A Birthday Celebration, First Steps and Free Sky TV ~ A Journey to the Top of Aconcagua

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Punta de Vacas to Pampa de Lenas

Hiking Time: 4 -5 hours            

Altitude: 2700m – 2950m

I woke early this morning knowing the day I had prepared so long for had finally arrived. Today we start hiking the 2nd of the Seven Summits I hope to climb. Breathing in the thought that I truly am living my dreams, I climbed out of bed so more than ready for all lay ahead of myself and the team. Our room was filled with a buzz of excitement, last long-lingering showers, putting on clean clothes and packing in the last of our stuff. The breakfast hall was filled with other teams excitedly chatting, some who had just returned from the mountain, and others like our team, getting ready to go. This morning we are also celebrating Simon’s birthday!

Awake early in the morning, this is the sight that greeted me outside on our little balcony.

Awake early in the morning, this is the sight that greeted me outside on our little balcony.

Judi (my Kili team mate and since friend) and I, clean for the last time and ready to trek!

Judi (my Kili team-mate and friend) and I, clean for the last time and ready to trek!

With the rest of the food, equipment and our Base Camp duffel bags separated for the journey on the mules, it was just me, my backpack and my one duffel bag. I can only hope I have packed everything I need for the walk into Base Camp, if not, well it was just too late now!

Jake, Simon, Judi, Bruno and Daniel excitedly getting ready to depart.

Jake, Simon, Judi, Bruno and Daniel excitedly getting ready to depart.

With breakfast eaten it was time to depart. All our luggage already packed into the trailer, the team piled into the shuttle bus that would take us to the start. But first, it was a stop at a place called Puente del Inca, which in Spanish means ‘The Inca’s Bridge.’ It is a natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River. Scientists have speculated that the interaction of extreme elements like ice and hot springs were involved in the formation of the bridge. In the early 20th century there was a large thermal resort and spa that used the hot springs to cure certain illnesses and there was a railway station, which is still there, that tourists used to travel to the resort.

A little market out in the middle of nowhere at  Puente del Inca.

A little market out in the middle of nowhere at Puente del Inca.

Old abandoned railway tracks at  Puente del Inca.

Old abandoned railway tracks at Puente del Inca.

The amazing natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River. A place where the sick came to be healed.

The amazing natural arch that forms a bridge over the Vacas River. A place where the sick came to be healed.

A little church across the river.

An old abandoned church across the river.

After a quick look around and taking some pics we hopped back in the shuttle, ready to ride. Except we discovered, two team members were missing. Simon and Daniel had wandered off to find a post office to post some post cards, which would you believe, they actually managed to find. (Considering we were practically in the middle of nowhere in the mountains this was a good find!)

Bruno, one of our guides, telling us they have a little surprise for us...

Bruno, one of our guides, telling us they have a little surprise for us…

Postcards posted, the boys appeared and we were back on the road again and our Inca guides had a little surprise in store for us. A short way down the road, we pulled over and once again we all piled out of the van. There before us in the distance was a sight that made my heart pound loudly. There in all her glory, she stood tall and strong, Aconcagua – all 6962m of mountain that soon we would be climbing.

This spot, with Aconcagua in the background, made the perfect spot for our “Day 1” photograph. As we do on our mountain trips, each day for a photograph we hold up fingers to show what day we are on. The team was game and our “Day 1” photo was snapped!

Aconcagua, snow capped, teasing us with what's to come.

Our first sighting of Aconcagua, snow-capped, teasing us with what’s to come.

Our teams "Day 1" photogrpph with Aconcagua watching over us in the background.

Our teams “Day 1” photograph with Aconcagua watching over us in the background.

After many photos were taken we were back on the road again, this time heading back in the opposite direction, heading towards Punta de Vacas, the entrance to Aconcagua Park and the start of our 360˚ route that would lead us up to the summit on one side of the mountain and we’d return again down the other side of the mountain, hence the 360˚ name.

It wasn’t before long we were turning off the road onto a dirt road and then I saw it, the sign that announced this was the entrance to the park. It’s hard to describe the excitement and the feelings that well up inside. After more than a year of training, saving, planning and talking about it, it was all finally unfolding right before my very eyes. I thought of Emma as I climbed out the van and silently asked her if she was ready for the next adventure? I knew it was a silly question, of course she was!

The sign that showed me we had arrived.

The sign that showed me we had arrived.

I was ready!

I was so ready to get going!

As our guides saw to whatever needed seeing to, we stood around taking photos of each other and putting our backpacks on. I stood looking in the direction we would walk. It was flat and the path would take us into the valley between the mountains rising on either side.

It was beautiful beyond words.

The start of the trail that would lead us up all the way to the summit.

The start of the trail that would lead us up all the way to the summit.

This was the way in, this was where we got to leave civilization behind.

This was the way in, this was where we got to leave civilisation behind.

Ready and waiting!

Ready and waiting!

