After Plaza Argentina base camp, we kept doing the same load carrying routine: carry up some team gear, go back down, maybe rest and then move to the higher camp. We had a total of three high camps: camp 1 at 4950m, camp 2 at 5570m and camp Colera at 5870m. While we were climbing Aconcagua the “Polish traverse” route, Colera is also the highest camp of the “normal” route.
The temperatures were pretty extreme and the very strong wind didn’t make it better. It was all right during the day when it was sunny (and luckily for most of the time it was), but during the night it got very cold very quick. Temperatures plummeted as soon as the sun set. Some nights it was so cold that my breath froze the tent wall. The night after our first load carry back at camp 1 was so windy sleeping was a challenge (and having to go outside for a piss a scary idea).
The way from the first to the second camp was a steep incline up from camp then a long traverse which was much less steep. For the first load carry I was surprised by just how much colder camp 2 was. It was pretty warm lower, but the altitude gain combined with the exposure to wind in the wide open area made it feel quite chilly. The trail crosses a field of penitentes as well. By the time we had our rest day in camp 2, I’ve recovered completely and enjoyed a quick hike a little above camp.
Camp 3 (named Colera) looked much different from previous camps. It’s surrounded by huge yellowish-white rock formations. Not to mention it’s higher than the summit of Elbrus, and almost as high as Kilimanjaro! At camp 3 we were joined by the team who we met the day before we started.
We had another rest day in the itinerary at camp 3 before the summit attempt, but the weather had other plans for us. The weather so far was pretty much fantastic (except for the stormy-windy night at camp 1), but that was forecast to change.
The high camps were a very different environment from base camp. No more hot showers. No more toilets (just crap on newspaper sheets and pack the stuff up). Food was much less luxurious (but we still weren’t left hungry) and water scarce (nor thirsty). Nights were very cold and a few times I’d wake up during the night gasping for air. I guess the thin air above 5000m altitude combined with slowed breathing while asleep does that. Definitely an experience to remember.