing the summit because of stomach issues…
The mighty south face of Mercedario
Our driver Andres took us straight in to the wild with his 4×4 and after an hour or so we came to the local mining company’s check point where we had to register to enter in to the mountains. After the registration and a quick match of foosball (i won) against the local hero we kept on going for another 20 minutes to the military farm of Santa Anna. Here we had to check in again before starting our marathon walk towards the South Face.
If we had wanted to do the normal route on the other side of the mountain we would have been able to drive up to around 3600 meters and could have started the climb (walk) of the mountain straight ahead. But to get to the south side we had to walk around the mountain in a ragged valley starting on 2100 m and walking a distance close to a marathon with 30 kilos on our backs. It’s the hardest approach both me and Bjarne had done in our lifes.
I have always wanted to ski the south face since I heard of its existence a few years back. Its a 1800 m high white face on one of the highest mountains in south america located simply in the middle of no-where. It has no technical difficulty what so ever, but its steep enough to be fun, its white, huge and it would turn out to be a great ski.
After three days of walking through amazing landscapes we finally made it to the base camp located at 4350 m just under the face. Here we had a rest day before I set out on my mission the following night.
Bjarne followed me to cross the bergschrund just after two o’clock in the morning. There he left me to walk back to the tent to get another hour of sleep. Then he started his climb up a mountain on the other side of the valley to find a good spot for filming.
The face hadn’t looked to big from BC, but when getting on it I could really feel that its twice as big as any snow face in Chamonix and that the base of it is almost on the same height as Mt Blanc. I walked for hours, but when the sun rose at six I had only done half the face.
I could for sure feel the altitude, but what slowed me down most was my stomach that didn’t let me keep anything I tried to eat. It became a comical situation racing between spots that where good for taking shits. But thats life in the mountains, specially in places with germs more hard core than the european ones.
Higher up on the face i started to traverse under the big rock band at the top of the face. I did it to get a shortcut to the summit, but also be able to ski the face from the top in as good style as possible. But about half way through the traverse hell broke lose. As I should have understood the sun hit the rock band and started projecting down rocks. I would have turned around if it wasn’t for it being easy to see the rocks coming as long as I was moving. If I had stopped to put my skis on I would have been much more vulnerable. This is not saying I like the situation I was in, but sometimes it happens and then you just have to keep at it.
Further over it calmed down and I started looking for crevasses usable as safe toilets. I was laughing at my self crawling up the last hundred meters of the face. I had passed the objectively dangerous parts, but I was weaker than ever. Ten hours of climbing without being able to keep any food, gels or water at altitude had taken its toll on me. I had nothing left after throwing up and taking seven shits in total. When I came up on the plateau above the face on 6150 meters I lay down to take a rest and watched the icy dome I had in front of me. The skiing looked worse than ever up there and i counted that in my present state I wouldn’t make it up there just before dark.
I hate to give up, but this time it was the wisest thing to do. And besides, my intent and dream was to climb and ski the south face of Mercedario. I hadn’t asked for anything else. As a believer of intent and dreams and creating one’s own reality I just accepted my situation with a smile and decided to be happy for the huge ski I had under my feet.
The skiing was to be wonderful with really easy skiable chalky snow, but with a few wavy sections. I could ski it fairly fast on places and it’s always a wonderful feeling covering terrain on skis in a matter of minutes that took hours on the way up. It had been a really cold night, so the batteries in all my electrical equipment except my camera was dead. It was a pity as I would have loved to re-experience this ski from the Gopro’s point of view.
But it’s all there in the back of my mind when I look back at the experience. Further down there was an icy section with a tin layer of snow on it. I hadn’t been able to find a good way through it in the darkness on the way up so now I had to do it on-sight from the top. I had a few interesting moments, but in the end I made it through the whole thing without even thinking of using a rope (which i had left with Bjarne anyways) or down climbing.
The last few hundred meters after the ice served up wonderful corn skiing and allowed me to finally get back to GS mode to in a really tired state, with a smile on my lips, end another great ski day in the middle of no where.
The following day was an obligatory rest day before we put on our huge backpacks once again to go down all the way to, as it ended up, La Junta and the mining company’s check point. The military people chocked us with the worst welcoming we ever had in the wilderness and refused to help us call our transport. So we had to keep on walking for a few hours more till we finally came back to our friendly miners.
This time I lost the rematch in foosball, but I blame it on tiredness and dehydration. Anyways, we were really welcomed here and got food and water while waiting for our ride back to Barreal. In a spree of luck we managed to get back to Mendoza via San Juan in that very same day and we are now resting up for a few days before continuing our grand adventure.
The shithead tournament:
Don’t forget to check Bjarne’s video blog for loads of cool mountain movies at: endlessflow.posterous.com
Mercedario from the jeep
Me, Bjarne and his girlfriend Heather (Who joined us on this adventure to get acclimatized for Aconcagua.
Entering the cowboy landscape
Starting the huge walk
One of many river crossings
Bjarne taking a bath
The first view of the big mountains
Our first view of the south face
Me and the south face
More south face – I just can’t get enough…
… in front of the face
The sun rise on the climbing day
Looking down, from probably another shitty place..
Looking down from the top of the face
And looking up at the icy summit
I love looking back at my tracks on a face like this
Endless rounds of card games
On the way out
Finally, close to the mining check point! The end of just another adventure…
Friday, November 11th, 2011
La Paz – Mendoza – San Juan – Barreal
After Nevado Sajama I got sick and spent most of the following week in bed missing out on lots of what La Paz had to offer. But we still got to do the town and try out the local salsa joints as well as meeting some really cool people.
The endless bus ride…
When I finally felt better we started a marathon bus ride south towards Mendoza. It took us three days to reach the third city of Argentina where we did our shopping or food and gas before we went back north to Barreal via San Juan on another day worth of bus rides. In the sleepy town of Barreal we slept under a three trying to not attract the attention of the wild dogs before we found a local named Andres to drive us out in to the wild…
Geraldine is helping us out with the bus tickets… We still got scammed though..
A night at our friend Alex Aguirre’s restaurant in La Paz
Sweden’s biggest fan
The La Paz mountain film festival
On the road…
Im soo tired of eggs and rice by now…
The Argentinian border
Bjarne enjoying Argentinian wine
Not really fitting in the local San Juan fashion
A night out with the dogs
On our way out in to the wild…