Day 6 – The agenda today was to rest and relax, and that is exactly what we did. Our groups dome tent was constantly stocked with cold and hot water for tea and juice. Three meals of the day were determined before hand with multiple snacks appearing in between. We spent our day casually exploring around base camp, taking naps, relaxing in the sun and sitting down for a game of cards with our new friends. One of our walks had us perched at the north end of the camp up on top of the scree-covered glacier. From here we got some amazing views of the surrounding glaciers, blue lakes and the sprawl of base camp. You can’t help but gaze up the mountain side at the final goal that lies in your near future. The summit was still standing over 2500 vertical meters higher than where we were now so it was hard not to feel tiny.
The weather in the shade was hovering around 10°C but when the sun was out it felt like we were in the high 20’s. The UV in this thin atmosphere however is an entirely different story. Within minutes it seemed like you could easily be burnt if you were not covered up. The cool dry air also took its toll on our throats as it gradually became more and more raw which led into a daunting cough that would only be cured by descending. Standing up quickly or taking a stride with a bit more of a spring in our step would leave us breathless. These things alone prove that humans are just not made for life at these altitudes. We do adjust and adapt to the conditions but nothing like being at sea level. The water at base camp was actually piped in from a far-off stream, and just like Confluencia Camp it was run through a filtration system to remove the bacteria and high mineral content and left the water perfect for consumption. By mid afternoon we had our eyes set on the LPG on demand hot water shower, and what a perfect way to relax in the mountains. After some more games of cards, stories with the others and a quick run through on the schedule for the next couple days we found ourself tucked warm in our sleeping bags before the cold of the night really set in.
Day 7 – Today goal was Cerro Bonete (5050 m) for our second acclimatization hike. This took a total of seven hours round trip, and again Shannon wasn’t feeling very well. she was struggling to eat enough calories to keep her body moving, loss of appetite can be a side affect with altitude. We were both taking Diamox to help with this, but once reaching these heights everything seems to become a struggle. The first part of the hike was west towards an old hotel located one kilometer from Basecamp. It has been boarded up for around 10 years now as it sits on the moraine which is forever shifting and moving the hotel. The maintenance and upkeep was just too much. From here it was up, up and more up. We crossed a narrow river that led to many switchbacks until we arrived at some ice blades or penitentes.
Here we took a quick rest to enjoy the views then continued on with the switchbacks up the exposed scree face. Eventually we reached a more technical area where a more hands on approach of the rocks was required. A short distance more we popped up on the summit of Bonete. The top was amazing and the views of Aconcagua to the east and Chile to the west were absolutely beautiful. Our weather was perfect, sunny, no wind, and quite warm. Couldn’t have asked for a better hiking day really. Shannon was able to eat a bit of lunch at the top, felling a bit better now we made our way down. This was quick as the scree slope allowed for some boot skiing down the steeping sections. Once returning to camp we were spoiled with snacks and a hot meal as usual.
Day 8 – Another acclimatization hike was in for us again, but this time with a purpose. Traditional base camp breakfast had us feasting on scrambled eggs, sausages, toast and porridge. By mid morning our packs were loaded with all the gear we needed for the higher camps and our summit push. This was actually the day that we made our first steps onto Cerro Aconcagua. The route was like most others, switch backing up the mountain side. Our guides kept an amazing pace with ample rest breaks. After 3 hours we had reached our Camp 1 destination (Camp Canada) resting at 5050m.
Shannon had no issues at all with the elevation and was overall feeling great; back in the game! The weather was amazing for us this day so relaxing in the sun while we gazed at our surroundings. The porters had set up two tents for us to drop our gear off before making the 45-minute decent back down to Plaza de Mulas. We also needed to have another check up with the park doctor. This is mandatory for all groups going past basecamp and onto the summit. Again, the doctor checks, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturations, as well as listened to our lungs. Both of us got the all clear but as usual, they wanted us drinking more water. More being 6L each per day!!!!
Day 9 – Rest day today. Much needed after the past few acclimatization hikes. Again, we got to have another hot shower and relax. These showers were just flown in 3 days prior to us arriving so they were still working out the kinks with temperature control. There were no showers prior to 11 am as the water lines would still be frozen from the night prior. Words can barely describe how amazing it was to clean your self up after this many days in the mountains. After lunch we wandered through camp, walked up the moraine and took in the surrounding glaciers. We shared stories with the rest of the group, played some cards and of course more water. The weather was starting to get colder by the evening and the wind was picking up. Shortly after dinner we all shifted into our sleep tents for a night of rest with preparation for what was in store for us in the coming days.