Before leaving Mendoza on Wednesday 9 January we could hardly wait to see the sunrise. We left several kilos of unnecessary equipment in the Hostal Independencia and shortly after 9 a. m. left for the bus terminal, where we were meant to meet up at 9:30 with Alejandro, the owner of Ski & Montana agency, to take us to Vallecitos – a mountain resort some 90 km further off serving as a base for staying in the Cordón del Plata mountain range.
Everything worked out fine. After a short break halfway in Potrerillos, where Vlada´s nose started to bleed, we were at around noon at the edge of a ski slope in 2890 metres. We pulled up our huge backpacks loaded mainly with food for eight days and started marching along with Andrea to the first camp Veguitas (3150 m).
While we were pitching the tent large gusts of wind came unexpectedly. Aleš watched over his stuff, but Vlada and I could just say goodbye to our mattresses. Only Vlada managed to get it back after some messing about the surrounding hills. Andrea was going back for the night to the village of Vallecitos, so I asked him to buy me another one and bring it the next day. Vlada´s portion of luck seemed just inexhaustible. In the evening, when I sadly sat down on a rock and was hoping to see at least a reflection of my alu mattress down in the valley, his landed straight on my head!
The local guides very ready to get me one for rent for 70 pesos and I if I wanted to buy it, I could have it for another 80 dollars – nothing but a rip-off!
The first night in the Veguitas camp was terrible. Before midnight all hell broke loose and the original occasional gusts of wind changed into a wind storm. In panic, Aleš and I ran from the tent in the darkest night, feverishly looking for stones to anchor the tent. The occupants of two other tents (incidentally also Czechs) were doing the same. The gale stopped at about 5:00 a.m. and at 6:30 Andrea was already waiting outside the tent, ready for the first climb in Cordón del Plata.
We decided to go for a acclimatization walk to the camp El Salto (4200 m). Apart from devastating heat the day was uneventful. On the way down we met 16 Slovak guys, who were also preparing for Aconcagua. During the night in the high altitude camp Hoyada (4600 m) they lost two tents and generally looked like folks who just don’t enjoy their stay in the mountains. But frankly, marching in heavy shell boots where light sneakers would have been enough, that would overwhelm everyone!
The third day we slowly moved to the nearby camp Piedra Grande (3550 m) and relaxed. The only excitement was thanks to another two Czechs and one cheeky fox. The two Czech colleagues were returning from the camp El Salto (4200 m). And again, at night they lived a little draught that took away their “shelter” and, moreover, the zipper of one of their sleeping bags broke down. According to what they were saying, they had been dogged by bad luck from the very beginning of their Argentine adventure – from lost luggage during transfer up to the night robbery in Mendoza. One of them was attacked by a gang of four youths while going back from a pub alone in the night. They started skilfully to cut off his camera, waist-bag and other stuff. Since he resisted, they stabbed him with a knife in the ribs and finally bashed him on the head with something. The only luck was that the cops took him to hospital. Nevertheless, hi didn’t give up and went on to the mountains!
In the evening a fox appeared in the camp and relieved our inattentive neighbours of their foodstuffs.
On the fourth day morning (Saturday, 12 January) it was obvious that the idle period was over. The weather got better. The pressure went up during the night and we climbed with our increasingly heavier backpacks to the El Salto campsite (4200 m). Immediately after pitching the tent we set out to inspect the next camp - Hoyada (4600 m) - to check if it were possible to get even higher the following day. At long last, we start to gain altitude. Sometimes it hurts a little - mainly the head!