This text will transport you to the heart of an expedition of more than two weeks in very high mountains: Aconcagua (6960 m.), the summit of the Americas.
The main protagonists are:
- Rodrigo, the chief guide.
- Paula, the second guide.
- Six “customers” whose gender has been unified and their first names anonymized and of whom you will know nothing more than what they said or did during the expedition.
- The seventh “customer”, me, Marc.
This verbatim was written daily, whatever the circumstances.
The expedition began on Sunday December 4, 2022 with a briefing and verification of everyone’s equipment and ended with the return to Mendoza on December 19, 2022 around midnight.
The interactive map of the Aconcagua Expedition:
D01 – Mendoza, debriefing and material, 760 m.
I arrive thirty minutes late and therefore miss a dozen boards. The boss of the expedition agency “AMG Argentina”, in a tone “we are the best in the world” sends us the key messages:
- The most important thing is to come home;
- Focus on the goal of each day;
- Drinking is very important;
- You are a team, pay attention to others, if someone steps aside, it is not a good sign;
- Be vigilant, “zero waste” is everyone’s business at all times;
- Baggage management is quite complex, please follow the instructions.
- Philip, on evacuations: only one helicopter for the massif (there are 17 on Everest). The city of Mendoza is very well equipped with hospitals and the AMG team knows the doctors well;
- Pierre, on the number of walkers: about a hundred but there are no bottlenecks; it is therefore very fluid;
- Bernard, on the ground conditions: it has become very rocky even at the start of the season, the crampons should not be used much;
- me, on the weather: very little risk of rain.
The list of equipment given in the documentation is checked line by line: statement of the item, verification by Paula or Rodrigo; a choice is possibly made between several options. It’s done with a lot of attention and seriousness, I like it, we should do that at the CAF for the outings that are a little committed.
Sacha discovers that his down, which indicates -18° in “limit”, will be far too tight (it will last less than two hours if it is -18°). It does not escape Rodrigo who asks him to rent one. Rodrigo gives me a wink, I reinforce the message.
Alain displays all his things in a circle, it’s quite graphic, Rodrigo tells him that some of the equipment, although brand new, is not suitable. The number of cereal bars is enormous, the two guides invite him to leave some at the hotel.
Philip and I have prepared our material well; there are choices to be made but nothing is missing.
Sacha, Alain, Bernard and Pierre go to the rental store, open for us on this Sunday evening.
We all sleep at the hotel: two people per room, promiscuity begins.
D02 – Road to the barracks of Puente del Incas, 2725 m.
I didn’t sleep very well, woke up early to solve some small French domestic problems.
7:15 a.m.: I go to take my shower and go downstairs to have breakfast. It is staggering, it is the first so hearty since the beginning of my trip two and a half months ago.
Philip joins me and we discuss our mountain experiences, my trip too.
John arrived in the night, he joins us. No sooner is he installed than he puts forward his list of climbs.
The mini-bus has arrived, it’s a bit long for everyone to be there. We reach the AMG offices where the boss takes us on a tour of the facilities which are mainly used for the logistics of mountain equipment and the storage of food. We take photos and videos of our group. Good-natured holiday camp atmosphere. We take route 7, which leads southwest and continues towards Chile. Soon enough, snow-capped peaks appear.
About sixty kilometers away, the minibus breaks down. We have to change buses; by the time he arrives, we have lunch in a small restaurant. The meal is very hearty, especially the main course and its pieces of meat.
We take the road again, the landscape changes. The valleys are deep with very vertical mineral slopes. We can barely make out the river at the bottom of the valley. We go to the AMG logistics camp where their famous mules live. Everyone must prepare their bag for the next day’s trek. I have the “lightest” bag.
Philip has a huge bag, I’m afraid he’ll struggle tomorrow.
A few kilometers further we arrive in a military camp which welcomes trekkers. It looks like the idea I have of a barracks: spartan, cold, clean, sad. We left in two rooms, I am with Philip and John. John seems interested in my desire to shower, what is he getting involved in?
The visit of the small village of Puente del Inca and in particular of the “Camino del Incas – Puente del Inca” is interesting. A mineral bridge has been dug by the river. It is indeed an Inca trail that makes a slight detour through Chile. It should be noted that 40,000 kilometers of paths were built by the Incas before the arrival of the Spaniards.
8:00 p.m., dinner time. We are all nine around a round table. Pierre has a nice San Francisco Marathon Finisher T-Shirt; the conversation begins on this theme. Pierre only did the one in San Francisco, Bernard did five, one of which took less than three hours; well done ! I only finished three with very different times.
The daily briefing session begins, Rodrigo tells us about the next day’s stage: 3h30 of walking. Departure at 10 a.m.
