On Wednesday, February 3rd., 2010, At 11 am, the blue Suzuki jeep, driven by Paty Soto (Chilean), left Santiago de Chile, heading towards Mendoza, Argentina. Inspired by a Spondylus project, and in the company of Sue Wills (Australian), and myself, Beatriz Delgado Fonfach (Chilean), a human and spiritual contraband, she followed a winding road leaving behind not only the city asphalt, but also our worries, jobs, daily chores... A new horizon was in front of us, a change, freedom, adventure, uncertainty, and the battle for the conquest of a new dream: the summit of the stone guardian, the great Mount Aconcagua, with its 6.959 m.a.s.l., the one which greets the sky with a kiss, at the highest point of our indomitable America. For Paty, it was a farewell to a well known friend; for Sue and me, it was the taking over of the unruly natural monument, which time ago was twice elusive to our objectives. Starting in Punta de Vacas, and ending in Horcones, and following the advice of the great mountaineer and dear friend, Hans-Martin Schmitt (our "Charly"), we formed a trio prepared to do everything, but above all, to have fun and enjoy the challenge that was there ahead of us in Route 360; to follow what our hearts were feeling.
Of Blue Sky and Green Mountainside
A day used for getting the permits, shopping, and taking a stroll around "the wine Capital of Argentina"; one more night in Penitentes, time required to organize with Inka Expediciones (supporting the transportation of equipment and catering at the camps), to be able to start the trip on Friday, February 5th, 2010, a pre-checking was carried out by a lonesome ranger who gave us the "green light" into the park in Punta de Vacas. Welcome to the Aconcagua Park! With our backpacks on our shoulders and a shy pace, we finally left the world behind, to start our walk through the long "Yellow Road", leading to this peculiar "Andean Oz" (Dorothy would have liked something similar).
Between crystal clear water and green slopes we approached the base camp, where the peace was only disturbed by the sound of the mules moving to the voice of their master, always helping the bald mountaineers, and also by the rhythm of a curious group from the "UK Army" that did not fit in at all into the landscape. So, at this lonely and continuous pace, walking 6 to 7 hours per day heading North, we arrived at "Pampa de Leñas" (2.960 m.) and "Casa de Piedra" (3.245 m.), to be able to head West, walking along the beautiful Relinchos canyon. On the third day of trekking, under a light snowfall, between duties and conversation, and having a "mate" to the rhythm of a reggae song, we finally finished walking the 42 kilometers to reach the Plaza Argentina (4.180 m.), which welcomed us at the eastern side of the great massif.
A Cosmopolitan World
The place was full of mountaineers, adventurers, experienced mountain guides and some not so experienced, park rangers & weirdoes, of many different kinds, from all over the world.
Doctor Pablo Moreno Marco, who has assisted several seasons of emergencies, illnesses & accidents, in a very professional and kind way, and whose presence is very important at this place, was the person responsible for giving us his definite approval for the climb. After checking us, and with that very deep voice which characterizes him, he told us that we would not require the "Sildenafil" (well known in Chile as "Viagra"), medication that I thought I "wisely" bought in Mendoza, and included it in my first aid kit, to be able to use it in case of a pulmonary edema. He said we would not need it for edema, but that we were allowed to use it with a lonesome mountaineer in a "different way"! Ho, ho, ho! How embarrassing!
We took a "day off" for decision making, food distribution, socializing, taking that desired shower (that you normally take with a tea pot & a hanging container) and after this, to start working at the high altitude camps! With the help of the people in the area that feel a great respect for Paty as a mountaineer and guide, we moved our belongings to the camp sites, and we finished setting Camp I (5,000 m.), Camp II (5,350 m.), Camp III Guanaco, and the High Camp: Cólera with its almost 6.000 meters (5,970 m.). Alanis Morisette accompanied us in our climb, whispering her "You oughta know".
Everything is more difficult now, every move, every thought, but the "experienced girls" kept moving. Getting on very well, we set the last camp, and we finally got ready for the great day that was coming. With laughter and joy, emotions that characterized this female expedition, we collected snow, and melted it to get water. We got our backpacks ready, had something to eat, and then we went to sleep, with our souls growing with excitement as night fell over us. This night is crucial for every mountaineer, the last night before trying to climb upto the summit.
Touching the Sky
On February 15th, 2010, before the sun was rising on the Andes, most of the people camping in Cólera, dark or white-skinned, telling stories about the five continents, left their tents behind with their souls ready to reach the summit, ready to defy the cold (-20ºC), and overcoming their fears. At a slow pace, a constant rhythm and focusing on every step, we got over the route. The day was sunny and with no wind, like a black pearl among a million white ones. When the groups of Argentinian guides passed us along the path, or we passed them, they joked with us and cheered us along. A very special moment was when the prestigious Argentinian mountaineer Willie Venegas, stopped to greet Patty. Even though he was on his way to break the 360 circuit speed record (and he actually did, as we heard later), when he found his friend, camouflaged by her balaclava & jacket, he stopped to ask her how was she doing and, with a big hug, he wished her all the best. These are the things that make mountain climbing worth it.
