Thursday, December 16, 2010

Start of Expedition


Today we set off and leave Mendoza to go to Penitentes. In the morning, we went to the permit and tourist offices to get our climbing permits. This being the high season, it was an astonishing AR3000 = USD757 = SGD1000!! *breathless* We got the "Ascent/ Climbing Permit" as opposed to the rest of the short/ long trekking permits. Those who needed last minute gear rental etc went off to settle our last errands. We have a doctor on board this expedition, so that was good. I hope he stays with us throughout the climb.

We would be setting off on the 3.5h drive to Penitentes, where we would stay a night, organize our duffels for the mules, and start our approach trek towards Base Camp tomorrow. The approach to Base Camp at Plaza Argentina (4200m) would take approximately 3 days. Our tentative climbing itinerary is dynamic and would change depending on the weather and climbers' conditions. Our guides will also be sending dispatches to the expedition coordinator in the city, who will upload it on the company's website.

May we get good weather and a safe climb. :)

Til I am back next year.
Merry Xmas and Happy New Year!!

To track us:
Climb itinerary
Progress dispatches
(15 Dec season)

Expedition Meetup - Last Day in Mendoza

Today is the day my expedition team meets in the Hyatt Hotel. This is the most expensive and possibly the only 5-star hotel in Mendoza, a grand structure overlooking the Plaza Independencia. I have the unenviable task of moving all my duffel and barang from the Monkey Hostel to the Hyatt, half a block away. There was no way I could bring everything across, I needed two trips. In between, I squeezed in a phone call to Singapore and a side trip to the money changer.

The Hyatt lived up to its American heritage, and expensive rates. The difference between a USD30 private hostel room and this USD200 Hyatt room is that the latter gives you a bathroom weighing scale and makes you pay for wifi in the room. Ok, I could have gotten free wifi in the hotel lobby, but I decided to treat myself this little luxury of connecting in the comfort of my room. Afterall, we paid for this huge extravagant bedroom.

The guides from Patagonicas went around checking everyone's gear. And I mean literally, everything. They started from the feet (boots, pants etc) and worked their way up. I had to physically take out and show them each item for approval. Impressive that they take the trouble for each client. Responsible.

My room mate was a girl from DC. She arrived this afternoon but not her duffel. They were stuck in transit at Santiago, and now we anxiously await those bags. Apparently, the guide said it happened often, and typically the missing bags go on the next flight out to Mendoza. Hopefully they will get here by this evening. Not a pleasant experience even if one could claim travel insurance for this. Too traumatising for me, especially since I took a bus from Buenos Aires and not a flight. I could not imagine what might happen if my bags missed my flight. Shudder.

Later in the evening, the team met in the lobby to fill out some paperwork and for an admin briefing. There was a mixed group across ages, but mostly from the USA. Looks were deceiving because many times, people who seemed inexperienced ended up performing superbly in the mountains. After the briefing, we headed for dinner at the same restaurant I went last night. Too much wine and food, I was struggling to stay awake (after last night's meagre 4h of snooze) without seeming rude.

Tomorrow we go to get our climbing permits done. The high season fee was USD757! Man, daylight robbery. :(( Then it's off to Penitentes and the start of our climbing expedition. We can track our status at:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Acclimatization Climb - Mt Vallecitos (10 - 14 Dec 2010)

10 Dec 2010 (Mendoza - Refugio Mausy @ 2900m)


I had booked myself for an acclimatization climb from 10 - 14 Dec 2010. I checked out of my hostel and left with my guide on a 2h ride from Mendoza to the mountains. We were in a 4WD and I was happy to leave the hot and dusty city weather behind.

We arrived at Refugio Mausy (2900m) just before noon. It was a cosy wooden lodge in the Cordon del Plata region. It was one of several that dotted the winding road to the mountain. They housed hikers and climbers who were attempting short hikes in the cool weather, or climbing the many peaks there. This region is a favourite amongst climbers who are acclimatizing for Aconcagua. It has similar terrain and weather to Aconcagua, and offers several peaks, each scalable within a few days. We could choose between Cerro Plata (6000m) or Cerro Vallecitos (5500m), both shared the same approach right up to the High Camp. Although in Apu's opinion, it was better to take it easy and climb Vallecitos, because the idea was to acclimatize. It would not be wise to over-stress the body before Aconcagua.