D03 – Towards Camp Confluencia, 3368 m.
Very good night’s sleep. Paula’s charming smile radiates across the table. The soldiers serve us a very complete breakfast.
Alain does not arrive until around 9 a.m. which does not fail to worry us.
In the yard, I chat with Philip about his job, which he mentioned during breakfast; he manages the logistics of setting up stores, large and small, for a company large enough to be listed on the Nasdaq.
We have a waiting time; we talk for a long time with XSC about colonization and its disasters on the first peoples, whether in South America, North America or Africa.
We take the bus to travel four kilometers and complete the formalities for entering Aconcagua Park. Everyone must sign a document. The mini-bus drops us off, the path opens up to us. Short group photo-video session before leaving. We walk on the path of Aconcagua which we see very distinctly. I’m thrilled to finally be there.
The path overlooks the torrent that descends from the Aconcagua. It is rocky and rises gently; the steppe is level, the wind brings a lot of dust, it is hot, between 25 and 30 degrees.
The walk is slow, Bernard and I notice that the three marathon runners are in front.
This morning, Bernard heard me talk about my job and wants to know more. A conversation ensues. Then, I chat with Paula in Spanish, it’s only the beginning of long conversations. We see several groups of mules passing by, coming down from the crates, most of the time empty. They make the journey every day and in semi-autonomy.
The slopes of the valley are very steep and very rocky, we hear rock rolling from time to time. We scan the sky for condors, in vain.
After two hours of walking, the real first climb puts Philip in difficulty, just before the lunch break. During the break everyone sits in their corner and eats the picnic prepared by the logistics teams.
We leave for a 50 minute walk at a slow pace. The Aconcagua is adorned with a cap of clouds.
We arrive at the Confluencia camp (3368 m). It is a very colorful little tent village. A small snack with fruit is quickly prepared and swallowed. The environment is very mineral; no grass for tents. Rodrigo gives us a demonstration of setting up the North Face tents that we will need throughout the climb.
I don’t feel anything special at 3400 meters except this excitement of being there. My resting pulse is about 15% higher than usual but it’s hard to know what the factors are.
I pay a little visit near a watchtower then settle in a tent set up with Rodrigo where I asked to sleep; I’m fine sleeping alone because I anticipate that promiscuity will be trying. The six other team members will sleep in a bed under a large tent.
The shower ($10, I find out later) is good with the dust and the heat. Some team members seem a little tired.
At dinner we discuss the subject “Trump”: unanimity and a conclusion from Philip “fucking ass”. We also talked about Kilimanjaro; in fact the six team members have done it at least once, I am the only one who has not been there. The vegetable soup is creamy; the pasta is very well prepared.
Evening briefing: breakfast at 7 a.m., imperative departure at 8 a.m. for the Mirador Francia. A group of 19 trekkers also goes there; it is strongly preferable that we are well ahead.
When I go to bed, I discover that my mattress is leaking at the plugs; I hear the whistle. I’ll try to fix this tomorrow. It was an easy day.
D04 – A/R Plaza – Francia, 4060 m.
The night was interspersed with four toilet outings; to drink six liters a day, that’s what happens! The group meets for breakfast, which is copious; everyone is focused on the day’s trek.
8:00 a.m. We leave. Paula is in front; it is a day of acclimatization with 805 meters of elevation gain and a maximum at 4060 meters. I follow her, we walk slowly to start, we all wear down jackets because we progress in the shade. As soon as we leave the camp, we follow the torrent on an overhanging path; the ground is sandy; then gravel, followed by rockeries.
A beautiful green color emerges on the other side of the valley, on a plateau. It seems to be the resurgence of a source. We take advantage of this greenery which will be very rare in these regions. After about thirty minutes we only progress in the rockery. We will stay there until the Francia viewpoint. The path overlooks the torrent that descends from the southern glacier of Aconcagua.
We walk very, very slowly but after taking video breaks, I realize that to join the group at a brisk pace, I am more out of breath than usual. We are already at 3700 meters, all the same.
We arrive near a small dry lake, the laterite is cracked, the colors are very pure.
Along the way we had a lot of discussions with Paula. She has successfully completed five years of training as a high mountain guide. We talk about our interest in the mountains; we come together on the triptych beauty-majesty of the mountain, tactile-olfactory-sound sensations, and, most importantly, human relations in connection with the mountain.
It is moving to exchange in this way beyond countries, cultures, borders, history. This of course brings water to my mill on the chapter: “The earth is a small planet”. After a final break, we arrive at the Mirador Francia.