This is how we completed each stage of the climb: Independencia, the first (6.420 m.)... long stop... Then Travesía, with crampons and piolet... And then we started climbing the Gran Canaleta (6.659 m.), which opened before our eyes as the big challenge that it is... Hydration. You can feel the progressive lack of oxygen. Time passes and, before our eyes, several broken spirits fall defeated by the mountain, a mountain that you know that has been owned by you only when you leave.
Our strength at it´s limit, dealing with altitude, and our hearts beating fast, anxious to adapt. The Canaleta in front of us, white, and rocky, and then, finally! Filo Guanaco... The last step. At 14:15, on Monday 15th, 2010, after 8 1/2 hours of giving ourselves to the mountain, 11 days of expedition, and several months of preparation, "The Angels of Aconcagua" stepped together on top of the "Roof of America"! The great mountain, to the imaginary sound of Vangelis’s "The Conquest of Paradise", put the whole central Andes Range to our feet, letting us feel like Athenea in Olympus, and each one of us, in our own way gave thanks, with tears in our eyes of the emotion now no longer contained.
From the Tupungato to the Juncal, all the mountains stared at us astonished and happy, while the emblematic cross at the summit led us to the everlasting picture, with the outstanding southern face falling emphatic and solemn behind our backs. The Aconcagua, surrendered to our charm. From the valleys below us, there was the rumor going around on the radio saying that the "Chilean girls" made it to the top.
Farewell to the Land of Oz
The unexpected and merry celebration in Plaza de Mulas (4.200 m.), organized by the Inca Team and by a group of Spanish mountaineers (from the Canary Islands & Basque), was full of champagne, cumbia & reggaeton rhythms. With Ricky Martin’s "GO GO GO!" & "Maria", they took us by surprise, as well as with the clap of hands with which they said good-bye to us the next day, at the foot of the West face of the great mountain, when we were leaving Mulas. Surprising also was to find the famous Spanish mountaineer Juan Oiarzábal (admired by some, not so much by others), also saying good-bye to us, arriving from Horcones with the Basque TV, ready to film a reality show at the place. Plop!
Finally, on February 17th, 2010, with the sun setting to the West, with more than 80 kilometers walked full of experiences we will never forget, we left Aconcagua Provincial Park behind us, tired but satisfied. And now the moment to reflect, on new found friends, the happy feelings of achieving our goal, and the already historical images passing one after the other in our minds, being cheered up by the lively rhythm "I like to Move It" from the Dreamworks film Madagascar.
One mountain, three women, a dream come true ...
By Beatriz Delgado Fonfach
Born in Chile, Paty is a mountaineer who has not only climbed on great walls, but who has also climbed mountains above 6.000 meters. With more than 18 years of experience as a sports woman and as a professional mountain guide, she was the first South American woman to climb Mount Everest (2001), and also the first one to climb the 7 Summits (2007). She has participated in expeditions in Asia, Europe, Africa, Antartica, Oceania and North America, being her current objective to complete the "Grand Slam" (7 Summits & North Pole & South Pole). Today Paty works for Spondylus & NOLS, and is sponsored by Lippi.
Of Australian nationality, but defined by herself as a "Citizen of the world", Sue has a great background in sports; swimming, trekking, biking and mountaineering among other things. Sue has reached the Kilimanjaro and the Mount Kenya’s summits in Africa; the Mera, the Lobuje East, the island and the Tent Peaks in Nepal; the San Jose Volcano in Chile, besides an attempt to climb the Huascaran Mount in Peru. She has also participated in several triathlons in Malasia, swimming in open sea (6.5 km.) in Trengganu in Malasia, and has done several biking tours in USA, Canada, Vietnam and Laos.
BEATRIZ DELGADO FONFACH
With mountaineering studies at the CDUC and actual member of the University Andean Club (UAC), she has participated in different expeditions in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Nepal. Among her climbs, she has the Sajama (6.550 m) and the Ojos del Salado (6.893 m), the highest mountains in Bolivia and Chile respectively. She has also climbed Licancabur, the Sairecabur and the 6,000ner volcanoes San Pedro, Pili & Parinacota in northern Chile, participating in the last two as the expedition leader. She has also climbed the Marisemberg, the Gloria, the Aguja Helada, the Paloma, the Plomo, the Pirámide, the Nevado Juncal (6.000 m.), as well as the Nevado de los Piuquenes (6.112 m.) among others in Central Chile; the Bonete in Argentina; the Urus & Ishinca Mounts in Perú and the Khala Pattar in Nepal. In 2006 she participated in a trekking to the base camp of Mount Everest.