dimanche 31 janvier 2016

Plaza de Mulas, the Big Shop @ 4300m (English version)

Again in the serie ‘The Trekker’s life on the way to Aconcagua’, here is a new episode called ‘Plaza de Mulas’ (4300m) – The Mules place in English.

The path from Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas is long. Let’s be clear! 25 km (30 miles) to walk in 8 to 10 hours. 

You have to deserve Plaza de Mulas!

In addition of the altitude, the air is really dry. You must  plan a minimum of 3 liters of water. You also must be properly protected from sun and dust. (see article).

From this step, there is no vegetation anymore. You have only stones, rocks and some torrents as far as the eye can see. Three steps in this itinerary:

  1. Uneven and uphill pathrather easy and to walk
  2. The mineral universe of Playa Hancha, a long 10 km (15 miles) rocky area at about 3500m altitude. This is a never-ending beach (Playa). To stay motivated, the best is to focus on the splendid landscape with Aconcagua in the background. You know you’ll be done soon when you see the Ibanez rock, the second shade spot available to enjoy your meal after 4 to 5 hours walking – the first shade spot was at about 1 hour before the rock.
  3. The ascent to the base camp, i.e. 3 to 4 hours walk after the rock. As usual, the spot you see on the very top is not the final one. You have to climb a last steep path you do in 40 min to arrive finally.

By luck (or not), no neves to cross, for the weather has been warm over the past 2 weeks, which is perfect to me.

After Confluencia, Plaza de Mulas is the second and main camp on the way to Aconcagua. It’s also the place where you see the doctors for the second time. They check you’re alright. This medical check is compulsory. For, the other camps (Canada, Nido de Condores, Colera/Berlin) after this place are not fitted out.

The big shop at 4300m
You can find everything you need at Plaza de Mulas, which is the second biggest base camp in the world after the one in Everest, I have been told. Brief overview:

  • Social services: mountain guides, porters, mules to get back your equipment loaded at Horcones.. and of course the doctors
  • Delicatessen and restaurants offered by agencies, where you can have a large choice of food and drinks to celebrate your ascension properly or drown your sorrow in case of failure.
  • An art gallery… Yes, I sware! I’m taking this opportunity to greet Miguel [the owner]
  • Communication services with webcam on camp, internet connection and phone.. in some agencies
  • Accommodation and bathroom fittings: beds in domes, space for your tents (*) and toilets in each agency, but also some showers and even a 5-start hotel at 30 minutes… but definitely closed! :O

(*) tents are not for rent but must be put up. Recommendation when coming back from the top: after this long exciting but exhausting day, better is to rent a bed to an agency and have a drink rather to spend your rest of energy to put up the tent.

Of course, all this offer is not for free et it’s normal. Price list of all these heartening extras:

  • Internet connection: 10$ the 15 min
  • Warm shower: 15$
  • Phone: 3$ the min or battery recharge
  • Soda: 5$ the bottle

The site
The site is steep-sided, surrounded by mountains and at the bottom of glaciers. A very friendly place for protected from wind (well, more or less depending on weather, wind orientation and altitude) and offering with snow water for free.
The atmosphere… It is very similar to the one just before a race where everybody is pampering themselves, inquiring about any tip or info about weather, itinerary, performances and anything else that could help. Just missing the gambling..! ;) More seriously, the atmosphere is both very festive and industrious with those who come back from the top and the ones going there.

Plaza de Mulas is THE place to recover strength for the next steps, getting acclimatized and adjusting your equipment. After this spot, the real fight really starts. This preparatory phase can last several days in a beautiful mountain scenery and music in the background. Impression to be in a kind of Club Med but High Mountain version. It is organized by quarter, each representing an agency, plus the one for the social services and independents, means the ones without any service.

Days can be very long at the camp between the resting time – where you sleep, you read, you talk… and drink… a lot!) – and the days where you climb to tops around you to get acclimatized (Canada, Cerro Bonete, closed hotel, etc.). Easy and quiet, then.

My initial schedule, click HERE.

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