Upon arrival, I am amazed at the resemblance to the Annapurna sanctuary in Nepal. Same glacier in the background, beautiful circus, cliff of almost 3000 meters here, 4000 meters there. I testify to the team which does not seem very interested. This is a first alert on the team’s lack of interest in anything that does not directly affect the summit of Aconcagua. This will not prevent me from talking about it to Dhan Gurung, the Nepalese guide with whom I had spent three weeks of trekking in Nepal.
The cliff on the south face is impressive, with its exposed rocks and its snowy and icy slopes. As a reminder, the sun is in the north in the southern hemisphere. In the space of 45 minutes, we witness two avalanches. Unfortunately, the lower glacier, made up of beautiful seracs shaded by moraines, is no longer connected to the Aconcagua cliff. It is a dead glacier that will quickly disappear.
The return is long; the instability of the gravel puts Philip and Alain in difficulty. I’m stunned by the heat. As soon as we return to camp, we have an appointment with the doctor for a check-up: sensations, heart rate, blood pressure and level of oxygen saturation. My saturation isn’t great but nothing to worry about. I have to avoid salt, cold cuts and drink a lot. The water here is exclusively of glacial origin and the snow is very poor in minerals. It is necessary to add tea, coffee or sweet drinks (a nightmare for me) loaded with minerals.
After discussions with each other, we find that we all have, more or less, little worries. One vomited, another caught a cold, a third has the same (low) level of saturation as me.
Dinner is nice but no subject really engages.
The debriefing announces a big day for the next day: getting up at 5:30 a.m., 1000 meters of ascent including 100 meters that are a bit technical; we will see ! Perhaps the first “drooling”?
D05 – Towards the Plaza de Mulas camp, 4260 m.
I get up at 5:30 a.m. to divide the things between the very big bag and the bag for the day.
At 6 o’clock Paula (smiling, as always in the morning) comes for us to fold the tent. First remove all the stones, then the hoops. Original and very fast: the folding is replaced by a stuffing in the bag which is super fast and undoubtedly much better for the life of the tent. To remember.
This morning the discussion is about pee. Let me explain. The instruction of the guides and the doctor is to drink 5 liters a day in addition to that of the water from the food. Good students, we are generally at 6 liters. The direct consequence is that we get up 3 to 6 times a night to go to the toilet; and since we are in a tent and there are stones everywhere, it is restrictive. Funny discussion, isn’t it?
Let’s look on the bright side; it is a period of full moon and the mountains are superb. When the light arrives, the colors are purple then orange with the sun. In fact getting up every two hours is a great opportunity to take full advantage of the mountain.
The day promises to be long (20 kilometres), high (1000m of elevation gain) and difficult at the end (at 4260 meters above sea level). We leave at 7:30. We take the same path as the day before for warming up then we rise on the edge of the torrent opposite to that of the day before. The walk is slow and steady. A beautiful plateau of greenery is visible in front of us. Originally from Mayenne, I like anything that looks like a meadow. The path becomes more and more mineral.
We walk slowly in order to collectively find the rhythm that will be that of the final ascent. And then, if you have the courage to read the rest of this text, you will discover that it was a very good idea to do so for today’s stage.
We arrive on a long plateau about 200 meters wide, framed on each side by immense moraines. I love this long journey. This is an opportunity for inner thoughts and long exchanges with Paula. The breaks are quite rare, it is also the rhythm that we will have to have for the summit. A delicate passage near the torrent where Alain will soak his foot well marks the end of the plateau.
It’s getting hotter and hotter, it’s getting very uncomfortable. During the lunch break, I find a very small cool space sheltered by a rock. Phew, a little freshness! With Alain we agree to share the tent.
We left the set, we take the height. We pass the bar of 4000 meters of altitude. The group cracks, the three marathon runners and Sacha are in front. The slope is stony, the very dry earth is unstable. Even if we walk slowly, it pulls. We arrive at the “Plaza de Mules” camp.
Barely a ten-minute break and the three team members decide to set up tents for everyone. Very bad idea, it is unbearably hot in the area reserved for us. The assembly of the tents is quite simple but it takes time to string the ropes to the stones. I catch sunstroke! Peter is the same. A large pitcher of water on my head keeps me from boiling but that’s not cool at all. I would have much preferred a cool break.
I lack the lucidity to distinguish between fatigue, the heat of the day on the plateau, sunstroke and altitude. I try to cool off in this dodger, I rest in the tent, I have chills… it’s not going well.
Kindly, Philip lends me a Canadian hat that he does not use. This loan transformed into a gift will be of great use to me for the future; many thanks to Philip. It’s not the expected “drool”, rather a big heat stroke.
The whole team meets for dinner, it goes without saying that we are not in a good mood! The soup goes for just about everyone. On the other hand, apart from Bernard, usual Iron Man, we eat almost nothing of the chicken and fries dish.