After a lazy sandwich bite, we headed out for a short hike, up to 3200m. I also managed to have a hot shower that afternoon, a luxury in the mountains. :) My guide, Apu, made us dinner that night - stewed steak & potato.

11 Dec 2010 (Refugio Mausy to Camp 1 @ 3600m)

I got up at 9am and got organized. I had arranged for Walter to bring my pack to the first camp. Walter was looking after the Refugio Mausy and could also provide 'porter' services. The concept of porter was certainly different from what we were accustomed to in Nepal. I must admit that Nepal trekking hospitality totally spoilt us all, unmatched in any other parts of the mountaineering world.

We set off at 11am for a slow easy trek to Camp 1. The terrain comprised loose rocks all the way. We passed some greenery and moved to a dry desert like landscape. Camp 1 was at 3600m, and we arrived at 1.30pm (2.5h). Walter passed us along the way, with my much loaded backpack.

Apu & Walter set up the tent. We had some bites of bread, ham and cheese for lunch.
It was windy that day, and all my down gear was out. We lazed around in the tent and campsite. I could sleep a lot when I am in the mountains. An afternoon snooze in the sun, with the wind cooling things down sounded promising. Soon, Apu made us dinner - sausages and potato soup!

In the mountains, the summer daylight was from 6am to 845pm. It felt really good to have such long hours of sunshine. I did not have to use my headlamp at all. I did my usual routine of wet wipes and was snug in my sleeping bag by 830pm. It started snowing lightly.

12 Dec 2010 (Camp 1 to High Camp @ 4200m)

It continued snowing throughout the night. I woke up intermittently and heard the spattering of snow on the tent. By morning, we were covered in snow and assaulted by howling winds. The view at 8am outside my tent was not pleasant. The climbers in the other tents were discussing if they should set off or stay put. Walter had arrived with our other supplies. He was meant to carry them up to the High Camp, but with the weather questionable, we told him to leave the things and go back. We arranged to meet him again the next day at 4pm.

Miraculously, the weather cleared up at 10am. Such was the weather in the region. Climbers began to break camp. We now had a problem of how to bring all our gear between Apu and myself. We somehow managed to strap everything - I am so so thankful I bought this Ariel 75L backpack! My pack was not that heavy - perhaps 12 - 15kg? But it was so stuffed, it looked bigger than me.

We set off at 11am and arrived at the high camp at 2:30pm. We were now at 4200m, and the weather was glorious. Bright sunshine and clear skies. There was even some melting snow nearby that we could get water from.
I made a bottle of Tang orange juice in my Nalgene bottle. It was a satchet mixed with water. It was my first time trying the drink, but the sweet flavouring at high altitude was welcoming. For dinner, Apu boiled us some cheese ravioli pasta, accompanied by canned tuna. I also had the luxury of hot tea.

13 Dec 2010 (High Camp - Vallecitos Summit @ 5500m - Refugio Mausy)

We woke up at 4am to prepare for the summit. We set off at 5am and were blessed with great weather. There was no wind at all - a huge difference in the mountains - and visibility was good. I was decked in my new Scarpa boots, down jacket, and shell. There was no snow, but the double boots were an insulation against the cold. It was not so extreme that morning, and I did not have to use my down mitts or balaclava. Nonetheless, I carried them in my pack (just in case) together with my water bottle. I was using a stow-able summit pack (a handy Tatonka travel backpack that kept into a tiny pouch in itself, a birthday gift from friends).

There was a residential dog at High Camp that followed us all the way. We also met a pair of Swiss climbers along the way. Or rather, they overtook me. They were also going to Aconcagua two weeks later. The summit of Mt Vallecitos looked so far. The slopes were steep (we were going from 4200 to 5500m!) and I was going very slowly. We finally made it to the summit at 11am, some 6h after setting off. :) The dog included. Wow!
Mt Vallecitos was pronounced as "Val-yel-ci-tos". In Espanol, the double-L sounded like a "Yel".

