Every summer (at least in Argentina), a few hundreds of international mountaineers begin their journey to the basecamps of Aconcagua, hoping to get a chance of successfully climb the highest peak on the western hemisphere. Plaza de Mulas − Aconcagua’s basecamp on the Normal Route − is the second-largest basecamp in the world, following closely to Everest Basecamp. Plaza de Mulas is, at least for four months, a little city with all the things that you can find in Mendoza (capital of the province in which Aconcagua is located): great food, fine wines, hot showers and magnificent landscapes.
Ever since commercial climbing trips began in Aconcagua in the late ’80s and it also entered in the seven summits circuit, climbing and trekking to the peak have constantly grown, turning the once peaceful and isolated site into a lively city at almost 14,700 feet. But one thing is to be there for two weeks, and another completely different is to live for the whole season. Every company, depending on their size, hires basecamp staffers, cooks, porters and guides to maintain and attend their camps, that can range from 3 or 5 domes to almost 20. And when you get that big, you need a little army of brave soldiers to make sure that every climber spends a great time, since for most of them is their vacation time. In our case, last year we attended near 600 trekkers, climbers in our own expeditions and also climbers from companies from all over the world.
And where does the regular climber spend more time? If you’re thinking in the high camps, you’re wrong. Give or take, the amount of time spent in the base camps is a bit longer than the one spent in the high camps. Both trekkers and climbers spend the majority of time resting, hydrating, eating acclimatizing, and preparing to have a weather window that allows them to get to the summit.
Although for most people living in the basecamp seems amazing, for its inhabitants it’s a peculiar mix of challenging routines, logistical chores, and cultural interaction. This little Babylon is the home of people from countries around the globe, and they all come with high hopes, friendly smiles and tons of expectation. Some of them have waited the whole year to climb a peak that seems elusive at times, and their expectations often make them feel stressed or even worried. The basecamp is their home while they wait, and part of their job is to make them feel a bit at home thousand of miles away from family and friends. They listen to their requests and needs, and always give their best to make sure the time spent in the basecamp is a nice one, considering that some of them would be sick, missing loved ones and eager to climb up as soon as the weather or the expedition is ready to do it.
One thing is sure. Aconcagua’s base camp is one of the most interesting places on earth. Those who have spent time there, either working, trekking or climbing would agree that once you’ve been to Plaza de Mulas your life is never the same. It takes just a few days to know it.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
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