The Doliprane had a bit of an effect, but between chills and headaches I was “thinking” about the rest of the ascent. Even if the stage was very long, I don’t feel tired, the sensations are new, strange and disturb me.
D06 – Rest at Plaza des Mulas, 4260 m.
Oh yes ! I slept from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. Well, let’s deduct the five times 10 to 15 minutes for the reasons you know…
You won’t believe me, but I’m in great shape. I’m super hungry, a slight residual headache, but in a good mood to spare… Breakfast is happy, we’ve all recovered from the day before. And we have a rest day ahead of us.
With Sacha and Pierre, we set off on a short two-hour trek to visit what had been a luxurious hotel before falling into disrepair. We step over some snowfields and climb a rounded dome made of gravel. The hotel looked great but its 30 kilometer access from the road must have put some people off.
There is life near a nearby sentry box; I go there. That’s good: they are the police in charge of securing the Aconcagua Park. I ask them for permission to go around the hotel. One thing leading to another, we talk about mountains, and they know a lot about them, then football. They deduced from my accent that I was French and invited me to come and watch with them the France-England match which will take place the next day. For professional reasons they have a great connection. They are very welcoming!
The return is very cool, the lights of the morning are beautiful and give very differentiated colors on the different rocks of these grandiose mountains. The few small steep slopes remind us that we are at an altitude of 4300 meters. My pulse points this out explicitly.
The midday shower is excellent and followed by a hearty meal: I eat a share and a half of everything, even dessert… (yes!).
Small siesta for many then match Argentina / Netherlands with the stewardship teams. A lot of stress for everyone, some come out during the penalty session.
Long discussion with my tent neighbor. It’s always surprising to see how much we can exchange with “almost strangers” that we will probably never see again. It is perhaps because we will never see each other again; who knows ?
Dinner where emptiness prevails.
D07 – Return trip to Bonete summit, 5100 m.
Wake up at 6:30 a.m.: prepare the bag for the day. The breakfast is quite quiet. 8:00 a.m.: we leave, and on the way, we confirm with the police the reception for the England / France match at 4:00 p.m.
The climb of the day is steep, in the middle of the moraines, the stones, gravels and sands are unstable and roll down steep slopes. No vegetation, not even a few snowfields. I am honored and moved that Rodrigo asks me to take the tail of the group since Paula takes care of Alain. I position myself behind Philip who is the last in order to help him because he is in a bit of trouble.
The ascent is made in four similar stages. The view of Aconcagua is impressive. The Plazza des Mules camp is getting smaller and smaller.
In general indifference except Bernard, I stop for a moment at 4810 meters above sea level: it is the height of Mont-Blanc. The conditions are very different from what I experienced there during my ascent. Here, rock, slow steps but not half or even quarter steps taken on the summit ridge of Mont-Blanc. I would like to relive this ascent to Mont-Blanc (notice to amateurs). The last passage is in pure rock, quite delicate, with a gully which requires you to put your hands down in places. I’m surprised how little climbing skills the majority of the group have.
The view from the top of BONETE, at 5020 meters, is impressive. 360° view. To the east is Aconcagua, the summit of which we cannot see since it is almost 2000 meters higher. To the south is the plateau seen two days earlier, to the west Chile and its many mountain ranges and to the north the ridges that we see from the camp. It is exclusively mineral, only a few snowfields and glaciers bring variety. I’m surprised that the climb to over 5000 meters is so easy; my heart rate confirms this impression and Bernard will make the same observation. Ah! if I had had the good idea to worry about it at that time (read on…).
The descent is long because I follow Philip who is struggling. On a scree passage, I amuse myself by hurtling down the slope and end up falling, injuring myself in two fingers. John breaks a knuckle of a little finger there.
I finish by trotting down the slope in order to be on time for the match without disturbing the assembly. Bernard joins me: the two Frenchmen are the only ones for whom I had asked to be welcomed. The show is filling up, we are soon twenty, the atmosphere is very nice, the Argentinians won the day before and would like an Argentina / France final. They are reassured by the low contribution of Mbappé which worries them greatly. With Bernard we have just returned for dinner, the main theme of which is: “the Earth is a small planet”. Our geopolitical exchanges are “at the counter” but with a Russian, an Indian, a Canadian, a New Zealander, a German, an American and me, the points of view are rich and quite interesting.
I am surprised to have climbed to 5100 meters with so much ease. Is it the acclimatization, the very slow pace, the enthusiasm, … go figure. In any case, these are new sensations.
D08 – Return to camp 1 Canada, 5100 m.
Up at 8:30 a.m., the day is announced to be hard and short.
