The weather forecasts we were getting off of the satellite internet connection at Plaza de Mulas continued to show unsettled weather for the upper elevations of Aconcagua. Unsettled weather means average winds at about 80mph, with stronger gusts, and temps rising to a maximum of about -5F degrees. The wind chill at those conditions calculates to be about -60F…not really what you’re looking or when climbing 55 degree ice, or skiing at high altitude. So…we continued to check out the skiing around La Cuerno and the Horcones Valley.
Though the winds would blow and the weather would be super chilly high on Aconcagua, the temps tended to be rather comfortable at the lower elevations…at least when the sun was out…and on most of our ski acclimatization days we would ski on spring-like corn snow. Again…at least when the sun was out.
Our next tour lured us back to the area we had skied on the first day and towards the shoulder of La Cuerno. It’s amazing how so many lines can be packed into a very small area on a mountain and we wanted to explore a different aspect that seemed to be hiding another potential couloir worth descending. As we got closer, a nice ribbon of snow appeared from behind a ridgelet and we booted upward. A few rocks rained down on us and it was one of the few times I wished I had a helmet with me. When not in front, we took turns watching for rocks, as the leader gutted it out while breaking trail.
The top of the couloir brought us to the top of a headwall on La Cuerno, which had great views of Aconcagua and a huge serac wall that lined the upper reaches of the Horcones Valley. We hadn’t heard much activity from the serac so far on the trip and we wondered when we would see and of hear chucks of it falling of and crashing downward.
We had spied a nice and steep run that was located right near the edge of the glaciated terrain to the skier’s right of the couloir we had climbed. The sun had been obscured by some clouds for a fair bit, and the snow showed it, skiing a bit firmer and chunkier than on previous runs. We set up for some photos, which would have come out much better with a bit more sunshine, but softened below a small bergstrund that we had to negotiate as we exited the couloir and continued down the apron. Feeling the love, we rallied back up our bootpack and dropped the tamer line we had hiked up.
Another day of ski acclimatization had us venturing off to the other side of the canyon, towards a cone shaped peak. The skin up brought us by some very interesting rotting glacier and penitente formations. On the way up, the snow turned from corn, to bullet proof, to blue ice, to rock, but we managed to keep our skis on the whole way, and that my BD mohair mix skins climbed and held up to stupendously. We reached a saddle next to the peak and decided to call it there since the slopes above had a bluish tint to them, looking rock solid. The views opened up and we felt the wind once we are on the saddle, which kept out stay there on the short side.
Salvaging a fun descent, we decided to slide over to some slopes directly below the looming serac wall. From our memory, and some quick referencing of some digital phones, it looked as though the line was crevasse free, which was important since we had decided to not carry a rope with us. It was exciting skiing below the serac, thinking what it would be like if a chunk decided to fall off while we were under it. It was also cool skiing by what seemed like giant penitentes formed from the melting glacier.
Back at camp, weather reports started looking up. Meaning, temperatures maxing out at 2F and forecasted average winds of 20-25 mph…for two days…3-4 days out. So, a wind chill of only around -30 now and the warmest we had seen, so we put a schedule together to move up the mountain the following day. Oh yeah, and late that afternoon and for the first time on the trip, two huge chunks came ripping off of the serac wall, sending debris all over where we had skied a few hours earlier and adding to the excitement.