Even though it was still early morning, the sun was hot and not a piece of skin was left uncovered by factor 50 sunblock. I am not a fan of hiking in extreme heat for obvious reasons, but I knew that within a matter of days the weather would be a completely different story so I made a mental note to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on my skin while I could.

Then we were off, leaving behind the road and civilisation as we knew it.

Taking it all in, we started walking.

The team heading in...! There was no going back now.

The team heading in…! There was no going back now.

Winding our way into the mountains, walking alongside the river, soon we were engulfed by mountains rising up tall on either side of us. There was little in the way of shade and with every rest stop we had we would all clamber to sit in a tiny piece of shade offered by the large bolder we stopped at. By lunch time the sun was brutally hot and even the small trees we sat under offered little to no shade. So when we stopped, we stopped long enough to rest a bit, rehydrate, eat something, and then it was time to move on again.

The team making our way to our first camp for the night.

The team making our way to our first camp for the night.

Lisa enjoying a lunch break in the shade of a rock.

Lisa enjoying a lunch break in the shade of a rock.

The team, and Perky our mascot, some trying to find shade against a rock, enjoying a lunch break.

The team, and Perky our mascot, some trying to find shade against a rock, enjoying a lunch break.

Adrian and Bruno, two of our amazing guides on one of our breaks.

Adrian and Bruno, two of our amazing guides on one of our breaks.

The day was long and hot as we walked along the river’s edge. Soon the mules, carrying equipment and food came past for the first time kicking up the dust as they made their way past us.

The mules, carrying their loads, making their way to camp.

The mules, carrying their loads, making their way to camp.

The muleteers.

The muleteers.

The afternoon was soon filled with a few small hills to climb. With each up there was another down making way for yet another up again. In the heat of the day I wasn’t enjoying the ups so much. Finally as we climbed up over the next little hill, there in the distance our first camp in the mountain came into sight, Pampas de Lenas at 2950m. A mini city of tents stretched before us, home for the afternoon and night was in sight.

Off in the distance, a welcome sight, our first camp for the night ~ Pampa de Lenas

Off in the distance, a welcome sight, our first camp for the night ~ Pampa de Lenas

Simon, Judi and I (Kili team mates reunited on the mountain slopes again, hot but happy to have arrived at camp at last.

Simon, Judi and I (Kili team mates reunited on the mountain slopes again) hot but happy to have arrived at camp at last.

As the weather was so balmy the team was given the option of pitching tents or sleeping under the stars. I knew instantly there was nothing for me to decide, under the stars it would be! A few years ago when I hiked the Fish River Canyon in Namibia we got to sleep on a sandy bed under the stars, we aptly named our nightly ritual of lying on our backs watching the stars in the night sky, SKY TV. Not Sky TV you see on your television set, but out in nature, with a million stars burning brightly in the dark night sky.

Judi, Lisa and I shared a spot for the night under the stars. Here the girls are preparing their beds for the night.

Judi, Lisa and I shared a spot for the night under the stars. Here the girls are preparing their beds for the night.

After finding suitable sleeping spots, we laid out our beds consisting of our small inflatable mattresses and our sleeping bags and sorted through our stuff to get everything ready for after dark, then we headed to the communal area where we passed the time chatting as we waited for supper, which the muleteers were preparing on an open fire.

The muleteers in the "kitchen" preparing our dinner.

The muleteers in the “kitchen” preparing our dinner.

It wasn’t before long, the monopoly cards were on the table and Simon, Daniel, Judi and myself settled in to play. As the sun began to sink behind the mountains, a wind came up that chilled the air. As we played on, we had to scout around for some rocks so that we could place then on top of our cards on the table in order to stop them from blowing away because as those who have followed my blog for some time now know, nothing would stop us from getting our daily dose of monopoly in and little did we know then, but soon we would even begin to convert our team ‘bridge’ players too!

Playing Monopoly Cards, the most addictive game out there!

Playing Monopoly Cards, the most addictive game out there! Judi and Simon eyeing out Daniel to see what his next move is.

Playing Monopoly Cards as we waited for supper.

Playing Monopoly Cards, making my next move as we waited for supper.

After our dinner of huge proportions of meat and vegetables, we all headed back to our spots on the earth under the night sky.

Tonight, I fall asleep with my eyes open. I lie on my back drinking in SKY TV above me, wishing on countless shooting stars, pinching myself every now and again to remind myself that I was in Argentina and climbing Aconcagua.

As I fall asleep with my eyes wide open, I feel like the luckiest girl alive!

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~ All Photos By Me, Except of Course Those of Me. Thanks to team-mate, Simon Bates, for allowing me to use his video’s in this blog series. ~

*For those new to my blog, Emma was my childhood and lifelong best friend, the best friend I could ever hope to have had. Sadly she lost her fight against Cystic Fibrosis on the 18th May 1998 at the young age of 22. Emma is the inspiration behind my Seven Summit journey and the reason I’m Walking4Air; raising funds and awareness for Cystic Fibrosis so that we can help find a cure for this incurable illness and support those courageously facing this daily battle.*

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