Aconcagua Day Four – 23rd December 2014.

So day four began with a little earlier wake up than I would have planned. Our schedule was to sign permits at 9am and head out at 10 for our journey by minibus to Penitentes, our final stop under a roof before we return to Mendoza in about 18 days time. There we’d do final gear checks and distribute all of the tents and food between us and the mule train. We’d then head out onto the mountain itself tomorrow.

I’d therefore figured on breakfast at about 8 or so, having packed everything into four bags yesterday (base camp duffle, trekking duffle, expedition rucksack, and ‘non-mountain’ bag. Unfortunately Kuntal, my roommate woke at about 6 or so, and was pacing the floor for about an hour in eager anticipation. I couldn’t blame him – this was his first proper expedition and was like an excitable puppy. I tried to doze but it didn’t really work.

After a final bit of faffing with the bags, and some breakfast, it was time to sign our lives away (hopefully not literally – see form below):

Disclaimer form signed - I still haven't read it!!

Disclaimer form signed – I still haven’t read it!!

We then got all the bags ready, and sat around for a seemingly interminable time until eventually (about 11.30, this is how time works in Argentina) we headed out in the bus:

Bags nearly ready for the off in the foyer of the hotel.

Bags nearly ready for the off in the foyer of the hotel.

The journey up and to the Andes was spectacular. A fairly short journey of about five hours (punctuated by a lunch stop at a place in the middle of nowhere at about 2,000m) we saw stunning snow-capped 6,000m peaks from early on.

The Andes come into view from the van

The Andes come into view from the van

Our van driver definitely didn’t hang about on the road. The road we were on was the main one through to Chile and was a well maintained highway, and the driver seemed intent on seeing if he could get two wheels off the ground on sharp corners, and also see if he could  scare the bejeezus out of moped drivers by sitting about three feet behind them. What a guy!

We arrived into the ski resort of Penitentes at about 4pm. It sits at about 2,700m, and is a bit (well a lot actually) on the tired side. There was a chair lift right opposite the hotel but as the temperature was about 25C and there wasn’t a bit of snow in sight, this was not exactly skiing season.

Welcome to the Hotel Ayelena!

Welcome to the Hotel Ayelena!

Rooms in the hotel...

Rooms in the hotel…

Plenty of room at the Hotel Ayelena.

Plenty of room at the Hotel Ayelena.

The ski lifts (no longer used) in front of the hotel. The top of these slopes must have been close on 4,000m, shame about the lack of snow.

The ski lifts (no longer used) in front of the hotel. The top of these slopes must have been close on 4,000m, shame about the lack of snow.

The hotel Ayelena would be our base for the night, and whilst it was every bit as tired as the rest of the resort, it was definitely functional.

Just after arriving, we loaded all of the expedition gear into a weighing room under the hotel, where it was separated into different sections for the mules. We’d likely not see our high altitude stuff until Base Camp three days away. Our trekking bags complete with sleeping bags and surplus clothes etc would go onto the mules each day too along with the food, cooking equipment, tents, tables etc. We would then carry everything else in our rucksacks, and separate the rest into a bag to stay here until we got back off the mountain. This included all street clothes and other travelling stuff. Looking at all of the kit, it began to hot mw just how much we’d need to carry on this expedition. I definitely wasn’t on Kilimanjaro anymore!

Assembling the kit in the weighing room underneath the hotel.

Assembling the kit in the weighing room underneath the hotel.

The rest of the evening was downtime until dinner at 9pm. We had a quick walk across the main road to see if there were any signs of life. Aside from a porters lodge (devoid of porters) and a minimart (locked, and devoid of pretty much everything) that was it. It seems the ski resort had been closed for four years now, due to lack of snow.

The anticipation now though was so palpable. We’d been waiting for three days, and the time it took us to travel, and hang around, to get going, was finally over. Everyone was like coiled springs. Tomorrow, finally, after what seemed like forever and a day, we’d stretch our legs and begin the trek to Base Camp. It couldn’t come soon enough – it was Aconcagua time at last, after three years (long story for those who know it!) of anticipation.

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