The objective of the day is a round trip to the next camp – Canada – perched at 5100 meters. Both to acclimatize but also to carry water and equipment. Emilio, a third guide has joined us, he is seconded to Alain. The drudgery of bags and equipment begins again. The bag must include the majority of the equipment planned for the final ascent. Its preparation, which must be done with care, is checked by Rodrigo.
I’m late because I lost my poles! Rodrigo finds me a pair that he lends me.
The path runs through an immense, steep moraine. We rise quickly and the view of the glacier of the Brazil peak is splendid. We see the Bonete summit taking shape, which we had hiked the day before. It’s easy, it looks like a pointy hat. Moreover Bonete means “cap” in Spanish. Following the instructions of the guides, we walk in a compact group, very slowly. At this rate, even if we are between 4300 and 5000 meters it is easy; but as soon as there is a technical passage we stop and it becomes painful to wait. My heart rate is low, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you the number.
I get my ears pulled by Paula because I stop to take photos and videos. I discover a new way of walking in very slow and very steep conditions. Rodrigo teaches me a pendulum movement of the hips pushing forward, in synchronization with the step. This completes my panoply: walking learned from Canadians in Nepal to climb the many stairs (called Bougresses by me…) and the assiduous practice of Afghan walking.
After three hours punctuated by breaks every 40 to 50 minutes, we arrive at camp Canada, it is very small. We deposit the water and the equipment that we have prepared for the summit. The whole team eats sandwiches inside a big tent where it is very hot. I prefer to isolate myself to admire the view of the Brazil peak and its glacier. Life in a group weighs on me. Emilio joins me, he knows Chantal B. de Salta very well, of whom he speaks highly of me.
The descent is super fast, we descend the moraine of earth and gravel four by four behind Rodrigo. Less than thirty minutes to fully descend all that we had climbed, what a pleasure! Rodrigo loses a section of a walking stick, it’s a problem for him. Bernard will say: “it’s the opportunity to replace the equipment”, me “it’s annoying Rodrigo, it’s your work tool” and Rodrigo dissatisfied will conclude by “it’s lost money”.
Last medical visit for each; the doctor speaks French in an improbable and very friendly exchange. The auscultation and the metrics are OK, in particular the level of saturation which has risen.
The park police are passing through; Bernard and I offer them a beer to thank them for their welcome during the game.
Today is Sunday, the day of the traditional Argentinian barbecue. It is succulent and very hearty, the atmosphere of the group is warm.
D09 – Rest at Plaza des Mulas, 4260 m.
Very rough night with gusts of wind at around 60 to 70 km / hour according to Rodrigo. Verification of the tent ties by the stones is necessary; it is done by the light of the moon in the coldness of the wind.
The three guides focus on the logistics of the next few days when we will be on our own. For us, it’s a full day of rest. It’s not really my thing; so I take the opportunity to do a solitary mini-trekking that allows me to visit the Brazil glacier. It perfectly illustrates the gradual death of glaciers, gradually replaced by moraines. The dark gravel captures the heat which, little by little, melts the ice. The river that passes under the glacier-moraine is more than 200 meters long. I spend a long time exploring and photographing it. It is pleasant to walk alone, according to your desires, in such an environment.
Alain Pierre Sacha went to try their “double-boots”. It looks like ski boots with a liner and a shell. Mine tried the day before caused me a nice inflammation on the tibia. I put on gauze and a strap.
Lunch is tacos with chunks of meat, cheese, and veggies. It’s very good.
The nap on the floor in the team tent is almost cool. The $20 shower is replaced by a pan shower, the water is lukewarm; it’s very nice. The laundry is done by hand; with this sun and the wind, it dries very quickly. Time passes calmly: charging the batteries, drinking water, writing, doing yoga, reading, chatting. The final ascent is in five days, the weather forecast is closely monitored; anxiety sets in about the speed of the wind, the clouds, the physical abilities of each other, the small injuries and, above all, the level of saturation for Pierre and myself.
The dinner is as always excellent, at 4000 meters in a tent, it’s a feat!
The briefing is extremely serious. Rodrigo consults his list of messages and recommendations to send us, Paula that of the equipment. Everyone is taking notes, we need to be sure we have everything we need for the next five to six days and nothing more to avoid an excessive load. We rave happily over the diagram of the ascent drawn on the whiteboard.
D10 – Towards camp 1 Canada with equipment, 5100 m.
The night was difficult: to stay correct, the need to have a bowel movement and stay there for long periods of time was painful. Each time, I came back freezing from the open toilets. The path seemed to bristle with stones laid there by a ferocious enemy.
