Boy oh boy. It is 6:30am on a Thursday morning, and I am tossing and turning on the top bunk in our $20/night hostel room in Mendoza. Libby and John are still asleep, and I should be too - I only just went to bed a couple hours ago - but there is too much on my mind. We're supposed to fly home in two days, but Libby and I have unfinished business.
While we both tagged the summit - and pretty fast, too! he :) - we did not complete our main objective: the 70km roundtrip run from the Horcones trailhead to the summit and back. We knew from the start that I probably wasn't going to be in shape for the long one, seeing how my lungs were still acting up after the quickie ascent from basecamp to the summit; our plan was to stick together for as long as possible, and for Libby to continue on and get it done once I had to tap out.
We hit the trail at the park entrance right around 6pm, as the sun was starting to be low in the sky and the temperatures in the Lower Horcones valley were turning from scorching to tolerable. Everything went according to plan: we made it to Confluencia in just around 90 minutes, refueled on the go, and breezed through towards the long sandy slog from the confluence towards basecamp. As day turned to night the wind picked up; we buttoned up and continued straight into the sandy blasts. Shortly after nightfall and roughly 20km into the run, my energy ran out and I signaled to Libby that I wasn't going to be able to keep pace with her any longer. I sat down by a rock and started munching on a PowerBar as Libby's headlamp trailed off into the moonless night.
And that was the end of the story for me: I got myself to basecamp, checked Libby's position on GPS and fell into bed hoping for the best for Libby who now was facing a big, cold climb through the night - solo.
Fast forward to a few hours later and Libby and I are both curled up in sleeping bags and trying to rest after the previous day's and night's effort; Libby up at 18,300ft and I at 14,400ft. Going solo, the cold night and brisk pace had pushed Libby's caloric balance so far into the deficit zone that by the time she reached Nido she too tapped out.
And now... here we are, back in Mendoza, thinking about what it would take to complete the mission and discussing options. Aconcagua continues to call our name. Can we build on the acclimatization of the last five weeks and head back out to the mountain for another try? Or should we plan to come back next year? With the time and money required for a project like this one, there's no easy answer.... just the climbing permits run $800 per person; then again, we've already put so much work and money into this goal that it seems foolish to walk away now.
We've got just about forty hours until our flights are scheduled to depart - should we stay or should we go??