Last delivery of the report on the normal Aconcagua route, from Berlin or Cholera to the longed-for summit.
I usually say that arriving in Berlin is the first half of the trip and the ascent. The summit day is the other half. It is an ascent without major technical difficulties but of great physical and mental demand. Here the effects of the altitude become definitely remarkable, even having achieved a good acclimatization. The summit day normally begins very early, the path is quite obvious and it ascends between rock formations until reaching an area of rocks of capricious and very clear shapes known as “Piedras Blancas” (6,060 m). Here the path is definitely mounted on the north edge, until reaching a small passage through which you can access the northeast slope of the mountain. From here the ascent continues until reaching the zigzags that lead to one of the key points of the summit day: Refugio Independencia (6,380 m). This will be a good moment of the climb to corroborate the general condition and energy reserves to face the final stages. The decision to continue from this point must be well thought out. It now ascends towards a sharp edge to the west of the refuge, known as “Portezuelo del Viento”. From this point begins the crossing, extensive route with little unevenness that crosses over the great hauling in the East-West direction. Here the conditions are usually very changeable. First of all, it is an area that is normally exposed to the morning wind, a valley wind that rises in gusts due to the great hauling that causes a strong drop in the thermal sensation.
As for the land, in some occasions slabs of frozen snow, even ice, are often present, which makes the use of crampons and pickaxe essential. The slope does not exceed 30º, but a slip in a slab at this height can cause serious damage.
The crossing leads to a much steeper diagonal and this in turn takes us to the base of “La Canaleta” where we find a rocky wall of conglomerates and a concave base known as “La Cueva” (6,650 m).
This is another key point, of mandatory rest. A good time to rehydrate, eat, gather energy and evaluate the possibilities of facing the rise of the Canaleta. Also it is usually a good point to lighten the load of our backpack, leaving what we no longer consider indispensable in any deposit between the rocks.
The Canaleta is ascended by quite steep paths that cross it in its extreme west, very close to the rocky wall, which begins to narrow until disappearing in the hauling. Here it progresses slightly to the right in steep terrain and with loose rocks. From this point, again in short zigzags, one progresses directly in search of the edge.
A few meters before the edge, you access the path that, in a slightly ascending traverse, crosses the “Filo del Guanaco”, always a few meters below it, thus avoiding an exposure to the South wall. At this point the height is 6,800 m and the summit is visible to the East, just at the end of the crossing. Here the burden due to hypoxia reaches its critical point. The steps become slow and it is necessary to repeat breaks to relax legs and recover pulse.
Personally I recommend in these last stretches to force a little ventilation to have more oxygen at the level of the pulmonary alveoli. Also have sweet candies in your pockets and go ingesting them repeatedly to maintain the blood sugar level. Finally having a thermos with hot drink provided for these fatiguing final meters will help control the dehydration that will be unavoidable due to the strong hyperventilation, dry air and the impossibility of having as much liquid for the ascent.
This crossing although it seems that we will be deposited in the summit in a short time usually demands 45 minutes or 1 hour of hard march. This is where all our physical, acclimatization and mental work is put to the test to face this effort.
Source: Aconcagua: The top of America. Mauricio Fernández. Summit editions
Finally, in the last meters of the “Filo del Guanaco” trail, we ascend a very rocky corridor that circles the summit towards the North, to finally mount on the last rock steps that finish at the top.