Training, New Gear, and a Game Plan
Our usual October through December climbing sabbatical was not on the schedule as we had to continue climbing in preparation for the trip. The name of the game was getting as much climbing above 13,000 feet as possible over the "Fall" months that preceeded our departure.
Add to the weekend climbs the usual personal efforts that for me include 30 to 50 miles per week to and from work on my bike, wintry sessions on the local high school stadium steps, some running, and other miscellaneous aerobic activities, all cooked up by G to further wear out my aging body.
The end result of our training program was that we trained in conditions far worse than we experienced in Argentina, but for the effect of the high altitude on the summit day. I think it fair to say that we were neither very cold nor very tired over the course of any climbing day, with one exception. We each found ourselves climbing with an extra layer or a bit more on the cold side on the summit day before sun-up. I very rarely climb with a down layer but following a stop at about 18,000 feet, I had to add the down layer for an hour or two until the sun was up and I was again warm. We attributed this to the effect of altitude rather than a particularly cold morning.
This trip necessitated obtaining an additional high altitude tent as we would be using intermediate camps and we were one tent shy. G has a Bibler "Eldorado" tent on hand and we added a Black Diamond knock off of the Bibler. We have all the glacier gear we need as well as most all of the other miscellaneous gear needed for an expedition such as this.
We loaded up on GU energy gels and the miscellaneous comfort items that made the rest days and higher camps a bit more tolerable. I also purchased a pair of high altitude mitts to supplement the BD Guide gloves that I ordinarily take on a trip like this. I'll give Mountain Gear a gratuitous plug as they have a good selection of high quality gear, prompt shipping and good customer service.
An Expedition Plan:
Our goal was to climb a 6000 meter peak in the Valle de Colorado of the Argentinian High Andes, a part of the Andes that G and I had never visited before. Malbec had never been to South America so anything was good by him. The thought of Aconcagua rattled around our heads for a number of years but instead of taking the tourist trail, we decided to forego the highest point in the Western Hemisphere and instead climb off the beaten track. The Valle de Colorado with its multiple 6000 meter peaks, anchored on one side by Mercedario and on the other by Cerro de Ramada offered just what we were looking for. Experience taught us that if we were lucky we would get one 6000 meter peak. If we are very lucky, we might have enough time and ambition to score two 6000 meter summits but the odds were against us.
We each had but two weeks plus an extra weekday to pull this trip off. The plan was to fly from Denver to Santiago, Chile, and then fly to Mendoza, Argentina . . . a series of flights that would take the better part of 22 hours of travel. Once we arrived in Mendoza we would meet up with our logistics provider who was going to cover transportation to the trail head, mule transport to a base camp, as well as our food and cooking requirements. The morning after we arrived, we planned set off by truck to the Santa Ana trail head, a six hour journey, after which we will load the mules and set off up the valley of the Rio Colorado.
We planned to overnight after about 3 hours on the trail and then complete the 18+ mile approach to the base camp the next day. The following day would be a rest day, likely well deserved after the four total days of travel it would take to reach the base camp. We then planned a nine day climbing window before we would make the long trek back down the valley to the road and then onto the town of Barreal for the evening. The next day we planned to travel back to Mendoza for a final night, some rest and some Argentine beef, without which a trip like this would be incomplete. From there we would head home, completing a trip of 17 days.
That is the game plan . . . but like a shoot out, all bets were off after the first shot was fired . . .