The Journey Begins, Mendoza to Penitentes ~ A Journey to the Top of Aconcagua

Wednesday, 8 January 2014
Mendoza to Penitentes
Driving Time: 4 hours
Altitude: 700m – 2700m

Having arrived in Argentina a couple of days ago, I was excited at the prospect of a brand new country to explore and of course, a new mountain to climb! The team, from all around the world, were finally all together and excitement was in the air. Meeting for the first time, introductions and excited chatter could be heard from all around the hotel. Team dinners had been had, snow boots, crampons and ice-axes had been hired, drinks and lunches at side-walk cafés getting to know each other and final gear checks were done before we headed out onto the slopes of the Aconcagua, our goal, the summit at 6962m. It has been a busy few days in Mendoza, filled with all the excitement of what is still to come.

Our first dinner together as a team in Mendoza, Argentina

Our first dinner together as a team in Mendoza, Argentina

Everything in Argentina is super-sized, especially their steaks.

Everything in Argentina is super-sized, especially their steaks.

We spent this morning at the provincial offices sorting out our permits for the climb as no one is allowed into Parque Provincial Aconcagua without one. The process wasn’t meant to take long, around 45 minutes in fact, but it was not to be. Forms were filled out and officials started working through our paper work. But things weren’t happening as quickly as we expected and before we knew it hours were passing. The delay came in the form of one of our team mates not having the required signatures due to her being a minor. With her parents in Australia and time differences delaying everything further, it was decided that Alyssa, Steve (one of our expedition leaders) and Angel (our lead guide) would stay behind in Mendoza to sort out the red tape while the rest of the team moved on to Penitentes, where we are due to spend the night before heading out for our first day on the mountain.

Signing my life away... So ready for this extreme adventure!

Signing on the dotted line… So ready for my next extreme adventure!

With our mountain permits in hand, we are officially climbing Aconcagua tomorrow!

Reality was beginning to set in.

I was close to climbing the 2nd of my Seven Summits.

Permit in hand, I'm ready to climb.

Permit in hand, I’m ready to climb.

Most of the permits sorted, it was a dash back to our hotel. There was no time to finalise our packing, the vans that would take us to Penitentes were already waiting for us outside. Everything that was not already in our duffel bags was quickly thrown back in and we would have to sort it all out at our next hotel. Packing and repacking and packing again is something you get used to on the mountain. Actually, I’m lying, you never get used to it – at least I don’t. It is frustrating and painful and something that you are forever doing when on the mountain and at high altitudes, it is simply exhausting and a chore that constantly rears its head and is something that simply has to be done over and over and over again.

Outside our hotel, the two vans and trailers were loaded with food supplies, tents, equipment and all our duffel bags. The buzz was simply electric; we were almost on our way. All the training, hard work and planning was finally down to this. My journey is about to begin and excitement fills every fibre of my being.

The team split into the two vans, Simon, Daniel, Judi and I climbed into the one while Ronnie, Elizabeth, Hans, Jake and Lisa climbed into the other. We had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us but we stopped along the way at Uspallata, a little village which is found in a scenic location on the road which crosses the Andes between Mendoza and Santiago in Chile.

Driving to Penitentes, the views were jaw-dropping even if my photos don't capture the true beauty of what I was seeing.

Driving convoy to Penitentes, the views were jaw-dropping even if my photos don’t capture the true beauty of what I was seeing.

While some slept, I couldn't take my eyes of the scenery as we drove.

While some slept, I couldn’t take my eyes of the scenery as we drove.

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We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called La Estancia de Elías, a popular spot as the restaurant was packed. As I had already come to see, the portion sizes in Argentina are huge and once again meat was on the menu! No matter what you ordered it came in double, super-sized portions.

Team mates stretching their legs at our restaurant stop.

Team mates stretching their legs at our restaurant stop.

As I was saying, everything in Argentina is super-sized.

As I was saying, everything in Argentina is super-sized.

Enjoying a team lunch as we make our way to Penitentes.

Enjoying a team lunch as we make our way to Penitentes.

Two of our Argentinian guides, Adrian and Bruno and my two Kili team mates, Judi and Simon waiting for lunch.

Two of our Argentinian guides, Adrian and Bruno and my two Kili team mates, Judi and Simon waiting for lunch.