The descent was not easy at all. All the loose rocks meant a lot of sliding and strain on my knees. I took 3h (2pm) just to get back to High Camp. We hurriedly ate something, packed up and rushed to Camp 1. We were supposed to meet Walter at 4pm and most likely not be able to make it. Apu rushed ahead to try and catch Walter. My knees were feeling the strain from all that descent. More loose rocks. I arrived at Refugio Mausy at 630pm. It had been a long long day, almost 13h of trekking.

We wanted to have pizza for dinner - real food. To my surprise, Walter promptly whipped out his pots and started kneading one from scratch! In the meanwhile, I had another hot shower. Ah bliss. The pizza was heavenly too. All in, I paid Walter Ar 580 for the porter and dinner services. Gladly.

I was extremely sleepy by 9pm. My knees were sore, and my right ankle felt wobbly - the result of a loosened boot on loose rocks. Luckily it was ok after some ankle rotation and stretching.

14 Dec 2010 (Refugio Mausy - Mendoza)

There was a bunch of Argentinian youngsters at the Refugio last night. They were on summer vacation and stayed there for a few days, just doing short hikes and enjoying the outing. How nice! Pity we could not do that sort of escapades in Singapore. Looking at the mountains around me, I would have loved to be there and go trail running everyday. Apu said that he ever ran from Refugio Mausy to Mt Plata in 8h. And that in 2006, he ran up Aconcagua in 20h (road to road)! Gosh, I would be happy if I could do that in 20 days!

The drive back to Mendoza was a rude welcoming to the heat and dust. I spent the afternoon updating Alber and my Facebook photos, and just chilling out. I sent my clothes to the laundry and walked around. I managed to order some lunch - sandwich and tea - via sign language. I did not speak a word of Espanol, and most people did not speak English either. I popped by Carrefour to buy more water, tea bags and Tang orange juice satchets. It was extremely well-stocked, I should not have brought so many items from Singapore. Anyway, the heat was just too much, I bailed out after 2h and returned to my hostel. Sitting in the dining area and writing my blog seemed a better idea. Maybe I would go out to get dinner much later - as the locals do.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Finally, Mendoza

9-Dec-2010 (AR time)


Some 30-odd hours after leaving Singapore, I finally arrive at the city of Mendoza. This is the access point to the Andes, but I don't see many trekkers or climbers on the street. I am thankful that my bags and I all made it intact here. The bus ride last night was very decent, the seats are 180-deg-inclined so that I could stretch out fully. Meals & drinks were served on-board the ride. For all that, it was only half the price of an airfare from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. Quite a good deal.

Mendoza is a sleepy city. It is sweltering hot here, summer time. The temperature today was 34degC, almost like in Singapore. But it is very dry, minus the humidity. And dusty. The toilet system here is like China's - one cannot throw paper into the toilet, but into a bin provided. Deja vu.

Everything literally shuts down after lunch, when people take their siestas (not joking). Things come alive again after 5pm, and dinner time is past 8pm. It is still bright now at 8pm. I had gone out much earlier for dinner and the dining places were still empty. I had a non-descript pasta, the cheapest item on the menu. Dining out was not cheap here. Restaurants charge for bottled water and expect tips. Some of the South Am guys here are gorgeous, with their olive-kissed tan bods. Just like in the movies! Ooooh. Good to look at.

I am now back in my hostel room, which is in a mess. Earlier in the day, my guide came by to check my equipment. I am going for an acclimatization climb for the next 5 days to Mt Plata (abt 6,000m) or Mt Vallecitos (5,500m). Then I come back to Mendoza next week and wait for my Aconcagua team to arrive. My guide is Peruvian and have been guiding for about 10 years. He sounded experienced, and I should be in good hands. He took me to a few gear shops to look for down mitts. I eventually rented a pair as he insisted that they were necessary for Aconcagua.