Alain got tired of my comings and goings, he decided to change tents, “sometimes” that would make him miss the final ascent. The breakfast is classic and quite quiet, we have to entrust the tents to the porters which supposes to have emptied them. After five nights at high altitude it’s a bit “loose” for everyone.
Over the course of the discussions, I discover with regret, to put it mildly, that a good half of my team members are above all obsessed with the summit. The mountain and its sensations, the people who live there are of little importance to them. Checking “Aconcagua” is the top of their priorities.
At noon, the entire stewardship team is there to wish us good luck. This is the opportunity for photos and thanks from Rodrigo. I go to my Spanish to thank them all for the quality of their services.
The elevation is the same as two days ago: a huge unstable moraine rising in zigzags. The group is compact, the ascent very slow. Stops are made every 45 minutes to drink, a real obsession, and to eat quickly. We arrive at the camp. The picnic is taken quickly, outside under the wind. It is already the afternoon, we settle down under the tents; all available water is reserved for cooking and drinking; the toilet is very basic.
The meal is taken in a sumptuous setting at an altitude of 5100 meters under a beautiful light that illuminates many peaks on the horizon. The empanadas, an Argentinian specialty of stuffed turnovers, are very good.
The sunset allows you to discover even more the mountain ranges. The wind has picked up, it’s chilly there.
D11 – Towards camp-2 Nido des Condores, 5487 m.
The night was good, going out at night is easier when you are alone in the tent.
Yet another portage with the heaviest loaded backpack: we have to take the rest of the heavy equipment for the final ascent. Paula demonstrates to me her know-how to fill a bag without anything overflowing in order to make walking easier. We go up the moraine already traveled two days before but on different paths. Alain left early with his own guide.
With Bernard, it seems to us that our steps are faster. Or is it the much heavier bag that requires a change of pace? We miss clarity.
It’s getting colder and colder and even though we took a break to add layers of clothes, we’re all freezing. For Rodrigo and me, it’s mostly our hands. The arrival at the Nido de Condores camp is made by high winds. We are not too many four to install my tent (that of the others has already been installed). We take the midday snack and settle down with a cold and strong wind.
It is of course exclusively mineral and of course without water except that brought, reserved for cooking and drinking. It is very beautiful but also very hostile.
At 4 p.m. it’s the match Morocco – France. The camp police station opens its doors wide to us. The leader is the one who allowed us to watch the previous game on TV. The hut is very small, there is only the Chilean radio; no picture this time. It’s quite incredible that at 5,500 meters above sea level we were listening to this match in a police station, commented on by Chilean radio won over to the cause of the Moroccans, with a majority of Argentines in this very restricted space.
During the two goals scored by the French, it will be easy to understand that the Argentines would have preferred to play the Moroccans in the final. They fear the French who eliminated them four years ago. They are very afraid of Mbappé who scores goals with incredible ease, according to the main commentator. During the match, the squalls were huge with snow and hail.
A good dinner is prepared by the guides. The atmosphere is anxious, the cold of the morning and the gusts of the afternoon worry the whole team.
Everyone returns to their tent hoping to find sleep despite the very high level of decibels.
D12 – Rest at camp-2 Nidos des Condores, 5487 m.
Beautiful night but very cold, the water bottles are totally frozen. I have nothing more to drink. The guides, very busy, are reluctant to give me water. I have to insist. For this last day of rest we are in Nidos de Condores. Breakfast was served at 10 o’clock…that’s been a hell of a night!
With Bernard, I go for a short one-hour walk on the set. We talk about his life in New Zealand, both family and professional; he feels good there. The way he talks about the Mauries – the first peoples – and their rights and positions seems very positive to me and is interesting. This is a good reason to experience Season 3 of my Southern World Tour.
The final medical visit is good; the saturation percentage is not great but acceptable and I still have two days of acclimatization to come. The other indicators are good or even very good.
After a short siesta we all walk together towards a nice viewpoint on the desert plateau, strewn with rocks descended from the Aconcagua mountain. As far as the eye can see, purely mineral mountains spread out. We see no trace of life, no road, dwelling, factory…
A stopover makes it possible to organize an “ice school”; half the team has never worn cleats. It’s surprising. I discover a new technique for climbing on ice: it consists of holding both feet almost perpendicular, one provides direction and the other stability by being turned towards the slope.
A second stop brings us to the hollow of a very small lake ten meters in diameter. Under thirty centimeters of ice there is glacier water. We fill the jerry cans and bottles.
It should be noted that this water can only be consumed as it is for a few days. It is very low in minerals and must be supplemented for long-term consumption. The first doctor had strongly advised us to drink sugary drinks. On the way back, I measure quite well the level of desire of the team members to participate in the water portage! Solidarity is not a shared rule.
