John Schaffer called in from the Plaza Argentina Base Camp! The team hiked about seven miles and 3000′ of elevation up the steep-sided Relinchos Valley today, making it the toughest day on the trail thus far. Everyone is doing great and they are excited to enjoy the comforts of Base Camp for a few days.
This morning, they saddled up on horseback and were ferried across the bone-chilling Rio Vacas to its west bank. Saying, “Adios” to the arrieros who provided the transport across the river, they hiked into the deeply “V” shaped entrance to the valley. Although carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, the terminus of the Relinchos River has carved a steep and deep notch over the centuries. This makes for some steep side hill hiking above an often thunderous torrent of water for the first couple of miles.
The team climbed up a sort of headwall that separates the steep V-shaped valley from its broad, flat bottomed upper reaches. Here the valley opens up and the team once again could see their objective looming two vertical miles above them to the west. Rolling terrain eventually saw them reach a rugged moraine, the jumble of rocks carried down off Aconcagua and its neighboring peaks by the Vacas Glacier. The last time the glacier pushed forward, it shoved these rocks ahead of it, leaving them in tall piles after the glacier melted.
Plaza Argentina is located on the moraine, just downhill from a valley that the team will follow on their ascent of the mountain. They will rest today and tomorrow, building their bases of acclimatization before they make a foray up to their next camp on Christmas Day.