Singapore is 11h ahead of Argentina, and my body clock is confused after all that flying and transits. But the good thing from that is that I could sleep anywhere, anytime and not having much problem with jet lag.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Journey Begins - Argentina

Leaving was tough. I hadn't count on that. I certainly didn't think of that when I made my bookings and plans for the climb. The thought of being away for 1 month already got me missing everything. It must be age. 5years ago, I would have gladly jumped on any flight that took me far and long. I was apprehensive, and for all that uncertainty in the planning, I was glad I took SQ. Leaving wasn't easy, but SQ made it more bearable. Something reliable that I was familiar with. I realised that I was more nervous than going for an IM race. That would ending 17h. This would be 25 days of non-stop adventure. Very different from a triathlon for sure, too many elements outside of our control.

I managed to sleep 7h on a flight of 10.5h. Decent! The flight was not full and I could lie across three seats and snooze. There was a moment as we descended to Johannesburg when the plane was flying at 6,700m. A sudden reality spank when I realised that I was trying to climb above this plane?! Aconcagua stands at 6,900+m. Gosh!

I'm now in transit in Johannesburg. I hope my bags made it onto the plane too. I had an enormous giant duffel at 20kg, and a smaller one at 8.5kg. Putting everything into one bag would have made it impossible to lug it. I wonder how I would manage them when I arrive in Buenos Aires, but I would leave the worrying to 12h later. My next flight is 11h. I have not flown South African Airways before, I hope it goes well.

The journey has started. I was told by friends that no Singaporean female climber has summitted Aconcagua. Really? I found that hard to believe. Let's see how my climb goes. At the very least, I will be back with new lungs. :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Run to Calm My Nerves

I will be flying off tonight in the wee hours. My flight is 2:30am. Earlier in the day, there was a little emo moment where I got all sentimental in the car. Thank goodness for sunshades to shield the eyes, so unglam, cmi! So a short recovery run was in good order. Something familiar, comforting. Something to calm my nerves and distract me and keep me occupied before I go.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Singapore Marathon 2010

I got a bib just 2 weeks before the race. Alber and I did not sign up nor plan to run this year, but many people were giving up their slots at the last minute. So we accepted the opportunity and took part in the race. Neither of us had trained for this at all. The last long run we did was TNF 50km on trail. Then it was 21km max at Powerman. So this marathon would be our first training run, well, for the marathon itself. *grin*

The marathon had a new format this year. The three categories - 10km, 21km, and 42km - had different start points and times. The 42km full marathon was flagged off at Orchard Road, amidst the xmas lightups at the malls. Rather beautiful. I was reminded of the HongKong marathon that begins along Nathan Road each year. The atmosphere was fun too, I was enjoying myself.

I had no expectations for the run, just to soak in the crowd, a training on a Sunday morning, and burn some calories. Hmmm, in that case, should I seek to run longer and burn more?

My first 10km was right on a 6min pace. 59min. --> 4h.
But with every 10km, my race completion time was extended by another 15min.
21km - 2:06h, still ok, and sharply deteoriated thereafter.
30km - 3:13h.
37km - stuck at the human congestion on the Republic Ave ECP where all the categories merged, and majority of the 10km participants were strolling, blocking the way.
Final - 4:47h

But then again, this was first full marathon in almost 2 years. I have not done a proper 42km race since HK in Feb 2009. Wow! The race support this year was great, water and muscle rub were in plentiful supply. I stopped many times to drink (for once I did not hold my bottle) and smear myself with Tiger rub. I felt like an xmas turkey being smeared and marinated all over!

When a person expands his/ her horizons, and when life does not simply revolve around 1 race, it is much easier not to get overly attached to the event. Race done. Moving on to my climb. :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Last Stairs

Absolutely my last stairs training before I leave for my climb. The pack gets dried and emptied and well, packed.

But my legs were so tired, it was literally a drag. I pulled through 6 sets and quit. It was my shortest ever training, but what the heck, it was my last. By this time, it would not have made any difference if I did more or less sets.

9:16min, 9:08, 9:42, 10:02, 10:34, 10:39

Gone case.

Fingers crossed for a good climb.