On the evening menu we are served soup and succulent pasta.
The debriefing is tense, not that the stage is difficult but the big day is approaching and everyone is wondering about their ability to get to the top and come back down in good conditions. The faces are closed, worried. Rodrigo stares insistently at Alain when it comes to the cut-off time to get to the top: 4 p.m.
This evening the sky is exceptional; I walk alone on the set to take videos and photos.
Admiring the mountain at 5580 meters is a good way to de-stress! And if I do not manage to reach the summit (6960 m), I would have at least had this privilege.
Back at the camp I tell Paula that the sky is superb. She goes out and calls her colleagues to take a series of photos with them; the three guides are superb.
D13 – Towards camp-3 Colera, 6000 m.
Cold night, very cold. The wind is incessant, it slips everywhere. The pee outings are chilling, I made the choice not to get dressed every time but there, it pinches hard.
I prepare all my bag before the 9am breakfast.
AMG is a promoter of “zero waste”. Allow me to enlighten you on the modus operandi: a small tent has been set up at the bottom of the garden. I’m kidding: a small tent has been set up in the middle of sharp stones.
- Doing your urine in the gravel, that’s not what’s missing.
- Enter the small tent and lay down a sheet of thick newspaper.
- Aim for the paper and drop the stool. Take toilet paper to dry yourself.
- Gently lift the four corners of the newspaper and place everything in a plastic bag provided for this purpose.
- Clean hands with gel.
The breakfast is dismal. Fortunately there is Argentinian music.
The trail is really steep. We rise quickly in the middle of the moraines, more and more moraines. The group is super tight. This is preparation for the summit for the next day. The wind is gusting at 60-80 km/hour; it’s exhausting.
After an hour of walking we catch up with Alain who had left early. The discussion between the guides is quick: Alain must go down. It will indeed be impossible for him to climb at low speed and to arrive before the deadline at the summit because after 4 p.m. the rock falls become too important.
After two hours of walking, I notice that one of my fingers is freezing. I replace my gloves with feather mittens and take a ten-minute break to warm up all my fingers.
We arrive at the Colera camp at 6000 meters, not very engaging this name of camp! The camp is even more Spartan than the previous one. This is the final base camp before the ascent.
Due to Alain’s departure, three tents were set up instead of four. I let Pierre settle down.
When I join Pierre in the tent, he doesn’t answer my “Is everything okay? ” pronounced in the language of Uncle Sam. The first thing he answers me is: “I have to go home now! ”. A Kafkaesque and very choppy dialogue ensues. I strongly recommend that he speak quickly to Rodrigo. Peter does not move. I move from recommendation to order. Peter runs. On his return to the tent, Pierre announces to me: “The guide says nothing”. I feel that it is serious, Pierre has his eyes in the void, his speech is more onomatopoeia than sentences.
In fact, Rodrigo organized everything in the meantime. They disembark at four in the tent in which I must stay because we all have a reciprocal duty to watch. A connection with the base camp doctor is established; a second also with the other doctor who is present for the ascent. A first injection is made, an oxygen supply is set up. The situation is serious, the decision for a rapid descent has been made. I get kicked out of the tent. Pierre’s belongings are gathered, his descent to the Canada camp located lower down has begun.
I’m shocked by this sneaky danger lurking here. We shared with Pierre a low saturation percentage. Paula and Rodrigo let me into the warm kitchen tent. The warm atmosphere that reigns there comforts me and allows me to regain my senses. I took a hit in morale and confidence.
Dinner is taken; each in his tent. Rodrigo comes to do the debriefing in each of the three tents: up at 3 a.m., breakfast at 3:30 a.m., departure at 5 a.m. We will evolve into a single compact block.
It is 7:50 p.m.; It’s time to sleep.
D14 – A / R to the summit 6960 m.
Good night, I wake up at 3 a.m., this is the briefing instruction from the day before.
I don’t feel well, the efforts to harness myself or take a few steps outside require more effort from me than usual. Or, we are at 6000 m. but still. I open up to Rodriogo who is worried about it right away. It’s our 14 days of expedition and it’s the first morning that he sees me so unwell and with half-mast enthusiasm.
He gives me an appointment in my tent in 10 min. he feels that the delusions of Pierre, my tent partner, have left their mark.
Heart rate and blood pressure readings are good. On the other hand, that of the oxygen saturation is downright bad, if it were confirmed, an urgent evacuation would be necessary.
We agree on a statement in 15 minutes and Rodrigo asks me to de-stress which, you can imagine, is illusory.
The second test is better, I’m just at the limit, 55%, of what is acceptable for climbing. But we look twice, it is 1000 m. steep climb to almost 7000 m. Rodrigo, with some additional arguments asks me to make a decision.