Our legs stretched and our tummies full, we hopped back into our vans for the last leg of the journey to Penitentes. While some slept as we drove, I couldn’t for a moment close my eyes. Endless mountains and driving through a never-ending canyon, my eyes wanted to take it all in. My eyes feasted on some of the most beautiful pieces of earth I have ever seen. As we drove I felt so blessed and grateful to be on this journey – to be living my dreams.

Mesmerised by the beauty as we drove, it wasn’t long before we pulled up at our new lodging for our final night.

Before we could all disembark, our vans and trailers were surrounded by a group of men wearing red t-shirts. They were part of the Inka team, a local Argentina company who specialises in trips on Aconcagua. They would be taking care of all the logistics and ensuring that our food and bags were on the mountain and that anything else that needed taking care of was taken care of allowing us to focus on our climb to the top.

The Inka guys springing into action as soon as we arrived, offloading the vans.

The Inka guys springing into action as soon as we arrived, offloading the vans.

Moving our duffel bags down into the basement of our overnight stop.

Moving our duffel bags down into the basement of our overnight stop.

Within no time, our luggage was in the basement of the hotel and would you believe it, I suddenly find myself repacking my duffel bags, again. This time we had to sort out everything with one duffel bag going straight up to Base Camp. This bag would contain all our extreme cold weather gear and everything we needed for our summit bid. We would not see this bag again for a few days so we had to pack carefully, ensuring that nothing we needed over the next few days landed up in that bag. Our 2nd duffel bag would contain everything we needed for the first few days – sleeping bags, toiletries and something warm for the evening.

Once again it was time to unpack and repack.

Once again it was time to unpack and repack.

Our bags sorted and packed once again, we made our way upstairs and checked into our hotel rooms. The hotel was like something out of Stephen King’s The Shining Hotel. Long dark corridors in an old building, passing some rooms you could hear the wind eerily whistling under the doors… All I know is that I don’t want to be wondering around these corridors alone, and late at night.

Our last night in comfort before heading out to the mountain.

Our last night in comfort before heading out to the mountain.

The boys saying hello from their room a few doors down.

The boys saying hello from their room a few doors down.

Just one side of the view from our hotel room.

Just one side of the view from our hotel room.

In the afternoon Simon, Daniel, Jake, Judi and I decided to do a little exploring and we headed down to the river running past our lodge. Lisa, crazy girl, chose to stay in her haunted room resting… (jokes were already flying around that we could hear a baby’s cry coming from Lisa’s room and added to this her room was really creepy with the wind whistling hauntingly under her door.) Down at the river bank, the river was dark, creamy brown in colour and reminded us of Nesquick chocolate milk and so became known as the “chocolate river” as we let our imaginations run wild as we imagined the Oompa Loompas doing their thing!

The contrast between the earth tones and the deep blue sky was just so beautiful.

The contrast between the earth tones and the deep blue sky was just so beautiful.

The boys  ready to go and play with the Oompa Loompas!

The boys ready to go and play with the Oompa Loompas!

Jake taking a moment to take in his surroundings as the four of us looked on.

Jake taking a moment to take in his surroundings as the four of us looked on.

The scenery around us as we stood at the chocolate river was jaw-droppingly beautiful. The grey, brown mountains cut into the perfectly clear blue sky, with the chocolate river running through it. I’m not even on the mountain yet and I can’t stop taking photos. Walking back up to the lodge had us all panting and puffing as we climbed the tiny hill we had taken down to the river. Suddenly you realise you are already at altitude and your body is already feeling the effects. At 2700m, in our travels we had already gained 2000m.

The little hill that got us all panting and puffing as we walked back to the hotel.

The little hill that got us all panting and puffing as we walked back to the hotel.

We have arrived, the views from our rooms are just exquisite and tomorrow we head out into the mountains. I am so ready to get out there!

We have arrived, the views from our rooms are just exquisite and tomorrow we head out into the mountains. I am so ready to get out there!

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Simon and Daniel’s room first doing some first aid on my finger as I had managed to get a splinter rather deep in my finger and then we wiled the hours away teaching some of our team mates how to play the Monopoly card game. Yes, Simon had managed to get the game and it was coming up the mountain again with us.

Tonight we enjoyed our last dinner on porcelain crockery eaten with silver cutlery. After dinner we stayed up late playing Monopoly before finally retiring to our rooms where we would all enjoyed our last hot showers, clean washed hair and warm, snug beds for from the tomorrow tents, hard stone covered ground and the mountain would become our home.

As we toasted at dinner tonight, here’s to safety and success…

Our journey has begun!

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~ All Photos By Me, except those taken of me of course ~

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