After 10 minutes and additional arguments from Rodrigo, I ask him one last question: “What happens to the team if I give up? “. Well it’s complicated and even dangerous because Paula would have to take me down, maybe organize an emergency evacuation with another guide – the helicopter doesn’t go up that high – then go back up to ensure the safety of the group.
I give up going up today! It’s heartbreaking but, following the hypoxia test at the Nantes hospital, I knew very well that it was a weak point, in any case without an oxygen cylinder, which is not practiced at the Aconcagua.
Philippe also gave up, that’s 4 out of 7 not to attempt the summit.
I help the team members to prepare and make the departure video at 5 a.m., I have death in my soul.
In the morning a guide and his client – M.P one of the rare French cross – landed in the kitchen tent. M.P who attempted the ascent has 6 frozen fingers, they are all black. The guide installs him, warms him up, gives him a bottle to warm his hands and contacts the base camp doctor. M.P. is falling asleep, I don’t know much about it but I know he has to activate his fingers as much as possible. I suggest that he “hold the spittoon” so he doesn’t fall asleep. He is from Grenoble and a mountain enthusiast, we have a perfect topic of conversation.
With Philippe, we are going to take photo-videos at the 6000 m point. It’s already not so bad to spend time in this environment with such exceptional sensations.
Samuel, the only guide left at the camp, serves us a picnic, I feel that the paths are more his thing than stewardship. For fun, we redo a saturation test with him, I’m at 71%. Should I have given it a shot? It is possible or even probable that I will rehash it…
We are calmly awaiting the return of our team members.
Paula, Sacha and John arrive at 7 p.m. sharp, which makes 2 p.m. walk between 6000 and 6960 m. Congratulations to them.
They tell us quickly about their feelings. Bernard was roped in for the entire descent and received an injection. He is exhausted but manages to describe his ascent on video.
The beginning of the night is very cold and sad.
D15 – Towards Plaza des Mulas 4260 m.
Wake up at 8 a.m. then leave at 9 a.m. Last night at 6000 meters, very cold with incredible gusts that slip under the tent.
The descent is swallowed with great ease, the oxygen saturation has risen. I love these fast descents in the moraines. While waiting for my colleagues, I take photos and videos, it’s superb, the rocks have improbable shapes.
Paula lets me get more and more ahead. The World Cup final has started. Very disciplined so far, I rush with Bernard and John to the camp hoping to see the match. Paula gives me big eyes for this desertion that does not conform to the rules of the high mountains.
Lunch is served but the desire to share the match with the Argentines is greater. The stress is mounting, many cannot watch the images… I come to fear their reactions if France wins. Phew, France loses and I congratulate them one by one: a good thirty people…
The entire expedition team is in the tent for the end of lunch. Rodrigo comes by to inform us that we will have a barbecue tonight with wine; a great first.
We store the large bag for transport by mules the next day. I take a very good shower to become like a new penny. The dinner is very nice, we share the traditional barbecue with a local crémant. We talk with Paula and Rodrigo about the end of the expedition but also about Bernard’s very difficult descent from the summit, their work, the teams…
Five of us sleep in the dinner tent. Argentinians celebrate.
D16 – Towards Entrada del parque (2800 m.) & Mendoza.
The night was restless. For more than an hour I was oppressed. It was difficult for me to breathe. I got up to admire the celestial vault; it was much better afterwards.
Alain and John decided to take a helicopter to avoid traveling the 27 kilometers back. Me, it would have been necessary to pay me so that I am deprived of this pleasure!
Goodbye stewardship teams; we leave in cold weather for our 27 kilometer walk. Fourteen days ago, we followed this route in the opposite direction. I love this huge valley floor surrounded by steep moraines. We meet a lot of transport mules there. We share a picnic spot with other groups who are also finishing their expedition. I have fun following Paula and Rodrigo left our group far behind. We walk at more than 5 km / hour and have more than 30 minutes in advance.
I have an exchange with a mountain dweller from Grenoble who is taking a break in the same place. We share the same observations: tourists obsessed with the summit, limited interest in the mountains, little walking technique and bivouacs, little knowledge of the mountains and, for some, a relative consideration for the local teams.
The break at Camp Confluencia is welcome; colorful toasts were prepared by Rodrigo’s brother.
The end of the walk is painful, Philip can’t take it anymore. Rodrigo and I have a long conversation about the organization of groups open to all and the recurring problem of difference in physical level. He gives me advice that would allow me to climb in much better conditions, but that will be for next time! We also talk about his future trip to Alaska.
The return bus is comfortable; we arrive around midnight in the center of Mendoza.
— End of the expedition. —